Tag: Fitness Technology

Align Your Stars

Over the past two years, our sector has been transformed. The hastily executed online pivot of March 2020 has been refined and embedded in our norm, accelerating us into a hybrid era that’s been brought forward perhaps five years for operators across the world.

That much has already been extensively talked about, of course. But what comes next is vital: ensuring clubs are delivering a true hybrid experience, not merely ticking the box of hybrid technology.

As the buzzword becomes ‘omnichannel’, operators should be under no illusion that digital can be a mere add-on. Moving forward, equal importance must be given to digital and in-person, ensuring the same user experience is delivered whatever the point of entry.

And when I say the same, I mean exactly the same. Every customer will use multiple touchpoints and expect to dive straight in to a familiar experience each time.

Clubs must therefore learn to view everything they do as one big customer-centric experience – and I believe this experience has to be led by content.

Content is the element of a health club offering that can transcend all boundaries. Where equipment is to a large extent anchored in a physical club, content is replicable on any channel: in-club, online, through an app, smart TV, smart mirror or other smart device.

“Every customer will use multiple touchpoints and expect to dive straight in to a familiar experience each time”

Content also happens to be what today’s fitness consumer – now well-accustomed to working out with on-screen trainers – seeks inside your facility and out.

Content creation is therefore no longer an adjunct to the business of running a club. It is the very cornerstone of hybrid success, underpinning omnichannel delivery of your club experience.

People power
Content is also where the money now is, so it’s hardly surprising that everyone from celebrities to media networks seems hell-bent on becoming a fitness content provider these days. Yet clubs still have a major USP: their in-house superstars.

Group exercise instructors have been key to member loyalty for decades, renowned for building communities of enthusiastic followers, but they’ve become even stronger during lockdown as their personalities, programmes and friendly faces reached beyond club walls and made us all feel better during the pandemic.

Wexer Virtual allows operators to upload self-produced content for in-club virtual classes

Clubs must recognise the power their instructors and trainers now hold. They are the content creators. They are the face of your brand in the digital arena. They are also the faces your members know and the people who, as channels to market proliferate, have the power to reach huge audiences.

If you’re looking for an advantage over the big digital players and the global fitness influencers who try and seduce your members away with their ‘three months for free’ offers and their Hollywood eyes, this – your team of local rockstars, whose relationships with members weld them to your brand – is it.

It therefore goes without saying that every club operator should be maximising opportunities to put their in-house superstars in front of customers, both on-site and at-home – and that means creating digital content fronted by them.

Of course, most clubs already did this during lockdown, but it was a kneejerk response to unforeseeable circumstances, with content often shared for free on third-party platforms. Moving forward, what’s needed is a sustainable strategy for the production of ownable, brand-enhancing, monetisable, local superstar-led digital content.

“Our data shows that the more fresh content you create, the more forgiving members are on quality”

A case in point
Why bother? Let’s take a look at Asia Pacific’s Evolution Wellness, which launched its web-based content platform – Virtual Studio – in partnership with Wexer in July 2021.

Fast-forward to January 2022 and our analysis of usage data to identify the most popular classes from Wexer’s global content library. To that analysis, we then added the content from Fitness First and Celebrity Fitness – two of Evolution’s brands in south-east Asia – and found that Evolution Wellness had 13 classes in the top 50 most viewed when aggregated across all our clients.

Clubs’ own content can be a huge usage driver, and in turn a major loyalty tool: the variety of Wexer’s global content library is what draws people to on-demand in the first place, but the locally-produced content plays a major role in keeping them there.

Self-produced content can also be a significant revenue driver. Recent Credit Suisse research found that 52 per cent of club members would be happy to pay for a digital tier to their membership, and our data backs this up: Evolution Wellness is projecting US$500,000 in Virtual Studio revenues for year one alone, all from existing members, with the lucrative prospect of non-geographically limited audiences as yet untapped.

Make the most of what you do
Producing digital content doesn’t have to be hard, either. Start by looking at your live timetable. Where are your superstars? Which are your waitlisted classes?

Maximise reach and ROI of these classes by installing a simple camera set-up in-studio and filming them; you’ll quickly compile a rich library of your own superstar-led content that can then be made available on-demand via your app, website, members’ smart TVs, even on the big screen of your in-club virtual studio.

The Absolute Group creates digital content for home workouts, but also to use on the big screen at Absolute X

It doesn’t even have to be beautifully produced. Our data shows that the more fresh content you create, the more forgiving members are on quality: four pieces a day and it needs to look pretty slick, but get closer to eight pieces a day and it really is fine filmed as a fly on the wall of the live class studio.

Indeed, unless you’re a large multi-site operation with the budget to build and run specialist digital production studios, our advice is that you focus on getting the most out of everything you already do – all that incredible content you’re already producing – by filming it and making it accessible via multiple platforms, both digital and physical.

This, really, is the vital mindset shift. You need to see all your content as, well… content. Don’t mentally place in-person content and digital content in different boxes. Live in-person classes and workouts, live-streamed and on-demand sessions with your in-house stars, on-demand content from third-party providers to ensure strength in depth.… It’s all simply content that pours into one central repository, from which your members can pull the experience(s) they want via whichever touchpoint they choose – whatever channel works for them that day.

“Hybrid isn’t just a project. It’s a new model in which digital is a key business division that must be resourced”

I’m not going to turn this into a big Wexer pitch, so all I’ll say for now is this: all it really takes is a shift in focus and a sprinkle of technology. All of the above can be achieved with our ecosystem of white labelled digital solutions. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss the Wexer API, SDK, App, Web Player or in-club Wexer Virtual; whatever point you’ve reached in your process of digital transformation, we can help you start or continue your journey.

Create a win-win
Of course, your content creators could feasibly go online themselves, independently of your club; there are influencers out there making millions. But your in-house stars are unlikely to have the database, nor necessarily the business skillset to build one. They have the talent and the mass appeal, but not the platform.

Meanwhile, your club has the audience – your database of members – and the pressing need to become omnichannel to better serve that audience.

Which is, of course, where it all aligns perfectly, with money to be made all round – provided you create a win-win scenario for both club and superstar.

To keep your content creators contributing to your brand rather than their own, you must find ways to incentivise and reward them for the incredible contribution they make to your now omnichannel business. We have a number of clients who pay their stars more for content that drives high usage, for example.

Bowman: “The number of people who now have a cycling option at home amazes me” (photo: Echelon Fitness)

Nurture your talent, too, encouraging them to rise into the starring role you and your members need them to occupy. Empower and incentivise them to promote the content they create with you among their followers; when content is your product, you sell your talent and your talent in turn sells you. Help them grow their profile at the same time as rewarding them for their role in your success, to ensure their ongoing loyalty to your brand even as their reach and appeal grows.

In short, recognise that their success is your success, but work hard to ensure they know the flip side is also true: that they will do better with you than on their own. As usage and revenue rises, your operation will have more to invest in content, meaning superstars continue to grow… and so the virtuous circle goes on.

Yet underpinning this is a simple but vital secret: you have to fully commit. Hybrid isn’t just a project. It’s a new model in which digital is a key business division – one that must be resourced and prioritised.

Indoor cycling in a content-led world

“Virtual classes have long been used to meet off-peak demand and reduce downtime in studios. Indoor cycling is no exception – and with Wexer technology now allowing clubs to stream their own self-produced content onto the big screens of their virtual studios, operators have a chance to create a real buzz around their group cycle offering,” says Bowman.

“The first step is upping the ante on your live classes to make each of them a truly special event that members waitlist to be a part of. You want every live cycling class to be packed, so you might even consider reducing the number of live classes.

“Then put a basic camera set-up in your group cycle studio and record all these incredible live classes, capturing the energy of the room as well as the carefully selected rockstar instructor.
Once recorded, this content can be scheduled to run in any slots that used to be live instructor-led, as well as being made available on-demand the rest of the time. Your own signature ‘wow factor’ cycle classes are suddenly available whenever members come into the club.

“And of course, use of this on-demand content isn’t limited to your cycle studio. The number of people who now have a cycling option at home amazes me; we’re putting more indoor cycling content onto our Mobile platform to meet demand, with cycling already accounting for around 8 per cent of class views. When you consider the equipment requirement and the 1,500 different classes available in our Mobile library, that’s pretty impressive.

“As a club, there’s great value to be had in creating your own indoor cycling content.”

A New Cohort

If we asked you to name one brand you most associate with the at-home fitness boom, what would that brand be?

Chances are it would be Peloton – and for good reason, with its millions of users and soaring revenues through lockdown. Things may have slowed down for the megabrand over recent months, but there’s nevertheless a huge global community that’s already invested in its bikes and become accustomed to the brand’s slick, customer-centric way of doing things.

And of course, Peloton is just one of a large number of brands that have entered the connected, at-home cycling space.

So, what does this mean for clubs and studios?

Positive return figures from operators around the world show demand is absolutely still there for the social, in-person experience; your group cycling fans from before lockdown will likely still be your group cycling fans now, provided your classes bring them value above and beyond what they can experience online.

Nevertheless, the future does seem to be hybrid, with these fans coming to your club or studio when it’s convenient and training from home when it isn’t.

But what about those individuals who weren’t members of a club before, who bought an indoor bike as their way of staying active during lockdown? And what about your returning members who didn’t previously do your (perhaps a little daunting) cycling classes, but who were drawn to the intimidation-free at-home cycling experience during the pandemic?

How do we get these indoor cycling newcomers into our studios and engaged with the in-person experience? Our panel of experts share their thoughts and advice.

 

Barbara den Bak

Founder, HIGH STUDIOS | CDO, Urban Gym Group

My thoughts on this topic come from my own lockdown experience.

In September 2021, we opened our first multi-studio, with our new concepts – HIGH FLOW hot yoga and HIGH RIDE indoor cycling – alongside our signature HIIT class, HIGH RUN. Then, almost immediately, we went into lockdown again.

We shot a few simple videos to offer all our members for free, and I had a bike in my house to test the RIDE concept. I immediately felt a huge experiential gap between the live class environment and a single instructor on-screen telling me what to do. I didn’t enjoy it.

I started looking around online and came across an incredible cycling instructor, Kristina Girod, who films classes from her studio in Arizona. The way she does it, you can see the whole room. The studio’s full of participants, the music’s amazing, she has a really powerful presence and you can feel the energy coming through the screen.

“During lockdown, I immediately felt a huge experiential gap between the live class environment and a single instructor on-screen telling me what to do. I didn’t enjoy it.”

It transformed not only my at-home experience but my feelings about indoor cycling generally. I’ve always been more of a HIIT girl – I initially found choreography on a bike hard – but doing Kristina’s classes at home has given me confidence. I feel ready for the studio.

But to actually get me – and others like me – into the studio, we have to show people what they’re still missing at home. We have to create FOMO. My experience of following a face-to-camera instructor? That won’t work. But seeing a really cool instructor leading an incredible class, feeling the energy, getting a sense of the additional motivation and advice you would get in-person… It makes you want to go in and do a class with them in real life.

“We’re all too desperate to get out of the house for at-home to replace in-person classes,” says den Bak

So, this is my advice to clubs and studios: shoot classes for your digital channels – it doesn’t have to be expensive – and show the whole class. Pick your top instructors. Do everything you can to show how cool it is to be in your studio. Then share at least some of this content on your social platforms and website, not just with members.

I know some of the big studio cycling brands won’t do this – their classes go on behind closed doors – but I think it’s beneficial not only for your own studio but for studios around the world. I can’t go to Arizona to do Kristina’s class, but seeing her energy makes me want to find a studio locally that can give me a similar in-person experience. It will help us all if we put our energy out there.

