What is fitness? The first definition of fitness is: “health”. Health is defined as “the general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor: good health; poor health.”

So to explore the future of fitness, we need to know how technology will impact our health. According to famed futurist Ray Kurzweil, within this century we will have blood-cell-sized nanobots, swimming through our bloodstreams keeping us healthy by zapping cancer, correcting DNA errors, removing toxins, extending our memories and eating up brownies before they hit our thighs. and we’ll have chips in our bodies that will transmit our personal health data to and from devices and our brain.

The path to the future of fitness relies on massive data aggregation, social elements and convenience. while it’s fascinating to track your weight, your height, BMI, running patterns and your caloric intake, future intelligence will rely on much more than that. It will know the history of your injuries, your genetics, your complete biometric data and not just about your activity today but also how external conditions play their part such as your geographic location, weather patterns, your social graph and what music you’re listening to. In the future, you’ll be able to correlate across all these different categories for a truly, holistic report on your health. so let’s meet the companies taking us there.


RunKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs grew up playing team sports like hockey, lacrosse and baseball and it wasn’t until he graduated from college when he started thinking about fitness as something other than a sport. now, in addition to running one of Boston’s most successful startups, he runs 5-7 miles every day and hits the gym 3 times a week. Before he launched RunKeeper, the Babson college grad says:

“I always knew I wanted to build something big and beautiful and to make my mark on the world. I was busy searching around for what that would be, evaluating different ideas in different domains. I was training for a marathon at the time to channel these pent up ideas and kept asking myself, ‘what am I really passionate about?’ It was staring me in the face. I saw the tools I needed, I knew the space, and the more I dug in, I saw there was something really big here. As soon as those stars aligned I had a hypothesis for where I’d start: the intersection of fitness and data.”

Looking at Nike Plus, Jacobs was inspired but thought, “why is this only being done around one pedometer, around one brand of shoes for one sport?” seeing the promise of sensor technology, he asked, “why isn’t someone tying this all together? Jacobs launched RunKeeper in August 2008, and it was one of the first 200 iOS apps in the App store. RunKeeper was also one of the first companies with a freemium model, which allowed them to be cash positive from an early stage. the team raised a $1.1 million Series A round in November 2010.

“People assumed the app was always the vision for our business, but even before the smartphone was on the radar, we knew we wanted to build a system to tie all health categories together, something to engage users, that could spread organically and virally. If we had come out and said, ‘We’re aggregating the world’s health information from the start, nobody would’ve shown up,” says Jacobs.

Runkeeper now has 6 million registered users, which use its platform to track all of their stats from dozens of devices and applications like FitBit, Zeo, Wahoo, Withings and of course, the Runkeeper app. Check out my user profile here to see it in action. In June, Jacobs announced that RunKeeper’s open API would enable 3rd party apps to be built on top of an unprecedented amount of correlated health data; what he calls “The Health Graph” much like Facebook’s “Social Graph”. Just this week, Runkeeper unveiled Runkeeper races, which allow users to search for races to participate in and keep track of their past, present and future races.

“I use RunKeeper because it does something for me that I clearly couldn’t do on my own very efficiently– track distance and time. aside from RunKeeper, I don’t use anything. I suppose I should, but the thing is, most fitness people are very into routines. by definition, they’re creatures of habit–so I think it’s probably really hard to get them to switch over and use new things,” says New York City VC Charlie O’Donnell of First Round Capital.

According to Jacobs, about 2-3 years into the future, you won’t be hitting a button to track anything, it will be automatic. You take a sip of water and the system knows. Data collection will be passive, unobtrusive and free. All the intelligence will be ‘under the hood.’ Taking care of your health will be like listening to turn by turn TomTom directions. “Time to wake up. Drink a glass of water. Time to sleep. You’re done working out. You ate a donut. Redirecting.”

Will we need personal trainers in the future? “I don’t think they’ll go away because there will always be people who prefer the ‘human touch’ but the machines will get better at coaching. while the best personal trainers are giving advice based on dozens, or perhaps hundreds of clients, machine will have access to the experience of thousands if not billions of clients,” predicts Jacobs.

