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Technology is leveraging fitness to new heights with digital equipment upping the game for gyms and fitness centres in the UAE 

The UAE has been at the forefront in terms of adopting digital solutions, right from the initial lockdown here in March last year, says Glen Stollery. And as the CEO of equipment and fitness centre solutions brand, Les Mills India, Middle East and Africa, Stollery, personally couldn’t have been happier with the move despite the gloom brought about by the pandemic in 2020.

In fact, a week into lockdown, the fitness solutions brand deployed its unique platform Les Mills On Demand (LMOD) to clubs at no cost, reveals Stollery, just so their valued members could continue to train even when confined to their homes.

“GymNation was really quick out of the gate with Les Mills on Demand, offering it free of charge to literally tens of thousands of UAE residents. Since then there’s been continuous innovation and we’ve seen some incredible initiatives in this space with most of the major club chains having released digital solutions. In fact, just this month both Fitness First and GymNation brought out video-on-demand platforms for their members.

“We were fortunate in that we launched LMOD five years ago so we were well-prepared to meet increased demand for at-home fitness. That said, with an 800 per cent jump in LMOD sign-up volume year-on-year, we had to make big investments in our technology to meet the added capacity, particularly as we provided free access to support our club partners and their members, at the start of the pandemic.

“We’re constantly working to refine LMOD and enhance the experience. We recently added our 1,000th workout to the platform. With new workouts being added weekly through our Trainer Series, our audience has never had a greater choice of world-class programmes than they do today. These are the workouts you’ll find in 21,000 leading gyms around the world and we’re working hard on new features to encourage more LMOD users to go out and experience live classes at their local club.”

Pumped up

The fitness space is quickly heating up in the UAE as the pandemic begins to show signs of plateauing out, and this quiet but quick digital evolution seems to be playing the role of a catalyst. Hany Abu Omar, Managing Director, Johnson Health Tech Middle East, providers of fitness equipment, agrees that Covid has had a positive impact on the fitness vertical by making it technologically more receptive to customer needs. “We have seen a major shift in habits towards fitness as it became the cornerstone of health and wellness. Simply put, if you are not fit, you are not healthy,” says Omar, while talking about the brand’s all-new Fit-Tech platforms. “We just launched a new cardio range that meets the emerging needs of our customers with digital platforms, seamless connectivity and variety of choices all designed to meet the diversity of training needs, budget and spaces.” And then, blending workouts is also a trend.

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Adapt to the new norm

“People have started to blend their workouts, they will go to the gym but also workout at home and occasionally go to boutique studios,” says Omar. “People will seek digital platforms that enable them to enjoy all of that out of one platform, using wearables to track their progress and health. We help our clients to be an integral part of this new paradigm by providing digital platforms as well as flexible equipment replacement programmes.”

In fact, Greg Boucher, CEO, MeFitPro, a UAE-based brand that deals with gym installations and fitness equipment, agrees that the availability and adoption of fitness tech in Dubai and the UAE has been both evolutionary and revolutionary. “Tech has continued to change the industry and with the connected devices and smart watches, we have access to and that most people own, will continue to see technology getting better to support our wellness goals. The tech will get better and people will get better at using them to track and monitor and help reach their goals faster.”

He also says that digital fitness has evolved exponentially in the past 12-18 months due to the pandemic. “The need for clubs and studios to stay connected to their members when going to a class was difficult due to limited space, and some members are still feeling a little apprehensive. We, at MeFitPro, have invested in the space by partnering with Echelon Fitness who will bring their digital platform to the Middle East region. The software allows users to explore thousands of live and on-demand studio fitness classes led by expert trainers to get in-shape from the comfort and safety of home. One membership provides access to all classes and exclusive app content, while connecting you to the Echelon community as a whole. When you become an Echelon member, you become a part of a supportive fitness family that wants to see you succeed.”

The brand also introduced a couple of other innovations last year such as Styku, a 3D body scanning and health check system, as well as TRX Maps, which uses technology to check one’s body movement analysis.

360-degree fitness

For Stollery, the next step in the evolution of gyms would mean enabling a fantastic experience both in the club and at home with seamless integration. “Imagine you can’t make it into a club to go to your favorite class, but you can log into your gym’s platform and join that class in real time at the same time others are enjoying it in the facility. If you choose to you can turn your camera on, connect with others and the instructor also can connect with you and encourage you. Your wearable is tracking your performance and if you choose to you can log in and compete on a leaderboard with your friends and those in the gym. Even though you’re at home you’ll still get that “live” experience with others and with an instructor you have a personal connection too. If you’re travelling or can’t quite attend the class in real time, you can watch it on demand later at your convenience. It’s a full 360-degree solution that connects you with your club, your favorite instructor and your friends no matter where you are. In fact, there’s scope for some entertainment as well.”

Are you entertained?

Livestreaming, for instance is another area that Les Mills quickly moved into to meet demand, says Stollery. “Les Mills, unlike any of our competitors, uses original music in all of our live classes. What that means is that the Lady Gaga track you hear in your favorite BODYPUMP class is actually being sung by Lady Gaga. While this a considerable USP and something we’re very proud of, it also means we have to work very closely with music licensing bodies and artists to ensure we have all the necessary licensing for their music. If you’ve ever uploaded a track to social media or YouTube, you’ll know streaming online can be a real minefield. As such we had to work really hard to get the necessary licenses so our clubs and instructors could livestream our classes as soon as Covid hit.”

That said, at the end of the day though, gyms or fitness centres are as good as the trainers they hire for the job.

Trained and prepped

Les Mills, for instance has its trainers suitably prepped to deal with customer needs in a post-Covid world.

Stollery says, “We released education modules and taught our instructors how they could modify our programming for a socially distanced world. Some of our programmes had lateral movements, circle runs or large movement patterns that instructors could modify accordingly so they could still deliver safe and effective classes with participants remaining on the spot. This is something that is also critical for home workouts where you may not have a lot of room.”