When you're nursing a sore hamstring or injured wrist, a personal trainer can modify a workout plan to get your heart pumping without aggravating whatever ails you. Now there's Internet-connected exercise equipment that can do the same thing - plus give you quantitative fitness feedback, serve up music or a movie, and (someday soon) let you tweet your workout status to your followers.
Core Performance is using business rules software from IBM to automate the application of expertise gleaned by training elite athletes. The company is an offshoot of Athletes' Performance, which provides training, nutrition and physical therapy programs to professional athletes. While Athletes' Performance focuses on training its pro sports clientele, Core Performance is creating fitness programs and equipment geared for everyday people. Using IP-enabled exercise gear and cloud-based applications is key to its delivery model.
"The idea is to take the same methodology that we use at the elite levels and manipulate it so it's appropriate for everyday people like you and me," says Jon Zerden, CTO at Core Performance.
The cloud-based technology helps Core Performance achieve a scale that wouldn't have been possible if the company relied solely on personal interaction with its personal trainers, nutritionists and physical therapists.
"If we had 10 trainers, we could train them on the best methodology in the world. We could keep them updated as research about the most efficient programming evolves, and we could allow them to distribute that information," Zerden says. "The problem with that scenario is, how do you go from 10 trainers to 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 trainers and maintain that consistency?"
To keep things consistent, Core Performance has worked to embed its fitness smarts in software that runs on custom exercise equipment and also powers its online fitness applications. Customers are typically businesses that offer their employees access to Core Performance gyms through corporate wellness programs.
The Core Performance Prescription Engine is at the heart of the systems. It's powered by IBM's WebSphere Business Rules Management System, which tracks more than 33,000 training-related rules set by Core Performance's fitness experts.
On the equipment front, the flagship device is the CPro, an all-in-one strength trainer that self-adjusts and has an interactive monitor to show each user what to do. If someone is instructed to do a bench press, for instance, CPro will automatically adjust the motorized arms and bench to the right height, and the device will set the pneumatic resistance to the appropriate level. "Then we show you on the screen someone doing a bench press," Zerden says. "As you do the bench press, we're watching the power or the wattage that you produce on every rep, and your heart rate, to see if it's performing the way we would expect. And we'll reduce or increase the resistance according to your specific needs for that day."
CPro taps the Internet to access cloud-based user and workout data. The training software delivers personalised workouts based on a slew of data, including a person's goals, current state of health and medical history.
"We take the answers to current wellness questions, your evaluation data, your schedule, and everything that you've done in the facility in the past - every single rep, every heartbeat, every mile you ran on the treadmill - and we send that to our Prescription Engine," Zerden says.
The software stores the results from each workout session and incorporates the data into the planning of subsequent workouts. The equipment can measure an individual's progress and track their physical response to their training program via metrics such as wattage output, repetitions completed and calories burned.
In addition, the IBM-powered rules engine enables CPro to react to changing circumstances on the fly. For instance, if someone is feeling sick or injured and inputs that information into the system, the training program will adjust to reduce the possibility of overexertion or injury.
While the CPro is geared for strength training, Core Performance also has retrofitted cardio gear including stationary bikes, elliptical machines and treadmills to run its training programs. "We've ripped out the controlling logic of all those pieces of equipment and replaced it with our own," Zerden says. "We'll control the speed, resistance or incline to give you the optimal training experience."
Workout data is collected and stored centrally, so it can be analysed in aggregate and accessed from different gym locations or over the Internet through the Core Performance web applications. By analysing the aggregate data, the Core Performance fitness experts can continually adjust program rules.
"From a data analysis perspective, we have an unbelievable lab. We're able to tell you what to do and measure the response, and then adjust our methodology all the way up through the professional levels," Zerden says. "We're conducting real-time, primary research through every workout to inform the program and to give you a more efficient, compelling experience."
For employers, all that data is an easy way to quantify the impact of a corporate wellness program. Intel, for instance, recently sponsored a research study related to its Core Performance program. (Core Performance uses Intel technology in its equipment.)
The Intel employees who participated in the program trained three times a week with Core Performance gear on campus at Intel and had access to one-on-one nutrition consultations. After 14 weeks, the group achieved a six percent decrease in body fat percentage; 5.47 percent average cholesterol reduction; an average fat loss of 14 pounds; functional movement improvement of 23 percent; and a 19.6 percent increase in VO2 capacity. In addition, the program resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the number of individuals categorized as "at risk" based on their lipid profile.
For individuals, the data Core Performance provides can be a great motivator. Users can view progress toward their goals - plus see how their own fitness levels stack up against others. "Since we have all this data, we can compare you to your friends, we can compare you to norms, we can even compare you to professional athletes," Zerden says.
Since all the data is web-based, users can access their personal data from home or while travelling, and they can opt to share it with a physician, too.
To stay entertained, users can view high-def video, on-demand content, music and virtual fitness environments on their equipment monitors while they're working out. In the next iteration of the technology, users will be able to interact with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Zerden says.
"When you've done your strength training program, you can let others know that you've completed strength training and you're going on to cardio. They can watch how you're performing and even send you messages that show up on the cardio equipment."