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Under Armour gym combines fitness with technology

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Under Armour Performance FX Sudios MF15
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When you walk into the new Under Armour Performance Center on Light Street, it simply looks like a retail store with a cafe.

The only evidence of a gym is a desk on the side with a stack of folded, white towels. Turn a corner and walk up a flight of stairs and you see a large open space, more than 60 yards of turf and towering pillars about four stories high. At first glance, the space, which used to be a large bank hall, doesn’t look like a gym. But when you take a closer look, you see the weight machines, treadmills and TVs that line the perimeter. And, if Under Armour has its way, you might wonder how this space could be used for anything else.

That’s the vision Under Armour and FX Studios had when they decided to open a performance center in downtown Baltimore. They wanted to use the open space to integrate technology into fitness while creating an outlet for Under Armour to show off its latest products.

A project now three years in the making, the facility is the third performance center collaboration between the Baltimore sports brand and FX Studios. The other two gyms are located in Hunt Valley and at the Under Armour headquarters.

Nate Costa, CEO of FX Studios, met Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank 11 years ago as his trainer. Plank was interested in getting into the performance space, and a business partnership was born.

Located at 10 Light St., the new performance center is touted as one of the largest mixed-use conversions in the city. It’s in the same building as 400 new luxury apartments, which are also expected to draw clients to the performance center’s amenities. The center had a soft opening two weeks ago and will have a formal grand opening in July.

The space has 40,000 square feet of cardio and strength training equipment, an open turf field and locker rooms with steam and sauna as well as a salon, spa, physical therapy center, cafe and Under Armour retail store.

“It’s really one-stop shopping,” said Costa during a tour of the performance center Friday.

The facility’s goal is to maintain “forever clients“ who come to get a range of services on top of a workout, a concept that is already in motion at the Hunt Valley location. An annual membership is $50 per month while a month-to-month membership is $65 per month. Members get access to workout equipment, group classes and consultations.

The downtown spot will have first-hand access to Under Armour’s resources, including its Connected Fitness experts and its athlete roster. Carolina Panthers quarterback and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton is expected to train at the Light Street facility from the end of June until the end of July and bring 20 to 25 of his teammates with him. Randall Cobb of the Green Bay Packers is also going to train at the center, said Costa.

As part of the Under Armour name, the performance center is bringing technology into people’s workouts through the brand’s Connected Fitness platform. Trainers will have clients wear a heart rate monitor connected to a TV and use UA Healthbox trackers to do a “lifestyle assessment” and set goals for nutrition, sleep and overall fitness.

“Now we can integrate data into it,” said Costa. “When you have that data, it can truly help cater to what that person’s goal is.”

While Under Armour has been making a push to bring data into fitness through its Connected Fitness platform, the trend has been seeping into gyms outside the brand.

Brick Bodies, which has several locations in the Baltimore area, is integrating heart rate belts into its classes.

“I think it’s a trend throughout the industry,” said Vicki Brick, CEO of Brick Bodies. “The concept of tracking data is here to stay.”

While there is some debate in the scientific community about the accuracy of fitness trackers, including a class-action lawsuit in California against Fitbit, accuracy is besides the point, said Brick. The trackers, with the social aspect of corresponding apps and instant feedback, turn something daunting like exercise into a game and a communal activity.

“It changes the mindset,” Brick said. She uses a heart rate monitor for herself when she works out. Her gyms will be using monitors from MYZONE.

 When it comes to getting accurate data, Brick and Costa both said they feel confident about the accuracy of fitness trackers, especially when used continuously. If there is a major inaccuracy in the data, it’s fairly easy to tell, said Brick.

“People are comfortable with it, they trust the technology.”