In-club and portable technology has allowed our industry to take large amounts of useful information and combine decades of research and programming to provide individuals with sound guidance and expertise that helps them with everything from diet and exercise to post-rehabilitation.
At their fingertips, people can find programming and exercises online for golf, tennis, skiing and even kayaking. Information can be printed in a PDF file and downloaded to a cell phone. Technology can even “ping” us with reminders on our computers. This is pretty powerful when it works, and for a small percentage of exercisers, it does.
However, for the majority of members looking to improve their diets and exercise programs, pure technology has not yet worked. I don't believe it ever will. People are simply too individualistic and their lives change too rapidly to become successful using purely technology-driven programs.
Programs don't make people fit. Food diaries don't make people lose weight. Streaming video from a spirited instructor does not keep many people exercising over the long haul.
These and other powerful and simple technologies help individuals, but they are not the key to behavioral change. Behavioral change is the most difficult and mercurial subject not only in health and fitness but also in addiction programs and any program that promises to help people change.
The most successful behavior-change programs in the world — including Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs — have always had a human element. Human beings respond to other human beings. Unless our genetics change dramatically, most of us will change our behaviors much more effectively with the help of others. Personal trainers, group exercise instructors and even registered dieticians are all proven change agents. They touch people, talk directly with them and, most importantly, they listen. Technology cannot do all of that.
However, technology is becoming more intuitive to exercise success and adherence than ever before. Smart manufacturers have realized that long-term product efficacy requires not only excellent, user-friendly content and programming but also the ability to be partnered with the guidance of a health and fitness professional.
This is not a breakthrough discovery. Look at standard fitness equipment. Treadmills are a good, time-efficient way to get a workout. Most of the good models now come with customizable programs, in-console television, interactive heart rate, iPod connectivity — everything you can think of to make for a perfect workout.
Nothing happens, however, unless someone uses that treadmill three times a week over a period of time. Usage of and adherence to a machine happens when a spark of inspiration connects with guidance and real-world motivation to drive an exerciser to use a treadmill regularly.
Club owners must ensure their fitness professionals believe in, use and recommend the technology that is available by showing how technology will help them provide better and more complete service to clients while saving them time and increasing their knowledge and value. Fitness professionals can be a tough group to sell, but once they believe in something, they are powerful allies.
Simply put, fitness professionals change lives. By using technology with their clients, they can improve the chances that their clients will reach their fitness goals. However, club owners must ensure that technology doesn't take over and the motivator for behavioral change remains — the human touch.
Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.