“Share at least some of your content on your social platforms and website. It’s beneficial not only for your own studio but for studios around the world. It will help us all if we put our energy out there”

We will certainly do this for HIGH RIDE, and I have no fear that it will stop people coming to our studio – and potentially studios plural, as I can see us opening standalone HIGH RIDE and HIGH FLOW studios in the future. People will cycle at home as well, but we’re all too desperate to get out of the house for at-home workouts to replace in-person classes.

Another thing we do at HIGH STUDIOS which is very useful for newcomers is make it really clear on our website what to expect in class. We spotlight our trainers, their style and approach to choreography, even their playlists, so you can choose the exact in-person experience you want.

Finally, and this relates specifically to our multi-studio, we place a big emphasis on cross-promotion of classes. That includes training our instructors to cross-teach so, for example, they can encourage their HIIT fans to try a yoga class with them too. We also do special HIATHLON events – a 20-minute ride, 20 minutes of HIIT then 20 minutes of yoga. This crossover is also likely to bring new people into our cycling studios.

Kristina Girod’s online classes inspired den Bak to think differently about indoor cycling

 

Emma Barry

Global fitness authority | Chief Creative Soul, Good Soul Hunting

“Live has got to get better. If I bother to be in the room, you had better bother to make it worth my while.”

Tune in to the global guru that is Emma Barry as she takes us through two caveats, five mega-trends and five calls-to-action to entice at-home cyclists to the in-club, in-person experience.

Expect pearls of wisdom on:

  •  Reframing re-opening as opening for the first time
  •  Embracing 2022 as the year of workout variety
  •  Lifting our live game and dialling up the FOMO
  •  Becoming social Pied Pipers, whereby ‘can’t’ becomes ‘can’

… and far, far more besides!

Set aside 10 minutes of your life to check out this video. Your business will love you for it!

 

Ben Karoonkornsakul

Founder & CEO, The Absolute Group

Alongside our studios in Bangkok and Singapore, we also offer at-home fitness: we sped up the launch of our Home Edition bike when lockdown hit and have sold or rented 700–800 bikes.

Around 60 per cent of the customers who have a Home Edition bike were members of our studios before the pandemic. They were already brand enthusiasts and wanted to continue to exercise with us even when they couldn’t leave the house. Our bike – with its integrated screen streaming Absolute content into their homes – was the perfect solution.

For this group, returning to our studios will happen naturally. In fact in Singapore, where the market is a little younger, all our classes are already over-subscribed. In Bangkok, people are still more fearful and are taking their time to return; we’re even seeing people making an experience of their home workouts, with groups of friends and family putting all their Home Edition bikes together in one of their houses to enjoy group rides!

But they know how great our in-person experiences feel. We’re confident that when the fear of COVID has finally gone, those who were members before will come back, settling into a hybrid pattern of both at-home and in-studio classes.

“We’ll create exclusive events for Home Edition members to come in and meet the instructors they’ve been training with on-screen for so many months, but never met in person”

The challenge is with the other 40 per cent: the Home Edition customers who became first-time riders during lockdown. Can these customers be migrated into our studios?

We certainly aren’t seeing many of them coming in yet. They feel safe at home and they don’t know what they’re missing, so they’re staying where they are.

The Absolute Group will offer free trials at its studios to encourage new groups to sample the live experience

Even longer term, it’s important to understand the motivations for purchasing our bike in the first place – including geography. In Thailand, our studios are all in Bangkok, which means people living elsewhere may never attend in person. They’ve chosen at-home cycling purely as a simple but effective class to follow on-screen. Absolute is a strong brand in our markets, so they’ve found their way to our bike. And commercially, as long as they continue to subscribe to Home Edition, that’s fine by us.

In fact, digital is set to become an even bigger focus for us as we finally get to trial our Absolute X hybrid club concept in Singapore. We believe there’s a huge market for virtual fitness, not least due to the shortage of good instructors, so Absolute X has a big virtual studio – including live streaming top classes from other Absolute studios – alongside in-person instruction. With this second distribution channel, we’re very happy to continue investing in high-quality digital content.

That said, when the time is right, we will try and encourage those in the 40 per cent group who live near our studios to experience an in-person class. We’ll offer lots of free trials and introductory discounts, not just for cycling but also for yoga and reformer pilates, giving people even more reasons to come in and experience the live ambience.

Home Edition has been a big success, with 700–800 bikes sold or rented to date

We’ll look at bundling Home Edition + studio memberships; use our Home Edition bike screens to show off our studio vibe; and use social media to drive awareness and understanding of how different in-person really is. We’ll also create exclusive events for Home Edition members to come in and meet the instructors they’ve been training with on-screen for so many months, but who they’ve never met in person. They’ll then do a special class with that instructor – a dedicated class just for Home Edition newcomers, so they don’t feel out of place.

As I say, if we can’t get all Home Edition members into our studios, commercially it isn’t a big deal. However, we know our studio environment, experience and community are big drivers of satisfaction and retention, so where relevant, we will try to engage them in-person too.

And breathe…

We talk to two operators who’ve invested in the latest technology to ensure their clubs – including their cycle spaces – are filled with air that fills their members with confidence.

The best air you can breathe – GO fit

“When COVID hit in early 2020, GO fit looked at all potential transmission risks and implemented 35 separate protocols – at a cost of around €6m – to ensure our clubs were, and still are, the safest places you could be,” says professor Alfonso Jimenez, chief research & innovation officer at the GO fit LAB.

The CADR
The CADR – clean air delivery rate – in GO fit’s cycling studios is over 19 times higher than the recommended minimum rate

“As a result, from 15 million visits over 16 months, there was not a single outbreak in any of our clubs. When – in February 2021, in a city where 10 per cent of the population is a member of our club – there was an accumulation of potential COVID cases coming into the club, our contact mapping allowed us to track the transmission rate. It was just 0.28 per cent, compared to an average 5 per cent transmission rate locally. Our robust protocols really do ensure you’re safer in our clubs than anywhere else.”

He continues: “A number of our protocols relate to air quality. In fact, we’re pretty much obsessed with it! We’ve implemented real-time monitoring of air quality in every single area of our clubs, with sensors measuring CO2 concentration: higher CO2 levels mean higher levels of un-renewed air, which is more likely to contain the COVID pathogen.

“In our cycling studios, the air is replaced 22.8 times an hour – just over once every two-and-a-half minutes”

“These sensors are connected to a powerful ventilation system that’s triggered to totally renew the air in the club on average every seven minutes. In some areas – our cycling studios, for example, where members are exerting themselves and breathing heavier – the air is replaced 22.8 times an hour, which is just over once every two-and-a-half minutes.

“There’s an important metric – Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) – which indicates how many cubic metres of clean air you’re pumping in every hour. The recommended minimum CADR for crowded areas is 750, as this reduces the risk of transmission from 100 per cent to 10 per cent – that is, if you’re in a crowded space for an hour with someone who has COVID, and the CADR of the room is 750, your risk of contracting COVID drops to 10 per cent.

“In our cycling studios, the CADR is 14,400, which far exceeds any regulations. But these are spaces where members are working and breathing hard, so we want to ensure the air is intensively and rapidly recycled.

A powerful ventilation system
A powerful ventilation system sucks exhaled air up and out of the cycling studios, replacing the air every few minutes

“We also filter it. We’ve installed HEPA filters throughout our clubs, which identify and filter out any pathogen particles in the air. They get rid of everything, including COVID-19, and take our air to operating theatre grade.

“We’re constantly reviewing the latest research, and as more and more evidence emerges that COVID is transmitted through the air rather than via surfaces, air quality will continue to be a huge focus for us. The system we’ve put in place will be permanent – air quality will forever be this high at GO Fit – and we’ve made a big educational push to ensure members understand the continued importance of mask-wearing and social distancing.

“Perspex boxes around each individual bike allow members to take off their masks during class, which otherwise still isn’t permitted”

“And then in our cycling studios, we have perspex boxes around each individual bike, so exhaled air is sucked up and out by our ventilation system. This allows members to take their masks off during class, which otherwise still isn’t permitted in Spain. We then nebulise all bikes and screens between classes.

“Finally, as you come in the front door of the club, there’s a big screen comparing the quality of the air inside the club to the quality of the air outside, which is public information. Consistently, our air is of a far superior quality to the air outside, and as a result, member confidence is really high.”

 

Cleans the air, and everything it touches – Midtown Athletic Clubs

When Midtown Athletic Clubs re-opened its eight large clubs from lockdown, alongside all the social distancing, mask wearing and enhanced cleaning protocols was an unobtrusive but powerful new system: airPHX air sanitation.

airPHX units are installed throughout all Midtown clubs (far right, above the doorway)

Widely used in medical facilities as a safe and highly effective solution, airPHX is an ICU-grade air sanitation system that kills airborne bacteria, viruses – including coronaviruses, influenza and norovirus – and other pathogens, continuously reducing these by up to 98.2 per cent as well as sanitising every surface the air touches.

“When we were first closed down, one of our initial tasks was to investigate ways to clean and sanitise our clubs that would be considered over and above what had previously been acceptable,” says Midtown president Jon Brady. “We wanted to do everything possible to keep our members and associates safe when they returned, and hopefully avoid future shutdowns.”

“We distilled the messaging and came up with a simple statement: airPHX completely sanitizes the air, and everything the air touches”

A comprehensive new ‘standard of clean’ was developed, including the installation of airPHX units throughout all Midtown clubs – including in each and every group exercise studio – at a cost of US$250,000.

“We then needed to express all of this in a simple, powerful way to build confidence among our members and teams,” says Midtown’s creative director Eric Lowery. “We came up with what we call our 4S approach, highlighting the fact that our cleaning technology is ‘Strong, Safe, Sustainable and powered by Science’.

“Explaining airPHX was a tough challenge, though. The science behind the units is quite complicated and we needed to present the information to our members in a quickly digestible way.

“We distilled the messaging and came up with a simple statement: ‘airPHX completely sanitizes the air, and everything the air touches.’

“In some cases, we also mentioned the fact that airPHX completely disinfects the club every night.

Each and every group exercise studio across Midtown’s eight clubs has its own airPHX unit

“We did a lot of communication around this to build confidence: welcome back videos, for example, and a dedicated midtown.com/clean web page. And interestingly, it wasn’t just existing members who responded positively: airPHX also turned out to be a great prospecting tool in the aftermath of lockdown.”

Lowery continues: “We also produced an airPHX infographic that goes into a bit more detail, running through a few FAQs and sharing some statistics and context around just how effective these units really are: the fact that airPHX continuously kills over 95 per cent of germs, including coronaviruses, and 99.99 per cent in an overnight deep clean while the club is empty; that each unit sanitises 150,000 cubic feet of air – the space taken up by 156 school buses; and that it’s totally safe.”

“airPHX really seems to have captured the imagination: we’ve seen so many photos on members’ social pages with the caption ‘Does your gym do this?’”

Brady adds: “This poster is displayed next to every airPHX unit in our clubs, and returning members were so fascinated by the hi-tech approach that our teams were bombarded with questions. We therefore also produced an FAQ sheet, explaining the technology and sharing the proven independent results, which our reception teams could give to any members who wanted to know more.”

Brady concludes: “Member feedback has been overwhelmingly positive around all our enhanced standards, and airPHX really seems to have captured the imagination: we’ve seen so many photos of the airPHX machines on members’ social pages with the caption ‘Does your gym do this?’

“It’s important that members continue to feel safe in our clubs, too. With COVID sadly now a part of our lives, airPHX will also be a permanent fixture at Midtown.”

Inspired by COVID. Designed for the future.

