As new technologies continue to revolutionize the world of sports, e-fitness emerges as a trendy lifestyle

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As new technologies continue to revolutionize the world of sports, e-fitness emerges as a trendy lifestyle-- Beijing Review

With the help of a route-tracking app, a runner participates in an online marathon event at a stadium in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, on April 12, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Without having to physically join the run, Huang Lixing made it across the finish line of the Xiamen marathon last October. The 45-year-old sport enthusiast from Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, participated in the marathon event through a route-tracking app for online races, instantly receiving his electronic certificate. Huang, who participated in the actual race in the past, has become a follower of online runs.

Statistics show that 52 million people took part in 368 online races organized by the Chinese Athletics Association in 2020, with 500 million views. The e-marathon craze reflects a shift in the world of sports. Today, thanks to innovative technologies, sports are proving to be more flexible, smart, personalized and interactive whether for specific events or fitness in general.

Anytime, anywhere

Lu Xiangyu works for an Internet company. Being busy at work, she has no choice but to do her exercises late in the evening when her son is sleeping. To her delight, many fitness apps are now available for her to engage in a wide range of exercises such as cardio, muscle strengthening and stretching. The advantage of these apps is that users can exercise anywhere, anytime—a real boon for busy people like Lu.

"Compared to traditional gyms, apps minimize the constraints of geography and time, keeping in pace with the changes in the way of life of this technology generation," said He Wenyi, Deputy Director of the Peking University Sports Industry Research Center.

The pandemic has also given an added boost to the apps, with more and more people turning to e-fitness. According to a report published by the China Sporting Goods Federation, 37 percent of Chinese consumers chose to exercise at home in 2020. Keep, one of the more popular apps, had 200 million users last year.

A personal coach

Huang Meiling, who works in finance, used to be a frequent gymgoer. The closure of several gyms or the monotony of their programs made Huang switch to e-fitness.

Faced with hundreds of workout activities available on the apps, Huang didn't know what to do at first. "Without a physical coach there, how do I find the right exercises?" she wondered, a concern shared by many users before discovering the flexibility.

She soon found that users could seek guidance from videos and receive advice from trainers and athletes. The regular live broadcasts offered by some famous sports people further broadened their scope of action. "The exercises taught inside the gyms are easy to replicate at home," she said.

In addition, smart sports equipment is customized for the exercises she does. She recently bought a state-of-the-art Keep treadmill, which is linked to her app via a sensor. A virtual trainer guides her from the app. It first sets her exercise session based on the health data collected, and then monitors her running, while giving advice on posture and methods for optimizing her landing technique. Huang can keep track of the distance covered, her progress, and the amount of calories burned. At the end of the session, the app presents an assessment to evaluate the effect of the exercise. "It's just like having a personal trainer," she said.

Virtual sports communities

For Li Pengfei, a resident of Hebei Province, fitness used to be the last thing on his mind. But his poor health resulting from obesity pushed him to uncover a new and healthier lifestyle. Like many of his friends, he joined the e-fitness trend. But his family didn't have much faith in it at first, even betting that he would eventually give up.

Against all odds, Li stuck with it and even invited his relatives to follow him. What motivated him? Virtual sports communities made up of users on the same app. In these groups, people share their photos and performances to motivate each other. And just like that, Li had found a way to rack up the miles while having fun. "Exercise was like a real chore for me in the beginning. But the encouragement of other participants stimulated my inner strength. It has become a pleasure to train with others who share the same enthusiasm," he said.

According to the Global Consumer Trends 2021 report by market research consultant Mintel, 80 percent of Chinese consumers said a sense of belonging was important to them. The key to success is not the product itself, but the "community" culture it develops. This is also the case with e-fitness. Thanks to connected data, users record their results while sharing their experience. This helps to maintain a good atmosphere in terms of communication and motivation.

The health benefits of physical exercise are well established. Currently, a growing number of Chinese are aware of the importance of fitness, which is ideal for improving cardiovascular performance, but also for sculpting the figure and enhancing the overall physical condition. According to a survey by the China Sporting Goods Federation, 96 percent of the respondents said they had engaged in some form of sports in 2020, spending an average of 4,000 yuan ($610.8). A 2019-30 action plan for the Healthy China initiative aims to ensure that 40 percent of Chinese citizens regularly participate in physical exercises or sports by 2030. To this end, all stakeholders in the sports sector are expected to make greater efforts to meet this growing demand from different segments of the population.

As for e-fitness, there is still a long way to perfection. But Lu is highly optimistic about its future development. "Human-computer interaction is the way forward," she said. This will, among other things, bring sports enthusiasts closer to trainers, and facilitate monitoring and evaluation. Furthermore, with the help of artificial intelligence and deep learning, smart sports equipment is expected to offer more accurate information, making training more effective.

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