Jochen Michaelis is the MD UK of eGym, provider of state of the art gym equipment, powered by software that adjusts resistance based on the user’s strength and objectives. Workout data is automatically synchronised with the eGym platform and is available to members free of charge on the eGym website and via the eGym Fitness app. With extensive experience sales, management and digital transformation, Jochen decided to bring his passion for fitness and digital solutions together and joined eGym in April 2015 as Managing Director in the UK.
We spoke with Jochen to learn about the rise of technology within the fitness sector and how company’s can use software to engage with those that would otherwise have little interest in attending a gym?
The first rule is that the exercise needs to be fun. The term we use for this is gamification.
Gamification is a word that’s used a lot in the technology sector, but it’s something that the entire fitness industry needs to start taking seriously if it is to increase participation amongst those currently not engaged with exercise.
“As an industry we all have to get better at applying this gamification principle if we ever want to fully engage the mainstream market”
The best example to illustrate this is Pokemon Go. That one game did more to change the behaviour of UK children than probably any governmental programme. Kids that would have otherwise been spending their days inside were suddenly running about outdoors, getting some much needed fresh air and exercise.
As an industry we all have to get better at applying this gamification principle if we ever want to fully engage the mainstream market. Strength training is not, in itself, much fun, or at least not to the majority of people, so we have to ask how we can inject the enjoyment and motivation through other means. For example, as you progress with our eGym programme you can collect points to go up the activity levels and compare them with those of your friends, even if they’re not a member of the same gym.
2. Easy to use
The second rule is to ensure the user experience is simple and intuitive. This is where Apple have always been so effective. They have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, but that complexity is all hidden to the customer.
The same principle exists in gyms. All you can expect from a probable low engaged customer is to perform one action. Any more and they will be put off. For example, we see that all the fancy options on treadmills are largely pointless as nearly all users just hit the “Start” button and begin running.
“All you can expect from a probable low engaged customer is to perform one action”
This principle is something we learnt the hard way. When we first started we gave the user two training methods to select, regular training and eccentric training, and trainers would advise their clients to change the methods regularly to create a new training stimulus. What we saw was that the customers all clicked on the left hand button, and at the end of the given period, rather than moving to the other method, they continued to click that same button. So we swapped the order of the buttons and guess what happened – 90% continued to hit the left hand button!
This taught us a valuable lesson; the user was not interested in considering the meaning of each method. They just wanted to get on with their workout. From this point onwards we knew that for our audience there was no point providing multiple options. Instead we decided to automate the process, so users would continually to switch between training methods at the right time.
Strength training is a lot like learning a language. In the start, it is really hard and your early successes don’t motivate you. After all, being able to speak 10 words in a foreign language is of almost no use, so it’s very little incentive to learn the next 10. It’s only when you’ve learnt hundreds of words and understand how to piece them all together that you get a great sense of reward and achievement.
“For rewards to be motivating they need to be in sight at all times”
That’s the same as strength training. You spend hours in the gym but for the first few weeks you barely see any change. It could be two months before you look in the mirror and really notice a difference, but lots of people aren’t willing to wait that long.
This presents a real challenge as for rewards to be motivating they need to be in sight at all times. For this reason we ensure there are lots of small milestones that give the person a boost and ensure they stay on track, even when their body is only showing very marginal improvements.
It’s the early phase that’s the most critical, so we’ve built the app to enable people to reach the first levels really quickly but it becomes harder the further you progress. We also only count the last 4 weeks for the activity levels, which mean that people can lose points extremely quickly. This is to reflect the reality of fitness, which can be lost in a matter of weeks if people stop activity altogether. Furthermore, as people are working towards their milestone they can see whether they’re ahead or behind their target, again maximising the motivation to stay on track.
4. Test and learn
The final thing to remember is that no matter how experienced you are, you can never accurately predict how users will behave. All you can do is test and learn. So rather than make big changes and hope that they are right, you need to make lots of small changes and then review the data for each. This is the huge advantage that software represents over hardware, and why I fully expect software to play a far larger role in the fitness environment in the future.
“Rather than make big changes and hope that they are right, you need to make lots of small changes and then review the data”