2014’s biggest fitness trends; sports and fitness meet ‘big data’

Anybody who has spent any time around the technology world over the past few years will have come across the industry’s current big buzz words: Big data. With 2014 just around the corner, we wanted to investigate what is set to be one of the big fitness trends for the New Year – the merger of training data into the big data world.

Big data for the less initiated is a catch weight term used to capture the idea of using mass aggregated pools of data. It’s been a common enough observation that the worlds volumes of data are growing at an exponential rate, driven by the plethora of new devices which we all use. The glamorous, or at least geek-glam interpretation, takes the idea further. Big machine algorithms crunch this mass of big data, spitting out insights, trends and otherwise subtle data observations which are supposedly beyond the reach of mere mortals to spot. It’s an interesting space, backed by some serious VC dollars, and 2014 is the year that it is set to hit fitness technology.

One of the reasons that sports and fitness is becoming the centre point of big data thinking in 2014 is the new range of fitness technology which is hitting the market. We’ve long since passed the pedometer and heart rate monitor phase of fit tech, and are no flying full steam into wearable sports clothing with built-in performance sensors, activity bands which we wear all day, sports watches which work to analyse what we’re actually doing when we train and the vast array of fitness apps, any of which have built up vibrant sports communities around them. Much like the wider tech world of big data where new data points are driving the collection of more data, the sports and fitness world is now increasingly finding itself in the same situation.

The revolution is being powered by the sports apparel giants, who have now found a whole new playground in the technology space. Nike were the first to embrace this space, introducing their wildly successful activity tracker, the Nike+ Fuelband. This opening sortie, led others to join the action, with a host of new wearable technology quickly emerging. Under Armour are chief amongst this movement, introducing some of the most comprehensive, detailed and accurate measurement technology in the wider market, let alone the sports and fitness market. Their E39 tracker top was designed to provide a wealth of analytics to sports managers, in real time, and was deemed so thorough that it was thought to have no relevance for the wider market.

This thinking is changing though. Under Armour just purchased MapMyFitness, which is one of the most downloaded apps in the various app stores, let alone in the fitness market. This $150m acquisition provides Under Armour with a wealth of user fitness behaviour data, opening up the possibility to tie together these data sets.

And therein lies the big opportunity moving into 2014. The mergers and acquisitions between software companies like MapMyFitness and the big data collector companies, including Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, who provide the hardware element, will see this space transcend into a whole new level.

The notion that big data has no role to play for the weekend gym warrior is now accepted as being hogwash. Data is not the point here, data is a pathway to achieving a persons goals rather than the outcome per se. Empowering everyday gym goers to measure their performance, understand their progress and better plan their sessions to hit their new goals is a truly powerful tool. Heart rate monitors and pedometers started this journey towards fitness enlightenment but ran aground due to a lack of properly useful data.

Big data transcends that problem by making the feedback actionable and personally relevant. Big data can analyse other user’s behaviour because they input it into apps like MapMyFitness. It can analyse their diet and the results they get, because that’s exactly what these apps are used for. Indeed, new fit tech like ‘smart scales’ can collect this data raw and input it directly into the data collection apps. The new fit tech clothing collects vital performance stats and the sports watches understand the activity. This makes tracking performance improvements much easier and much more accurate. When this data gets pieced together at scale – and the big apps are hitting that scale now – you start to get a bunch of real world, real people performance stats.

The vision for ‘big data’ in sports and fitness is to produce a mass, scalable, personal training revolution. Whether it will get anywhere close is yet to be seen, but as everyday gym goers start to use more of this tech throughout 2014, we may see a much more technologically advanced segment of gym-goers by this time next year. Make no mistake, “big data” will be one of the big drivers in this revolution

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