The global pandemic has completely changed the fitness industry and the way that people work out. In fact, 64% of Americans are now more interested in at-home fitness options, according to a survey. The survey also revealed that 65% of men and 55% of women claimed that they are often intimidated when working out at the gym, whereas 65% of people said that working out at home alone during lockdown was a confidence booster for them. 72% of Americans also said that it was easier for them to maintain their fitness routine while working out at home.
So, the results are in and it appears that working out from home is here to stay for many former gym-goers, especially since they invested in at-home fitness equipment such as yoga mats, resistance bands, and dumbbells during lockdown. But what if there was a better way to do your workouts at home? That’s exactly what Jon Gregory, the Australian founder of Vitruvian, a global connected fitness technology company, pondered. Gregory developed the early prototype of the now patent-pending adaptive resistance technology that drives the Vitruvian offering, then engaged a team of experts in product design, hardware and software engineering and sports science to iterate and refine the solution.
What they created was the V-Form TrainerTM, a connected strength trainer, which is basically the equivalent of having every weight on hand in your home – without the rack. Vitruvian also brings the world’s best trainers right into your living room through the Vitruvian App. The app offers customizable workout plans, performance data insights, goal-specific classes, programs and technique tutorials and the ability to compete with your friends, and Team Vitruvian users worldwide. Next off the production line is the Vitruvian Trainer+, designed to push the possibilities of at-home strength training even further.
MuscleTech.com recently had the opportunity to chat with Vitruvian Founder Jon Gregory to talk about how he and his team of experts were able to create this cutting-edge tech for the smartest workout yet. We also discussed how the V-Form Trainer works, what allows it to adapt to each individual person’s unique capabilities, and why #TeamVitruvian is on a mission to redefine what it means to be strong.
Q: Thanks so much for making the time to join us, Jon. Out of curiosity, what does Vitruvian mean and why did you decide to name your company Vitruvian?
A: “A long time ago, I was looking for a name that would sort of describe in one word the grandest vision for the company that I could imagine, which is a suite of technologies that lets people ask questions about their health and well-being and get outcomes and answers for their questions through the company’s products and offerings. So, How do I get better? How do I feel well? How do I get stronger? Almost in the sense that in ancient times, if you were living in Greece, you probably would have prayed to the goddess of health and fitness. I’m feeling unwell. How do I get well?
There’s a sense in the current era that technology is making the gods of old manifest. These days, you just ask your smartphone and you get answers to things. With Vitruvian, I was going for this company where you get well and you sort of pray to the company and use the services to get the outcome that you want, and then it actually happens for you and it actually works.
I was looking at Greek gods and was like, all the good ones are gone. So, I landed on Vitruvian, which is kind of a step down from that, but I thought that we could actually elevate Vitruvian to god status. It comes from the iconic drawing of a man in a square and a circle by Leonardo da Vinci that we all recognize, even if we don’t know what it’s called. It conveys the architecture of idealized human form, and in turn, the pursuit of wellness. It alludes to the beauty, the strength, and the structure of the human form. It’s something that we all kind of aspire to be – and these days, the focus on what is ideal is very personal and is as much about strong mental wellness as it is physical form. So, that’s where the name came from. The drawing is called The Vitruvian Man.”
Q: With The V-Form Trainer, Vitruvian has introduced evolutionary resistance technology that was developed with world-leading experts in health science, exercise research, and professional training. Can you talk a little about the amount of research and development that went into creating The V-Form Trainer?
A: “I initially started thinking about this way back in 2008. I have a degree in applied physics and I spent a career doing algorithmic trading and high frequency computing. When I was running my own trading company, in the training room I had a bunch of gym equipment in the background and it just looked stupid. We were doing high tech, cutting edge trading, but we were just pushing metal around in the back of the room for exercise. It just seemed dumb. So, that was the instigation. Surely, there’s a better way.
I approached it then from an applied physics point of view and it just became a giant physics project. And physics to me, you define a physical system, you develop some instrumentation and machinery that can interrogate and interact with that system, pull data out of it and draw conclusions, and maybe feedback into the system. So, it was really a big physics project.
