The future of fitness has well and truly arrived in 2021. Connected fitness had been gaining momentum for several years but more recently the industry has exploded – accelerated in part by a global pandemic that has fundamentally changed our relationship with fitness.
Connected fitness, as it is commonly known, refers to the application of digital technology to sports, fitness and wellness activities using a “smart” mix of hardware, software, and content.
From the industry big hitters such as Apple Watch, Garmin, Zwift, and Peloton to the emerging market players such as NURVV Run and Playermaker – connected fitness is having a moment with consumers and investors alike.
Over the past 12 months, capital has been flooding into the sector. Connected personal training platform Tonal secured a $250 million Series E round of funding in March, which values the company at $1.6 billion. Similarly, Lululemon, the upmarket athleisure wear company, acquired MIRROR, the smart mirror that acts as an at-home gym, for an eyebrow-raising $500million.
Gartner, the global research firm, puts the international wearable fitness market in excess of £40billion – demonstrating an appetite from a global audience to level up their fitness through digital means.
So, what is fueling the fire? Whilst the concept of at-home workouts is not new, its new-generation form is being partly driven by the democratization of fitness through technology. The latest tech is becoming increasingly accessible and affordable at a time when societal and lifestyle attitudes are changing towards health and fitness, consequently creating a swell in demand.
This building trend has been set alight by the pandemic. With gyms closed, a significant increase of time spent at home and more disposable income for many as a result – it has created the perfect environment to nurture participation, engagement and purchase.
Of course, the fitness landscape has changed in their fortune, but brands have been quick to capitalise on the opportunity. Slick marketing and savvy partnerships have been hallmarks of the blazing a trail. In November 2020, Peloton listened to its audience and announced a partnership with music royalty Beyonce – the platforms most-requested artist – to launch a series of Beyonce-themed classes for its members.
Elsewhere, Zwift, relentlessly dialed in to the interests of its global cycling community, broke new ground with a landmark partnership with the UCI – world cycling’s governing body. Together, they delivered the inaugural UCI eCycling World Championships that saw some of the world’s best professional cyclists race in the virtual world of Watopia. It marked a historical moment in cycling and the wider sporting industry – legitimizing esports within the professional sport and blurring the lines between the digital and real world.
Consumers are also becoming better educated and more engaged with data’s impact on performance and technique. Data’s application in professional sports is cascading down to grassroots sport – enabling athletes of all levels and abilities to gain a deeper understanding of performance from wearable tech.
NURVV Run is a new smart insole that uses proprietary sensor technology built on biomechanical principles to provide runners with a revolutionary insight into their running technique. It is the type of technology that in times gone by, would be only available to the pros but now illustrates the point of accessibility of new tech and opens up the door for users to learn more about their passion and fitness.
Industry experts believe that the boom is set to continue, and that the pandemic has only hastened the inevitable rise of connected fitness. Brands will now be challenged to maintain the momentum and stay in as good a shape as their users.