Event quality in every class 

BikeStreamers, Denmark

Created by Kim Lahn Lindgaard, Jesper ‘JAS’ Sörensen, Rikke Adamsen Kirkegaard and Jesper Skovhave – and now with permanent staff instructors Stephen Rasmussen and Lone Christensen also on-board – BikeStreamers was launched in September 2020 when, in Lindgaard’s words, the founders were “going crazy in lockdown and wanted to do something”.

An online streaming service charging 159 Danish Krone (€21.20) a month, or 25 Danish Krone (€3.33) per class, BikeStreamers provides live streamed and on-demand indoor cycling classes, currently all in Danish.

Some of the BikeStreamers instructors have created green screen areas in their own homes

Between five and nine new classes are streamed every week – summer sits at the lower end of that scale while customers enjoy the great outdoors – with each new class then feeding in to a constantly refreshed back library of around 150 on-demand classes. Special online events are also offered on the occasional Saturday between September and May.

We chat to the founders to find out more…

What’s behind the scenes at BikeStreamers?

All sessions are led by the country’s top talent in the shape of us four founders, our two staff members and the occasional guest instructor.

We don’t have one central studio, because we all live in different parts of Denmark. Instead, the four of us have each spent between €4,000 and €7,000 creating our own green screen areas at home – sometimes on the other side of our bedrooms! – from which we broadcast, with the classes streaming on our Boon.tv/bikestreamers channel. We each have a camera, mixers, screens, microphones, great lighting, a streaming PC and really good internet connections to ensure the best possible delivery of our classes.

Guest instructors don’t tend to have this set-up, so their classes are about personality. But in our classes, the green screen allows us to cycle against the backdrop of a virtual world, courtesy of either Intelligent Cycling or iQniter. It ensures the customer experience is seamless, whichever of us they’re cycling with.

“We’ve each spent between €4,000 and €7,000 creating our own green screen areas at home”

We pay almost 50 per cent of our revenues to Boon, but it negotiates all music usage licences, which means we can play whatever commercial tracks we like in our classes.

How has BikeStreamers done?

We have a strong community of around 800+ people on social media, all of whom have done our classes at some point.

At the moment, we have over 300 monthly subscribers; it was close to 400 before the country’s gyms re-opened. It’s summer here at the moment though [interview conducted 2 July 21] and people want to be outside, so they don’t want to commit to an unlimited monthly package with us. We expect to see monthly subscribers go up again in the colder months, but for now, we have a lot of people paying on a class-by-class basis.

Bikestreamers Classes
Between five and nine new BikeStreamers classes are streamed every week

We also have a few clubs that have bought a BikeStreamers package, so they can run our virtual classes on big screens in their studios. Clubs tend to focus on our on-demand classes for flexibility of scheduling.

We’ve been really pleased by how little our numbers have been affected by gyms re-opening. We have very loyal customers – many of whom also attend our in-person classes at the clubs where we instruct – and we’re finding they’re continuing to train with us as well as going back to the gym. They’re telling us they really appreciate the flexibility of training from home, doing things like 9.00pm classes that they’d never do in-club.

We do have perhaps 10–20 individuals who are only using BikeStreamers, but most of our customers have a gym membership too.

Bikestreamers encourage
BikeStreamers encouraged 800–1,000 of its members to buy BODY BIKES during lockdown

The challenge, of course, is that before people sign up with us, they first need an indoor bike; it’s not like an online yoga class where all you need is a mat and your own bodyweight. However, we’re aware of 800–1,000 people in Denmark who’ve bought a BODY BIKE during lockdown as a response to BikeStreamers’ efforts alone. In a country of 5.5 million population, that’s not bad going!

What’s the secret of your success?

We’re some of Denmark’s most in-demand instructors, well-known for instructing at mass live events as well as classes in our local clubs. We already have very loyal followings.

Then there’s the quality of BikeStreamers’ classes. It’s a high-level experience every time, from music and mixing to coaching and visuals. There’s simply no bad class. The way we view it: each of our classes can have up to 300 participants, which puts them on the same level as a mass event. Our class quality needs to be consistent with that.

“In-club, you can deliver the same class a number of times, but online you can’t sell the same class twice.”

Every single session is new, too. In-club, you can deliver the same class a number of times, but online you can’t sell the same class twice. We have lots of themed classes with fresh music and visuals every time.

The other important point is that we understand how to keep people motivated remotely. Online requires a lot of energy from you as an instructor, as participants don’t get the buzz off each other. You don’t get any feedback from the floor, either. It’s just you and a camera, and you have to learn to perform to it.

BODY BIKE Bikestreamers
Classes are currently offered only in Danish, but may soon be available in English too

We continually work to make the experience even better, too. We get a lot of really good, constructive feedback on chat and through our Facebook group, and we build that in to our programming.

It’s also a fact that, when you see yourself on video, you see a lot you want to change! You realise you say the same things over and over, for example. But it’s a great way to learn – to go back, see how you did, do it better next time. Honestly, every instructor should video themselves at least once a month. They’ll quickly see what they could do better.

What are your plans moving forward?

First of all, we’re going to keep going, continuing to build and serve our fantastic community in Denmark. We’re also building our own website rather than relying on Facebook alone.

“Every instructor should video themselves at least once a month. They’ll quickly see what they could do better.”

We’re also looking at options to expand internationally, taking our high-quality instruction to new markets. In Denmark, we’ve grown mostly by word-of-mouth and people knowing us as instructors, as well as a bit of Facebook marketing, so international growth will be harder. But even if we only serve a fraction of the overseas market, that’s fine with us as delivery will be fairly straightforward: we’ll simply do each class twice, once in Danish and once in English, with each language having its own Boon.tv channel – and possibly a different pricing structure depending on the market.

Finally – and this is one not just for us, but for the whole market – is a need to address the fact that, in Denmark at least, the average age of indoor cycling participants is going up by nine months every year. It going to be a scary future if we can’t find ways to bring younger people in to this discipline, making it fun for them.

 

An opportunity to innovate

BODY BIKE, Denmark

“As a Danish manufacturer, we’ve always had a strong focus on the environmental agenda,” says BODY BIKE CEO Uffe A Olesen. “When we develop our products, it’s always with an eye on what we can do to help create a better world.

 

“Until now, the clearest evidence of this lay in our BODY BIKE SMART®+ OceanIX: the world’s first indoor cycling bike to be built using recycled plastic from commercial fishing nets. These nets might otherwise be discarded in the oceans – part of a broader crisis of plastic pollution that I could no longer sit back and passively watch.

“We have the capacity in our factory to produce BBCARGO as well as BODY BIKE and it just feels like the next ‘right thing to do’”

“OceanIX is therefore something we’re incredibly proud of. It isn’t just a piece of gym equipment. It’s part of a cause – something we created because it was the right thing to do. Having done so without any compromise in the product quality or ride experience, it’s proving to be a popular choice among those wishing to do their bit for the planet.”

Inspiration in challenging times

He continues: “Inspired by this success, and by the growing levels of eco-consciousness across the globe, we had already begun to look at an entirely new market for our company: electric road bikes, and specifically eCargo bikes.

Sabine Højbjerg and Uffe A Olesen at BBCARGO
Sabine Højbjerg and Uffe A Olesen are leading the BBCARGO project and are “so excited by the road ahead”

“This is a market that’s seeing huge growth. Even by 2018, eCargo bike sales in trailblazing Germany had surpassed those of electric cars, growing by 80 per cent that year. Today, everyone from Walmart and IKEA to UPS and Sainsbury’s is using them for shorter-distance deliveries.

“With analysis suggesting that 51 per cent of all motorised trips related to goods transport in EU cities could be done by bike, European eCargo sales are now predicted to hit 1 million bikes for commercial deliveries and a further 1 million family bikes by 2030. Many cities are already adapting their infrastructures accordingly.

“So, we did our research and knew we had an opportunity to create a very special product that would redefine the market. The manufacturing processes were already there in our 12,000sq m Danish factory to support such a product: we’ve long pushed the limits to create the perfect indoor bike, with each still carefully hand-crafted to the highest standards, and we were ready to apply that same precision design and construction quality to eCargo.

“eCargo also fits perfectly with our company’s sustainable approach. It’s a bit of a departure from our usual fitness sector territory, but we have the capacity in our factory to produce BBCARGO as well as BODY BIKE and it just feels like the next ‘right thing to do’.”

He adds: “From a human perspective, it also gave our team something positive to focus on during lockdown – an inspirational project to keep motivation high in what could otherwise have been a very depressing time. When COVID brought the gym sector almost to a standstill in 2020, we saw it as a window in which to accelerate this project.”

Introducing BBCARGO

Olesen continues: “Fast-forward to today and, after rigorous development and testing, we’re hugely excited to unveil the BBCARGO bike.

“We knew we had an opportunity to create a very special product that would redefine the eCargo bike market”

“There’s just so much to say about this bike, from its world-class design and cherry-picked, premium quality components to its flexibility. This isn’t just any cargo bike. We talk about it as a ‘find, keep, love’ product – something you will have done your research on and will be so happy you’ve found.

“With its 150kg payload, it’s one of the strongest three-sheeled eCargo bikes on the market, while 85Nm of torque power from its Shimano motor ensures an easy ride even when fully loaded. There are also two driving modes courtesy of our unique tilt mechanism: Static provides a locked and fully stable position, while Dynamic allows the bike to naturally tilt to the sides.

Michella Huban on BBCARGO
PT Michella Huban loves the branding opportunities on BBCARGO’s cargo box

“And the options for customisation are extensive. The pure aluminium bike frame is available in five colours, while the recyclable plastic cargo box can be created in whatever RAL colour you need for your brand; if you opt for black or grey, bearing in mind the box can also be fully branded, the plastic is recycled as well as recyclable.

“The box is modular too: use it with a cover or a lid, with or without a ‘front door’. Alternatively, use your BBCARGO without the box altogether.

“One bike really does offer infinite possibilities. It’s an honest, authentic, zero-compromise product that truly delivers what it says on the label. We’re so excited by the road ahead.”

Go where your clients are

’’I’m going to be testing BBCARGO as part of a pilot project and I’m thrilled to have been selected,” says Michella Huban, a personal trainer in Aalborg, Denmark.

“During lockdown, I found myself training some of my clients outdoors. It would have been so cool to have been able to travel by BBCARGO, transporting everything I needed for each session in the cargo box.

“That’s why I’m so keen to test drive this beautiful bike. There’s so much space in the cargo box for all my equipment, plus it will help me reduce my carbon footprint as I can leave the car at home and travel by BBCARGO when I train local clients.”

She adds: “It’s a fantastic marketing tool, too, with great options to put my brand on the box. I’m excited about the opportunity to get my name seen and promote my services as I travel between clients.

Michella outside workout with BBCARGO
With BBCARGO, Huban can transport everything she needs for client training

“Then there are all the other benefits beyond the features of the bike itself: no parking restrictions or risk of parking fines, plus an ability to cut through the traffic and even cycle where cars aren’t allowed to go. All the data suggests BBCARGO will make shorter journeys – under 5km – quicker than going by car, too.

“As a personal trainer, I also think it gives a much better impression if you cycle to your clients rather than turning up in the car. It’s about leading by example, isn’t it?”

 

Becoming online enter-trainers

Virtual Fitness Studio, Philippines

“I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been locked down,” says Michael Martinez, co-founder of Virtual Fitness Studio (VFS) in Manila, Philippines. “It’s been close to a permanent state of affairs since March 2020 and, while I hesitate to call this the ‘new normal’, certainly every business has had to find ways to adapt and thrive.

“Our own story, which I hope inspires others, is this. My VFS co-founders Belen Choi and Glenda Evangelista and I are all fitness instructors – we have been for many years – with the common denominator being Les Mills RPM.