Check out our video interview with Jacobs here for more of his Future of Fitness predictions:

23 and Me

23andMe is a personal genetics company co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google’s Sergey Brin. I signed up a year ago and paid $99.99, plus $5.00 per month for the subscription. Deals for the service pop up quite often so don’t pay the full price. It’s easy to use, just spit in a tube and mail it off and about 6 weeks later the test results arrive via e-mail and in an easy to download PDF format.

The test provides insight into your ancestral origins; traits, from hair quality to muscle performance; risk factors for 93 diseases; and your predicted response to drugs, from blood thinners to coffee. You are then given a log-in where you can explore new genetic data as it comes in and how it relates to you. The technology confirms facts I already knew about myself like “I have brown hair,” to as random, yet still true as “I have moderately higher odds of smelling asparagus in my urine.” It then reported things I didn’t know about myself, like “I have about an 80% chance of not being able to taste certain bitter flavors.” this is not a good evolutionary sign.

Every two weeks or so, I still receive new personal information from 23andme. the more people who submit their DNA, the better the overall results will be for everyone. let the DNA data collection begin.


“In the future, you’ll be able to instantly share all of your biometric data with doctors and insurance companies so you can receive a discount for good health,” says Chip Hawkins, the founder and CEO of Wahoo Fitness.

Hawkins, a self-proclaimed “gadget and health nut” started Wahoo Fitness 2 years ago in Atlanta, GA. the company makes products that wirelessly connect your iPhone to your favorite fitness sensors such as heart rate straps and stride sensors. They make two primary devices: a key that plugs into your iPhone for running and a waterproof case for cycling. Wahoo connects with over 60 applications including RunKeeper, Runmeter and Training Peaks.

Hawkins says in the next year or two we will see calorimeter devices that you can wear on your upper arm to measure your caloric intake. the band works by measuring heat flux, i.e. the energy that’s leaving your body.


“Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your health and wellness. Everything is related and ties back to sleep,” says Zeo’s CEO Ben Rubin.

While there are less clunky options for measuring your sleep like WakeMate, Zeo‘s headband (pictured right) actually works and is far more accurate. “this theme is true for a variety of devices- the bigger and clunkier they are, the more accurate they are, but we all know this will change,” says RunKeeper’s Jason Jacobs.

Zeo monitors your brain waves while you’re sleeping to produce a “ZQ score”, which is a measure of the quantity and quality of your sleep each night. It measures both your deep and REM sleep, how many times you’re woken up in the night and then wakes you up at the appropriate time. Rubin says they’re in the business of sleep management so the platform includes a full suite of solutions for getting better sleep. It lets you compare your sleep data to others, so you can make decisions like buying a new mattress, cutting out the caffeine, getting your husband to stop snoring or kicking the dog out of bed.

Rubin recommends the Philips Wake Up Light, which wakes you up in a more natural way by emitting light that increases gradually and simulates the sunrise. He also recommends F.lux, which makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and sunlight during the day. and what does the future hold? Rubin predicts:

“5-7 years into the future, you’ll walk into your bathroom and your temperature and heart rate will be measured. Your urine, analyzed. How tired you look will be saved in your mirror. All of this will be done with minimal intervention. and when we have all that data, people will build smart analytics layers on top of it, so you’ll receive an email that says: ‘We’ve noticed your sleep quality sucks. we think it’s because you’ve been on your computer til 1AM every night. and have you been sticking to your diet? Your urine samples are registering a high PH level.’ the future of fitness will be all about sensor technology and smart algorithms.”


CEO Cédric Hutchings started Withings, a French company in 2008 with a simple concept: “we revisit devices you already know like the body scale and blood pressure monitor and connect them to the Internet,” says Hutchings. “we do this first, to simplify the object’s interface and second, to enrich the services and enhance the features.”

The Withings WiFi body scale measures weight, body fat and lean mass. Set up takes 5 minutes, then you just step on the scale and voilá! Your measurements are sent to your web or mobile account.

