Taking It To Heart: Why Wearables Are Showing Up In Fitness Studios

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) sales of wearable devices are expected to rise to 135 million units by 2019. But consumer demand for quantifying physical progress now extends much further than the latest Apple Watch or FitBit.

With business savvy brands eager to penetrate the lucrative $20 billion+ market, wearable technology is now merging with other profitable sectors. Athos, the world’s first smart fitness apparel is leveraging the convergence of fitness and fashion. And in addition, Irish healthcare products company Covidien (owned by medical technology giant Medtronic) recently acquired Zephyr Technologies, in a bid to move into health-sensing wearables.

In major cities where boutique fitness is flourishing there is also a rise in heart-rate monitored exercise classes. So, in a world where consumers are measuring themselves more than ever in a bid to ‘better’ their lives, realistically, how do heart-rate monitors fit in?

At its most basic level, tracking the heart rate with a monitor (which reads the pulse via a sensor built into a chest strap) informs the individual exactly how hard their heart is working and so, when utilised alongside a workout, shows which heart rate zone to be aiming for, in order to reach set goals (working to 80% of the heart’s max capacity is the standardised target). But its supposed benefits run much deeper than that.

American-born brand, Orangetheory, who launched in 2010 in Florida, now boast over 200 studios across the US. They promote their heart-rate monitored classes as being backed by the science of post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), with heart-rate monitored training designed to keep heart rates in a target zone that stimulates metabolism, increases energy and burns more calories after a workout.

The franchise, recently been brought to the UK by David Lloyd Leisurewho’ve rolled out classes in their clubs across London, is said to offer huge motivational rewards.

“The real-time feedback of the heart rate monitors during the class, make people push themselves that little bit harder so that they get the best workout possible. In addition, being able to see how many calories you have burnt during a workout is a great reward for many users and encourages them to keep coming back and challenge themselves,” Sarah Young PR Executive at David Lloyd Leisure told Welltodo.


The USP for studios, is that heart rate monitors are able to give peace of mind to time-poor consumers who want to see that the workouts they are carrying out have been effective and worthwhile.


This sentiment is shared by Jess Schuring, celeb trainer and founder of Heartcore, who have just launched the UK’s first heart monitored TRX class.

“Humans are predominantly visual creatures and we love to fill our lives with imagery (hello instagram). We also love to be rewarded for the efforts we put into our work.  Using heart rate monitors in a class environment is appealing to us as it gives us immediate gratification by projecting our physical output directly onto a screen.  It also allows us to compare our efforts with that of our fellow training partners, creating a healthy motivational atmosphere – plus it’s fun at the end of class to check your date and see what you’ve achieved this time,” she explained.

Business savvy brands eager to penetrate the lucrative $20 billion+ market
Image: Heartcore

But, while many exercise physiologists tend to take a positive stance regarding the use of the tracking device, Dr. Tanaka, the director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory and an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas in Austin told the NY Times that he does not rely on standard formulas for finding maximum heart rate, because they vary so much from person to person.

External factors such as stress, dehydration, pre-existing conditions and medication can all have an affect an individual’s heart rate and interestingly Dr. Tanaka argues that when people start exercising regularly their maximum heart rate often goes down.

So, while heart rate is convenient and practical for most athletes who are using monitors at a much more specific level, backed by consistent medical and psychological testing, for regular Joe’s, how valid are the figures being projected onto the walls of the studio?

Ultimately, as the majority of consumers taking part in heart-rate monitored classes are unlikely to be world-class athletes, perhaps the key is to think of the trackers as a guideline for a consumer’s individual goals and not as a 100% accurate comparison marker. In a class where the instructor may be unable to offer consistent one-on-one guidance due to the number of participants taking part, a heart rate monitor can be a substitute for a personal trainer, helping to keep the consumer on track.

The USP for studios, is the fact that heart rate monitors are able to give peace of mind to time-poor consumers who want to see that the workouts they are carrying out have been effective and worthwhile, helped to boost their motivation and/or tracked their individual development.

Andy Hedley who trains at Speedflex, a high intensity circuit training studio in London’s banking district that uses unique Speedflex machines alongside heart rate monitors, told Welltodo: “The feedback the customers receive at the end of sessions (i.e. calorie burn and the time spent in high intensity zones) proves invaluable. This makes it much easier (for them) to stay on track and to see how they are progressing. We definitely see higher calorie burns, and more effort because of the heart rate monitoring system.”

For consumers, being able to translate their perceived hard-work into instant, visible results has very real psychological effects and according to Schuring, participant feedback at Heartcore supports this. Schuring revealed that the classes have produced incredibly positive reactions from customers who have confessed that they love to check out the screen with their data on it, as it makes them want to work harder in the moment and ‘stay on top of their game’.

As Quantified Self’s Mark Moschel explained to GQ magazine: “Quantified Self is built around this very tangible metric, a number. But the value people find from it is this intangible thing. This thing that you can’t measure: mindfulness.”