So, I started it and had to figure out how to do it. It was a bunch of research on: What even is this? How do I do it – motors, drives, electronics, controls, firmware, software? I just started researching it and figuring it out. For probably five or six years, it was a bit of a project that I did in my spare time. When the markets were quiet, I would tinker around and try to learn how to do this stuff. I made some pretty crude proofs of concept many years ago. I had enough knowledge to work out how to do it and put it together. And it was like, Yeah, it is actually quite good!
Then in 2016, I saw a company created a smart exercise bike that was synced with live training sessions for the first time, and really the rise of the fitness influencer. I saw these amazing, fit trainers out in the world with big followings who obviously knew what they were doing, and they were engaging and interesting people. Seeing what that company had done with turning hardware into a subscription, I was just like, Well, I have to do this. I have to make an engaging piece of hardware that is effective and efficient, works in the home, and connects these great trainers around the world to everyone in the home. Surely, that will be an engaging, beneficial, and exciting experience.
So, that was the major catalyst to accelerate the project. I invested both money and real effort into it for a couple of years, and the prototype started getting better. And that’s when I started to discover that it’s not just going to be cool and engaging, but there’s actually so much more here. That really caught me by surprise. I thought I was just making something that would be cool and fun and full of data. But then we started finding that, Man, you can do so much. Once the weight is adaptative, and adapting to the human, you can train so much more efficiently and effectively, and in so many different ways. You can start doing new things like training for power or training really specifically for muscle strength. You can separate cardio from strength very efficiently, as well. So, you can do workouts that you don’t sweat through, but are very effective at building muscle. There’s crazy stuff that we just learned by doing.
Then by the end of 2018, the prototypes were just getting really good. We realized there was even more here than we initially thought. So, I founded the company. I put in money and an angel investor matched what I put in and then the company got going building prototypes. Since then, it has been learning by doing. And because no one actually knows, we have to find out.
We are the world experts in this field because scientists have never had these tools before. They don’t know what using adaptive weight really does. Intuitively, we all understand the huge benefit potential, but now it’s about examining it through research and ongoing studies. Interested sports scientists from around the world have just turned up and have said, This is cool. Can we use this in our research? We’re also working with a local university here that’s one of the world’s leading experts in eccentric training. So, that is how it has been. It hasn’t been, let’sdo all this research and then make a product, it’s the other way aroundbecause we need the product to be able to do the research. So, that’s been our journey.”
Q: If someone wanted to start using the V-Form Trainer today, what would they need to do? Can you take us through how the product works?
A: “It comes in a box. You unbox it. You roll it to where you want to use it, you plug it in, and turn it on. You download the Vitruvian App on your phone, you connect the app to the machine, create a profile, and get going.
There are currently three ways to interact with the product. You can do a single exercise – any exercise that you’d like, if you know what you’re doing. You can do a workout. You can build your own workout, which is a series of exercises. Or you can join a class and be led through a video class of a more structured workout. In each of these training methods, the user can select from a variety of training modes that will deliver the adaptive resistance in varying ways, depending on their goals – whether that’s progressive overload, maximizing time under tension, or eccentric-only to name a few.
And just in the last few days, we’ve launched programs. Programs are goal-specific training courses undertaken over a certain time period, usually from four to twelve weeks. These programs will be more outcome based around people’s individual needs such as wanting to get stronger, become more flexible, be able to jump higher, or just get a great butt.”
Q: Was there a specific moment or life event that led you to want to create and build this connected, engaged, and scientific piece of training equipment?
A: “There was one a-ha moment that made me want to do this, which was seeing that company in 2016 and the rise of the fitness influencer. Then in 2019, after our first prototype of the unit as it kind of looks, feels, and works now, I started using it for a month and I was like, This is weird. I don’t even know what I’m doing with this thing. I was lifting things and it was pulling me back. It was crazy and so fun. But it was difficult and interesting and weird. I was just experimenting with it. But by the end of the month, in only four weeks, I was looking in the mirror and was like, Dude, I didn’t have muscles there before. I didn’t have bumps there. Like, what just happened? I hadn’t used it a lot. It wasn’t like I had been in the gym for three hours a day. I was just sort of playing around with this thing. And it was then that I knew, This really works. We’ve got something here.
