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Interview with Mike Leveque about Fitness Innovation

Mike Leveque has a decade of executive leadership experience in health and wellness innovation. He previously was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Star Trac Fitness and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of MYZONE. MYZONE is a chest strap and monitoring system that displays heart rate, calories, time and effort to a LCD monitor, while simultaneously creating an online logbook of all physical activity that can be viewed anywhere in the world through the Internet.


1) The MYZONE device relies on heart rate and time as the primary data sources by which to track an individual’s overall activity. When compared to accelerometers – aside from the obvious advantage that the MYZONE device is able to more effectively capture effort from activities where movement is limited (ex. spinning, group training, etc.) – what additional advantages does heart rate tracking have over the standard tracking offered by traditional pedometers/accelerometers?

First of all, the pedometer is limited to the movement of the device. If you are wearing a pedometer on your foot and exercise on a Krank Cycle, you will not log activity. Additionally, there may be cases where a bumpy road triggers step credit on a pedometer. Lastly, the pedometer/accelerometer can only calculate a standardized step credit. For example, let’s say a user is cross country skiing, the “steps” credited will be nowhere near equal in intensity to a similar amount of “steps” while taking a walk on the beach at the same velocity.

In the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from The Center for Disease Control, it is recommended that every adult exercise each week for one hundred and fifty minutes at moderate intensity  or seventy-five minutes at vigorous intensity. Never does it recommend a certain number of steps, because there is simply no accurate way to measure the intensity of physical activity via a pedometer or an accelerometer.

A recent report from Flinders University in Australia has found that there is an unbalanced relationship between steps and high-intensity training. In the report Dr. Norton states, “Most physical activity guidelines recommend a 30 minute daily walk but we found that it would take 50 hours of walking to achieve the same aerobic fitness that you could get from just one hour of high-intensity (or vigorous) activity.”

Heart rate monitoring provides a level of accuracy that pedometers and accelerometers cannot. Every body reacts differently to exercise and the beat of your heart is the only accurate way to measure effort during physical activity. This accuracy allows our MYZONE software to provide user-generated content to track metrics such as average effort, time in user specific zones and caloric expenditure during exercise. Because the MYZONE software logs the user’s age, gender, weight and every heart beat during a workout session, it can utilize those four variables to calculate the calories burned during a particular session. This is much more accurate than the algorithms used by pedometers and accelerometers.

2) At the Quantified Self Conference this year Gary Wolf made a comment eluding that corporate wellness is somewhat degrading the sanctity of self-tracking. He was then reticent about the sentiment but my interpretation is he was alluding to the potential damage program parameters can have on motivation and personal drive when it pertains to the positive benefits tracking can have on wellness. In other words, limiting autonomy and confining options (ex. a company that only offers step challenges) might actually end up doing more harm than good. How important do you think it is to let the individual set their own health and wellness goals (opposed to them being mandated)?

I believe most reasonable executives would agree that utopia would be providing regular health assessments, thoroughly educating each employee individually on their results and then allowing them to set the most appropriate health and wellness goals that motivate them to achieve a better future state. However, a wellness program that is customized to each employee is neither practical nor cost effective for most companies. So then the question becomes, is the net benefit positive of a standardized program where the goal or goals are set by the firm? After taking into account the human cost of capital and other direct costs, the vast majority of studies agree that there is a strong return on investment of any wellness program that encourages increasing regular physical activity, even if the participants are not able to set their own goals.

3) When it is difficult enough to get the layperson to understand the existing wellness vernacular, what is the added value/utility of introducing a new branded concept like MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) for measuring and tracking physical activity? How does this improve upon the existing lexicon and contribute to a better user experience?

The two main benefits of MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) are standardization and gamification. Since MEPs progressively reward a user for increasing effort in their personal heart rate zones, we have created somewhat of a golf handicap in the awarding of points to users. For instance a deconditioned user may rapidly enter their higher point earning zone but they will fatigue more quickly than a well-conditioned athlete. A well-conditioned athlete, with an efficient cardiovascular system, may have a hard time approaching the high point earning zones but they can maintain durations in their lower zones for much longer than a deconditioned user might. The benefit is the system rewards general effort and standardizes for various levels of physical fitness .

Many users need an increase in their motivation to achieve their goals. Through gamification, MEPs allow MYZONE users and their fitness facilities to encourage attainment of health and wellness targets by establishing user challenges, goals setting and rewarding goal achievement. Cycling various user groups through individual and/or collective challenges has proven to engage and maintain club member participation in an exercise program while simultaneously creating the stickiness of the member to the associated fitness facility.

4) Current science suggests that if you can get an individual intrinsically motivated to stay healthy (ex. focus on the benefits of general well-being), adherence to behavior change will generally be longer lasting when compared to an individual who was extrinsically motivated (ex. the carrot of winning a weight loss challenge). If this is true, what role can technology play in fostering intrinsic motivation?

Utilization of technology is an effective mechanism to provide an individual with user generated content (UGC) of their physical activity and its related outcomes. UGC, such as duration of a training session, intensity of a training session and an accurate caloric expenditure total, helps educate the MYZONE user as to how effective an exercise session has been. It creates a currency by which all future sessions can be compared.

Since the MYZONE system can be linked to a body composition analyzer, a MYZONE user can track important biometric information, such as weight, BMI, body fat percentage and muscle mass to gauge whether or not they are benefiting from their current regime. MYZONE and devices like it can also provide the user a basal metabolic rate calculation to help the user regulate food consumption to achieve their health goals. It is through this increased availability of information that an individual can track their activity and make better decisions.

5) What currently excites you the most about the accelerated advancement of personal technology as it pertains to health management? What do you see on the horizon that you believe is going to be a game changer?

Accessibility of data as it relates to physical fitness will allow fitness facilities to add gamification to their offering. When deployed correctly, gamification will support the club’s efforts to attract, integrate and retain members at levels the fitness industry has never seen. In addition, personal technology will aid in the club’s outreach to provide richer feedback to corporate clients. The holy grail of technology as it relates to fitness is linking activity to lower health care costs and ultimately lower insurance premiums. Once this happens and information is accessible to all individuals, the fitness industry should grow exponentially.