Perth-headquartered fitness chain SpeedFit has broadened its horizons by becoming a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provider in a bid to help the hearing and visually impaired get more active.
Specialising in personal training with electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) equipment, SpeedFit now has 31 locations across WA, NSW, VIC, SA and the ACT, of which 12 are outside the company's home state.
Multi-site deals signed recently in NSW are anticipated to lift the total number to 40 studios by the end of 2024, while the company has appointed Julie Lin as its new head of growth to help expand the brand across Australia and New Zealand with the goal to reach 180-plus locations.
Founder Matej Varhalik first used EMS in his native Slovakia as a convenient, 20-minute low-impact workout to help regain fitness without aggravating his back pain.
Having travelled to Australia a few times with his wife Zuzana, he realised the technology was 'virtually unheard of' here, so in 2013 the couple moved to Australia with their daughter, leading Varhalik to study a Diploma in Sports and Recreational Management and a Certificate III before setting up the business.
Now running for nigh on a decade, SpeedFit has been used by almost 52,000 clients and Varhalik is keen to make the technology accessible for more people. Based on the initiative of the group's health promotion and training officer Bachar Skayni, in 2021 a decision was made to research EMS applications for health.
"I just empowered him to do more research. We allocated time for him to investigate, and we built it from there," Varhalik tells Business News Australia.
"We identified a gap that hearing and visually impaired people don’t have easy access to traditional forms of exercise - it’s tricky for them because of physical limitations.
"When we were doing our R&D activities, we realised that no one was catering to this market. We ran a few tests and discovered our advanced EMS technology was perfectly suited to the needs of this population. Across select studios we can now offer these NDIS participants a suitable and effective solution to fitness."
Skayni says the science of exercise and physical activity (PA) is heavily and regularly tested, and it has become clear that being physically active is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
"We ran preliminary research and observed a gap within the health and fitness industry in the way of providing PA to those living with disabilities and chronic illness, as they had no tailored PA training programs," he explains.
"Specifically, it was observed that those with hearing and visual impairment, as well as spinal cord injuries, faced various physical, social, and environmental barriers that limited their degree of participation in PA, thus further diminishing their overall health and quality of life."
He says this led the team to undergo a series of operational changes, creating a comprehensive course about disabilities to upskill instructors, educating them about how to work with people living with disabilities.
"We established internal systems to meet the NDIS registration requirements. We improved our studios' accessibility and ensured that all our spaces were safe for people living with disabilities. Finally, we created a series of training programs that we will test, and assess the impact and benefit of in our local communities."
Varhalik says another area of focus has been tailoring the offering to people with diabetes, for whom it was believed for a long time that EMS was unsafe due to the lack of research into its effects.
"We compared a lot of data from around the world, and we cracked the code that we can train people with a certain level of diabetes," he says.
"We created our own tool for assessing people, and based on their answers we can create scoring points: if you score from zero to 100, we can train you safely; if you are 100 to 150, you need to have a clearance from the doctor; and if you are about 150 we cannot advise you and we can’t train you.
The entrepreneur hopes that within two years these two strands he labels as 'health initiatives' will represent around 30 per cent of SpeedFit's business.
"We can can create not just the fitness offering, but more of a wellness offering, because we see the EMS application has so many benefits and is a safe application for people who may not be inclined to attend normal gyms and group exercises," he says.
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