Virginia fitness center powered by artificial intelligence

HENRICO, Va. (AP) AI tools like ChatGPT are having a greater influence on our lives, from shopping and streaming services to education, healthcare and how we learn about the world.

A recently opened fitness studio is now harnessing that power with the goal of giving people an efficient and effective workout.

Married couple India and Eric Morgan opened a smart fitness studio in Henrico County in March and appointments have filled up. The Exercise Coach is part of an international franchise and is touted as the first AI-enabled studio in the state.

Eric and India Morgan launched their first Exercise Coach location at 3436 Lauderdale Drive in Henrico, Va. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

The trainer uses bioadaptive robotic exercise equipment calibrated specifically for someone’s fitness levels. Computerized machines adjust their difficulty as the person progresses in strength and stamina.

We’re the right intensity for you because the machines are adapting to your strength level and physical abilities, India Morgan said. While, yes, it will be a challenging workout, the goal is to progressively overload your muscles so you steadily increase strength. It will be something you are able to do because it is taken care of for you.

The smart equipment franchise comes from Illinois-based manufacturer Exerbotics. Its fitness instructors lead one-on-one or small-group exercise sessions with up to four participants. The biggest benefit the company markets is that it can give people the results they need in two 20-minute workouts a week. A 48 hour break is recommended to recover from sessions.

There are seven total exercises throughout the 20-minute workout, each designed so you can’t do another rep by the end. The bulk of the session is devoted to strength training, but ends with one to three minutes of high-intensity cardio.

The machines adapt people’s training to their strengths and weaknesses in real time. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

The Morgans bring their finance and healthcare backgrounds to The Exercise Coach. India Morgan was a Registered Nurse at VCU Health prior to opening the practice. She is currently pursuing a degree to become a registered nurse. She handles many of the day-to-day needs of the studio. Eric Morgan is a financial advisor in the health care field, who works with several hospitals on their fixed assets. He works on the operational side of the franchise.

Having been involved in sports all their lives and prioritizing their physical health, the Morgans came up with the idea for the studio while working with a franchise broker to open a new business. They tried some of the workouts and liked the data they saw.

The fact that (India) has a clinical background gave us an edge because we agreed with the science and all the metabolic pieces that were the very foundation of this franchise, said Eric Morgan.

With The Exercise Coach open for about seven weeks so far, the Morgans say they’re excited to see the results begin to solidify for some of the clients who’ve been there since the beginning.

We can look back at their six, seven week progress and say, OK, this is actually working for them, India Morgan said. It’s nice. We knew it worked for us; we’ve done it ourselves, but it’s nice to see it work for other people.

Most of the time slots filled up with an average of around 50 sessions per day. The sessions themselves range in price from $25 to $50, depending on which package a person receives, though prices are calculated monthly.

The goal isn’t to compare the studio to big-box gyms and bring in the most users. The franchise generally caters to people who are too busy for full gyms, don’t have the time, or need guidance. Most of the marketing budget is spent on reaching customers 40 and older. The robotic equipment provides less stress on joints and ligaments while still delivering an intense workout.

(More than forty) is our clientele. Their focus is overall health, said Eric Morgan. They have typically failed at many different exercises or been put off by a number of different exercises. Plus, it’s just plain simple. It’s for their ability and it’s private, so you don’t have to go to the gym with a group of people.

Tamara Parker began training at The Exercise Studio within the first few weeks of its opening. Although she has always strived to be active throughout her adult life, she said she has trouble with other workout routines. She has been to the gym and has done home workouts streamed from the TV.

I don’t like the act of going to the gym and looking for equipment; someone could be on my gear, Parker said. And I don’t want to be around a bunch of other people when I train. It’s not comfortable for me.

Streaming workouts at home posed other problems. Parker, 55, said she felt lonely and she wasn’t always sure she was doing the exercises correctly. She stopped working out for a period about a year ago when her father died. The pain made it difficult to have the energy to train. At the same time, she has developed unhealthy eating habits amidst the stress.

I felt like I was really stuck in a rut. And I tried to go back to the gym, but I just wouldn’t. I didn’t respect that, Parker said. I even hired a trainer and did all the trainings I bought in that package but then never looked back.

Training was also hard work for Parker. Her 13-year-old daughter Educates her 13-year-old daughter at home, runs a business with her husband and takes care of her 92-year-old father-in-law, who lives in the family home. She saw The Exercise Studio online and liked the idea that it offers workouts shorter than 20 minutes.

At first, I was like, how does this work? It’s only 20 minutes; I don’t understand, Parker said. But after I got into it, I realized 20 minutes was no joke. And I feel like with every single exercise, just as I’m preparing to die, it’s over.

His goal was to get back to the fitness levels he had before he stopped exercising. To date, he’s lost nearly all of the excess weight he’s put on and says he’s also seen positive mental health benefits by working out more regularly again.

The Morgans said they were a little surprised by the amount of demand the studio saw soon after it opened. They are already working on opening two more studios in the Richmond area and have plans to expand with two or three more stores over the next three to four years. The next location is planned near Richmond’s West End, with another location on the city’s South Side.

We really liked that the focus of this specific fitness franchise isn’t just to lose weight or gain muscle mass, even though those are things we can do, India Morgan said. It’s really like general health. We want you to lower your blood sugar, build bone strength and reduce your problems with things like osteoporosis.

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