Andy Wynne, Cambridge Design Partnership’s leader in Sports and Fitness innovation and expert sports product designer Matt Fordham, recently visited FIBO in Cologne Germany, the leading international tradeshow for fitness, wellness and health to report on the latest new products and emerging trends in the sector:

  1. Enhanced training

Several manufacturers are developing Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) technology beyond slimming orientated products like Slendertone into the mainstream sports training market. This claims to enhance training by providing the equivalent of an hour’s work out in just 20 minutes by activating the muscle tissue deep beneath the surface during your normal regime achieving better workout results in less time.

An EMS system uses electrical impulses which mimic the action potential signals from the brain that instruct your muscles to contract. Via a number of strategically placed electrodes over the body, a system can activate muscles more fully than normal and accelerate strengthening and toning. Studies have shown that using EMS to elicit muscle stimulation intensities of ≥50% of a user’s maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) has a significant impact on strength gains. Variation of the impulse duration, frequency, and intensity, along with the type of exercise and movement during a session, allows optimisation for a specific benefit (i.e. max strength, or speed)

At the moment, EMS systems are already widely used in Europe for both training and medical rehabilitation purposes, while the FDA in the US are regulating the devices much more tightly because of concerns surrounding their inappropriate use that could affect major nerves, heart and brain. From a product perspective the challenges are around avoiding sticky pads and masses of wires, and defining programs and control systems that make the product both safe and effective.

  1. Next generation wearable monitoring

Over the last couple of years we have been swamped with wearable’s and Smartphone apps that monitor and track training and nutrition; think Fuelband, Fitbit and Jawbone etc.  We can see developments in this area centring upon sustained usage. Currently there seem to be 2 major types of devices; extremely basic bands showing simple measures such as pedometers, or systems that drown us in data and require a large amount of time to maintain and understand. We can see the next generation of these wearable monitors focusing on innovation in the user experience, turning data into insights that can actually change your behaviour.

  1. Calculating nutrition

Counting calories and food groups is a growing trend but it’s nowhere near as quick and easy as we need it to be; who enjoys counting the calories on the back of every packet they open? Nutrition is of paramount importance whether striving for a fitness goal or just trying to loosen that waistband, so something needs to be done to make this aspect of personal health more accessible. In addition to barcode scanning and recognition we’ve also seen a number of developers using photography to tackle this problem, using a social media’esque platform to share images of a meal with your trainer who can do the sums for you. So, how long will it be before we see a cloud computing solution that can recognise everything on your plate and total up all the nutritional data for you?

  1. Energy harvesting

An interesting concept being promoted is ‘eco gyms’. At the gym we rack up miles on bikes, treadmills, etc and expend much energy lifting weights and all sorts of gym activities. So what happens if the gyms can capture this effort and feed it back into the grid? Proponents say we end up with a greener source of energy and the door opens for new approaches to encourage sustained gym membership and attendance. Incentivised training for example; the more you train the more power you generate therefore the cheaper your gym membership! To bring some reality into the discussion, we calculate that an hour on a bike might earn you 1 to 2 pence in return, which is around the same cost as running a television for an hour.

With today’s aging population and soaring healthcare costs there has never been a time when products that help us care for our own wellness have been more important. Here we have highlighted four emerging categories that we saw at FIBO that address this issue in different ways.  We believe that success will come from understanding the consumers’ motivations for exercise and nutrition by devising innovative new experiences that make it easier, more convenient and more fun!