Expert Opinions: Travis Shannon, Vice President of Information at Leisure Sports Hospitality and Bill Daniels, Elite Personal Trainer

Between trips to the hospital, people are looking for ways to stay healthy. That helps explain why no health care segment has grown faster than the fitness industry. It provides us with the facilities, expertise and resources we need to get and stay healthy.

It is not uncommon today to see gyms focusing on nutrition, relaxation, chiropractic and full spa services. If we see the doctor when we are broken, then the gym is where we spend our time when we are fit. Savvy gyms are adding devices for tracking and connecting us via social networks to better influence our activities and improve our fitness results.

The challenge for fitness clubs will be figuring out how to better connect their member data with their members’ primary care providers and insurers when they are sick. Everyone in the world of fitness wants to be an influencer, and the industry is just warming up to the idea that relationships are longitudinal and not just based on our impractical moment of need. And a bigger trend is at work. While the merger of CVS and Aetna is today’s industry blockbuster news event, mergers and cross-functional acquisitions are happening in the world of exercise and nutrition too. If payers and providers can be more profitable with healthier members and patients, then why not add resources that show them exactly how to do that?

Travis Shannon is Vice President of Information at Leisure Sports Hospitality in Pleasanton, California, an industry leader in designing and managing upscale exercise and health clubs. Bill Daniels is a certified elite personal trainer who serves clients at Renaissance Club Sport, a top exercise club in Walnut Creek, California.

Both these men are leaders in the world of health and exercise and bring uniquely informed perspectives about how the use of digital data is impacting the world of exercise.

 “I’ve been in technology for a long time in various facets, prior to joining Leisure Sports,” Shannon says. Before joining Leisure Sports, he worked in software development in the financial and consulting industries, as well as in technology commercialization at Los Alamos National Laboratories. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in both Computer Science and Biochemistry from Hobart College, and in 2005 graduated cum laude with an MBA from Babson College.

What is a digital specialist like Travis doing at a company that designs, owns, and manages high-end fitness facilities and resorts? The fact that he is there reveals a great deal about the current trend to integrate digital technology with fitness.

“I came to the company to build the IT department and to align technology and business,” Travis says. “The fitness industry has been, and does continue to be in some aspects, woefully behind in technology. But you’re starting to see the industry entering a modern age. So it’s been fun to be here to watch that. We are a company that has been around for well over 35 years now. We were built as a company that managed health clubs. Today, our consumer-facing brands are Club Sport, Renaissance Club Sport, and The Studio.”

Club Sport is the company’s original brand, now a high-end presence in the fitness world – a kind of “fitness resort,” as Travis puts it, that offers not only exercise equipment, personal training services and classes, but also extras like massage, beauty salons and even on-site sports bars. Renaissance Club Sport clubs are like Club Sport facilities but have a Marriott Renaissance Hotel combined with the property; Renaissance Club Sports operates both the hotels and the spa/fitness facilities – a “nice blending of two business models,” in Travis’s words. The Studio clubs are smaller, stand-alone exercise facilities that are currently expanding into new locations.

What trends does Travis see, from his perspective?

The Impact of Wearable Technology

Travis Shannon

Travis Shannon

Travis says that the widespread adoption of wearable devices has “bled into” the world of fitness facilities. A few years ago, Leisure Sports began to work with MyZone, a company well known for selling a chest strap heart rate monitor.

Within Leisure Sports’ exercise clubs, MyZone technology is used in a variety of ways. A client’s heart rate and other data can be displayed on the screen of the piece of exercise equipment he or she is using and tracked remotely when he or she is on the cardio or exercise floor. If customers are in a spin class, a large screen that the class sees displays tiles for all cyclers with data about their heart rates, current speed, distance covered, and more information. Data collected from MyZone devices will not only monitor activity on-site but upload it to the MyZone platform when the wearer is riding a road bike or running outside of the facility. More and more, data is being collected from wherever and whenever clients exercise.