Then I went for a walk with my daughter to a local sporting event. There were just thousands of people everywhere. I was wandering through this crowd and it just really hit me that we’ve got something for everyone. We’ve created this piece of hardware that is going to deliver a benefit to everyone whether you’re a kid, whether you’re an adult, or you’re elderly. That was an overwhelming moment. I almost fell over. I knew at that moment, We’ve got it. We’ve got something for the world here. That was over two years ago now. And day by day, we’re getting closer to actually bringing it to the world.”
Q: You’ve said that your goal was not simply to design a product that would bring resistance training into people’s homes. Instead, you wanted to create THE product for at-home resistance training. What were some of the initial challenges that you and your team faced when building the V-Form Trainer and how were you able to overcome them in order to create a whole gym basically at people’s fingertips?
A: “That’s quite a deep and big question. I think we started from first principles again. It goes back to that this is like a physics project. Like, what is the problem or suite of problems that we are solving? And what’s the efficient path through that first principles point of view? The difficult part was that it was just years and years of thought really.
It was looking for something that solves not just what the user wants, but it also has to be manufactured and be efficient from a distribution point of view. It has to be the right size, the right shape. It has to be cost-effective to make. It has to be reliable and long-lasting. It was really years and years of thinking, I can do it this way, but then that would be a problem there. I can do it this way, but that will cause this problem. We ended up with a bunch of decisions that result in the product that you see on our website. And it’s a very powerful product because of the way it solves a giant laundry list of problems and because of the decisions that were made along the way.
So, the challenges? It was a big equation to solve and there was no real formula, but we had to solve that equation. And I’m so confident that we’ve done it. Ultimately, I know we’ll be copied by everyone because it is the answer.”
Q: During the global pandemic, a survey revealed that 80% of men were exercising more during the lockdown mainly to boost their mental health. One verified buyer and reviewer of the V-Form Trainer wrote, “Great machine: absolute lifesaver during lockdown. Once you get used to the way it works, it’s a game changer.” Knowing the amount of hard work and dedication that went into creating the V-Form Trainer, how does it make you feel to know that you and your team have truly created something special that is making people’s lives better?
A: (Smiling) “Yeah, I mean it’s amazing. I don’t really need much extra fuel and motivation, but those little moments and those comments really do make it all worthwhile because it’s really just a lot of hard work bringing our vision to the world. Businesses don’t bring themselves into the world. Trying to start a company and execute a big vision, it’s like trying to commit an unnatural act. So, if you want to do something big and brave, you’ve got to sort of push and push and push, and work hard and work hard and work hard, and finally beat people over the head and make them get it. And you’ve got to beat investors over the head and customers, and you’ve got to shove this down the world’s throat. Then when you find someone who gets it and they’ve got it and they’re loving it, it’s very satisfying.” (Smiling)
Q: As the reviewer mentioned, there was a getting used to process when it comes to the V-Form. So, how has Vitruvian been able to communicate to weightlifters, weekend warriors, fitness enthusiasts, and athletes who already have their own way of training that The V-Form isn’t about replacements or alternatives, but rather a fundamental evolution in the way that they can now push, nurture, and train their bodies?
A: “I mean, it’s a great question. I think the answer is that it has been a spectrum. Every single customer approaches the product with all of their prior knowledge and experience and that’s all they have to go by. Because we’re a new modality and we’re a completely new type of product as opposed to a treadmill or a bike in which the user already knows what to do, there is this kind of learning phase, and the customer base is just a big spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum there are like the biohackers, the innovators, and the early adopters. They’re the people who are looking for something new, interesting, and different who love learning, exploring, and getting to know new things. Then at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have never trained before and don’t know what they’re doing, but they just know that they need to get a benefit because they feel rubbish or they can feel their bodies decaying.
So, there’s a full spectrum and we’re just going to be on this case as a company forever. We need to very quickly assess who a person is, where they’re coming from, what they want, and how do we make this a seamless and frictionless process for them so that they can get what they want? And at the same time, maybe lead them on a little bit to say, Well, have you thought about this? There’s a new benefit here. Try this.
Part of me wants to say to everyone, even the biggest beefcake in the world, Plug it in, turn it on, and do this! You’ll get more of a benefit than you’ve ever had. But you can’t tell that to a customer. It’s quite disrespectful to say that to someone else. You have to be understanding of who they are, where they’re coming from, listen to them, give them what they want, and then give them more. So, that’s our high-level approach as a company. How well we do that? Well, we’ll probably always be getting better at that.”
