Connected Fitness: Today’s gyms, clubs and stadiums are built for sports intelligence

By Claire Swedberg | Aug 15, 2022
Illustration of a football player running, surrounded by biometrics. Image by Shutterstock / Master1305 / DG-Studio/ Jackie Niam.
Sports and fitness technology—once a matter of wearable trackers and mobile apps—provides intelligence to and about athletes, trainers and sports fans. 






Sports and fitness technology—once a matter of wearable trackers and mobile apps—provides intelligence to and about athletes, trainers and sports fans. Over the past decade, systems have been installed to identify athletes’ location, movement and performance while predicting health hazards. The technology—often consisting of wireless gateways and sensors—is being installed at stadiums, playing fields and training areas. As it becomes more common, the systems will also go live in gyms and health clubs to enhance member experiences by tracking activities and outcomes.

There are about 200,000 health and fitness clubs around the world, with the largest percentage in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, based on 2022 statistics from Statista. In the United States, 39% of people have gym memberships, according to PolicyAdvice.

There was a decline in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gyms are attempting to get people back by offering a more personal and hygienic environment with technology-based amenities to track performance. At a basic level, fitness centers require lighting, equipment and audio-video connections. But today’s athletes and fitness club members are accustomed to an increasing amount of information, such as the heart rate and health measurements that wearable fitness trackers offer.

Software for a hard workout

IntelliGym, developed by Applied Cognitive Engineering, Brook, N.J., provides a solution that simulates sports play in a virtual environment. This training system only requires only a standard computer (either PC or Mac), said Danny Dankner, the company’s CEO. Players access computerized training systems in their homes or gyms to improve performance.

In some cases, when used by clubs, the software is made available in a dedicated IT room where players can mentally “train” at a computer. All performance data is collected during their interaction with the computer and shared to help them enhance how they mentally approach a game.

This technology has been evolving. The first version of the IntelliGym system came out more than 10 years ago. Today, the training content athletes and gym members access is based on vast amounts of data and sophisticated algorithms.

“As far as we know, we have the largest database in the world of cognitive performance of athletes,” Dankner said.

The latest offerings include the IntelliGym Scout—a system that predicts players’ Game IQ development—and IntelliGym Mobile, a training module for mobile platforms.

“Our claim to fame is straightforward: players who use IntelliGym will make better and faster decisions on the field,” Dankner said.

Most users are individual players who purchase an IntelliGym license and install the software on their own computer.

In the meantime, gyms are employing cloud-based equipment to communicate body measurements and greater intelligence for members doing their daily workout. True Fitness, St. Louis, for example, offers a suite of cardio consoles to help customize fitness equipment according to the needs of the health club or its users. A 16- or 22-inch high-definition touchscreen can provide better connectivity and built-in fitness programs users can follow. But to imagine the gym of the future, a look to professional sports provides some insight.

Anyone who has watched their favorite NFL team has seen the technology in action. Zebra Technologies’ MotionWorks Sport solution provides data insights that allow players, coaches and team personnel to evaluate and optimize their performance. Zebra, Lincolnshire, Ill., has been an NFL partner since 2014, as the official on-field player tracking provider for the league.

“Our player- and ball-tracking technology is leveraged for all 32 teams,” said Adam Petrus, Zebra’s business development and sales lead for sports and entertainment.

The Zebra MotionWorks Sport solution is deployed at every U.S. NFL stadium, in addition to NFL venues in London, Mexico City and, most recently, Munich, where the league will play its first-ever regular-season game in 2022.

Teams attach RFID tags to players’ shoulder pads that transmit real-time location data to a receivers installed around a practice facility or stadium. The Zebra receivers and antennas are usually installed along the club level of the stadium where they have a clean line of sight to the field, Petrus said.

“There’s no question player tracking will continue to play a role in sports and impact the way coaches, players and trainers work in tandem to optimize performance. It will also affect how fans enjoy the game.”

The receivers gather performance metrics. Specialized RFID-tagged footballs capture passing and kicking information, including velocity, rotation and throw distance. The facilities also require antennas and broadcast connection, as well as media converters.

These systems can collect different data points per play during a game; notable metrics include speed, acceleration, receiver or defender separation, change of direction, rate of deceleration, reaction to snap and distance traveled per play. For the football, notable metrics include revolutions per minute and air speed and distance.

On game day, Zebra’s tracking data is taken in by the NFL, and a Next-Gen Stats team generates player metrics and deploys fan-facing content to enhance the experience. Another version of the technology is used during practices and delivers live data to track progress in real time, while post-practice data provides information for player analysis, Petrus said. To install these systems, Zebra works with third-party partners, who coordinate with Zebra’s professional services team to execute installation.

Companies are consistently evolving performance-tracking technology to upgrade the collection of player-tracking data. To meet developing needs over time, for instance, Zebra has enhanced data collection when tracking the football to include acceleration and revolutions per minute.

“I expect that wearable technology will continue to be applied across all professional sports, and more applications will be introduced to tie together a variety of performance metrics into a singular platform,” Petrus said.

This can include on-field player tracking information, sleep data, diet and food intake, heart rate measurements and cryotherapy, to name a few.

“There’s no question player tracking will continue to play a role in sports and impact the way coaches, players and trainers work in tandem to optimize performance. It will also affect how fans enjoy the game,” Petrus said.

Ultimately, this technology creates the “digital athlete.” The future of player tracking will bring real-time data, graphics and video all together in one view.

Gym chains can also be expected to accelerate adoption of technology to boost their services with modern equipment.

Technology will provide solutions for hygiene concerns that have stemmed from the pandemic. For example, some fitness providers have begun using contactless or low-touch check-ins, attendance tracking based on facial recognition and touchless payment options, which minimize the physical-contact environment.

Leveraging cloud-based connectivity with low-voltage installations, these intelligent fitness products will help gym owners and trainers improve member performance and enhance users’ workout experience by combining expertise with real-time data.

From a revenue standpoint, fitness and health clubs are expanding again as the pandemic evolves, and access to the latest technology is helping ensure that growth.

Header image by Shutterstock / Master1305 / DG-Studio/ Jackie Niam.

About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].





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