Initially, Club Sport’s reason for integrating more fully with MyZone was to increase the amount of time that members spend using exercise facilities. “We wouldn’t want to give everybody a piece of technology and say, `you don’t need us any more,’” Travis explains.

“Regarding wearables, what you have seen is the growth of communities and platforms that increase facility use and make sure that people know how to stay on track. But the data and the technology, in and of themselves, are not necessarily the driving force that gets people to exercise.”

He believes that technology motivates because of its ability to let clients share information and join communities where they have conversations about how the data relates and matters to their health and wellbeing.

“That’s the area where we are focusing,” Travis says. “The technology helps, and it helps us reach beyond our four walls and keep people involved.”

Technology as a Motivator 

Travis believes that technology is more than about “counting steps.” It is something that can motivate people to get off the couch and exercise.

Trainers and exercise professionals can monitor individual clients’ exercise records and data. In that spin class, for example, an instructor can say, “Okay, I want to see everybody in the yellow range.” But such feedback is varied by individual – not reported on a one-size-fits-all scale but adjusted according to different people’s levels of fitness.

Technology also provides opportunities for customers to interact. Club Sports runs special events, like Member Challenges, that use the MyZone app as a platform for tracking people’s progress in a virtual competition. People can join actual teams, virtual teams, or compete as individuals over a certain amount of time as they pursue their individual exercise routines. Whoever ends up with the most effort points wins.

Travis views such gamification as a big aspect of how technology can be used to build commitment to exercise. “People love it, and it becomes something they want to participate in,” he says. “And it is especially effective when you combine a social aspect, with people forming teams. But it is not the technology in and of itself. People often ask, `how accurate is the individual data that is collected,’ but that is a secondary concern. If you can get individuals to become engaged and active, and to start to take their personal data into account when they make decisions about their exercise and health, then you have won.”

A Widening Net  

Health clubs are beginning to use technology to help members receive care and counseling from a wider network of care providers that can include nutritionists, chiropractors, and other care providers. Says Travis, “We see the potential in partnering in those areas.”

Data Interactions with Insurance Companies 

Travis believes that more insurance companies are becoming interested in partnering and interfacing with fitness companies. “For a long time, insurance companies have subsidized health club memberships for their members,” he says, “because they have known that individuals who exercise are better people to insure. But we are now seeing an increasing interest.”

He also notes that accountability and trackability are on the upswing. In the past, some individuals would use the club memberships that were provided by their insurers to get into health clubs, then go sit by the pool or go to a restaurant on site. New technologies that track members’ data on how they exercise could usher in a new level of cooperation between health clubs and insurers.

“I think you are going to see insurance companies implement trackable activity requirements for their customers who are using health clubs,” Travis says. “But maybe not. Maybe engagement is enough, and is what insurers should be looking for, without diving in deeper.”

Another trend to watch will be a growing number of connected exercise facilities that companies are installing on site, for the use of their own employees. “There will be aggregate data collected about how many people are using those company centers,” says Travis, “possibly leading to wider collection and use of individual health and fitness data.”

Permissions Issues

Are people sensitive about how their data is being collected and used? Travis feels that at this point, his company is more concerned with check-in and usage data, and uses it as a way to improve operations, expand into new markets, and grow. “There is some basic stuff that we track,” he says. “But our policy has always been never to provide customer data to any outside sources. But I think that more and more, insurance companies are accepting self-reported data from their customers.”

Where do individuals obtain data that they can share with their insurance providers, if they opt to do so? They get it from the apps and technology they are using to monitor their activity. The self-service portals in Club Sport, for example, allow clients to collect information on their own exercise routines, levels of fitness, and other data that they can opt to share.

“I think we are now on the cusp of really digitizing and streamlining the process. That is something that the fitness industry is behind right now, while hospitality and health have jumped up. But we are starting to gather a fuller history of who our members are, what their goals are, and what their challenges are. We are just on the cusp of really seamless interaction. I think that all fitness companies are really right there too.”

“The use of technology to enhance the clients’ experience and to enhance the understanding of the benefits that they receive for being members, is where we are seeing the most benefits, and where we are most excited.”