Q: The V-Form Trainer prides itself on intelligent workouts with smart algorithms that allow the user to completely focus on their workout. So, how is the V-Form Trainer able to adapt to each user’s unique capabilities, learn their habits, and also motivate them to reach their point of failure more safely and at greater weights on their own than ever before?
A: “Once the weights are electronic and you can change them 100 times a second, you can do anything. So, you can just turn it into a static weight – you push a button and you work against that weight. But we kind of thought: Well, why bother? Let’s just throw it all out and build an algorithmic way of training in which you stand on it, start training, and then the machine responds to you. The machine increases the weight, targets a particular velocity, and within a few short reps you’re training just as hard as you can, and you’re kind of adapting and co-adapting to the machine and to the algorithm. It is kind of throwing everything out the window.
But having said that, we’re bringing some less adaptive things back to our customer base because not everyone wants that. Some people just want to lift a weight that they know, do it, and then do it better. Not everyone wants this fully-adaptive experience, but if you do want it, it’s there. And I do recommend it because it is just so much faster and a more effective way to train. If you want to take longer and you want to do it the old way, then fine. I do recommend you do it our way. And it’s fun. Like, there’s this moment when a new user finally gets it, and not that it even takes that long, but it’s kind of a feeling and a mental thing when you get on the machine, you start training, and then it starts to get really heavy, and then heavier than you can handle. You’re kind of in this zone where it’s man vs. machine. You’re fighting it and it’s fighting you. It’s really fun. (Smiling) And it’s like, Ah, that’s why this is effective. That’s why this is big.
It does take a little bit of time. It’s like anything. It’s like a sport. There’s a learned process and skill development to really adapt to the machine and let the machine adapt to you. It’s not as simple as just, Turn it on, press a button, and train. If you want to, there’s this experience here that’s available to you. If you give it the time, it’s an experience worth having.”
Q: Vitruvian states that its technology will push people out of their comfort zone since the machine has the capability to conjure pure weight – from 10 pounds to 400 pounds – pretty much out of thin air. So, with the V-Form trainer, do weightlifters, fitness enthusiasts, and athletes no longer need to select the weights that they’re using since Vitruvian technology will select the appropriate amount of weight for them for each exercise?
A: “Yes, that’s correct. You can just start training. Depending upon the mode that you select on the machine – a progressive or fully-adaptive mode, you press that mode, start training, and at the end of that set, you’ve trained really hard. And then the next set, it will be slightly harder, and then slightly harder again. And before long, you can’t get it any harder. You’re at your limit. Then you chip away at that limit over the coming weeks and months of training – training harder and harder.
You’ll also start to get in touch with your own body and how your body responds to stimulus and how it responds to nutrition, as well. In my own experience, I’ve kind of had these plateau stages where the training feels good, and I’m still doing it, but I can’t really reach any new gains. And then for some reason, I just turn it up and feel good – maybe I’m well-rested or maybe I’m eating particularly well – and I can get just a big PR (personal record). And then maybe I can’t reach it for another couple of weeks, but it’s really nice to be reaching that level of knowledge of your own body and your own performance.
It’s sort of like what elite athletes have. If you’re running the 100 meters and you get 10.6 and then all you can get is 10.6, 10.6, 10.6, and then bang – you get a 10.5. It’s a bit like that. And that’s now available to everyone in the home – just on their bicep curl.” (Laughing)
Q: The Vitruvian App is said to be the user’s personal trainer, spotter, and progress diary all in one. How is the app able to do all of these things?
A: “Fundamentally, it’s through data acquisition. Every time you step on the machine and do an exercise, we log information that gets stored in the cloud. Then from there, we report back into the app – PRs, as well as weekly and monthly progress. That in itself will be a work in progress because as we have more development resources working on that data, we’ll be able to bring even richer insights to the user.
The data we’re acquiring is so granular already. How we give that access to our users, we just want to give them as much of it as we can. Because for a whole group of users, that’s content and interest of itself. Some people are just fascinated by data. So, it’s a type of content that we want to give to everyone who trains. Not everyone wants it, but a whole bunch of people do. I’d say probably about 30% of the user base are just data nerds. And the more insights we can give them, the more ways we can get them to visualize their own body and their own performance. They just eat it up.”
