Technology is changing the way we work. In some cases, that means automation that streamlines repetitive tasks or helps teams work together more efficiently and track and share data. Technology is also changing the way we work out, and that’s leading to a dramatic shift in the way employers engage their employees in fitness.
By implementing on-demand, virtual fitness, which makes fitness content available online or in mobile apps, employers free employees to work out on their own terms with classes that run the gamut from quick office breaks to full-speed workout sessions.
That level of flexibility is increasingly in demand among employees. Consider that 64% of people say they would use on-demand fitness if their employer offered it, in large part because of the freedom it offers. When you have a diverse menu of fitness content available any time of the day or night, scheduling a trip to the gym suddenly seems old fashioned.
Making virtual fitness work requires some serious technology, though. Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes:
High-Quality Streaming Video
At-home workout instruction isn’t exactly a new idea. From video tapes to order-by-mail DVDs, the home has long had a place in our fitness plans. The difference with on-demand, virtual fitness is the quality and the variety made possible by modern streaming video technology.
The near ubiquity of stable, crystal-clear video streams gives users easy access to high-quality fitness content they can complete at their desk, in their living room, or in a hotel room while traveling. Considering that lack of time is one of the most common reasons people miss workouts, offering options that allow them to work out on their own schedule removes a significant potential obstacle.
Streaming video also makes it easier to find classes that fit a user’s particular interests. Unlike in-person fitness classes, users don’t have to adjust their schedule to attend the one weekly class that appeals to them. And while old-fashioned fitness videos allowed users to work out on their own time, unless you had a massive library, you were stuck doing the same exercises over and over. With streaming, classes are available in enough variety that users might never have to repeat a workout, and there are not only traditional classes like yoga and high-intensity intervals but also subjects you might not expect, such as mindfulness, meditation, running, child-specific classes, and prenatal exercises. And they’re all ready to stream whenever and wherever you want them.
Streaming content to users is only part of the challenge of creating a meaningful, personalized fitness experience. After all, having a wide range of options only works if users can find the content that works for them. Variety in a workout plan keeps users from getting bored or hitting plateaus in performance. That means an effective on-demand, virtual fitness offering needs tools to help users identify workouts that make sense for their interests, ability level, and lifestyle.
That’s where machine learning comes in. By tracking users’ interests and progress through various workouts, machine learning helps people find workouts that appeal to them while pushing them to do more. That level of customization supports long-term engagement, and it’s important for employers that struggle to keep employees interested in well-being initiatives. Machine learning can help users identify options that work for them wherever they are in their fitness journey.
Software as a Service
All that content and personalization is fantastic, but it only works if there’s a structure in place to get it to users. Not everybody has the money or the physical space for a lot of expensive, specialized fitness equipment, but most can dedicate part of their home for regular workouts. The software-as-a-service model allows employers to license content and make it available to employees via Windows, Android, and iOS devices. That means employees get access to the fitness content they need without committing to new equipment or turning their home into a full-time gym.
There’s an old question about a tree falling in the forest that gets at the idea of whether something needs to be observed in order to exist. There’s more than one way to observe the success of a well-being initiative. (Are employees fitter? Do they take fewer sick days?) But, the most direct is by tracking actual use. That’s not possible with many well-being initiatives, but on-demand, virtual fitness integrates directly into benefits portals, which lets employers see exactly how often and how long employees use the classes that are available to them. That integration allows employers to:
- Track who is taking advantage of classes.
- Create fitness challenges based on activity levels.
- Allow users to track their own progress.
- Clearly demonstrate value on investment.
Technology is changing the way people work out. Employees have options today that simply wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. Recent research predicts that the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022, which is up from $849.5 million in 2017. That’s good news for everyone. Virtual, on-demand fitness users get to work out on their own terms, and employers benefit from easily trackable fitness results.
On-demand, virtual fitness technology won’t make working out easier. But it will make it easier to work out.
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Jason Von Bank is president and CEO of Wellbeats, a content and software-as-a-service company that delivers on-demand, virtual fitness programming for corporate wellness programs. Wellbeats is committed to delivering “fitness that fits” through more than 500 fitness classes that can be accessed anytime through iOS, Android, Windows devices, Apple® TV, website portals, or on-site options.