Changing Expectations

Travis believes that in the next few years, customers will make their membership decisions based not on comparisons between one health club and “that other one down the road.”

“They will be won over when they can say, `I interact with this club in the same way I interact with, or with Nordstrom, or with my bank. I can walk in, or I can communicate and interact using my phone. There is a nice kiosk or other simple point of contact. And when I come in, they have my information, so we can pick up where we left off and I don’t have to provide it all again or cycle back around.”

In short, Travis notes, “There is a lot of opportunity.”

Bill Daniels (and Travis Shannon interview)

Bill Daniels

Meet Bill Daniels . . .

Bill Daniels, a certified elite personal trainer at Renaissance Club Sport, a top exercise club located in Walnut Creek, California, has been named Best Personal Trainer in the San Francisco Bay area by Diablo Magazine. He especially likes working with clients who are recovering from previous injuries that have limited their ability to exercise.

“The way insurance companies tend to work is that they want to get you to a certain point in your recovery,” Daniels states, “and then they release you as soon as they can. Those people are generally not back to 100%. I like to work with those people to get them there. It could be something as common as tennis elbow, but I also screen people for potential future injuries and do corrective exercises before they get hurt.” Bill also incorporates some neurology in what he does. He has a lot to say about the role that digital information is playing in the lives of his clients.

Data Collection

“It’s funny,” Bill says, “because I really didn’t realize how much I use data until I knew I was going to talk with you about your book.”

In his club, trainers use MyZone, which started out as a heart rate monitor. Clients install the app on their phones and use it to track their exercise and nutrition. “On my phone,” Bill says, “I can see where all my clients are with that. I can monitor how often and how long they’re exercising, at what intensity. I can see how much they have eaten, and what they have eaten.

“Sometimes I have to touch base with them to verify what they have eaten and what they have done. For example, if I look at the MyZone app and see that they worked out at 9:00 in the morning, and that they had lunch, I can ask them exactly what time they had lunch and find out whether what they ate was good for a post-exercise meal.”

Bill has added some features of his own to keep track of his clients. He used to write everything down on paper, but now he has created a spreadsheet on his phone. “I made a template and I chart all the exercises I have my clients do, and I can email that out to them if there is stuff I want them to do on their own in terms of training.”

Are Bill’s clients good about tracking what they are doing?

“People are held more accountable when they know I am looking,” he says. “Granted, I have had clients who no matter what I do, are not going to be held accountable, unless I am there, face to face. But for the most part when they know I am looking, they are pretty accountable.”

What Trends Does Bill See Happening?

Bill reports that at least half the trainers he knows are now collecting and using some form of electronic data to help them work more effectively with their clients. And he is certain that they are doing it more than they were a few years ago.

He also notes that more phone apps can record exercisers’ data wirelessly, without the need for them to carry separate devices that plug into USB ports on fitness equipment. “I think that we will see more apps that will allow users to record that data on their phones without plugging in via a USB. The trend is to make it easier for clients to do it themselves.”

“Nutrition and exercise are getting pretty well integrated,” Bill states, but adds, “I think the missing piece now is stress management. Figuring out a way for people to collect data on their own stress and manage it would be a major thing. Stress is a huge and often-overlooked part of trying to get yourself into shape.”

Travis Shannon is Vice President of Information at Leisure Sports Hospitality in Pleasanton, California, an industry leader in designing and managing upscale exercise and health clubs.

Bill Daniels is a Certified Elite Personal Trainer who serves clients at Renaissance Club Sport, a top exercise club in Walnut Creek, California. He is a recognized leader in the application of wearable and other technologies for athletes.

Thank you, Travis and Bill, for bringing your unique perspectives on health via exercise and contributing to ‘The Digital Health Revolution’. – Kevin Pereau, The Digital Health Guy

You can find this interview in its entirety in ‘The Digital Health Revolution’. If you haven’t done so yet, you can sign up here for updates and to get your copy today.