By Hugo Braam, Special FBA Contributor

The last couple of years have shown the many benefits digitalization can bring to fitness entrepreneurs and how intelligent use of collected data can provide unprecedented opportunities for personalization.

Customer data that trainers and clubs receive via apps and wearables provide an abundance of information. They give detailed insights into the lifestyle of customers and their preferences, enabling the adaptation of training and nutrition programs down to the last detail. In this way, modern fitness consumers get what they desire: tailor-made fitness and health services to help them reach their individual goals.

However, whilst this data provides big opportunities, it also brings with it an equally large challenge - how to ensure this data remains secure.

So how are data breaches caused, what are the consequences – and perhaps most importantly – how do you prevent them as a fitness entrepreneur?

Small accidents, big consequences

We often assume that data breaches occur due to external factors, such as through hackers, yet a high number happen due to human error. Indeed, a recent analysis by Verizon has detailed that personal error makes up a large proportion of the 82% of breaches that are down to the human element. And exposing customer data doesn’t necessarily come from an enormous technical malfunction. It can occur from something simple, such as sending out a mass email to customers but including recipients in CC instead of BCC.

Doing this with general brand content is one thing, but it is an entirely different matter if it includes health-related data like sleeping and eating patterns or weight. This can severely undermine the level of trust customers may have in a club.

For fitness entrepreneurs, the consequences of such a data breach are twofold. Firstly, there are the financial implications. In the US, most states have laws placing certain types of consumer information firmly on the businesses holding the information. A 2021 IBM analysis reported that the average total cost of a data breach increased by nearly 10% year over year, with healthcare organizations experiencing the highest average cost for the eleventh year in a row.

Secondly, this expenditure can also be felt in the damage to your fitness club’s reputation. A fine can be paid off instantly, but rebuilding trust takes a lot longer. It involves overcoming member cancellations, poor online reviews and a drying up of leads. Whether through fines or lost business, a data breach can be extremely costly.


The simple solutions

In a world dominated by smartphones and social media, as consumers, we now have more means to stay connected and communicate than ever before. Yet, the flip side of this is that the customized experiences we enjoy involve us sharing more personal data than ever before to companies, many of whom have not previously had to deal with such a consistent influx of data. It is easy to forget that this wave of digitization is still in its relative infancy. Throw in the constant technological innovations and customer demands, and the importance of data protection is clearly evident.

Therefore, if you choose to invest in digitization and make the most of the exciting opportunities provided by a hybrid digital and physical offering, then you also choose to invest in further securing your member data. And there is no requirement to become a cybersecurity expert or need to reinvent the wheel to achieve this. According to experts, the first step is very simple: data security starts with clear communication and building awareness. I see this as an increasingly vital part of how fitness companies transparently position themselves and their proposition. Through apps and wearables, clubs are gaining insight into increasingly intimate data about their customers' lives, which is why it is imperative to maintain customer confidence in how this data is handled.

Utilizing a robust fitness software application is another good way to protect data. For example, by getting your team to use more complex and regularly updated passwords, or using different access authentications where employees only have availability to the data they need, which diminishes the chances of data leaks. The significance of communication about data protection is just as important internally to your employees as it is externally to existing and potential customers.

An integral part of any fitness business

And this brings me to the most crucial point of all.  Effective data security is not something fitness entrepreneurs should look to maintain simply because of the law. It is a necessity for any club and trainer who wants to keep up with advancing technological developments in the industry and ride the ever-growing wave of innovation.

Having the trust of customers is a must for any brand, no matter the sector. However, it is perhaps only recently that those in our industry have started to sufficiently acknowledge the key role data protection has in maintaining it. If you demonstrate to members that you take their data security seriously, they will reward you with the loyalty that is the core ingredient for growth.

More from this author


Hugo Braam is co-founder and CEO of Virtuagym. Virtuagym provides innovative management, booking, and coaching software solutions for gyms, clubs, and studios. They have just launched PRO+, the world's first turnkey solution for fitness operators

Join the Conversation!