Not even the gym’s multiple television screens could distract Arianne Thompson from the drudgery of her cardio workout.
Bored, the 35-year-old would trudge along until the cooking shows and courtroom dramas grew unbearable, then call it a day.
“The channels they show, and the time of day that I work out, made for a really boring workout,” Thompson, a member of Gold’s Gym, wrote in an email.
A gym renovation last year gave her a much-needed jolt of motivation.
The new addition, dubbed the “cardio theatre,” has a cinema-size screen and rows of elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, and treadmills. In the darkened room, members watch movies while they sweat.
“When the movie is good or even tolerable, I get into it and become so absorbed that I don't notice I'm exercising,” wrote Thompson, who lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. “I can work out twice as long with half the pain and boredom when I work out to a movie than I can to the TV or music.”
About two-thirds of Canadians say lack of motivation is a reason for not exercising, according to 2007 data from the nonprofit Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute.
As Nintendo’s Wii Fit got video game fans to move by turning exercise into play, more and more gyms are hoping gadgets and gizmos will lure less-than-enthusiastic exercisers.
In the U.S., where “exertainment” is firmly entrenched, gyms are racing to install the latest tech toys, which experts say it won’t be long before Canada follows suit.
“Customers want something that helps the time go by, that helps the mind escape the drudgery of exercise,” says fitness consultant Gregory Florez, head of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Nowadays, gyms “have to be in the tech game,” Florez says. “There’s this expectation from customers to have newer and cooler things.”
Cardio theatres, like the one Thompson uses, are multiplying. This spring, a new Gold’s Gym in London, Ont., opened one of the few cardio theatres this side of the border. The chain introduced similar facilities in the U.S. more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, the Ohio chain Fitworks launched Game On!, an arcade stocked with active video games that make kids break a sweat.
It takes from six to 18 months for American trends to move north, says Rod Macdonald, vice-president of Can-Fit-Pro, Canada’s largest certification body for fitness professionals. The latest technologies will be showcased in Toronto this month, at the International Fitness and Club Business Conference and Trade Show.
But while everyone loves a “shiny new toy,” gym owners and members shouldn’t expect miracles from technology, Macdonald warns.
“Typically, technology doesn’t attract people into clubs,” he says, because customers only see it once they’re already inside. And anything too complicated could turn people off, he adds, noting that many ignore the programmed functions on cardio machines.
Meanwhile, exercisers engrossed in technology could tune out important physical cues, such as breathing and heart rate – the best measures of exercise intensity.
Thompson is quick to point out the pitfalls of cardio theatres.
“When you jog in the dark, staring to the side rather than straight ahead, you can lose your footing,” she says.
And gym-goers should prepare to endure uninspiring movies, she says, or worse – scary ones.
But Thompson isn’t deterred.
“Mostly I just deal with the issues, because the cardio theatre is so much more to my liking than any other cardio workout.”
Of course if you want the best results then the obvious solution is to hire a personal trainer.
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