Monday, 12 October 2015

Wearable Technology - Where Is It Going?

Earlier this year I spoke (as part of a panel discussion) at the prestigious SIBEC UK event on the subject of wearable technology.

As a topic close to my heart (pardon the pun) it is something I feel well equipped to discuss.

I have used heart-rate monitors and other devices for many years and have become something of a geek when it comes to which device does what. I recently purchased a new 'fitness watch' and had a considerable number of pre-requisites based on previous experiences.

My Requirements
I wanted something that could detect my heart rate from the wrist and was waterproof.
It also needed to be able to keep track of my heart rate during high intensity workouts and it needed a friendly app as most of our data interactions are with apps rather than the devices themselves.

In the Spring of 2015 there were a variety of devices to choose from and I quickly realised that I would have to sacrifice some of my requirements in order to find the most suitable one for me.

I will come back to devices later but before I do that I must delve a little deeper into the app world. You see there are thousands of health and fitness apps available now and whilst some leave a lot to be desired there are others that really do deliver.

A good health and fitness app is extremely valuable to the end user and can be personalised to suit individual measurements and goals. Some even allow you to take photos of your meals whilst others have a multitude of features designed to talk to Apple's Health Kit.

Ultimately an app must offer the following:
  • Ease of use
  • Simple terminology
  • Useful data
  • Learning tools and tips
  • Community

Ease of Use
The best apps are pleasing on the eye and simple to use. One or two touches should take you to where you want to be. They should also synchronise easily and effectively with your device.

Simple Terminology
In the world of fitness we tend to confuse people (consumers) with jargon, the best apps keep things really simple.

Useful Data
From the number of steps you take in a day to the number of minutes you fall into a deep sleep your app should be easy to understand.

Learning Tools and Tips
Once you know how many steps you take and how many minutes of quality sleep you get you may wonder what it all means and what improvements could you make? 
This is where an app can really excel and stand out from the crowd.

Engaging with others, especially people you already know, is a powerful way to stay on track with your fitness regime.  This isn't necessarily about a 'chat' community, it's about challenges, benchmarking and motivating yourself and others.
So as you can see fitness tracking and wearables are as much about engaging software as the device itself.

A recent report by the American Medical Association suggested that fitness wearables were/are being purchased by wealthier and younger 'early adopters' rather than by those who really need them. They also stated: "The gap between recording information (with fitness wearables) and changing behaviour is substantial, however, and while these devices are increasing in popularity, little evidence suggests that they are bridging that gap."

My view is that to rely on a device and app to create the necessary behaviour change in those who need to be more active is missing the point. It is the same as expecting someone who has purchased a 'home gym' to completely change their behaviour and lifestyle.

This is why at SIBEC I talked about fitness trainers becoming 'tech geeks' as the latest range of wearables and apps should be regarded as tools to help monitor and motivate, they should not be expected to replace trainers. The best fitness trainers will embrace and understand the benefits and limitations of some of the market leading wearables. They can then add this knowledge to their portfolio.

In addition to the report from the AMA another (April 2015) report by suggests that one third of wearable users ditch their devices after six months. As a result of the report comparisons are being made with gym membership retention as the suggestion is that people simply give up on fitness after a few months.

Whilst I do see that link I think that people like to purchase gadgets and also like to be seen as early adopters. Wearables aren't like gym memberships, they are like the afore-mentioned piece of home gym equipment and if people could hang clothes on them they probably would after a few months.

The challenge for wearable manufacturers is to maintain engagement through interactive apps and dashboards.

My Choices
After weeks of searching and researching I went for the Mio Fuse smart band. It reads heart rate from the wrist, is robust and is waterproof. Unfortunately that's where it ends. I found that the heart rate measurement was 'hit and miss' and the wrist strap kept coming undone when I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. After several months of use it went back in its box as the Mio app is very limited and left me feeling uninspired.

As I became more frustrated with the Fuse I downloaded a pedometer app on my iPhone and started to use that for basic, accurate daily step tracking. I then had a look (at an industry event) at the MyZone MZ-3 HRM and decide to invest in one.

The MZ-3 tracks my heart rate when I am Spinning or working out and I earn 'MEP's - MyZone Effort Points - depending on how much effort I put in. 

I love this element as it makes me push a little bit harder during my training sessions.

Although the MyZone app doesn't tick all of the boxes it covers the majority and there are elements that I love. I can create my own user profile, connect with friends, create challenges and accurately track my activity. I have also noticed that the app continues to improve and develop and this makes me feel confident that the people behind the product are striving to improve my experience.

One of the most powerful things about the MyZone system is that it has given me a reality check. If I potter around the gym doing a few weight training exercises I am not putting in much effort and this shows on the MyZone app and my community friends can see!

My personal behavioural response is to work much harder with little or no rest between sets.

I believe that we are all born with the instinct to compete and MyZone taps into this too. 
I have friends who view their MyZone app several times each day to check that they aren't being out performed by others in their community. If they are they do their best to cram in some exercise. 