Q: Have you had any sports teams reach out to you about getting their hands on The V-Form Trainer so that they can track their athletes’ workouts and also use the data from the app to help their athletes achieve optimal performance?
A: “The professional basketball team in Orlando has two machines. And they use it for a specific reason, which we didn’t even consider when we were making the product. They need a way to efficiently and systematically train their athletes – warm them up and cool them down when they’re on the road. Since they don’t always have access to gyms in their training rooms or the hotels where they’re staying, they’ve got two machines, they stick it on their private jet when the team’s traveling, and they put their team through just some basic exercises pre- and post-game.
That’s one, but there are also a handful of Australian football teams that use the V-Form Trainer. That sort of stuff tends to focus mostly on a team’s particular sports science, which means if there’s someone there who’s looking to do something new and interesting and innovative, then we’re happy to work with anyone. We’re just letting them come to us. Someone actually came to us and said, We want to use this machine for training our astronauts. And we said, OK. That sounds like a good idea. (Smiling) So, there are some astronauts who are using the machine for their training.
There are a few others, as well. But we haven’t really given it a major push. The sports teams, even the pro sports teams, we don’t make any money out of them. They kind of just play into the cool factor and a bit of brand awareness. So, it’s good for the company. It just doesn’t make us any money. Even if we had every single professional sports team in the world, we wouldn’t be making that much money. We want to address people in the home. That’s mainly what we’re here to do.”
Q: As you know, MuscleTech® was born out of an obsession to redefine the limits of science and human potential. We even recently launched a new ‘Strength RedefinedTM’ campaign to showcase the inner strength in all of us. Vitruvian is also on a mission to redefine strength through your #RedefiningStrong campaign. So, what does #RedfiningStrong mean to you?
A: “To me, #RedefiningStrong is about redefining what strong is. Like, not just gym junkies need to be strong. We can all be stronger. And fundamentally, we all actually want to be strong – strong as kind of a virtue really, or something that we all aspire to. We all want to be strong – emotionally, mentally, and physically.
I think the fitness culture has been just too narrow and too unachievable for far too long. Like, a pro sports player is fit and the rest of us are not. I just think that needs redefining. And the same way that we’re talking about #RedefiningStrong, I also want to talk more broadly about redefining fitness.
The word fitness, at least for me, means something more along the lines of fit for purpose. Like, an athlete who is cardiovascularly amazing and can run 20 kilometers in a sporting event, they’re fit for that purpose. But you and I don’t need to be fit for that purpose because we just need to be able to walk down the street and get a coffee. (Laughing) And you and I can be fit for that purpose, or fit for whatever is important to us in life. The point is that we can still be perfectly fit for our purpose. So, take a bit of a load off and be fit for what you want to do.
Vitruvian can very nicely and very effectively make you fit for your purpose, which might well just be, I want to throw my kids around. And I want to be able to do that without throwing my back out and wrecking my shoulders. So, a bit of regular high-intensity resistance training is the perfect thing for you and you will be perfectly fit – just do this little bit of extra stuff and you’ll be perfectly fit and perfectly strong.
That’s what the redefining is about. Take a load off. Feel good. Be strong, and know that you are strong and as strong as you need to be for your life and what you’re trying to achieve.”
Q: What advice do you have for any members of the MuscleTech® Community who are interested in trying the V-Form TrainerTM? And where can they learn more about Vitruvian®?
A: “Start on our website: https://vitruvianform.com. Look around. Read our blog posts and articles. Watch our videos. Download our app. Have a look at our content and understand how the Vitruvian world works, and how it might fit into your life. We also welcome one-on-one conversation with our trainers. They’re the ones also behind the customer service team, so if you reach out to chat on the website, you’ll be talking to a real person who knows everything that you can get out of training with Vitruvian. Next month, we’re launching our second generation product, the Vitruvian Trainer+ and we’re focusing our launch in North America. I’m Australian, but I’ve lived in America for a few years and I just love Americans and I love America. I know that Americans are going to love this product and they’re going to love Vitruvian because Americans, like nowhere else on earth, just get stuff. You do stuff, you buy stuff, you’re positive, and you’re optimistic. This is just going to be a match made in heaven. So, buy one, tell your friends about Vitruvian, and just get involved. We’d love to see you.”