“When health clubs across the Philippines closed in March 2020, although there was a fair amount of online fitness, there were hardly any online RPM classes. Chatting with friends, we felt this was a gap in the market so, while none of us had experience of running fitness operations – we all have very different day jobs out of the sector – we decided to create an online group exercise studio.

Virtual Fitness Screen
You need to be able to identify who needs support from a quick scroll over the screen, says Martinez

“We started from the ground up, driven by a love of teaching indoor cycling and a desire to contribute to our communities in lockdown, and launched VFS in November 2020. At that point, it was just RPM and it was free to participate. It was only in December 2020 that we introduced payment – still using Zoom as our platform – and over the months we’ve launched more programmes too.”

Creating human engagement

Martinez continues: “When we created VFS, we wanted to do it properly. In addition to world-class standards, internationally certified instructors and strong quality protocols, we decided that also meant conducting all classes in English.

“95 per cent of our members are in the Manila area, but we also have members in Singapore, Paris, Ireland, Japan and the US”

“As a result, while 95 per cent of our members are in the Manila area, we also have members in Singapore, Paris, Ireland, Japan and the US. That’s heart-warming when you consider how much online content is streamed from locations far closer to home.

“But I think it all comes down to the way we do things. We work hard to make all classes as engaging as if they were face-to-face. We talk about being ‘enter-trainers’, simultaneously training, inspiring and entertaining our members. We help them get the best results they can, but above all we create experiences that make them want to come back.

“And really, there’s no secret to engagement. It’s about going back to basics: logging on to class early to chat with participants, asking why they signed up and what their goals are that day. It’s about calling them out by name in class, correcting form if needed, praising them when they’ve done well, spotting and addressing those who need more encouragement. It sounds simple, but done well it makes a big difference.

Members VFS
Members have invested in their own bikes and want to keep training with VFS

“There are important learnings when instructing online, though. You have to exaggerate your facial expressions and the way you speak. You have to be sharper at giving out cues and better at picking up on visual ones, learning how to quickly identify those who need your support from a class of 70 participants. Sometimes that can be as simple as asking everyone to give a thumbs-up if they’re all good, but other times you might have to work it out from a quick scroll across the screen. You have to see it as a buddy system, learning how to pick up on those who need you.

“In the end, it’s about focusing on customer satisfaction and human connection in everything you do, even though you aren’t in a room together.”

Responding to demand

He continues: “Our timetable currently includes freestyle yoga, Body Combat and freestyle cycling alongside RPM. We have a total of 25 weekly classes at the moment, of which 13 are RPM. [Figures as at 14 July 21].

“Freestyle cycling was only introduced four weeks ago, but it’s already looking very promising. The content is choreographed by the instructor and could be anything from a themed pop music class with upper body work to a power racing session that trains you for outdoor rides.

“And we’re looking to further develop our timetable. We’re busy surveying members to see what new classes they’d like, but over the next three or four months we’re potentially looking to add a strength-based workout and maybe another indoor cycling programme.

“Ultimately, everything has to be about listening to customers. We take all feedback on-board – if members tell us a class is too easy or too hard, for example – and run regular surveys to check how we’re doing from a technical and a teaching perspective. We’re agile and ready to change to ensure we hit the sweet spot for our customers.

“Everyone has their equipment at home now, some even have cycling rooms with neon lighting, and they want to keep training with us”

“We’ve also shaped our future plans around member feedback. We were being asked what would happen with VFS once clubs re-open, and our answer was: ‘We’ll be here for as long as you’re still with us.’ Members were happy with that: everyone has their equipment at home now, some even have cycling rooms set up with neon lighting, and they want to keep training with us.

“Once things have settled down, though – maybe some time in 2022 – we’re also looking to set up a bricks and mortar boutique studio in Manila. This will allow us to serve our members with a face-to-face offer, but we’ll also optimise the productivity of each class by having a camera in the studio to live stream.

“But our online Virtual Fitness Studio will remain at the heart of what we do, hopefully with even more programmes and members over time. We love what we’re doing and want to keep sharing it with our community.”

 

A State of Ride

What’s your background?
My fitness background goes back to a bad leg injury I had in my early 20s. I had to learn to walk again, but as I got better, I joined a fitness centre and saw an ad for a thing called RPM. The moment I tried a class, I was hooked: the energy, the music, the party vibe… it ticked all the boxes for me. 

“I’VE SET OUT TO BRING A MASTERCLASS EXPERIENCE, USUALLY ONLY AVAILABLE TO INSTRUCTORS, TO A BROADER AUDIENCE” – Matty Clarke

From that moment on, I wanted to become a cycling instructor. I’m sorry to admit I used to be one of those members who’d burn CDs of music and offer them to the instructors of the classes I attended! I didn’t have any education at the time – it was just my gut feel of what would work – but fortunately for me, one of those instructors was really impressed. She also happened to be national fitness manager for Fitness First Australia and she showed me the path to move into the industry.

In Australia, that meant first qualifying as a group exercise instructor – cue me teaching the grapevine in aerobics classes – but I quickly had an opportunity to move on and qualify as a cycling instructor.

Over the next few years, I got more cycling education under my belt, worked alongside
industry legends and ultimately went on to develop a fully accredited, pre-choreographed indoor cycling programme called RIDE, as well as setting up an in-house production company to create our own royalty-free music. 

Then, in 2011, I stepped away from pure group exercise and opened my own functional group training facility, which I ran until COVID hit us in early 2020. 

When lockdown started, I pivoted the business online, but the drastically reduced workload meant I quickly became bored. Together with my best friend Jason Warring – a former radio host and club DJ – we started to look at how we might create a whole new indoor cycling experience for the online environment. I came with a background in fitness, coaching, programme design and music production. He brought an unrivalled knowledge of technology, music design and theatrical production. And we met somewhere in the middle!

Co-founder Jason Warring is ASOR’s tech expert.

On 24 April 2020, four weeks after the beginning of lockdown in Australia, we live streamed our first ever A STATE OF RIDE, which with a bit of social media marketing drew in around 40 participants. It was clear this was something people wanted, so we’ve continued to develop and grow it. 

Tell us about A STATE OF RIDE
A STATE OF RIDE (ASOR) is an immersive indoor cycling programme that I deliver as a weekly online masterclass to a global community of participants. It’s also a pre-choreographed programme that instructors can sign up to be affiliated with. 

A LOT OF THE TIME, IT ISN’T ABOUT WHAT YOU SAY. IT’S ABOUT WHAT YOU DON’T SAY. LESS IS MORE.

Every Friday evening, at 7.30 pm Sydney time, ASOR is live-streamed from our now
purpose-built studio. Around the world – and especially in Australia and New Zealand, the UK and the US – participants tune in and take part in those live-streamed classes. If they want to donate to support us, they can – anything from A$6 a class – but it’s entirely voluntary. We’re just happy people are there and enjoying it.

I design a new release every three weeks and, for the following three weeks, deliver the same programme in the live stream. Each time we stream it, though, we film it in a slightly different way, showing different options and variants to ensure instructors have plenty of flexibility when it’s their turn to deliver the programme. Throughout 2020, there were 15 full releases and more than 35 unique live streams.

What makes ASOR different?
Firstly, on the overall vibe, I’ve set out to bring a masterclass experience – usually only available to instructors at training events – to a broader audience. Those masterclasses are always so full of energy, passion, enthusiasm. I wanted the public to enjoy that too.

Then there’s the music, which we purposely seek out, re-mix and master around the specific needs of the programme. I believe many of the best indoor cycling classes are carried by the music – it’s such an important part of the experience.

Then, in terms of the programme itself, ASOR sets out to narrow the gap between outdoor and indoor cycling. Drawing inspiration from casual group rides, mountain biking, track and criterium racing, each class is structured around the notion of a real-life ride, whereby you start and finish at the same place. It’s an ‘out and back’ ride, meaning a class of two halves: in the front half, I introduce elements of what participants will need in the return leg, meaning there’s less explanation required later on and more chance to focus on motivation and coaching.

An ‘intimate knowledge’ of his resources helps Clarke engage with riders.

It isn’t just about performance cycling for the already fit, though. We’re aiming for the greatest possible attendance with continued adherence over time, which is why we film each release multiple times, showing options for all fitness levels and abilities.

ASOR is built around eight elements, with descriptors that enable flexibility in choreography: Warm-Up, Mixed Pace, Climbing, Attack Intervals, Race Endurance, Power, Peak, Ride Home. Others might call the Peak track a mountain climb, for example, but we don’t want to be that prescriptive, implying any particular riding position, resistance or RPM. 

In fact, if you think about it, most of our track names aren’t even cycling-specific. We’re using purpose-based descriptors that immediately lay out the training objective of each track, evoking a mental image of what I want participants to be aiming for. 

How does ASOR support instructors and clubs?
With each new release comes new music, a complete 55-minute class format, a detailed multi-option choreography booklet and marketing materials for clubs and/or instructors to use. We’re also able to provide branded clothing and accessories, which means ASOR is fast becoming a complete package to support clubs and facilities as they move back to in-person operation.

I firmly believe it’s consistency in class delivery that underpins long-term adherence.

Each new release has its own unique objective, music and feeling, with tools and guidance for instructors to ensure a consistent experience is delivered time after time within the ASOR format. I firmly believe it’s consistency in-class delivery that underpins long-term adherence.

Just because it’s pre-choreographed, though, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for an instructor to shine. There’s plenty of flexibility within the framework for instructors to inject their own personality and deliver the programme their way. An ASOR instructor is free to use their own vocabulary, and can focus on the metrics they like to work with; all are built into the choreography booklet, as well as the live-streamed masterclasses.

What’s the balance between in-club and online?
Mostly, our instructors use ASOR in the clubs where they teach, but if the last year has shown us anything, it’s that the future of indoor cycling is a healthy balance of online and in-person. Gyms are no longer the single point of distribution for class content, nor the single point of connection of a passionate community. 

We’ve therefore worked to develop as much quality content and support resources as possible, which clubs and instructors can now use fluidly – online or in-person – to suit their changing circumstances.

We’ve also been brutally, if not embarrassingly, honest around how basic our own set-up was to start off: a cheap webcam, a terrible lapel microphone and a coloured LED light from a hardware store. We’ve done this purposely, so instructors watching us aren’t put off venturing into the digital space. 

What’s your secret to engaging remotely?
During the live stream itself, it’s about having a clear understanding of the objective – the workout profile – and intimate knowledge of my resources, such as my music and visuals.

From there, it’s about finding connective pieces within the programme to draw people that little bit further in. Sometimes it’s the music, other time it’s the physical demands of a track. One important point we reinforce to our instructors is that, a lot of the time, it isn’t about what you say. In fact, it’s about what you don’t say, what you let naturally occur. My coaching model is ‘less is more’. Leave people to connect to the music and the athleticism of the programme design itself.

It’s about being in the journey together, too. I’m 100 per cent accountable with my own efforts and people can see on-screen how hard I’m working. It’s infectious.

Finally, connectivity is also very important to the success of ASOR. People can engage with me through a chat function during the live stream, and I can give them shout-outs by name. That’s a very powerful tool in the remote training space, helping people feel they’re really there with you.

We also have a short pre-show stream, giving viewers a little insight into the set-up process along with a bit of chat from Jason and me. It helps recreate the in-club experience of mingling before class, which we’ve all missed over the last year.

We’re visible throughout the week on social media, too, letting people know what we’re up to and showing them a real person they can connect with. We want to be accessible and
relatable, whether you’re a participant, an instructor or a club owner.

Tell us about the ASOR community.
Each week, we have anywhere from 30–80 people taking part in the live-streamed class; on new release days, it can peak over 100. These participation figures don’t include people who just log on briefly, either. These are people who spend an extended period in the broadcast. 

