Imagine, if you will, club operators Life Time Fitness and Town Sports International on the same team. So, too, are equipment manufacturers Life Fitness and Precor. Now throw in software providers ABC Financial and Twin Oaks.
Put all of those companies together, along with other familiar names in the fitness industry, and you have the Fitness Industry Technology Council, or FITC.
The idea of the FITC was hatched last year at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) show in San Diego. Council members held their first conference call last summer, met for the first time in person at the Club Industry show last October and have been meeting by teleconference about once a month. The council is expected to reconvene at this month’s IHRSA show in San Francisco.
The goal of the FITC is to standardize technological advances as the industry makes a push toward medical referrals and health care integration. The council’s objective is to establish industry standards and to design equipment to use universal components to help reduce manufacturing costs, says Kevin Steele, co-creator and co-chair of the FITC.
“We will also identify the common denominators of all manufacturers’ parts so that we can begin to understand how we can shift current individual company purchasing prices to where we can gain economies of scale and leverage industry purchasing power and benefits for participating organizations,” Steele says.
The FITC member organizations, in alphabetical order, are ABC Financial, Athletes’ Performance, BCM (an associate member of Intel), ClubCom, Dedham (MA) Health and Athletic Complex, Eurotech, Gainesville (FL) Health and Fitness Centers, IHRSA, Intel, Life Fitness, Life Time Fitness, Matrix Fitness, Netpulse, Octane Fitness, Planet Fitness, Plus One, Precor, Star Trac, Twin Oaks Software Development, Town Sports International (TSI) and Woodway.
“To this point in time, these guys have all been willing to step up and put the greater good and overall performance and future improvements to the industry over their individual agendas, which has been very, very nice to see,” Steele says. “That’s what, at the end of the day, this council’s all about, the progression and continued innovation and standardization of technology as it applies.”
The council has three main committees: a data standards team chaired by Precor’s Dave Flynt, a cost-optimization team chaired by Eurotech’s Arlen Nipper and the Communications Specification for Fitness Equipment team chaired by Jon Zerden of Athletes’ Performance.
One of the problems in the industry, Steele says, pertains to measurements.
“You can get on four different treadmills made by four different manufacturers, and with no incline at 4 miles an hour, you’re most likely going to come up with four different readings [for] your caloric expenditure,” Steele says. “That’s just crazy. That’s unacceptable.”
Steele, who has a PhD in exercise physiology, was asked by Intel’s Don Moore, co-creator and co-chair of the FITC, to lead the council. There might not have been a better choice to lead a group represented by so many sectors of the industry.
A veteran of more than 25 years, Steele is a principal with Communication Consultants Inc. and is the chairman of the Power Plate International medical/scientific advisory board. He also is chairman of the medical/scientific advisory board for Performance Health Systems, is a member of the Medical Athletic Association and the American College of Sports Medicine and was past chairman of the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s medical/scientific advisory board.
In the club company sector, Steele has worked for Health and Tennis Corp. of America (now Bally Total Fitness), 24 Hour Fitness and Life Time Fitness.
“There’s not too many people out there in the industry I don’t know,” Steele says.
Ed Trainor, vice president of fitness services and product development at TSI, is now a co-chair of the FITC. In the council’s early meetings, Trainor noticed that most of the companies were staying proprietary and trying to differentiate themselves. Not many companies wanted to divulge much information about themselves, Trainor says.
At about the third meeting, Trainor decided to speak up.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “could we maybe come together collectively and put our best foot forward and work together in a bipartisan fashion? There will be plenty of opportunity to differentiate yourselves once we find the path. Let’s get the industry set on the right course, and then, every man for himself. If you can build a better mousetrap, build a better mousetrap.”
Trainor says that a standardization of technological systems will produce the same measurements of calories, heart rate, watts and METS—data that health care providers can then more easily use to determine the wellness of a club member.
“We’re not saying the industry won’t build in watts and METS,” Trainor says. “But it will be in the further development as we approach working with the health care insurers who are likely going to reimburse our members and users who maintain an active healthy lifestyle that now can turn in their data. The data that gets collected for the first time will be incentive for that member to turn into their health provider for his insurance.”
Intel, known for designing and manufacturing microprocessors and specialized integrated circuits, has long been involved in the medical and wellness industry, says Ed Hill, director of marketing for Intel’s embedded computing division. Intel also has developed relationships with some of the leading original equipment manufacturers in the industry.
In a partnership with Athletes’ Performance, a company that integrates performance training, nutrition and physical therapy for elite and professional athletes, Intel recently overhauled its employee fitness center on its campus in Chandler, AZ.
Intel hosted the dinner at last year’s IHRSA show that involved some of the FITC organization participants.
“It’s a great step in the right direction, and we’re excited to be a part of it,” Hill says. “Other industries have had similar challenges. How do you standardize some of those types of calculations? One opportunity for Intel within the FIT council is to work with the industry on how has this problem been solved in other industries, and is there an opportunity to utilize some of those learnings and apply them to the fitness industry?”
Several other companies have been invited to join the FITC. Steele would like to keep the same number of organizations in the council and rotate in new companies every few years.
“We’ve got some very bright people on the council,” Steele says. “Both Don’s and my hope is that everybody can continue to work together and roll up their sleeves, and when the rubber meets the road and some of these changes have to be made, they’re willing to make them.”
“All we can do is provide the structure, the motivation and the catalyst,” he adds. “We can’t force any of these organizations to change. From the club operators’ perspective, a lot of this stuff has definitely been wanted and needed for a long time. Maybe this is enough of a push to get it over the top and get some of it done.”