The most important trends, developments and innovations in the fitness industry for 2020| FitNation

By Melanie Verbueken

Published 4 November 2019

Hopefully, you attended the first edition of FitNation. What is FitNation, you ask? FitNation is the first and only event for fitness professionals that’s all about innovation. Of course, there’s IHRSA and FIBO, but an event with a full focus on technology and innovation in fitness didn’t exist yet in Europe. It was clear there was a need for such an event: the main room was packed!

In this blog, I will give a report of the event and share my five most important insights of FitNation.

Five important insights from FitNation

  1. “Continue to innovate: by 2020, our competitors will come from other industries” – René Moos (Basic-Fit)
  2. “The journey is more important than the final destination” – Bonita Norris (public speaker)
  3. “Automation will take your customer journey to the next level” – Rob Trousselot (LIJFSTIJLcoaches)
  4. “Boutique studios are booming and will continue to grow in 2020” – Tom Moos (Saints & Stars)
  5. “The future of fitness is a combination of humanity and technology” – Bryan O’Rourke (CEO Vedere Ventures)

Thomas woods enterprise sales lead virtuagym fitness industry

Let’s get started: my FitNation report

Since I was a little girl, I’ve always had a passion for sports. I literally grew up in a gym. When I was three years old, I spent my days in the dojo together with my grandparents (my teachers). Now, I can continue this family business with my father. My whole life is all about sports. Recently I’ve been adding business and innovation to it in my role at Virtuagym. Virtuagym was one of the co-hosts of FitNation, together with market leaders like Onefit and GoCardless.

More than 200 industry professionals were present at the first edition of FitNation. From entrepreneurs in the fitness industry to innovators and disruptors, from fitness chains like Basic-Fit and Jetts Fitness to boutique studios like Saints & Stars.

FitNation had business development workshops, presentations, round table discussions and networking opportunities with leading innovators in the fitness industry.

Hugo Braam opened FitNation together with his brother Paul. The two brothers are the CEO’s of Virtuagym and fitness technology pioneers. Hugo started his presentation with an example from practice.

Below you see two different stock photos of personal trainers. What do you notice? The pen and notebook? That’s right.

Virtuagym app software personal trainer training studio

Do you remember the first iPhone? It was launched back in 2007 – it was revolutionary. But in 2019, a lot of gyms and personal trainers still use paper notebooks instead of apps or wearables. Just look for stock photos of personal trainers, you won’t find photos of personal trainers with smartphones or wearables.

Virtuagym had enough of that so we developed our own stock photos with trainers using a mobile app to coach their clients (see right picture). The people in all of Virtuagym’s photos are my colleagues, by the way. History is made.

The fitness industry lags far behind the rest of the world

Elon Musk recently built his BFR starship to the moon. Supercomputer Watson can make medical diagnoses and Uber is developing a helicopter on-demand service. When Hugo started Virtuagym in 2008 together with his brother Paul, they soon noticed that the fitness industry lags 15 to 20 years behind in terms of technology. The fitness world was built by people who have a passion for sports, not for technology.

“In 2019, disruptors in the fitness industry will mainly come from outside the fitness industry.” – René Moos

It was striking that several people present at FitNation were talking about competition. But with these competitors, they didn’t mean any other gyms in your area. The fitness industry isn’t the biggest competitor. We have to keep an eye on companies like Google and Apple. The Nike Training App, for example, or MyFitnessPal, which was bought by Under Armour for €560M.

But it goes beyond apps: Peloton (live and on-demand spinning classes) is a company that has been growing exponentially lately.

peloton promotion

Their churn rate is less than 1% per month. But also VirZOOM was mentioned by Hugo. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are going to change the world of fitness.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are going to change the world of fitness.

But will gyms and fitness studios lose their value in the future? No. We (the fitness industry) bring people together. We connect and disconnect. Our offline service combined with innovation and technology is a golden combination. One of those disruptors in the fitness industry is GoCardless. Rob van den Broeck (European Lead GoCardless) explained:

“This is probably the least fun topic of today: payments. GoCardless wants to make this easier and improve the customer experience.”

GoCardless is a growing international payment network. Currently, they have enabled more than 10 trillion (!) transactions at more than 45,000 organizations. GoCardless’s major customers include TripAdvisor, Guardian, and Les Mills. GoCardless is also integrated with Virtuagym. Wondering how this works? Read more here.

Keynote #1 René Moos – CEO Basic-Fit

René Moos is the CEO of Basic-Fit and co-owner of HealthCity. Basic-Fit is the largest budget fitness chain in the Netherlands and Europe.

“I failed as a tennis player, but succeeded as a businessman” – René Moos

René started his career as a professional tennis player in the 1980s. But he failed. He didn’t reach the top and became a tennis coach. René opened his own tennis school. He developed this tennis school into a large complex with 24 tennis courts and all kinds of fitness facilities. After that, he opened his first Total Health Club in Hoofddorp, but this didn’t succeed either.