What’s astonished us is that we have some people tuning in even if they aren’t cycling. We’re blurring the lines between entertainment and exercise, and that’s really exciting for us.

The element of scarcity helps: you can get on-demand, audio-only versions of the live streams after the event, but if you want the full audiovisual experience, you have to be there live. That means 5.00 am on your bike for some of our riders in the US, but they do it!

What are your future goals for ASOR?
The big hairy audacious goal is to become one of the pillars of indoor cycling education worldwide. We want to be out there creating programmes that transcend specific equipment brands and technology requirements.

We’ll also look to grow our revenue streams, both by growing the number of ASOR instructors globally – each of whom pays around A$50 a month for our resources – and, by continuing to provide a consistent, high-quality experience, hopefully increasing the number of participants who support us with pledges. At the moment, around 30 per cent of participants currently make a donation to support our continued production.

We’re also evolving all the time, drawing inspiration from other industries and other segments in the fitness sector. If we see something we think is cool, we ask ourselves how we can incorporate it while staying true to the programme. A great example is live sporting events, where we’ve seen a growth in large-scale, city centre screenings. We’d love to do something similar and create ASOR Live sites, collaborating with clubs to create exciting on-site events by streaming our masterclasses into their facilities.

The Outside, Inside

What inspired the creation of Immersive Gym?
Back in 2009, I was training for a charity cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I spent months in my garage, training on a Tacx turbo trainer while looking at a computer screen, thinking there must be a better way.

There were rides on Tacx where I knew there was a stunning valley to my right and a mountain to my left, for example, but the technology and the content simply didn’t give me that ultra-wide view. I had to cycle with blinkers on. My wish was to be in a training space where I was fully immersed in the virtual environment – where my entire field of view was filled, so I could look left or right and still see the environment as if I were there.

The growing importance of fitness in people’s lives wasn’t being reflected in the design of their fitness spaces

I kept thinking someone would address this – that someone would create a product to meet this need – but fast-forward five, eight, 10 years and I was still having the same experience. No-one had done anything about it, so I decided to.

The result is Immersive Gym, launched at the end of 2019 and – for now at least primarily
targeting ultra-high net worth individuals and hotels.

What is your expertise in this area?
Fortunately for me, Immersive Gym represents a coming together of things I’m passionate about. It’s the perfect example of work and life outside of work coming together.

I’ve worked in the high-end property sector for many years, and in that world, I’d seen
significant technological development coming into other spaces: spas, home cinemas, home lighting and so on. But the gym space, into which people were putting all this nice kit, just hadn’t changed. It was still mirror on the wall, wooden floors. Nobody had asked the all-important question: ‘What is this room about?’ This in spite of the fact that only by asking this question can you optimise a space and make spending time in it as enjoyable as it can be.

I found it a big contradiction, because on the one hand we were seeing huge growth in the number of people wanting to focus on their wellbeing. But that lifestyle change – the growing importance of fitness in people’s lives – just wasn’t being reflected in the design of their fitness spaces.

BODY BIKE OceanIX takes a spin along the ocean road

Things are changing now, though. In fact, even though lockdown prevented us offering in-person demos, if anything our conversations were accelerated by COVID. People are spending more time at home now. They’re keen to ensure their home fitness provision is up to scratch.

So, what is Immersive Gym?
Immersive Gym is ultimately about creating an experience that makes fitness immersive, motivational, enjoyable. In physical terms, it’s a three-walled screen onto which content is projected to provide an immersive environment in which to work out: minimum dimensions are 4.25m wide for the main wall by 3.5m deep, with 2.5m a good height. We’re currently discussing spaces where the dimensions will be 9m wide by 5m deep, though; it’s a flexible concept where we can design the system around the space.

Every piece of content is displayed in a standardised way, so the experience is the same wherever it comes from

What underpins Immersive Gym, though, is the way we format all content to optimise it for our system. Our team doesn’t only include content creators. We also have specialists in projection mapping, programming, software development and so on to ensure that, whatever the source of the content, it’s formatted to channel through our server and display on the big screen in an optimal way. Not only that, but every piece of content is displayed in a consistent, standardised way, so the experience is the same wherever the content comes from.

What sort of content do you use?
We create our own content, but we also channel third-party content. People are already addicted to Zwift, Tacx, Rouvy; Immersive Gym allows them to continue with that training, but in an immersive environment.

Third-party content can be optimised to fill the side walls.

Zwift actually provides an option to grab extra content which we can use to fill our side walls. With other third-party providers, we can optimise the content – using screen mirroring, for example – to fill all three walls without having to stretch it.

Meanwhile, our own content is filmed in ultra-wide format on cinema-grade 6K cameras. Just as an example, we have a lovely ride along the coast road near San Sebastian in northern Spain. You cycle through a tunnel and, as you come out, you look up to the mountains on your right or down to the sea below on your left. You’re cycling along a life-sized road and your entire field of view is filled with the scenery. It’s beautiful.

Our cycling content is all live film. Zwift is doing a great job when it comes to virtual worlds, so we don’t feel we need to do this at the moment – especially while there’s so much lovely footage out there for cycling that still needs to be captured in the right quality for our system.

If you have a favourite view – anywhere in the world – we can create it for you as a piece of content

Immersive Gym isn’t just for cycling, though, even though the idea was born from my cycle training. You can use it for any workouts. We’re developing some great content for rowing, for example, and here we are using Unreal Engine – the gaming software used in Fortnite – to create hyper-real virtual environments rather than filmed environments.

And then for something like yoga, although the content won’t respond to your workout as it does when you connect equipment, we have lots of wonderful environments in which you can immerse yourself. You can work out on a beach, for example, or looking at the mountains. In fact, if you have a favourite view – anywhere in the world – we can create it for you as a piece of content. You’ll have the sound, too: we specify a 5.1 surround sound system as a minimum for our installations, and normally 7.1.

How interactive is Immersive Gym?
When you’re training, you want the world to move with you. Gym equipment can therefore be connected to Immersive Gym via your turbo trainer or via ANT+ Bluetooth, allowing the content to respond to your workout: if you speed up, slow down, go up an incline, the on-screen content reflects this.

It’s hugely valuable for elite athletes to train and visualise themselves in the race environment, without having to travel there

There’s also scope for coaching to ensure you get the most out of your workout. Our system includes two cameras – front and side – which act like digital mirrors to show you what you’re doing. You can then loop in an instructor or personal trainer via video call. They appear on-screen, life-size, and have access to these two cameras as well: they can see what you’re doing and give you feedback.

Exercisers can video call their own personal trainer, who then appears on-screen to observe and offer guidance.

We’re also working on being able to let you train in the exact same environment where your instructor is. Say you’re training with a yoga guru in India. We’ll make it so you’re right there with them, training at their base in India.

We’ll also be launching body tracking soon, which will use AI to assess your movements, comparing this to the pre-set perfect technique and giving you feedback.

Is your target market purely residential and hotels?
The price tag at the moment means Immersive Gym is really for high net worth individuals and hotels – for now at least. You’re currently looking at a minimum of £75,000 for the full set-up, and significantly more for larger spaces or if you want to go higher spec. Of course, we’re fully expecting people will use these rooms to watch live sporting events, concerts and so on as well. They will be immersive fitness and multi-media environments, and this will help justify the expenditure.

We’re also working in elite sport, although in the long term we expect this to be a small proportion of our overall market – we estimate there are 1.5–2 million private residential and hotel gyms around the world where the fitness experience hasn’t been optimised.

Immersive Gym can be used with a variety of different gym equipment.

We’re currently working on an installation for British Rowing, creating the 2,000m Tokyo 2021 rowing course in Unreal Engine, and we’ll do the same for the Paris 2024 course. It’s a multi-player set-up with data and stats built in. You can have up to eight rowers racing side-by-side, or else you can train on your own against the avatars of previous champions; we’re working on making those avatars very real.

It’s hugely valuable for these elite athletes to be able to train and visualise themselves in the race environment – all without having to travel there. They can familiarise themselves with the course and work on race strategy. Plus, of course, it makes the gruellingly long hours they put in to their training more interesting for them.

It’s for all of these reasons that we’re also in early stage discussions with one of the pro cycling teams.

There may still be nothing quite like being outside, but we’ll make indoor training as close as we possibly can

Meanwhile, although we initially held off looking at the workplace environment due to the ‘work from home’ impact of COVID, we’re having some interesting conversations with employers who, locked into leases, are exploring the role of the office moving forward. Organisations are looking to create experiences in the workplace to justify people commuting in, and wellbeing is high on the agenda.

What is your ultimate vision?
Our ultimate vision, and the principle that underlies everything we do, is to make fitness and wellness truly engaging for as many people as possible.

At the moment, our price point puts us out of reach of the mass market. You also need a dedicated space. However, the technology will catch up: first, it will be a curved screen that allows for single-user workout cocoons; then it will be eyewear that’s more workout-friendly than the current VR headsets; then it might be contact lenses… And it will all come sooner than you might think.

That will be great for us, because we aren’t about the hardware. We’re about content creation, processing, optimisation, display. We’re about the system through which all the content runs. We then have partnerships with hardware companies, plugging into their products.

We have to start where we can, with the tech that’s available now, but we ultimately want Immersive Gym to be enjoyed by as broad an audience as possible. We just need the hardware to catch up.

What is the future of indoor cycling?
It’s only going to get better and better as the gap between the outdoor and indoor worlds shrinks. Most cyclists would currently choose to be outdoors if they can, but with the growth in eSports, the AR overlay of real athletes as avatars and so on, it’s going to get more real, more engaging, attracting even more people to compete in this way. Immersive Gym is part of that.

As a final thought, we believe it’s also the case that those beautiful spaces in which we’d love to be cycling need to be protected, so we’re launching a Move for Good campaign. For every metre cycled in Immersive Gym, we’ll donate a percentage of our profits to help protect those forests, rivers, seas.

There may still be nothing quite like being outside, but we’ll make indoor training as close as we possibly can, and we’ll help people do good while they’re at it.

Jeff Veldhuizen

Jeff what drove your career path?
I grew up in rural Canada, in a farming family, but my mum always worked in women’s fashion. I used to help her, so from my early years, I always felt a level of comfort and familiarity around retail. The other thing I was always really into was technology, going back to the days when my brother and I would collect AOL CDs from our neighbours (who didn’t want them back then) so we could get free internet!

“I DEVELOPED MY PURPOSE AT NIKE: TO CONNECT PEOPLE TO GREAT PRODUCTS THAT HELP THEM LEAD HEALTHIER LIVES”

– JEFF VELDHUIZEN

I went on to study at an Ivy League school, but the thing that taught me what it was to have a real passion was snowboarding. I started off skateboarding, in fact, but living in Canada with all that snow… snowboarding was the logical progression. It got to the point I couldn’t wait to hit the slopes every weekend.

It was only later I’d figure out how to find this same passion for my work. I started out in civil engineering for three years before leaving to compete in and teach snowboarding. While I was still competing, I took on a role in grassroots marketing for Gatorade and my entire career direction changed.

Then crunch time came: did I become a pro-snowboarder, or did I accept I was unlikely to make it big and build myself a career? I chose the route of taking my passion and putting it into my career. I realised that passion was marketing, and in particular realised I enjoyed being around athletes. The drive and the dedication athletes have… all of that was incredibly inspiring to me.

From Gatorade, I worked in advertising for a few years to build my marketing bag of tricks, then moved to Best Buy in the early 2000s. While not directly related to my passion of sports, this role was all about becoming specialised in an area that was still nascent at that point: e-commerce. None of our team had really worked in this area before, but we launched BestBuy.ca and grew it to C$75m in the first year. I learned the strong balance that exists between art and science in e-commerce.

