Hard-body software

MBA student at U-M develops platforms to aid athletes, trainers

Thursday, April 25, 2002

News Business Reporter

John Gary wanted his exercise regimen to be smarter than the dumbbells he was hoisting every day.

A fitness enthusiast and martial arts instructor, Gary was looking for a tool to track his progress in weight training - one that would also give him encouragement or the occasional prodding to work harder.

"I really wanted a way to see how I was doing - if I was getting any better," he said. "There was nothing out there that could tell me that."

So, like many enterprising MBA students at the University of Michigan, Gary decided to launch a company. His start-up, Roger Inc., attempts to fuse the high-tech world of software with the sweaty one of strength endurance.

Gary, 35, has created two software platforms - PushXL for individual athletes and PushAD for coaches or physical trainers planning multiple fitness routines. The PC-based technology breaks down exercise into anaerobic activities, like weight lifting, and aerobic ones, such as running, swimming or cycling.

In weight lifting, the software can be formatted to spotlight certain muscle groups and tailor workouts, while automatically reminding the user which exercises they may have neglected. It also will chart success or setbacks, using line charts and graphs.

"Without my software, they have to do all of this with paper and pencil," Gary said.

But some paper is involved, including printing out a scheduled workout and filling out various values, which need to be entered into the computer later. After all, Gary points out, who wants to haul a computer to the gym?

The traditional notion of exercise is changing almost as quickly as the technology. The old image of a male-dominated, testosterone-drenched weight room is rapidly fading. Greater numbers of women and senior citizens are picking up barbells as the benefits of strength training are shown to combat osteoporosis and contribute to overall fitness.

Likewise, technologies once only available to collegiate athletes or professionals are beginning to filter down to the rest of us. For example, those willing to shell out the dollars can find rowing machines capable of racing each other via the Internet. Underwater music players take some of the drudgery out of long-distance swimming and training watches with global positioning systems help runners find new ground.

Richard Newton, program coordinator for U-M's department of recreational sports, is adopting the Roger software for "Prescription Fit" - a personal training program used by nearly 80 people. He said the technology will allow his team of trainers to shuttle between U-M's three main exercise facilities without reams of paper.

"I needed a centralized way to pull up someone's records, regardless of which building they're working out in," he said.

Newton hopes to dovetail the software with the planned purchase of a "bod pod" - a space capsule-like device that uses air pressure to determine body fat and other fitness assessments. The university hopes to buy the machine sometime this year.

The "football tech" class at Ypsilanti High School - a course for players to hone their skills in the off-season - will use the software to plan and monitor student athletes. If successful, the training software could be expanded to the entire football program in the fall.

"It fine-tunes (the workouts) a little better than if I was doing it by hand," said David Poole, assistant coach and physical education teacher.

Gary sees the technology applied not only in high school or college sports, but by health clubs and physical therapists.

A sales representative for business telephone provider ChoiceOne Communications, Gary has self-financed his company except for a $5,000 award from U-M's Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. Roger Inc. was one of six grant winners from a field of 24 entrants in a contest to find innovative new companies.

Gary is confident he can get venture capital to grow the company, despite skepticism many investors have toward software firms these days.

"I don't want to waste my time on something that's not going to work, and I wouldn't ask people to waste their money on it, either," he said.

A version of the Roger software can be downloaded from the company's Web site - www.roger-inc.com - for $29.95.

Scott Anderson can be reached at sanderson@annarbornews.com or at (734) 994-6843.


2002 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission

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