Eventually, he adopted the low-cost concept and started HealthCity Basic. In 2013 the official split between HealthCity and Basic-Fit followed. By now, Basic-Fit has more than 750 locations in 5 countries, and over 2 million members. They owe their growth to technology.

“Per gym we have 1 staff member and about 20 to 25 smart cameras. These cameras are monitored 24/7 in our own control room. Everything is data-driven. From opening doors to operating the assistance intercom. We manage our clubs using information-driven technology.” – René Moos

But of course, this is not something you can set up easily. “This also involves trial and error,” René Moos continued. These smart cameras detect, among other things, whether someone has been lying still for more than three minutes. You can guess what happened when Basic-Fit introduced yoga classes… the control room went crazy!

5-takeaways from René Moos to be successful in the fitness industry

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t keep thinking, but do it. Try new things.
  2. Create a strong and loyal team.
  3. Better done than perfect. Release your product on the market and improve it based on feedback.
  4. Focus your efforts. It’s better to be the number one in one market than number three or four in different markets. If you want to set up a second gym, do so in places where you are already known.
  5. Keep innovating. Your competitor is no longer that other gym in your area. No, your competition can come from anywhere. For example, Apple knows a lot more about our customers than we’ll ever know. How do we deal with this?

fitnation evenement fitness industry1Keynote #2 Bonita Norris️

Bonita told us that at the age of 20 she had never climbed a mountain before. At 22, she was on top of Mount Everest. A bizarre, but above all inspiring story. From her first mountaineering adventures to looking for an investor to the life lessons she learned. The core of the story: “the journey is more important than the final destination.” The room was listening in amazement about Bonita’s journey that drastically changed her life.

“Change nothing and nothing changes” – Bonita Norris

Time for the fitness innovation workshops!

During the day, the participants actively participated in several innovative workshops of progressive innovators from the industry. There were seven workshops on the agenda:

  1. Building an amazing customer journey by Rob Trousselot, owner of Lijfstijl Coaches. Lijfstijl Coaches currently has more than 110 locations in the Netherlands and 500+ franchisees.
  2. Digital Retention Management by Jon Nasta. Learn how to create a culture in which you are constantly looking for innovation. Innovation is more than technology and products, it’s also culture, mindset, and marketing.
  3. The next 10 years in fitness by Matt Symons, CEO of Jetts Fitness, the chain that is known for being open 24 hours a day.

“Disrupt yourself before someone else does” – Matthew Symons (director Jetts Fitness)

4. Online marketing strategies for growth by Aernout Leezenberg, founder and CMO of Hidden Profits Marketing. Hidden Profits Marketing is the market leader in Europe in the field of digital fitness marketing. In his workshop, he shared insights on the psychological aspect of fitness marketing, the consumer’s brain.
5. Building a great technology stack by Paul Braam (CEO Virtuagym). The number of software providers is growing exponentially. What should you pay attention to when choosing a software? How can you apply software in the fitness sector and how does Virtuagym work?
6. More members & revenue from healthcare by Hans Muench. Hans has lived and worked in 7 countries. With over 30 years of experience in the fitness industry, Hans has a 360 degree view of the market.
7. Technology-driven boutique studios by Tom Moos (CEO HealthCity and Saints & Stars). Tom gave an exclusive insight into the world of a successful boutique studio. With 500+ check-ins and 120 classes per week, Saints & Stars is growing exponentially.

Keynote #3 Bryan O’Rourke about the fitness industry

Bryan is a well-known face in the industry. He knows all the ins and outs. His most important statement is that tech companies have a great influence on the innovations in our industry. He calls this the fitness industry 4.0.


Our behavior is changing. We spend an average of 6 hours and 42 minutes on the internet via our devices. In the US, there will be more Amazon Prime Members than people who set up a Christmas tree. We need to change our business models. Our human experience over the next 25 years will change more than it has changed over the past 250 years. Humanity and technology are going to merge.

Important trends that we have to keep an eye on are:

  • Internet of Things
  • Facial Recognition
  • Robotics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Gamification.

Gamification is a crucial part of engagement. “I was one of those losers with a Google Glass on my head, but AR is now coming back harder than ever, Bryan says.”

“The future of fitness = humanity” – Bryan O’Rourke

Bryan continues: the value of humanity is reflected in sports. Sports connect and disconnect. Group fitness is still gaining popularity. Think of sports events and human coaching with a personal trainer. Having a strategy becomes more important than ever. 85% of all brands do not have a clear strategy. Make sure you know the ‘Why’. Why do you do what you do?

Expert Panel about the future of fitness

The FitNation fitness innovation event concluded with an expert panel on the future of the fitness industry. The discussion panel included Tom Moos, Jon Nasta, Matthew Symons, Hans Muench and Bryan O’Rourke from left to right.

See you next year? 90% of the FitNation attendees already told us that they’ll be back next year. I’ll see you there!

fitness industry panel future fitness industry software innovation event fitnation

Melanie Verbueken

Marketing Localisation Specialist. Wide range of martial art skills. Strength and core group instructor.

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