So for recording workouts the MyZone MZ-3 has become my weapon of choice.

But what about everyday life?
As mentioned earlier the Mio Fuse didn't really do it for me so I decided to purchase a Fitbit Charge HR. This tracks my resting heart rate and also monitors my heart rate thoughout the day.

It tracks my sleep and gives me a little summary of the number of times I was restless etc. 

I can input my meals and water intake too and although I don't always do this it certainly is a big plus for those who want to track their food and drink consumption.

The Charge HR falls down on heart rate recording at high intensity and I find this quite annoying as I think it could lead to some people feeling mislead by the product marketing.

Thankfully I have my MyZone MZ-3 to accurately record my workouts.

The Future...
The future of wearable fitness technology will be interesting to say the least. 

It is clear that people are buying devices and downloading apps in their millions but the fitness industry could ultimately be their saviour because without a good fitness trainer people usually revert back to old behaviours. 

Conversely if devices aren't as accurate as they should be then consumers may lose faith in them. I believe there is a lot of pressure on manufacturers to deliver quality over quantity.

By utilising fitness devices and tracking app data trainers can sustain positive behaviours for a longer period and the consumer then benefits from better health in the long term.

Ultimately fitness professionals can benefit from understanding what is out there in the market whilst providing the best levels of service and advice to clients of all shapes and sizes.

As an industry we have done very well without wearables so let's not get too hung up on them being a 'threat'. Like kettle bells and ViPR's they should be regarded as another beneficial tool to be used appropriately and correctly.


Friday, 21 August 2015

The Value of Networking

Several years ago a business associate of mine recommended that I "do more networking".

I took his advice and I can honestly say that I have never looked back, in fact a lot of my work now involves organising and running networking events.

When I talk to people (especially senior managers) about networking they often say "I need to get out to more events" and yet they soon forget and return to the daily grind.

Then there are those who see no benefit in networking as "it's just a load of people talking".

So as one who has observed the benefits of networking, particularly during the eight years of running events I am going to outline some advantages of regular networking.

Firstly though, let's agree what networking is and isn't in a business environment.

Networking is about renewing or building relationships with like-minded people. It involves supporting acquaintances with work-related matters and asking for support when needed.

Attending industry specific networking events helps individuals to learn and grow and should apply to all levels within an organisation.

Networking isn't about attending events with a 'hidden agenda'. Nor is it about being 'pushy' and/or hard selling your products or concepts to others. I hear a lot of stories about individuals who have become renowned for their persistent, pushy approach to networking, don't let that be you.

So why should we all network on a regular basis?

Ten Important Reasons to Network...

  1. Connect with fellow professionals from other organisations
  2. Enjoy a day in different surroundings
  3. Build long-term relationships
  4. Meet industry influencers face to face
  5. Ask questions of colleagues and industry figures
  6. Stay 'current' in terms of trends and knowledge
  7. Listen to speakers and enjoy inspirational presentations
  8. Build self-confidence
  9. Build a professional contact database
  10. Collaborate on specific projects

Plan Your Networking

Once you have decided to act and you commit to networking more regularly you should plan your events carefully. Choose those that relate specifically to your work and try to find out who will be attending.

Carry on Networking

Don't forget that networking can also continue away from events. Remember to pick up the phone every now and again. Some of the best networkers plan calls over a period of months, this helps them to maintain rapport with colleagues and associates.


The short and long term value of regular networking is almost immeasurable. Whether it helps you in your current role or enhances your future career prospects it should not be ignored.

So make a plan and get out there and make connections!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Fear of Mirrors

It's that time of year...classes are full, car parks overflowing and gyms crammed full of people wearing their new gear and gadgets. It's also the time of year that personal trainers and fitness instructors get excited as a sudden rush of business leads to a renewed energy and a feeling of success.

As we all know this phase lasts just a few weeks as people return to 'normal' life routines and the fitness habit fades away.

Image courtesy of

Why is this?

Let's start with the basics, people are busy and they mean well when they start a new regime in January...but life gets in the way.

So the first thing fitness professionals need to do is to remember that the majority of people DON'T live and breathe fitness. In fact many don't even want to go to the gym or to a class, they just feel that they have to.

For most people life away from the gym is much more enjoyable than life at the gym.

The Fear Journey

Please don't think that once a person has been for an 'induction' that they are now part of the #fitfam and are going to take 'selfies' in the club loo. Sometimes the fear never really leaves, it just diminishes a little as time goes on. So please stop and think hard about something I refer to as 'The Fear Journey'.

The Fear Journey is a little like the industry favourite 'member journey', except that it is located in the mind of each individual consumer. If you are a fitness professional and/or manager I implore you to read these points whilst picturing each different scenario in your mind.

ALL of the points below are taken from comments made at focus group sessions I have run for clients.