The best thing about all of these devices, particularly Withings, is that it tracks your data effortlessly without adding a new routine like having to manually store data. by making it so easy to monitor these data points, it’s easier to motivate yourself to make micro-decisions like deciding to walk back home instead of driving, taking the stairs or splitting a dessert. Withings works with a multitude of devices and applications including RunKeeper, FitBit and Zeo. Check out this full list of partnerships.


Similar in functionality to RunKeeper’s app, Runmeter is an iPhone centric platform that pushes your GPS tracked workouts out to social networks and enables realtime feedback. so let’s say you push out this tweet or Facebook post: ”just started a run on Runmeter”. when someone replies to the post with “Awesome job!” You’ll hear that feedback within minutes in your earbuds. Hearing a friend of yours say, “Go Faster” will get your legs kicking faster.

Runmeter has gone to the max in terms of features, functionality and ease of use with the iPhone. In comparison to RunKeeper, which is free, the Runmeter app costs $4.99 in the app store. while Runmeter’s app is slightly more sophisticated in terms of audio and social features, it lacks a social website. It’s all about the iPhone.

I asked Steve Kusmer, a developer for Runmeter if running with an iPhone might cause any damage to its internal parts. he said, “the iPhone is very, very rugged. the up and down motion does not affect the device at all. Of course, dropping the iPhone would be damaging, which is why we recommend using it with a fitness belt, an armband or a bike mount.”

“I believe the future of fitness is connected and realtime…Realtime is where we’ll shine beyond our competitors because we allow for support during your workout. we didn’t create a company that helps people share photographs, we are literally savings lives,” says Kusmer.

In the future, data aggregation will be the norm. we caught up with Dr. Leslie Saxon, the Executive Director of USC’s Center for Body Computing, who had this to say:

“Biological statistics will become a bigger part of sports. There is a movement in every sport toward more and deeper data collection and analytics. Sports teams want data so they can crunch the numbers and create better results on the playing field.  There is technology emerging–and we’re testing and developing it at the USC Center for Body Computing–that allows us to get incredible health insight.  We can use the information to protect athletes and to increase their performance.  For example, we have an NFL Charities grant to study dynamic heart rate in athletes.  There are now sensors that can track acceleration, perspiration, core temperature…This quickly-evolving technology will trickle down into the fitness arena.

The future of fitness will be enhanced by knowledge of what your mind and body are experiencing so that better decisions and outcomes can be obtained. It will also be really interactive. Don’t be surprised that if within the next few years you will have a sensor on your body most of the time you are exercising and that you will interact with the data being collected and that user experience will be fun.  The CBC is working on that too.  A prediction: the next generation will find it unusual if you do NOT record your every vital sign from birth to death.”

UP by Jawbone

New to the scene is Jawbone’s UP (pictured right), a wearable wristband with an application that combines tracking, analysis, social and motivational elements. It will track people’s movement, sleep patterns and nutrition 24/7 and present personalized recommendations and challenges to live a healthier life. while best known for developing bluetooth headsets and wireless speakers, the Jawbone UP will plug-in via headphone jack. We’ll be sure to get back to you with a full report when it becomes available later this year.

We did however catch up with Travis Bogard, VP of Product Management & Strategy at Jawbone, who had this to say on the future of fitness:

I think we’ll see more and more technology seamlessly integrated on and about the body. It will be functional, stylish, wearable 24/7 and…will help people measure their health and understand all of the elements that affect their health over time…with this, I think we’ll see a shift toward people thinking about health as something that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – not just moments when we think we’re being healthy…Tools like UP will help free us from that dedicated workout time and give us an opportunity identify and track healthy activities that we enjoy each and every day.

Travis Bogard, VP of Product Management & Strategy at Jawbone

Other monitoring devices include Garmin watches and Fitbit, by far the most popular device that tracks all of your daily activity such as calories burned, sleep quality, steps and distance. FitBit syncs with fitness programs such as LoseIt!, RunKeeper and Microsoft HealthVault.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are dozens of fitness apps you should check out including: DailyMile, Cyclemeter, GymGoal, C25K, Endomondo, , MealSnap, Runtastic, Sports Tracker and DailyBurn.

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