Startups Offer Webcam Workouts for the Gym-Averse

Xconomy San Francisco — 

From the Nike+ FuelBand to the Wii Fit, and from YouTube workout videos to Fitbit, there are more ways than ever to work out and track exercise and health without ever setting foot in the gym.

But there’s still a lot these apps and gadgets can’t do. Wearing a sensor to track your steps/strokes/stairs can help you figure out how far you’ve gone or how many calories you’ve burned, but it’s not going to suggest the best kind of exercises for your body type. An app can give you a marathon-training plan, but it can’t tailor it to your specific needs. And Wii Fit’s virtual trainers, as encouraging as they may be, aren’t going to judge your mood and push you harder or commiserate when you’re sore and tired.

For the most part, tech-enabled workouts have been missing a human element. Until recently, anyway. Now companies are using the technology of live two-way video to bring gym-like experiences into consumers’ homes.

One of these new players is Wello, a Palo Alto, CA-based startup that matches trainers and fitness enthusiasts for Internet-mediated workouts lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Instead of an AI instructor programmed to suggest certain activities, users meet trainers screen-to-screen to work out together.

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Activities range from yoga to general personal training to CrossFit and even bodybuilding and meditation. Classes can be one-on-one, or users can sign up for group classes—either with people they know or total strangers. All they need to meet with their new trainers is a laptop with a video camera. .

Cofounders Leslie Silverglide and Ann Scott Plante came up with the idea as grad students, when they were looking for exercise options that fit their busy school schedules. The classmates were both athletes who valued exercise, but they had a hard time getting to the gym. So they made a pact with a few friends to meet every morning to do the as-seen-on-TV Insanity DVD workout for 60 days.

Though the friends were committed, “It ultimately was a big failure for all of us,” Silverglide says.

The problem? It was too general. Some people weren’t working hard enough, some people couldn’t keep up, and in Silverglide’s case, she felt like she was bulking up.

“All of a sudden, I had huge biceps,” she says. “I looked like a body builder.”

The two future co-founders started thinking about what they could do to remove the friction of going to the gym, but offer a better and more tailored solution to a workout video.

“What we were seeing is that most of the technology in fitness is very much focused on building predictive algorithms that can tell you what exercises you need to be doing or building programs, but removing the human element,” Silverglide says.

After bringing in designers and programmers and participating in the Rock Health startup accelerator program in San Francisco, Silverglide and Plante now have a site that’s all about the relationship between trainer and trainee. “This approach is a 180,” Silverglide says. “What helps keep people accountable and motivated to say on program is human interaction. It’s that personal instruction that keeps you going back and committed.”

Wello's Web-based video interface lets a client watch and learn from the trainer's moves.

Wello's Web-based video interface lets a client watch and learn from the trainer's moves.

For most of us, going to the gym isn’t the problem. It’s continuing to go to the gym. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, only 18 percent of the U.S. population actually belongs to a gym, and of that group, less than half will actually go more than 100 times in a year .

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the people who try Wello go on to become repeat clients, Silverglide says. Since the company launched last July, some members have already completed more than 80 sessions.

There’s a cost advantage too. Wello’s prices vary by the experience of the trainer—all trainers go through extensive vetting, are required to have approved outside credentials, and also go through Wello training—but a 60-minute group session with a tier-one trainer only costs $10 , and a 30-minute one-on-one session is only $19.

Prices can go quite a bit higher—the most expensive “celebrity” trainers can be $200 for an hour-long one-on-one session—but $10 is a cheap way to try out a new class, or … Next Page »

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One response to “Startups Offer Webcam Workouts for the Gym-Averse”

  1. wello says:

    Thank you for the write-up! Try a Wello Group Workout for free – enter the code “WelloNow”