It starts with the fear of not being fit enough to visit a gym and then leads on to...
  • the fear of walking through the main door of the club
  • the fear of meeting a grumpy receptionist
  • the fear of being laughed at
  • the fear of being amongst strangers (all of whom are very fit)
  • the fear of meeting a 'hard-sell' sales person
  • the fear of buying a membership without really knowing the contractual implications
  • the fear of not knowing how to 'work the lockers'
  • the fear of not knowing where the loos are
  • the fear of undressing amongst all of the fit people in the changing room
  • the fear of forgetting something (trainers, shorts, t-shirt, knickers, socks...)
  • the fear of getting lost in the changing room (and never being found)
  • the fear of getting lost after leaving the changing room
  • the fear of not knowing how to use the gym equipment
  • the fear of not remembering how to use the gym equipment
  • the fear of doing that first-ever class
  • the fear of opening the studio door
  • the fear of being unable to hide from the studio instructor
  • the fear of being unable to hide from everyone else in the class
  • the fear of being laughed at (again)
  • the fear of mirrors
  • the fear of your wobbly-bits wobbling
  • the fear of being shouted at by the instructor
  • the fear of being the most unfit/overweight person in the room/club
  • the fear of not having the trendiest gym clothing
  • the fear of still not being fit enough
  • the fear of returning to the gym to do it all again...

Now I am sure you could add a few to the list above but these are some of the things that cause real fear and panic to new visitors. So what can you do about it?

My view is that you can make the journey much more fun and friendly. Start with the attitude that most people do feel uncomfortable in a new environment until they get to know it and the people within it.

Most importantly you must remember that it's the little things that make the difference.

How you tackle each point is entirely up to you and your team but I encourage you to do it as soon as you can.

After all, it is already the time of year when New Year resolutions seem like a distant memory!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Coaching vs Training - A Perspective

I’m writing this as I prepare a presentation for a forthcoming LFX event.

Our first event focused on Recruitment, Selection and Development and our second (November 27th) is especially aimed at facility managers and duty managers. 
As part of the day I will be addressing the topic of ‘Managers as Coaches’.

During my preparation for the presentation I started to think about the benefits of coaching when compared to what I shall term ‘traditional training’.

Having both received and delivered traditional training during the early and mid-stages of my career I have become accustomed to people arriving at training events and saying "I'm not really sure why I'm here, my boss sent me" or “What’s this course about”?

Hardly a ringing endorsement of a well planned and communicated team development strategy!

So why do I believe that coaching offers a better return on investment?

Firstly let's consider the way in which a lot of training decisions are made.

The main factor often seems to be the cost of training programmes as the cheaper they are, the more people you can send! If they are free or 'funded' then that's even better as it helps us to tick the staff development box. Unfortunately this misses a hugely important point, the return on investment.

When I coach clients we work together and use a variety of tools and exercises to understand how things are and how things could be in the future. We spend quality time together and I provide homework and work-based exercises to help the individual or ‘coachee’ learn about themselves, their behaviours and strengths.
This is active learning rather than the more passive approach that occurs during traditional training sessions or with the recent ‘get qualified quickly’ online courses.

Coaching creates action and I can’t honestly think of a session I’ve done where a client has left with no action to take or work to do to develop their approach to work and life. Coaching is also about discovery. The discovery of natural strengths and talents is almost guaranteed to boost confidence and improve performance.

As a coach I also get to know the challenges that my clients face at work and occasionally at home. These aren’t usually the kind of things that are raised during a training course. By working together to solve problems we develop and strong, trusting bond.

As the trust grows my clients are able to scrutinize their own behaviours and abilities without fear of criticism or judgement. By asking appropriate questions I find that clients will evaluate their actions, tactics and attitude and will ultimately commit to making improvements, wherever such improvements might be required.

With regard to questions it sometimes amazes me when a simple question can stimulate so much thought and such a variety of responses.

A question as simple as “What would you need to happen for you to improve your performance at work”? can generate a huge amount of self-evaluation.

Another factor when comparing coaching to traditional training is that even the most quiet, timid person has a voice. During group training sessions the more vocal individuals can dominate a session. When individuals are coached on a one to one basis simply doesn’t happen and some incredibly intelligent thoughts and ideas arise.

So think about traditional training for a moment, is it always the solution?

If your favourite sports team decided not to have a coach and instead sent players on a series of training courses would it be a good move? Would individual and team performance improve?

Coaching is proven to be effective in improving performance, just ask some of the world’s most successful athletes.

Think about the training sessions you’ve attended during your career, there are bound to be a number of benefits that you have enjoyed but I think you would take a lot more from a personal coaching programme.

Interestingly there are still a considerable number of senior executives who feel that they don’t need coaching as they are at a ‘higher level’ than their colleagues. This is a great shame in my opinion as no one is beyond being coached; in fact those that say they don’t need it are usually the ones who need it most.

Let me finish with some evidence as to the power of coaching…

“A study featured in Public Personnel Management Journal reports that managers that underwent a managerial training programme showed an increased productivity of 22.4%. 
However, a second group was provided with coaching following the training process and their productivity increased by 88%.
Research does demonstrate that one-on-one executive coaching is of significant value.”
F. Turner, Ph.D.

I rest my case.