Tell us about your role at Nike.
Nike gave me an opportunity to move back into my area of sporting passion, now armed with a strong and specialised skillset: the ability to create personalised connections with consumers online, as well as a really strong branded commerce experience.

Veldhuizen helped Nike grow its e-commerce arm to a US$2.6bn business

Over the next 10+ years with Nike, I helped take its digital commerce experience from a pet project of US$100m to a US$2.6bn world-class e-commerce business. 

At the heart of this was a focus on understanding the consumer: talking to them, observing them in their environment, watching their shopping behaviours in physical Nike stores, being curious as to how we might better serve them. Combined with our digital insights – information around how they were exploring and interacting with our digital world – we built a very strong data set that allowed us to both shape what we were doing online and secure more floorspace in stores.

We’d drill down into our various customer profiles – understanding the ‘sneakerheads’, just as one example, who collected our sneakers and who were very digital- and app-focused – and sharpen our focus around them. We’d then take that data and slice it by city and zip code to understand where our distinct customer types were, so we could localise our store-based assortments around them. This thinking was ultimately the basis of Nike Live.

And then you joined Zwift…
At Nike, I developed my purpose: to connect people to great products that help them lead healthier lives. 

Around the world, there are over 2.2 billion people who suffer from some form of obesity. I started to ask myself how we could impact that a bit more. Zwift was all about getting more people more active more often, which really resonated with me. I felt it was doing something really cool by making fitness fun for competitive and enthusiast cyclists.

I’d spent some time working with AR and VR at Nike and really enjoyed the idea of taking that into fitness, so Zwift was a real technology passion play for me. We set out to create a whole new sporting category, which we defined as ‘indoor cycling’.

Veldhuizen: “I felt Zwift was doing something really cool by making fitness fun for cyclists”

One of the big lessons we learned: when you’re coming up with something new and different, it’s really hard to get consumers to come along with you based purely on the visualisation of what you’re talking about. It’s much easier to get them on the bike and just say to them: ‘Try it, immerse yourself.’

It’s public knowledge that Zwift is working on its own hardware, so it owns the full ecosystem

My role at Zwift ultimately centred on a marketplace strategy where I was responsible not only for the end-to-end global e-commerce function, but also our network of bike shop partnerships. 

We built out the direct-to-consumer (D2C) e-commerce function from scratch, taking it to 35 countries, four languages and three distribution centres in about 18 months. 

A pop-up at the World Cycling Championships drove “off the charts” engagement

I’m also really proud of the retail pop-up we created at the World Cycling Championships in Harrogate. The engagement we had with our customers was off the charts. These were people who loved our platform, but it was the first time they got to actually meet people who worked for the brand. We heard so many stories – people who’d gone from being overweight to being addicted to Zwift, people who’d met on the platform and were now friends in real life. It was a great experience and taught us so much about trialling and the customer journey.

At the time, we were selling other people’s hardware – Wahoo, Tacx, Elite and so on – and packaging this up with a Zwift subscription. It’s public knowledge that Zwift is now working on its own hardware, though, so it owns the full hardware/software ecosystem.

What fuels your passion for D2C?
D2C is a combination of understanding who your customer is, being able to create a personalised experience for them, and delivering that in a really creative way. What I love about it is that you have so many different facets of big business all playing together. It’s almost like a mini-business within a larger company and strategy. 

It’s also immediate, and – if you consider the number of people who come to your website on a daily basis – the largest door any company typically has. The opportunity to create a really strong brand connection straight out of the gate is amazing.

From there, you get people deeper into the experience, more engaged with the brand and connected to the product stories. You help them understand how your product can solve their challenges and fit with their training goals. You help them purchase, understanding what reassurances they might need in order to do so, and you make sure the journey doesn’t stop there. 

In fact, purchase is where the journey really begins. At Zwift, we would hand-hold them all the way to their first ride because we knew the customer journey starts and ends with advocacy.  

Expresso uses gamified fitness to engage the whole family

How are you applying your skillset at Expresso Fitness?
Expresso brings me even closer to my purpose, in that – by manufacturing products for the mass market, rather than the niche we catered to at Zwift – it allows me to harness my passion and expertise to lead an even greater number of people towards a healthier life.

For many people, fitness is hard and they struggle to commit. I believe connected, gamified fitness can help. It makes fitness more fun, more enjoyable, less of a chore. It motivates people to keep going, because it’s less about the end result – weight loss or fitness, for example – and more about an addictive journey. It’s why Expresso already has over 3 million registered users globally, and an NPS of 80+.

Of course, the roots of Expresso Fitness lie in B2B, with 7,000 points of presence across North America, from health clubs to YMCAs to college gyms to multi-housing facilities. We’ll continue to strengthen this B2B offering, but we’re also going to be building out our D2C arm with the launch of a new smart bike in Q3 of this year, and possibly a company rebrand in the process. 

Data shows that cycling is more popular than spinning by a factor of 50 or 100, so we wanted to create a bike that was flexible enough to cater to all interests within the modern fitness family – a family where one member might be a road cycling enthusiast wanting to train indoors during the week, another might like studio cycling, and the kids just want to be entertained. 

Fitness isn’t a ‘winner takes all’ market. Everyone has different exercise needs.

What we’ve created is a bike where the steering and flywheel can be either fixed or free, with the bike automatically selecting the appropriate setting based on the programme you’ve chosen. For an instructor-led on-demand spin class, the handlebars will be fixed. If you’re cycling through one of our virtual worlds, you’ll be able to steer and shift gear to mirror the experience of riding an outdoor bike. 

This is a competitive marketplace, but we have a big fan base already and a proposition that goes beyond those seeking instructor-led workouts. Plus, fitness isn’t a ‘winner takes all’ market: everyone has different exercise needs, and every individual seeks variety.

How do you create your content?
We produce our content using Unreal Engine, which is the game engine used by Fortnite. We have hundreds of miles of interactive roads that take you through a series of virtual worlds. Alternatively, you can take part in fun HIIT games where you collect coins and chase dragons, for example. Meanwhile, for our instructor-led studio classes, we’ve partnered with Studio SWEAT onDemand.

The gamification part of what we do is absolutely key to making the experience addictive. That means achievements, such as badges and progressing through the levels of a game. It means harnessing the immersive power of avatars and storytelling around our maps and workouts. And it means building a social aspect whereby people are part of a team, or else competing against others – sending a ‘ghost’ of their ride to their friends to race against, for example. 

It can even mean feeling part of something bigger, with our partnership with the YMCA a great example. Every year, over 1,000 Ys across the US take part in a rally – points and leaderboards included – to raise funds in support of under-privileged families in their local communities, funding swimming lessons for the kids or gym memberships to get the families active.

What’s exciting is that using Unreal Engine means the content we have now is just the beginning: we have access to millions of developers and creators who also use it, so we can scale rapidly. We’ll continue to bring out new and exciting content, speaking to
customers and analysing the data to determine what’s most important to them and their
fitness needs.

Users can send a ‘ghost’ of their ride to a friend to race against

What is the future of indoor cycling?
There are several mega-trends going on right now. The shift to at-home is one, whereby the consumer – not the gym – will be at the centre of the ecosystem moving forward. Gyms need to be ready to service the customer however and wherever they want to work out. Our strategy is to put our product in as many places as possible, with users able to log on to the same account whether they’re using their home bike or cycling in the gym.

There’s also a huge boom in cycling, to the point that if you’re trying to buy a bike – and particularly an e-bike – you’re probably going to be on a waiting list. This creates a tailwind for what we’re doing, too.

And then there’s the growth of personalised, gamified communities, which is a hugely important trend. You just need to look at what the youth are doing, at what’s influencing them today, to understand where the energy is and what will be coming through in the future. 

Game design is an integral part of society now,
powering engagement
and imagination

The at-home fitness market is, according to 2020 data from IHRSA, about a US$100bn market. Video games, meanwhile, represent a US$175bn market. Game design is an integral part of society now, powering engagement and imagination. Just look at Fortnite, Pokemon GO, Discord, Minecraft, Roblox – games in which entire virtual worlds exist with their own communities, their own currencies, where you jump in and become someone else entirely. 

Expresso content uses Unreal Engine, the game engine used by Fortnite

We’ll see much more of this over the next five to 10 years as the big tech players race to
create their own immersive Ready Player One-style metaverses, merging the physical and online worlds in ways we’ve never seen.

The big opportunity I see is that, if you think about the intersection points between at-home fitness and gamification, it seems to me there’s some overlap. You already have a few fitness examples – Zwift, Quell, Ring Fit, Expresso – but fitness will connect more and more into this space and that’s where we’re going. Imagine, for example, using your bike rather than a joystick to control the game. The future of fitness – and indoor cycling within that – is a convergence of fitness, equipment and the metaverse.

Fitness, reinvented

What is your mission as a company?

Holodia’s vision statement is ‘fitness reinvented’. Specifically, our goal is to change the way the global sector delivers fitness – and with it the way people experience it – through the use of mixed reality technology.

Our focus is predominantly on VR – virtual reality – through our HOLOFIT brand. But importantly, we are not a gaming company. We’re a fitness company. 

Neither are we a hardware company – we can’t compete with the R&D budgets of the big consumer brands: Oculus, HTC, Samsung, Lenovo and so on. We’re a software company, and our expertise in both fitness and software allow us to deliver new and amazing experiences to exercisers.

What is HOLOFIT, and who is the target market?

HOLOFIT is the most advanced VR fitness platform on the market.

Our primary audience thus far has been the B2B market: gyms and fitness facilities. Why? Because it takes time for new technology such as ours to gain a foothold in the consumer market. People first have to understand how the technology makes their lives better, different, more fun. We’re reaching that point now – we’ve seen VR sales growing fast over the last few quarters – so the time is now right to reach out to consumers too. We launched a fitness solution that’s suitable for home use in July of this year.

But we still have a strong focus on the B2B market. Our goal is to help gym operators solve some of their bigger problems around member engagement and retention, as well as helping them reach and attract new audiences. Crucially, we don’t see ourselves as disruptors. We’re there to help the fitness sector transform itself, and thereby strengthen its position, by embracing digital technology.

We’re also there to help gyms deliver against consumer expectations: the desire for fitness to be an experience; the desire for personal choice in how you train; and the desire to socially interact while you exercise. 

holofit game impression

So, how does HOLOFIT work?

HOLOFIT’s virtual reality software runs through a VR headset worn by the exerciser, with two versions available: HOLOFIT PRO and HOLOFIT GO. 

Both offer a variety of content – what we call ‘tracks’ – to ensure personal choice in training style, workout mode and environment. And both deliver social interaction through functionality such as competitions, leaderboards and multi-player mode.

HOLOFIT PRO is designed for a dedicated VR CV zone on a gym floor: a powerful system that allows for premium visual quality. With content driven from an external, VR-ready computer, and as a wired solution, there’s no down-time: the headsets are continually charged and ready to use. It also comes with more content than HOLOFIT GO – around 120 tracks, which are regularly updated – and is priced at around €2,100 for the hardware, plus €99 per headset per month for the software and content.

HOLOFIT GO launched at the beginning of July: a wireless option that connects to compatible fitness equipment via Bluetooth. With all content stored in the headset itself, it’s a true ‘plug and play’ product for a flexible VR offering, whether in the group exercise studio, at home or on the gym floor – perfect for clubs that might not have the space or budget for a dedicated VR zone. The price tag is very different too: €850 is the retail price for the headset, plus €9.90 a month for the subscription.

