AI is omnipresent in the fitness industry already. How do we prevent the digital side of this industry from losing its soul?
Digital Fitness is Exploding
The $94 billion fitness industry is constantly reinventing itself.
Digital fitness is currently valued at $7 billion and is estimated to reach $27.4 billion in 2022 at a forecasted CAGR of 32.6%.
That means digital is growing 10x faster than the “traditional” fitness industry - consider the explosion in apps, gym management software, home workout equipment and wearables. Some of the largest tangential brands are entering the space too, including Apple’s Fitness+ recent launch and Lululemon’s acquisition of Mirror as examples.
With the artificial intelligence (AI) market reigning as one of the fastest growing technology industries (43.39% CAGR), it is no surprise that these industries have found one another.
Artificial intelligence for fitness
AI is omnipresent in the fitness industry already.
Apps, in-home hardware and wearables driven by AI offer personalized fitness plans based on an individual’s fitness level, goals, and schedule. They can correct workout form, give real-time feedback and measure performance.
AI tools are enhancing business practices as well; automating time-intensive tasks and driving sales by enabling unparalleled on-demand customer experiences.
It might seem like AI could replace fitness professionals entirely, so it’s no wonder that the industry raises its eyebrows in the face of new developments in the fit-tech space.
How do we prevent the digital side of this industry from losing its soul?
The pandemic effect on fitness
To make matters worse, COVID-19 has rocked the industry, forcing physical studios and thousands of coaches to shut down and adjust to a new reality.
24 Hour Fitness, a national gym chain, filed for bankruptcy and permanently closed 100 US locations.
Almost 90% of Classpass’ 30,000 gym and studio partners around the world indefinitely closed their physical locations.
This moment has fitness industry professionals feeling more disconnected and isolated than ever - but we can leverage AI to rebuild and strengthen our communities.
We can deploy AI with empathy.
Promoting empathetic artificial intelligence
We can wield AI as a tool to enrich our relationships, and to grow fitness business in the right way.
The human touch is what bridges the divide between technology and fitness; they are not mutually exclusive.
Fitness is a personal experience, and some of the most powerful communities in our society are anchored in working out or staying healthy.
These are ways where AI coupled with empathy will positively enhance the fitness industry:
- Brick-and-mortar gyms or studios will need to have virtual arms. AI can be used to recreate a community virtually by powering better interactivity and social features. Coaches (the human kind!) still need to bring their experience, skill and unique community insights into sessions so that these virtual workouts feel no different than being in an in-person class.
- In the world of physical therapy, AI will enhance the in-home experience. AI-powered apps that provide feedback correction are an extension of the physical therapist (PT) when used at home. The patient gets detailed instruction on form and their recovery program, and accountability on their progress towards recovery. Alongside this, PTs maintain their position of expertise, can still provide necessary intervention, and maintain a stronger connection to each individual with verifiable data, because every patient's path forward is unique.
- Coaches will increasingly be using AI to prescribe customized workout and wellness plans, but those programs won’t supersede the psychological elements that create positive outcomes. Human coaches are better able to hold people accountable and push them harder, because humans are conditioned to seek approval and acknowledgement from our peers. People want to be coached by other people - AI will simply enhance the strength of those relationships.
- A richer digital experience augmented with better data means that AI will unlock access to better fitness and wellness resources for millions of people around the world. What used to require in-person interactions can now scale to anywhere an internet connection exists. This has wonderful implications for society, but it also means current fitness businesses have room to grow!
We are already seeing better fitness and therapy outcomes as a result of AI - more effective guidance, faster progress, less injuries, and expedited recovery.
Where AI can relieve business challenges and handle time-intensive tasks, relationships get more attention and communities are becoming stronger.
What’s critical is that AI in fitness and health is deployed to complement the human experience - to enhance the connections we have with people.
AI is not a zero sum game - it’s a partnership that our industry should enter with open eyes. Our communities deserve that, because AI is how we take what we do to the next level.