University of Bath

The past, present and future of fitness technology: From treadmills to wearables

In this lecture, Dr Brad Millington will discuss his recently-released book that examines the changes in fitness industry and technology.

24 Apr 20187.00pm
24 Apr 20188.15pm
A runner's feet climbing some steps (photo Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash 149663)
The lecture will examine the new era of fitness

The next fitness boom

In the late 1800s, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to hard labour on a prison treadmill. In the 1970s, the electronic treadmill became a fixture of pay-for-use ‘lifestyle’ gyms. In the 2010s, devices like iTreadmill (a smartphone app for tracking exercise activity wherever you go) are staples of exercise experience. Fitness technologies have come a long way.

This presentation is based on the recently-released book Fitness, Technology & Society: Amusing Ourselves to Life. The claim at the centre of the presentation is that we are in the midst of a new fitness boom: a moment when fitness technologies are both proliferating and helping to change the very nature of fitness experience.

Fitness has boomed before. Most famously, the 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of new fitness activities, the growth of the fitness apparel industry, and the arrival of electronic fitness technologies such as exercise videos and treadmills. The new fitness boom has come about through the release of devices like Fitbit-brand wearable activity-tracking technologies, exercise-themed video games, and smartphone-compatible health and fitness apps.

Drawing from academic literature and other resources, the presentation identifies eight characteristics of contemporary fitness technologies and of the new era of fitness in general. The new fitness boom is said to be:

  • socio-technical
  • interactive
  • data intensive
  • mobile
  • networked
  • gamified
  • customised
  • commodified in ways both ‘old’ and ‘new’

Consideration is given to the significance of these characteristics (both positive and negative) in light of the history of fitness technology. Consideration is also given to the possible future of fitness in light of what’s happening today.