The user experience of both models is highly intuitive. You simply navigate the options in the menu – avatar, training mode, track, group/individual – through your eyes, by looking at the relevant option, then start exercising in an immersive virtual world. It’s as simple as that.

even on tough cardio equipment, those using holofit keep going 2.3 times longer

What types of fitness equipment is HOLOFIT compatible with?

At the moment, HOLOFIT is only designed for use on CV equipment, but within that category we’re hardware agnostic, compatible with all major equipment brands and all types of cardio fitness equipment. I would go so far as to say HOLOFIT is the only multisport VR fitness product in the world.

That said, we focus primarily on rowers, indoor bikes and ellipticals/steppers, each of which have their own specially designed content tracks. When you look down at your avatar, they’ll be doing the same form of movement as you – rowing, cycling, running or walking. 

Although technically you could use a VR headset on a treadmill, for safety reasons – you aren’t holding on to anything on a treadmill, so with a headset on you might trip – we don’t yet offer this commercially. Headsets will evolve in the future to include a small see-through membrane, and at that point treadmills will be an option, but for now we focus on ellipticals; in a VR world, using an elliptical feels like running anyway, especially if it’s on equipment like Octane’s Zero Runner.

We’re already working closely with a large number of leading suppliers – from Core Health & Fitness to Matrix, Body Bike to Concept2 – because interestingly, what HOLOFIT does is move things on when it comes to CV equipment. At the moment, the price of CV equipment is driven largely by the sophistication of the console, but when you have VR it’s no longer about the integrated screen. The combination of user + headset effectively becomes the console: the content, the experience, the social interaction, the competition, the coaching, the heart rate monitoring… it’s all done via software through the VR headset. This is an interesting shift in perspective for both operators and suppliers. 

Can you use HOLOFIT with any VR headset?

Our software is compatible with most models of VR headset, but we currently recommend HTC Vive or Oculus – as I say, we aren’t hardware manufacturers, so we don’t make our own VR headsets. 

That said, although we’re in continual conversations with the various manufacturers to ensure their products meet our high-spec requirements, we’re still waiting for the hardware to catch up with what we want to do – what our software could already do. With that in mind, I wouldn’t rule out creating our own HOLOFIT headset in the future.

holofit girl on bike

How are gyms currently using HOLOFIT?

To date, although we’re working with the likes of Anytime Fitness in the US, our focus has mostly been on smaller chains and independents where there’s more flexibility to test new concepts. We’re generally seeing clubs invest in between two and eight headsets, which are then used to monetise the gym floor, either by selling premium membership add-ons or pay as you go usage.

But we are now seeing interest grow among the bigger operators. One interesting concept is currently being trialled at Pure Gym and Basefit in the UK, in collaboration with Matrix Fitness, and at Corefit in Italy. Each operator has selected a club where they’ve created a VR Innovation Zone featuring five or six ellipticals, each with their own VR headset. These zones are running 15-minute ‘HOLOFIT Track’ interval training programmes, with the option to either timetable them so everyone starts together – members can then compete against each other, either in-club or inter-club – or, during off-peak times, make the programme available for people to drop in whenever a station becomes free.

It’s a great way of creating an engaging experience for members and monetising the gym floor, while at the same time limiting the workout to 15 minutes – our research shows that, even on tough pieces of equipment like Concept2 rowing machines, those using HOLOFIT are happy to keep going for 2.3 times longer than without it!

Finally, what we’re also seeing emerge – especially in markets like Japan, but also in Europe – are VR-only gyms. It’s still a niche area, but it’s very interesting.

What’s your model for the home fitness space?

We sell HOLOFIT GO for home use, but here our mission is different: it’s about making it easier and more fun to exercise at home. 

Sitting on an exercise bike in your spare room can be uninspiring; HOLOFIT allows you to escape this boring environment, transporting you to a parallel, virtual universe. It adds a whole new dimension to radically transform the at-home fitness experience.

gyms have a choice: meet customer demand yourselves, or allow ‘bring your own device’

What are HOLOFIT’s USPs?

First and foremost, it’s the fact that we don’t just do VR. We understand VR. That’s an important distinction. Our tech team has been working in VR for around 15 years, going back to the days when a headset cost US$60,000. They specialise in the way VR technology interacts with the human brain: what works, what doesn’t, what motivates people. This is one of our USPs, and what ultimately sets those who succeed in VR apart from those who simply ‘do’ VR.

Another USP is that we’ve solved the issue of motion sickness while using VR, or at least dramatically reduced it, which all revolves around the quality of the content. We have a patent pending on this.

I also believe we have strong USPs if we look beyond VR and into the broader fitness sector.

For example, where most of the digital solutions on the market involve following a class on a big screen – but still in the environment of a group exercise studio – HOLOFIT changes the game by fully immersing people in a VR environment. It totally changes the experience.

What’s in your development pipeline?

In about three months’ time, we expect to launch a solution where you download and run HOLOFIT software through your mobile phone, clipping this into a head mount. It won’t yet offer the same quality as a proper VR headset though, because we’re waiting for the mobile phone technology – the graphics chips in phones – to catch up. That will take probably 12 to 18 months.

In fact, we’re often waiting for other technologies to catch up with what we want to be able to do! We could already create a wireless version of HOLOFIT PRO for group exercise studios, for example, but at the moment it still costs too much to run graphics through the cloud. We really need 5G for this, so I suspect it will take two years even in the fastest-developing markets to deliver this cost-effectively.

However, we don’t always run as fast as we can when it comes to product development. There’s a lot of talk about AI, for example, but we don’t believe this really exists at the moment – what exists so far are machine learning algorithms – which is why we’re happy to keep the virtual coaching in HOLOFIT quite simple for now. It’s learning and growing every day from our user data, but true AI needs a lot of data. You can’t base personalised recommendations on a handful of workouts, because such data will inevitably be skewed. We’re happy to leave this element of what we do in its infancy until we’re confident we have enough user data to understand real VR usage trends.

In the meantime, other areas we’ll be developing include VR options for weight training as well as CV equipment, and AR (augmented reality) for outdoor use. We see little application for AR indoors, where there’s far more benefit in escaping the normal – often less engaging – exercise environment altogether. But outdoors, where VR has little relevance, AR can add excitement and interaction with the world around you. That said, we still expect VR to be a thousand times bigger than AR.

We’re also exploring ways to better connect fitness with other aspects of people’s lives, because it isn’t – or shouldn’t – be an isolated activity. Within the next 12 months, you’ll be able to collect trophies while training on HOLOFIT, picking them up along the way; these will then have a monetary value in the real world, redeemable against things like workout apparel.

We may also open up to third party VR content providers in the future, provided they can create content that meets our exacting standards.

indoor cycling will have to become a lot more immersive than it is today and delivered in a far more flexible way

holofit virtual world

What do you see as the future of fitness –
and cycling specifically?

Our research shows that 70 per cent of all HOLOFIT users become regulars. This is the future. We will all have at least one VR headset in our homes. Gyms therefore have a choice: meet customer demand yourselves, or allow BYOD – bring your own device.

And indoor cycling specifically? I’m excited by the way VR could democratise this activity. I envisage small group training classes on the gym floor, opening group cycling up to anyone too intimidated to join a class full of uber-fit regulars. I envisage people using VR on their own too, not only on Spin bikes but also on more accessible models such as recumbents. 

Over-arching all of this, indoor cycling will have to become a lot more immersive than it is today, and delivered in a far more flexible way. That means moving away from a fixed format – a reliance on cycling studios, external screens and live instructors – towards technology that allows for a differentiated, engaging, motivational, fun, personalised experience… because this is the experience consumers now expect.

Oliver Schulokat

How would you describe CYBEROBICS?

The CYBEROBICS brand stands for a high-quality digital training experience. Our virtual group exercise classes allow users to work out with the best trainers in the US, at the most breath-taking locations and do so entirely flexibly – whenever and wherever they choose. Plus, it’s all tailored to their personal training goals, their preferences and their individual training level.

Our ultimate mission is to harness the power of digital technology to make it possible for more people, all over the world, to enjoy fitness training and thus make regular exercise a natural part of their lives.

What is your model?

We originally launched CYBEROBICS in the B2B segment, with a focus on fitness studios, corporates and hotels. In 2018, we took the bold step of addressing the B2C segment by launching a CYBEROBICS app, which is now available in 21 countries.

We offer a training experience that’s fun, enduringly motivating and easily accessible.

This is the path we’re going to pursue in future – a combination of B2B and B2C – because we’ve seen that the two segments complement each other really well.

What is the opportunity you see for CYBEROBICS?

Fitness training is a wonder-drug: it maintains health, gives you energy in your everyday life, lifts your mood and keeps you feeling good. I believe everybody wants to work out. It’s just that some people aren’t able to motivate themselves to train regularly – to make it a firm fixture in their everyday lives. That’s where CYBEROBICS comes in. We offer a training experience that’s fun, enduringly motivating and easily accessible, which means people are much more likely to choose to integrate it into their everyday lives.

As a digital product, it’s also very convenient – it can be used any time, anywhere – while its attractive price point and flexible contract models make it very accessible.

All these factors add up to the huge potential for CYBEROBICS in the fitness market.

How important is the digital nature of the product?

I see a very clear trend towards increased use of digital products; people no longer work out at the gym alone.

The aim has to be to offer a digital product directly within the club which members are also able to use outside of the club.

In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the younger generation – I like to call them the ‘on-demand generation’ – is used to having things precisely when they want them, regardless of time or place, thanks to the ubiquity of digital media and devices. That’s how it is in other parts of their lives, so they expect it in fitness too, and that expectation will only grow over the next few years. I’m sure there will always be fitness studios, but people will combine working out at the gym with training at home in a way that fits perfectly with their everyday lives.

cyberobics classes locations
CYBEROBICS classes are all filmed in eye-catching locations.

Another important development is the technology now present in most people’s living rooms. A growing number of people have large TV screens that are connected to their home internet, or that link up with services and consoles like Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick and Chromecast. If you’re able to offer fun options for working out in this environment, then people will undoubtedly use them.

How are you embracing this new technology?

We’re using all of this technology, creating the perfect experience for any CYBEROBICS user whatever device they use to access our classes – all at a very attractive price point.

CYBEROBICS app
The CYBEROBICS app is now available in 21 countries.

The CYBEROBICS app was launched in the spring of 2018 and is now available in 21 countries. Using the app, CYBEROBICS workouts can be played on all the devices people already have at home: all mobile phones and tablets (iOS and Android), internet, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire and Roku.

The growth rates are huge and we will pursue this path systematically while introducing new features and tapping into new markets.

Many gyms have been slow to embrace virtual group exercise. Why do you think this is?

Many operators of gym facilities or fitness chains are still blissfully ignorant of the aforementioned developments in the digital sphere. This is because, thus far, the trend has not been hugely evident in day-to-day business, so gym owners have seen no reason to address it.

As this trend gathers pace – which it inevitably will – many more providers in the fitness industry will wake up and find they are forced to react quickly in order to survive. For some, unfortunately, it will already be too late. They will realise that other players – who will sometimes come from outside of the fitness industry altogether – have already taken over part of the business.

film location indoor cycling trainingClub operators need to exploit digital developments: the aim has to be to offer a digital product directly within the club which members are also able to use outside of the club. In this way, the club’s offering can be expanded into other areas of members’ lives and an emotional connection established. This is the role we see for CYBEROBICS, which can be used in the studio, but also at home and while travelling.

If a club fails at this, then members will use the digital offerings from other providers and there’s a risk the club will lose them over the long term.

Do you believe virtual classes will ever replace live, instructor-led classes?

