Virgin Active to offer smart wristbands in digital gym push

Virgin Active will offer members smart wristbands that keep track of their workout history, as part of a multimillion-pound push to bring its gyms into the 21st century.

Virgin Active: introducing new workout system called The Grid
Virgin Active: introducing new workout system called The Grid

The fitness chain has launched its ‘Always Discovering’ campaign, and opened two ‘tech-centric’ gyms in central London as part of its £100m investment programme.

Along with the new tech-centric gyms, Virgin Active is introducing new virtual workout regimes – a class which focuses on ‘primal pattern movements’ called ZUU, a fusion of Yoga and Pilates called Nova, and a tough, circuit-style workout called The Grid.

Virgin Active’s chief information officer, Andy Caddy, told Marketing the two gyms, in Cannon Street and Paddingon, will feature contactless systems, allowing members to swipe and swipe out using a smart bracelet. The wearable device can also track and measure members’ workout history.

We don’t think of wearable tech and connected fitness as a threat, it provides a catalyst for health clubs to improve their digital experience

Quantified-self fanatics will also be able to pair their fitness devices or apps with Virgin Active’s equipment, creating a fuller picture of their workout progress by including exercise done outside the gym. And members will be able to access web services such as Skype, TED and YouTube from the gym floor.

Caddy said Virgin Active had incorporated the digital offering after observing more members using fitness apps and devices, and the arrival of wearables in the tech sector.

He said: "As the UK’s number one health and fitness club, we are constantly keeping track of the latest fitness technology available and how our members are engaging with these innovations. 

 "As more members use apps to track activeness outside of club, we wanted to ensure our definition of activeness is not constrained to what happens in club but takes into account the entirety of our members’ lifestyles."

Gym firms go high-end and tech-savvy

The changes come as incumbent gym firms come under pressure from low-cost rivals such as Pure Gym. Though Virgin Active remains the biggest gym in terms of outlets, Pure Gym last year claimed it has become the number one UK gym by members, reaching 450,000 compared with Virgin Active’s approximately 400,000.

Fitness First underwent a £225m revamp last year, targeting the high-end market with more personal trainers and investing millions in technology. LA Fitness was put up for sale in November.

Caddy told Marketing that the arrival of fitness devices and apps offered Virgin Active a chance to personalise its offering.

He said: "The rise in fitness devices and apps is a very positive trend; anything that encourages people to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle is a great thing.

"At Virgin Active we don’t think of wearable tech and connected fitness as a threat. It provides a catalyst for health clubs to improve their digital experience. Our role is to keep our members inspired and we are always looking for the best ways to help them do this."

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