Midtown Athletic Club, the luxury gym chain based in Chicago, spent millions of dollars on exercise equipment at its 30 locations. But chief executive Steven Schwartz had no idea how much members used each machine.

So, earlier this year, Mr. Schwartz hired a company called GYMetrix, an industry pioneer that uses digital trackers and surveys to collect detailed information on what people actually do at the gym. Rory McGown, founder and chief executive of the Edinburgh-based company, produces a time-lapse map of the gym floor with growing and shrinking bubbles illustrating the action, along with corresponding usage data.

Mr. Schwartz was surprised to discover that many members of his $200-a-month clubs were skipping newer, fancier weight and elliptical machines in favor of simpler ones. Members also were rarely using jungle gym-type rigs bristling with ropes and rings for doing body-weight exercises—part of the trendy “functional training” movement—even though Mr. Schwartz and his co-workers loved working out on them.


As competition grows, more clubs are using data analysis, consultants and Wi-Fi-connected equipment to quantify what’s happening on a fitness floor.

Mr. McGown has analyzed hundreds of gyms in the U.K. and recently expanded his business in the U.S., doing work for New York-based Equinox gym and its lower-priced offshoot, Blink Fitness.

In general, many gyms have too much expensive equipment like cross-trainer machines, and not enough cheap equipment like dumbbells and stretching mats, Mr. McGown says. That’s partly because equipment makers advise gym owners on layouts, and partly because many gym owners believe a room filled with the latest equipment helps sell memberships.

One common error is paying too little attention to members’ sight lines in the gym, he says. Cardio equipment is used more often when it faces weightlifting areas than when it faces away from them, Mr. McGown says. That’s especially true for women, who say treadmills are their favorite piece of gym equipment. (Treadmills are No. 2 for men, behind dumbbells, Mr. McGown says.)

“The person with the view is the person with the power,” he says.

Another common mistake, Mr. McGown says: putting new equipment on prominent display. Ashley Billings, a 38-year-old social media and marketing manager for a natural spray-tanning salon in Atlanta, goes to the gym a few days a week.

She avoids new machines in the middle of the floor. “It can be intimidating,” she says. “If you had them on the perimeter, you could kind of test things out and not have to worry about looking crazy.”

Results of Mr. McGown’s analysis are sometimes counterintuitive. According to usage data, members of one luxury gym preferred treadmills facing people working out on the gym floor to treadmills facing windows with scenic views, he says.

Another industry leader, Ecofit of Victoria, British Columbia, allows gym owners to track machine usage and performance continuously through a wireless platform, says Dave Johnson, co-founder and vice president of business development. The company has done work for Crunch Fitness, UFC Gyms and 24 Hour Fitness. Colts Neck, N.J.-based Retro Fitness hired Ecofit this year and plans to use it in all of its roughly 150 clubs, says Eric Casaburi, the chain’s CEO and founder.

Mr. Johnson of Ecofit says gym owners are surprised to learn how often their equipment malfunctions. Gym members tend to quietly move onto the next machine rather than complaining. Ecofit software will signal to gym staff that something’s wrong if a machine logs repeated three-minute workouts, for instance.

Gyms often hire Ecofit a few months before buying equipment to gauge demand, Mr. Johnson says. Ecofit’s reports let gym owners compare usage and reliability among different models and brands.

Many manufacturers have developed tracking systems of their own. Cardio equipment made by Precor of Woodinville, Wash., can record usage, says principal product manager Jeff Bartee.
Some Precor cardio equipment allows gym members to log in and save workouts. Precor found that people who save workouts go to the gym more often, according to data from about 25 clubs in Canada.

“We can’t tell you that a saved workout drives people to come in more often,” Mr. Bartee says. “We just know that people who do save workouts come in more often.”

The data also shows that people who log into a cardio machine work out 33% longer than those who don’t log in. People who use a machine’s video-on-demand service also work out 15% longer than those who don’t, Precor data shows.

Life Fitness, based in Rosemont, Ill., is adding Sudoku and chess games to some premium cardio machines and noting that in 2015, Life Fitness users played more than 1 million games of solitaire.

Based on data analysis, Mr. Schwartz of Midtown Athletic says he plans to expand club space for stretching by taking out some underused machines, which he figures some members aren’t using because they don’t know how. He also will add more treadmills and lat pull-down machines, which the data shows are popular.

“I can only fit so much in there,” Mr. Schwartz says. “I’ve got to make sure it’s the right stuff.”

Refferal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/gyms-that-make-you-want-to-exercise-more-1476288756

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