New chain of gyms swaps human trainers for computerized exercise machines
At KoKo FitClub, the personal trainer is in the machine
By Pam LeBlanc
Some people need a real human being at the gym egging them toward their fitness goal. Others, it turns out, can leave the personal training to a computer.
The KoKo FitClub concept started in Boston in 2009. The 36th location opened on Parmer Lane in Williamson County last year. Others have opened in Onion Creek and Lakeway, and plans call for four more in the Austin area soon.
I zipped up to the Parmer Lane location to check out the computerized exercise machines that walk clients, who sometimes call themselves KoKoNuts, through workouts.
I found a small gym equipped with five SmartTrainers that customize workouts based on range of motion and strength, as well as five treadmills.
New members take a fitness test and choose a "track" that emphasizes what they want to focus on, from weight loss to sports performance. Special programs are designed for people with back pain, breast cancer, arthritis or diabetes.
That data is loaded onto a pinkie-size memory stick that members carry with them each time they visit the gym. When you plug in the stick, the machine remembers everything about you.
"It's never the same workout twice. It builds a program based on muscle confusion and time under tension," says Jennifer Reisch, who co-owns the Parmer location with her husband, Robert Reisch.
She plugs a memory stick into the SmartTrainer we're standing near, and an attached computer screen jumps to life, instructing her (or me, masquerading as her) to do a set of lateral pull-downs. It knows 93 different exercises.
At first, I rush through my repetitions. The machine alerts me that I'm moving too quickly. It also knows the length of your arms and legs and can tell if you're cheating on position. Each workout is scored, and if you don't keep the proper pace or form, it docks you points. Get a perfect workout, and you earn a T-shirt.
The 30-minute workouts are done all on a single machine, which requires swapping out different attachments.
The same memory stick also works in the treadmills. Climb aboard and choose from a seasonal menu of 15-minute sessions led by a celebrity coach. Then plug in a pair of earbuds to listen to that trainer tell you to speed up or slow down or increase the resistance. "In 15 minutes, you get a really intense workout. That's good, because I want to do it quickly," says Rebecca Bass, 40, a nurse who exercises at the gym.
Realtor Mary C. Fields likes the fact that when she comes to the gym, she doesn't have to socialize. "I think we have to talk to so many people on a daily basis, it's actually refreshing to go and just deal with a screen," she says.
After 12 sessions, members take another fitness test to check progress.
Techno geeks will love the new trend. Data — everything from strength gains to calories burned, length of workout and time spent doing cardio — is tracked online. Members can compare their progress to others at the gym via a computerized leader board at the front desk. At home, they can log onto a website.
I like it, too. But I might need to wait for the next SmartTrainer incarnation — the one that'll pour me a glass of Gatorade and pat me on the back when I'm done.