RFID Pumps Up Women’s Workouts

By Marty Weil

Curves International has introduced an automated personal-training system that gives the fitness company a competitive advantage.

Curves International, based in Waco, Texas, is one of the largest fitness center franchises in the world, with more than 10,000 clubs located in 60 countries. The company, created specifically for women, is known for its innovative 30-minute circuit workout. In July 2007, the firm introduced CurvesSmart, an RFID-based system designed to provide members with personal and immediate feedback during training. An electronic device containing an RFID interrogator is mounted on each piece of equipment in the circuit, and members wear RFID-embedded wristbands to activate the system.

"Being a leader in the health and fitness industry, we realized that we needed to change, innovate and increase what members can get from their workouts," says Katie Mitchell, a research assistant and CurvesSmart trainer with Curves International's continuing education and research department. "The system is meant to motivate and challenge users to maintain an exertion level that is safe. It guarantees maximum benefit based on the user's unique body signature."


An electronic device containing an RFID interrogator is mounted on each piece of equipment in the circuit.



The system was developed by MyTrak Health System, an Ontario, Canada, company specializing in automated health-management solutions for fitness and rehabilitation centers. "Curves' founder, Gary Heavin, wanted to deploy a monitoring and accountability system in our clubs that would recognize each member individually," Mitchell says, adding that Curves was looking into developing a system based on RFID technology. "We knew we needed a simple tag that our members could easily carry with them during the workout, and RFID tags seemed well suited to our requirements."


Before a member can utilize the system, she is given a fitness test. Upon registering at the kiosk, she is issued a wristband, the tag ID of which is linked with her member information in the CurvesSmart database.



Then the company learned about MyTrak's system, Mitchell says. "It didn't make sense for us to reinvent the wheel," she states. Curves International branded the personal-coaching system CurvesSmart, and has rolled it out to roughly 3,500 facilities to date.

"It definitely gives us a competitive edge to other clubs in surrounding areas," Mitchell says. "No one else has this technology in their clubs, and that is exciting for our franchisees. We're already beginning to see an increase in membership as a direct result of this system."

The RFID Workout


The CurvesSmart system includes three components: the electronic device, the RFID-enabled wristbands and a computer kiosk. MyTrek designed the electronic device to fit on any piece of gym equipment, says Julio Andracchio, the company's VP of operations. The wristbands employ passive RFID tags, each of which costs $2.54. "We wanted a low-cost solution," he says. "If a member loses a tag, it's easy to replace."


MyTrek designed the electronic device to fit on any piece of gym equipment.



Curves installs the computer kiosk—which manages all of the data and communicates with the electronic devices via wireless technology—in a centralized location within the workout center. Before a member can utilize the system, she is given a fitness test. Upon registering at the kiosk, she is issued a wristband, the tag ID of which is linked with her member information in the CurvesSmart database. The results of that member's fitness test are also entered into the database, and the CurvesSmart system generates preliminary targets for her particular workout. To protect members' privacy, all franchisees are required to sign confidentiality agreements with Curves International.

In addition, for each member, the franchisee signs a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) statement. Among other things, this privacy rule protects the integrity, availability and confidentiality of that individual's health information.

Before each workout, a member uses her wristband to log in at the computer kiosk. As that member progresses, she can modify her profile and target goals. At each machine she uses, the electronic device reads her wristband, accesses her profile and provides real-time feedback regarding whether she's meeting her goal for that piece of equipment. Yellow indicates underperformance, and green signals her performance is on-target. "Going for the green is a mantra among Curves' enthusiasts," Mitchell says.

At the conclusion of her workout, the member can then log in at the kiosk and view a graphical display of her performance on each machine, including muscles exercised and calories burned. She can also compare the results of this session with those of her previous 10 workouts. The system performs double-duty as a marketing tool: Gym-goers may find personal messages from Curves staff members, such as birthday greetings or notices regarding their membership.

Going Green


According to Curves International, its biggest challenge was self-imposed: The company set a goal to install the RFID system at all of its clubs in the United States and Canada within a year. "The logistics necessary to accomplish this kept our installations teams on the move," Mitchell notes. The cost to install the CurvesSmart system varies, depending on the number of equipment pieces in a particular facility. On average, the cost is approximately $8,000, paid for by the franchise owner.


At each machine a member uses, the electronic device reads her wristband, accesses her profile and provides real-time feedback regarding whether she's meeting her goal for that piece of equipment—yellow indicates underperformance, and green signals her performance is on-target.



Thus far, Mitchell says, Curves has been pleased with the results of the CurvesSmart implementation at its clubs. "We've received fabulous comments from both our members and our club owners," she states. "Our club owners say the system 'rejuvenates' their franchises. It makes the facilities exciting. Our members find that the system keeps them accountable to their goals. The system has become a key motivational tool within the clubs, and members have seen direct results from using it. We've tracked a 15 percent increase in inches lost by members as a direct result of the use of this technology. It motivates them to work a lot harder."

The program has also been embraced by the personal trainers who work at its facilities, the company reports. "The feedback provided by CurvesSmart gives trainers the ability to hold members more accountable for range of motion and intensity levels as they use our machines," Mitchell explains.

According to Mitchell, Curves plans to deploy the RFID system internationally in the near future. "We will begin installing this equipment in our international clubs, and I am excited to see what this does for our international markets," she adds. "I think women everywhere will enjoy this type of motivation and accountability in their workouts."