From professional athletes to casual gym users, improving and maintaining one’s fitness is an enduring challenge. For those who lift weights in particular, building muscle is dependent on performing the exercises correctly for any given number of repetitions. Incorrect form and movement can lead to significant injury. The constant problem of successfully performing weightlifting exercises led Jacob Rothman, 25, Jordan Lucier, 24, and Nate Rodman, 25, to create Perch. Perch is software-enabled gym hardware that uses a combination of computer vision and machine learning to track your movement during weightlifting and provide you with instant feedback. Perch recently was a part of Techstars NYC’s 2018 program and won the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Pitch Competition.
Standard weightlifting is the repeated movement of free weights, such as dumbbells or a barbell, for a given number of times, or repetitions (reps). Groups of repetitions are called sets. For a set to be completed properly, a person must move the weights correctly during each repetition. By successfully moving one’s body, the person maximizes the activation of the muscles that the exercise targets. If the repetition is done incorrectly, the targeted muscles not be stretched and compressed. Also, an injury may occur from using other parts of your body to compensate for improper form. Sometimes, one has a friend or fellow gym member ‘spot’ them, or keep a cautious eye on their form as they move heavier weights. While having someone watch you as you lift your weights is extremely helpful, this isn’t common as most people lift their weights alone. Plus, the feedback that your spotter may offer you can vary from person to person. The need for objective, standardized, and immediate feedback is necessary for a weightlifter to maximize their muscle-building regimen while preventing severe injury.
With a clear, unaddressed pain point for disciplined weightlifters, the market opportunity for a solution is lucrative. These potential early adopters of new fitness technology can become trendsetters that lead the casual gym user to want this tech in their local gym as well. Given that the overall fitness market is $30 billion, according to Forbes, there is greater opportunity for an emergent technology to dominate the space.
Perch has positioned itself to address the needs of professional athletes first before expanding their scope to casual gyms. Their solution is a modular camera installed within the free weight squat rack to observe the motion of the weightlifter as they perform their reps. Computer vision is used to identify the bar as it moves in 3D space. Machine learning is applied to determine from the camera’s images whether the bar is being lifted correctly or not given the person’s physical attributes. In addition to getting immediate feedback on whether you’re correctly lifting or not, the hardware can output how fast you were lifting the bar as well. Rothman built Perch on the basis that velocity-based training was the future of weightlifting. Velocity-based training incorporates and emphasis the speed at which you lift weights for a particular exercise. Given the cutting-edge methods in training for weightlifting are velocity-based techniques, Perch’s software-enabled hardware solution allows for instant adoption among professionals. In addition, the product’s ease-of-install makes it a prime candidate for mass adoption in gyms all across the U.S. Perch is planning to work closely with Lousiana State University (LSU) to test out their product in their gym’s to better train their athletes. However, the need for a strong founding team is necessary to usher in this revolution in weightlifting training.
“Our hope is that with Perch, we can begin to build the foundation for “smart gyms” or gyms with equipment that has our technology installed into it, so that from the moment you walk in to when you walk out, you can get comprehensive data on your workout performance so you can improve in your next session,” Rothman says.
Rothman, Rodman, and Lucier are all graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While at MIT, they participated in Delta V, MIT’s premier accelerator for entrepreneurs across the student body, where Perch was first incubated. Rothman’s experience in design and manufacturing at Apple combines well with Rodman’s hardware expertise from working with robots at Tesla and Lucier’s machine learning experience honed at Broadway Technologies. Together, these three have perched themselves in a position to kickstart a revolution in fitness technologies for all.