You place your wristband onto the scanner at your AI enabled gym’s reception, and a virtual receptionist pops up on the screen to say hi and welcome you. You jump on the treadmill and the connected technology linking your band to the machine tells you just how far you ran last time, and what you need to achieve this time. Then you’ll hop over to the weights and call up your virtual instructor on the big screen to keep you on track with reps and form. This could be the gym experience of the not too distant future, but where is the fitness professional in the altered reality, and will this artificial intelligence bring an improved experience?

1) 24/7 lifestyle. Many gyms now operate on a no frills basis, meaning that human interaction is minimal. You can punch your code into the automatic entry system at any time of the night or day and train away. Heck you can even join online and do your induction virtually and be on that equipment without even a sniff of a fitness instructor. This has its obvious benefits, many of us work long hours now and it’s hugely convenient to use technology in place of human interaction, and as AI progresses brands can do more to ensure they are helping customers to stay on track with their fitness goals. But what about that cheery wave from a fitness instructor as you make your way to the pec deck, or the banter you have with your PT as they put you through your paces? Often, it’s the human interaction that drives retention.

2) Easy access to information. Not sure how to do the perfect press up, can’t remember how much weight you pressed last time? No problem, because AI remembers it all and will tailor its advice specifically to you. So no more schlepping around the gym looking for a fitness instructor to show you how to do something. This is absolutely a benefit of AI for the fitness industry, and for most people will be a welcome addition to their training. But then there are those people that learn best from being shown directly and will never take to learning through AI. And of course, as much as it’s easy to access AI information, it’s just as easy to switch off the technology and disengage.

3) Natural conversation.  As AI develops and progresses in the fitness industry, it is expected that it will be able to mimic that natural conversation you might have your PT, taking all kinds of contextual information like the weather (like it’s cold hence extra warm up time) as well as personalised details about you (so you can fill in your virtual PT on what you’ve been eating and whether you’ve been exercising outside of your usual sessions), and use it to provide unique advice. This is all extremely useful, but we also need to remember that people develop relationships with people and what develops relationships are those little conversations about nothing much that develop bonds. As natural as AI might become, it will be hard to ever replicate the intimacy of human interaction.

4) Motivation. As any health club manager will tell you, their biggest challenge is attrition- members leaving, maybe to another gym (possible), or maybe to take a more active role on their sofas (highly likely). Keeping customers training means keeping their motivation levels up and as AI develops we’ll see many new innovations that enable motivation. Tools like tracking of results, instantly updated and revised to suit your level of fitness at that very moment in time. You could even access virtual classes taught by your PT whilst you’re in the conference room at work, or on holiday in the Maldives! As anyone who’s ever experienced one to one training will tell you though, nothing beats the motivation of a real person right there focused entirely on your fitness goals and helping you perform at your best.

We have seen that AI offers some real and exciting potential development to the fitness industry. We have also seen that AI won’t work for all people in all situations. Some people will love the autonomy and control that AI offers, whilst others will still crave that human interaction. Fitness firms need to look at how to embrace AI, utilising it in a way that enhances their offering. But they also need to remember that AI has its downsides too. Replacing the fitness instructor and PT entirely with AI could lead to a much poorer experience for customers.

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