Working out with the Web
By Elizabeth Knefel
May 15, 1998
Web posted at: 5:01 PM EDT (1701 GMT)
-- Let's face it. Working out is boring. Even when people make the time
for exercise, most lose interest and give it up after a short time.
Health clubs spend large amounts of money to install audio systems and
banks of televisions to distract patrons from the fact that they are
sweating. Now, fitness aficionados can not only watch TV, but surf the
Web, get e-mail and even earn frequent flyer miles while they exercise.
That's what Colleen O'Neil does. She and many others are using the
latest in high-tech exercise hardware. They like the new equipment so
much that they sometimes go past their exercise time requirement without
even knowing it.
"I log onto the Nike Web site . . . for sports information, . . .
Nike has a training program called 'Speed, Agility and Quickness.' It
helps the time pass," O'Neil says.
San Francisco-based Netpulse Communications makes this solution for
bored exercisers. Called Netpulse Stations, it's a high-tech upgrade
for cardiovascular exercise equipment that includes touch-screen, color
computers with high-speed connections to the Internet. The PC mounts
directly to a Lifecycle or Stairmaster, and users can log on and call
up preprogrammed bookmarks or visit their favorite Web sites. The Netpulse
panel features a full keyboard with special keys for "www", "@" and
".com." Each unit also includes a CD player so you can listen to your
favorite music and a television tuner so you can watch your favorite
Client boredom is a major problem for the health club business. How
that problem is addressed makes a big difference in how clubs can attract
and retain members says Netpulse President and CEO Tom Proulx.
"The Netpulse Station makes working out fun and kills the boredom.
People just hate sitting on these cardiovascular machines for twenty
to thirty minutes and watching the little red dots go by. You walk into
a health club and you'll see people doing anything they can to distract
themselves. People try to read newspapers, books or listen to music
on Walkmans. They are trying to pass the time because it's very boring.
The Netpulse Station gives them an incredible variety of things they
Proulx says Netpulse users are hooked. "The usage on these machines
is enormous. If you go into any of our clubs at the busy hours, you
will find all of our machines in use and people waiting in line for
them and several non-Netpulse cardiovascular machines sitting idly.
People will actually wait in line to use our machine versus getting
right on a normal Stairmaster or Lifecycle."
Netpulse Stations are popping up in health clubs all over the country.
The upgrade costs $2,995 per unit and the online connection, free to
users, is paid for by advertisers.
Health clubs hope the device will be a big selling point to current
and prospective members. According to Bryan Arp, Director of Operations
for the Embarcadero YMCA in San Francisco, keeping members is a problem.
"The national average is 50 to 60 percent retention, meaning in an
average year you lose 40 percent of the people who join a health club.
And our constant goal is how do you retain more."
Arp says his clients get excited about the Internet access, e-mail
and other features, but the frequent flyer miles are the big draw. "It's
the most amazing thing. It's like we're giving them candy. It's beyond
me. People will do anything for frequent flyer miles."
Netpulse provides club owners with maintenance and usage reports for
each unit. Personal workout records can be accessed at any machine at
any location and later this year users will be able to access their
records from their own home computers. One drawback for some is the
small screen. The Internet screen shares space with the equipment controls
and readings about workout time, calories, resistance level, heart rate,
Who would have thought you could surf the Web, exercise and earn frequent
flyer miles at the same time? Not only will such equipment take users'
minds of the drudgery of working out, they can save up their airline
miles, fly to Hawaii and do some REAL surfing.