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Are connected home gyms handcuffed by their tight control over data?

I exercise on an iFit-powered treadmill, wear a Garmin fitness watch, and follow my athlete friends on Strava. I love all the data that I am accruing on my health and fitness, but I am increasingly frustrated with how siloed these ecosystems are. I cannot easily send my treadmill data to my Apple Watch, nor can I send my Apple Watch data to iFit on my treadmill. It’s maddening because, at the end of the day, people want to better themselves the best way they can.

This tight control of your fitness data can be a significant detriment to using a connected home gym, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Not all connected home gym equipment restricts your fitness data, and those that do, often have platforms that offer the analysis and social sharing that you want. We break down some of the disadvantages of using a closed platform and then highlight the ways some of these companies are encouraging sharing within their own community.

Sharing, if allowed, is time-consuming

Before you jump into the connected gym market, you should consider how important sharing your data between services like Strava is to you. Not all fitness trackers and connected home gym platforms support the open and equal sharing of data. Garmin leads the way with a platform that both imports and exports data to other platforms. Peloton also is open, automatically syncing your workout data to Strava.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Many platforms like Apple Health and Fitbit will import all sorts of data from other services but are stingy when it comes to exporting this data. If they do support an export, they make it so complicated that nobody will do it. My NordicTrack iFit-powered treadmill is an excellent example. My treadmill logs my steps, heart rate, and even the treadmill elevation when I work out, but it won’t automatically send this information to a third-party service. I can download the data as a CSV and then import it into Strava, but this process is time-consuming. Not only do I have to take time to download and import the data, but I also have to check each workout entry to make sure it was imported accurately.

Innovative features limit sharing

Another issue you’ll encounter with a home gym is proprietary features. As the fitness tracker market continues to flourish, companies distinguish their products by adding new features that are unique to their platform. Garmin, for example, has a body battery feature that uses sleep data, stress data, and workout information to track your daily energy level. Innovative features like this may attract new users, but they also make it difficult to share data. How does a third-party service like Strava or Training Peaks import this proprietary metric?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

In almost all cases, they don’t. Most services ignore this extra data and focus only on the basic cross-platform metrics like step counts, heart rate, and GPS data. Not only do third-party services ignore these specialty metrics, they often use this imported fitness data to create their own unique metrics.  You end up with body battery on one platform and a fatigue level on another.

Lack of sharing produces disjointed data

When you have your fitness data spread across multiple platforms, the information becomes very disjointed. You don’t get a complete overview of your health and fitness. Instead, you get a piece here and a part there — making it even more challenging to grasp the big picture. Without the big picture, you cannot identify your weak points and make changes that truly improve your health and fitness. It also can be frustrating as you switch between different platforms to glean new information.

Limited cross-platform sharing isn’t always a deal-breaker

If you jump into the connected home gym bandwagon, don’t pin your success on being able to share your fitness data with Strava. Be prepared to use the platform supplied by the equipment manufacturer. In many cases, home gym manufacturers are working hard to introduce new features that keep you connected with other people on the platform.

If you like the social sharing and leaderboard of Strava, you don’t have to give that up if you switch to an iFit-powered bicycle, for example. iFit has a leaderboard feature so you can compete against other people in real-time while you workout. It also has monthly and weekly challenges that let you compete against other iFit users and a community of users with which you can share, like, and talk. If you enter the connected home gym space with an open mind and a willingness to try out new platforms, you may find that you don’t miss services like Strava.

Virtual classes fill a void

Connected home equipment, like Peloton, changed how we exercise at home. Instead of sitting on a bicycle alone in front of a television set, people on Peloton bikes are competing against other Peloton owners in virtual classes.

Peloton Bike Image used with permission by copyright holder

And it’s not just Peloton that offers these virtual workouts, other connected home gym equipment are offering similar live classes. Being able to connect with other people while you work out at home is such a huge benefit that you may not care that you cannot use Training Peaks.

Before you make your purchase

Before you jump headfirst into a connected gym, do research on the platform. Will all your workout data be tied up into the platform or can you export it to these third-party services? Once you make a purchase, you are committed to the platform. If you are not happy with how a company tightly controls your fitness data, you can let the company know. You can start by sending off emails and joining the company’s support forums. The more you ask for the ability to share your data with a third-party service, the more likely someone from the company will hear it. If they get enough requests, they may follow through and add additional support for third-party services.

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Kelly Hodgkins
Kelly's been writing online for ten years, working at Gizmodo, TUAW, and BGR among others. Living near the White Mountains of…
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