Fitness clubs would seem like logical places to capitalize on the health-tracking boom. After all, beefy gym-goers have been carefully keeping track of their performance on pieces of graph paper since before the phrase “quantified self” came into vogue. Yet a new push into digital tracking by Equinox, the New York-based health club chain, is mostly notable for the fact that it seems ahead of its peers even at this late date.
There are plenty of fitness apps, of course, but none of the good ones are made by gyms—those rare places that could actually combine digital information with opportunities for physical activity and coaching. Only three of the five largest gym chains in the U.S. even have mobile applications at all, and they feel very obligatory. The apps primarily offer a list of gym locations, class schedules, and maybe a BMI calculator. Life Time Fitness, which has 108 gyms across the country, actually posted a screenshot of its app in the iTunes Store that shows the software still loading—not exactly a sign of a top priority.
Equinox has higher ambitions. This week the company launched digital software that allows members to use websites and a mobile application to track their workouts, including how many calories they’ve burned and how far they’ve traveled. The Equinox digital tool can integrate information seamlessly from wearable devices, including the FitBit and Jawbone’s Up, and from smartphone apps that collect fitness data. After a session on the treadmill, users can take a photograph of the screen of their machine and the app will convert that image into data—a nice addition for frustrated wearable-device users who haven’t been getting credit for running in place.
Equinox is even trying to speak Silicon Valley’s language. “We’re about disrupting people’s routines and schedules,” says Matt Burton, the club’s director of digital marketing. “The way you see differences in your body and yourself is by disrupting your routine.”
This is an early effort. Getting everything connected is a little tricky, and Equinox hasn’t figured out a way to offer insight from what it’s gathering. Burton describes the effort as “foundational,” and he says the company wants to do things like integrate the data into personal training. “Our perspective right now is that a lot of people are data rich and knowledge poor,” he says. “We’re in a good place to fill the gap.”
Having a centralized database linked to a gym account could give people an added incentive to switch. But Equinox may have waited too long. Earlier this month Apple (AAPL) launched its own health data clearinghouse, HealthKit, which serves much the same purpose and allows developers to draw on data being collected from various apps and devices. Samsung has a similar program, and Google (GOOG) is reportedly preparing to announce one. Those tech-native competitors could give the gym a run for its money.