In Hollywood’s swanky W Hotel, it’s not unusual to see streams of health-conscious guests sipping matcha lattes, hitting the on-site gym or lounging by the rooftop pool. But in early March, a few hundred fitness-focused entrepreneurs, investors and enthusiasts took that typical ebb and flow up a few notches, at the third-annual Connected Health & Fitness Summit. Is this future fitness now or just a fad?
The event was designed to bring together thought and business leaders in the intersection of industries including technology, finance, fitness, retail and wellness to consider what the future of fitness might look like—and how businesses can position themselves for what’s ahead. In addition, numerous start-up founders attended to share their big ideas, learn from their peers, and rub elbows with others in the space.
Panels covered topics like fitness and artificial intelligence; the merging of fitness and wellness in gyms and interactive wearables. The summit also featured roundtables on diversity in the connected fitness industry and business development, among other options. Summit speakers included a spectrum of people including Trupen Modi, Director of Digital Health Innovation Strategy for Microsoft; Francesa Schuler, CEO, Board Director, and co-founder of the California Fitness Alliance; and Aarti Kapoor, CEO of VMG Consumer Acquisition Group, a SPAC that focuses on consumer and retail brands.
The types of products and services that founders showcased were diverse, too. Among them was a wearable, brain-sensing headband, smart athleticwear, and exercise trackers that gyms and online trainers could leverage for their clientele. Some were consumer-facing, even more were business-to-business (B2B). But all of them had one thing in common: they were built with the intent to collect data about our minds and bodies as a value-add for overall health, wellness and yes, maybe abs of steel, too.
Terra spoke with summit entrepreneurs and thought leaders about their work and what they see as the future of fitness. Here, we’re sharing the first in a series of our conversations about what your next workout—or recovery day—might be like.
Trupen Modi, Director of Digital Health Innovation Strategy, Microsoft
Modi headlined a panel called Movement, Artificial Intelligence and a Holistic Approach to Health & Wellbeing. Modi’s overall thesis is that most chronic illnesses are preventable with planning and action ahead of time. Having data about your health, he says, can help you make adjustments for long-term health—not just whatever fitness goal might be around the corner. Future fitness is all about the data!
Microsoft’s initiative, known as the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, allows the data that doctors and medical technology devices collect about a patient to live in one, secure cloud space. That allows clinicians from a patient’s entire health ecosystem to see their health data simultaneously and holistically. The company’s program also uses AI and machine learning (ML) to analyze the data comprehensively and potentially improve health outcomes as a result. Crucially, Modi also posits that a holistic view of health can democratize fitness and improve health equity in the U.S.
Davide Vigano, CEO and Co-Founder, Sensoria Fitness
Based in Redmond, WA, Sensoria Fitness is the brainchild of former Microsoft executive Davide Vigano and former software professional Maurizio Macagno. Together with another Microsoft expat, Rick Belluzzo, the three oversee a wearable technology company in which athletic garments—sports bras and fitness socks—collect movement data to offer the wearer real-time data. For instance, maybe a runner’s foot strike on their right side is landing too much on their heel which, over time, could result in injury. Or maybe their heart rate is too fast and they should slow down.
One of Vigano’s goals with Sensoria was making wearable tech feel more natural. “Our socks look like socks,” he says. “But it is a computer.”
While Sensoria’s products have running and fitness-specific applications, they also serve wheelchair users, with mats and virtual wellness coaches, and those with ongoing health challenges like Parkinson’s disease or diabetic foot complication. The company’s garment tech can measure indicators like gait, mobility and plantar pressure, without visible or cumbersome devices.
Says Vigano, “People with chronic conditions don’t want to make that the conversation every day, all the time.” Sensoria’s products aim to allow users to gather personal critical data without detection.
Mike Telem, Co-Founder, Kemtai
Computer vision is a field of artificial intelligence (AI) that lets computers get detailed information—often biomechanical in nature—from images and videos. Among professional athletes and trainers, it’s been a trusted tool for years. But only recently has it become engineered to be consumer-friendly, with devices that don’t require a Ph.D. (or extensive capital) to own and operate. In 2019, Israeli tech executive Mike Telem took that advancement and applied it to fitness and physical therapy to create Kemtai, which uses computer vision and a proprietary app for personalized workouts. Using only the Kemtai digital studio and a computer camera, the tool offers real-time feedback on motion analysis (Are you doing those squats correctly?) and adaptive workouts (Out of breath already? Let’s slow things down), among other benefits.
In his presentation at the Connected Health & Fitness Summit, Telem shared some of the key things consumers should take into consideration when evaluating computer vision-driven programs like his:
- Confirm that you have a good number of data points on the body; you want to be accurate about what you’re analyzing so you can support the body’s movements.
- You want accurate software and, he added, you want it to be software, not something that requires hardware.
- Movement cloning is important: “Fitness,” he said, “is like music. There is no one right way.”
Beyond the individual consumer, Telem sees Kemtai working well for physical therapy patients, once they leave the office with their assigned exercises. He also sees it working well for corporate wellness, where companies leverage data to incentivize employees to pursue their fitness goals, and in hybrid fitness, where a gym member might get a digital assessment every few weeks to track progress and set new goals.
Telem, along with Vigano and Modi, is just a glimpse at the way that health and fitness are changing, and what’s potentially to come. The connected fitness industry is still in its infancy, but energy, investment and expertise are fueling its quick rise. In part two of our series, we’ll feature more entrepreneurs and the myriad of ways that it’s rapidly changing.