I think we will continue to see a combination of both, but with a clear trend towards virtual training – including live streaming. Live classes will always have their place, but people like flexibility in the way they work out: one day they might want a convenient workout at home; another day, they’ll go to the gym.

What have been CYBEROBICS’ most important innovations in group cycling?

CYBEROBICS offers a wide array of cycling experiences for all fitness levels – all led by the best trainers from the US and all in extraordinary locations. One cycling class was filmed by the pool at Hugh Heffner’s house, for example, with a view of downtown Las Vegas. For another cycling class, we rented a magnificent yacht that sails through Miami Bay for the 60 minutes of the workout. That’s what makes CYBEROBICS cycling classes unique.

Cycling through beautiful landscapes in training groups and virtual cycling in artificial environments are also part of our portfolio. In addition, we integrate key fitness trends into our cycling classes – HIIT training, for example. We’re always trying to offer our users something new by picking up on current trends and incorporating them.

What do you feel CYBEROBICS brings to cycling studios?

A sense of immersion. Thanks to the high-quality production of our classes, our users actually feel as though they’re training in the place where the workout is shot. This demonstrably boosts motivation and enjoyment of training – and in turn, the workout becomes more effective.

Ideally, the spaces in which people are cycling should offer a cinema-like atmosphere with a large screen, dark walls, really good sound and lighting that’s not too bright. Only then can the sense of immersion be experienced to full effect.

My advice to operators is very simple: by all means, combine them with live classes initially, or even in the long term, but integrate virtual classes as quickly as possible – not just cycling but across the board. And spare no expense in fitting out the studio with all the necessary technology, creating an entirely new training experience for members.

How are you using CYBEROBICS within your own clubs?

We have two CYBEROBICS studios per club in more than 230 RSG Group clubs – McFIT, JOHN REED and High5. One is for indoor cycling, the other for all other CYBEROBICS classes.

We currently deliver more than 5 million CYBEROBICS classes a year, with new workouts frequently added, and they have been well-received. We also offer members access to our CYBEROBICS app, so they can take part in classes at home or while travelling too. 

Digital will be a key focus at THE MIRAI too [RSG  Group’s 20,000 sqm, free-to-use megaclub that’s scheduled to open in Germany in 2022], so CYBEROBICS will play an important role here. We will use THE MIRAI as a ‘future lab’ for continual development of CYBEROBICS.

You also work with hotels and corporates. What’s the latest news here?

In both areas, we’re seeing a strong momentum towards digital fitness solutions.

cyberobics hotel servicesIn the hotel industry, lots of providers are already using CYBEROBICS. The NH Hotel Group, for example, has started creating ‘mood rooms’ in which you can set different moods using a tablet; choose ‘active mood’ and the light and sound changes automatically, the curtains close and a CYBEROBICS class begins on the TV. The TUI Group has likewise started using CYBEROBICS in its hotels.

Cruise company Aida is gradually introducing CYBEROBICS on all its ships, both in the cabins and in its workout studios, as well as on large screens on the pool deck so people can take part in cycling classes against the glow of the evening sunlight, for example.

The RSG Group, which owns CYBEROBICS, is also working with more than 600 companies in the area of corporate fitness. Here, too, the trend is towards in-house gyms that incorporate CYBEROBICS studios, combined with access to the CYBEROBICS app to train at home and during breaks at work.

What do you believe is the secret of CYBEROBICS’ success?

Without doubt, it’s the conceptual approach and the quality of the content. Our basic idea is not merely to replace the live trainer by filming them and then projecting them onto the wall in the studio, but rather to create a unique training experience. To achieve this, we have spared no expense or effort in production.

In the future, we plan to enhance the workout experience using virtual reality.

The workout concepts are created by our sports scientists, while scouts in the United States look for the right locations and hold extensive trainer casting sessions. Once the locations and trainers have been selected, the instructors are briefed on how to carry out the workout and we do rehearsals; only once they have mastered the workout perfectly is it filmed.

virtual indoor cycling experienceFor this, we use a team and equipment worthy of a Hollywood production, filming in 4K quality and with multiple cameras to capture the action from all angles. After post-production in Berlin, our music managers compose a perfectly tailored soundtrack specific to each workout and we record voiceovers, currently in five different languages: English, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish.

In the future, we plan to enhance the workout experience – beyond the quality of the content – with the use of new technologies such as AR and VR.

What will be the next big trend in fitness, and is CYBEROBICS already working on this?

Live streaming of classes is already available but is not yet a mass product. That’s something that will undoubtedly grow. Virtual participation in classes at home is also set to grow, so people don’t have to miss out on the group experience entirely. Here, too, the possibilities of digitisation are endless. We are working intensively on both of these areas at CYBEROBICS.

Also, as I just mentioned, we’re going to try using augmented and virtual reality, which is already proving hugely popular in the gaming industry. There’s currently still a lot of potential for optimisation, but I’m convinced that further development of this technology will offer opportunities for the creation of exciting new CYBEROBICS experiences in the future.

What’s your view on the threat of technology like Peloton?

Peloton’s approach is a good one, and it shows that the home market offers huge potential. I think we’re all just at the beginning here; future developments are going to be huge. At CYBEROBICS, we’re reviewing whether –  and in what form –  we’re able to harness these possibilities.

What’s the future of indoor cycling?

When we, as CYBEROBICS, look at the cycling market, we see that successful concepts always offer a special experience, be it SoulCycle in the boutique club segment or Peloton, with its similar approach but for the home market. Meanwhile, clubs and studios around the world are striving to create engaging cycling spaces, with great design and AV systems.

In the future, we believe virtual reality offers huge potential for cycling. In many areas of fitness, the use of VR goggles presents a problem due to the risk of injury – when participants are moving freely, they quickly lose orientation when wearing the goggles. With cycling, however, the user is ‘stationary’ and can, therefore, use VR goggles much more safely. It won’t be long before technology allows us to introduce VR, including group experiences, into cycling classes.

A connected fitness ecosystem

Your strapline is ‘ANT+ It just works’. But what just works – what is ANT+?
To explain what ANT+ is, I first need to backtrack and explain what ANT is.

ANT is a generic wireless protocol owned by Garmin, which was born from a desire to track how many steps a runner was taking without putting wires all over him.

Many people will be familiar with another wireless protocol, Bluetooth, so this is often the best place to start when it comes to explaining what ANT does. It’s similar to Bluetooth in many ways.

They really are complementary technologies. Bluetooth is built around fixed pairing relationships: you can typically only connect a sensor to one other device at any one time. Meanwhile, ANT is set up to allow a sensor device to connect to many other devices simultaneously, which adds flexibility: you can, for example, connect your heart rate strap with a phone, your watch and the computer on your indoor cycling bike – all at the same time.

ANT+ is an application that’s been built on top of ANT. It’s a collection of what we call Device Profiles, built for very specific use cases, each of which has a specification of how to transmit the information related to that use case over the air using ANT – whether it’s data from an ANT+ heart rate strap, an ANT+ bike power meter, an ANT+ bike speed and cadence sensor…

More specifically, ANT+ is the wireless standard that connects an entire product ecosystem: a universal standard that ensures wireless fitness sensor data, whatever manufacturer it comes from, is all of the same format.

That all sounds a bit complex I know, but in a nutshell, what ANT+ represents is a very successful, multi-brand wireless ecosystem.

What do you mean by a ‘wireless standard’?
Rewind to before the days of ANT+ when, as a prime example, there were lots of different companies building devices to measure bicycle power – but none of them were communicating in the same way.

What ANT did was encourage the different manufacturers to recognise that building one-off solutions for specific customers – thereby creating walled gardens whereby only devices within those restricted ecosystems could speak to each other – would only get the industry so far. Although they were competitors, these manufacturers came to understand that collaborating within the ANT+ ecosystem would grow the market as a whole and ensure a bigger slice of the pie for everyone.

Spinnclass ANT+
ANT+ works well even in crowded studios – it can cope with high levels of data traffic

From that, the standardised device profile for bicycle power was born – accompanying other use cases such as heart rate and speed – and ANT+ became the de-facto central organising body for a consortium of companies in the sport and fitness electronics market.

Nowadays there must be at least 15–20 bicycle power manufacturers in the ANT+ ecosystem, and lots of different ways to measure bike power – crank-based strain gauges, two-sided pedal power, rear wheel sensors… But although all the sensor tech is different, the wireless data they all send up is now of the same standard.

Why does that matter?

For the consumer, this standardisation means they get to choose the device that works for them and get their data regardless.

For manufacturers, it means great new ideas can come to market quickly, because they can tap in to an existing ecosystem. They can just focus on developing great sensor technology, knowing the wireless ecosystem is already there.

Ant+ couple bike phone
Aggregator apps need to make data consumable, so end users can make sense of it

Can you give some examples of how ANT+ is used in the fitness sector?
The first couple of examples are related to Fitness Equipment Control.

All newer Samsung devices natively include ANT support, which means app developers can tap in to ANT+ too. For example, Zwift and Trainer Road both use ANT+ to connect with smart trainers – the devices you attach to the rear wheel of a normal road bike to be able to train indoors – and remotely control the resistance.

Zwift uses this to create huge, multi-player online games where you race around virtual tracks from across the globe. As the game footage shows the terrain going uphill, Zwift sends an instruction to the trainer to make it harder for the cyclist by increasing the resistance: an incline of 10 per cent on-screen is made to feel like 10 per cent on the bike.

I’ve seen really lovely examples of this in action in bike shops in Canada, where during the winter they invite people into the shop, hook everyone up to Zwift and do group rides indoors when it isn’t possible to cycle outside. It creates a great sense of community.

Trainer Road takes the same remote control capability but, instead of showing VR footage, uses it to curate workouts and training programmes to run through the trainer.

Another great example relates to heart rate belts, and the ability to create entire gym scenarios where multiple devices are connected at once – because any device that supports ANT+ can connect with any other device that supports ANT+, simultaneously.

Orangetheory Fitness is a great example: everyone wears a heart rate strap which they can connect to their own smart watches – but all straps are connected to the gym too, with big screens showing everyone’s heart rate. If you get on a treadmill, you could also connect your heart rate belt to that if you wanted to.

With ANT+, this is all possible even in a busy environment with a large number of devices – it can cope with the traffic. That’s useful in boutique studios too. These are generally smaller, so the concentration of devices can be quite high, but it’s still possible to create things like leaderboards, which again helps build the sense of community.

Ant+ ecosystem exerciser
The ANT+ ecosystem means exercisers can choose the device that works for them and get their data regardless

Anything new from ANT+ that you’d like to tell us about?
We’ve just released a new version of our Fitness Equipment Control device profile. Historically it was always two-way: as with the Zwift example, ANT+ could be used to wirelessly transmit data to the sensor, as well as from it.

Now we’ve also created a one-way version which is great for studio bikes, as well as other types of fitness equipment: treadmills, rowers, ellipticals and so on. These aren’t, and don’t need to be, remote controlled, so this latest enhancement of the device profile allows us to better deliver on what studios need – which, as with the work we do for BODY BIKE, is ensurin g the data people actually want can be extracted from the equipment.

How do you see the fitness sector evolving, and how will ANT+ help shape this?
Sensors and devices are getting so much smarter, increasingly able to measure numerous different things. As this happens, so more data types will need to be broadcast wirelessly – and we’re uniquely positioned to deliver on this, because we’re a small and intimately run organisation that can quickly adapt to new use cases.

It will then be over to the aggregator apps – like Garmin Connect and Strava – to take all that data and make it consumable, so end users can make sense of it. In turn, this will drive an appetite among consumers to collect even more data and understand more about themselves. And so it will come full circle, back to the sensor manufacturers to make their devices even smarter still.

We’re in the centre of all this, supporting all of this development as it moves forward.

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