How the company behind NordicTrack is targeting long-term success in at-home digital workouts after the pandemic boosted sales by 600%

By Bethany Biron

Before there was Peloton, there was Icon Fitness, and the more than 40-year-old company is intent on making its fitness legacy known to the masses. 

Icon — best known for products like NordicTrack, ProForm, and Freemotion — has long been one of the largest exercise-equipment manufacturers. But the company says what sets it apart in the fast-growing digital-fitness era is iFit, Icon's patented embedded technology system that connects wearable devices and equipment to a cloud-based app where users can monitor their progress in real time. 

While this description matches how nearly every digital-fitness company operates in 2021, Icon was among the first to develop the technology when it debuted iFit in 2000.

Rather than simply tracking real-time health vitals like heart rate, iFit also enables instructors to automatically adjust strength, speed, and resistance during streamed group classes or individual workouts in accordance with a rider's fitness level — no fussing with a dial required.

"We're actually the innovators of the digital-fitness space," Colleen Logan, Icon's senior vice president of marketing, told Insider, adding that iFit helped Icon create the concept of "interactive fitness," which Logan described as a level up from connected fitness.

"Interactive fitness means that in addition to streaming the video and the audio channel from our content, we actually stream an invisible channel that interacts with our equipment and increases speed or decreases the speed or adjusts incline, decline, and resistance in perfect sync with our content," she said.

According to Mark Watterson, the president of iFit, Icon streams workout classes to 1 million paid subscribers across more than 50 countries. Its reach has continued to grow as it looks to expand partnerships with major companies like Planet Fitness, which Icon teamed up with earlier this year to help power the gym chain's new digital platform. 

iFit's technology has also become involved in what Bloomberg recently described as Peloton's "patent wars," a series of legal disputes over copyright and intellectual property with competitors like Icon and Echelon. In February, a judge ruled in favor of Peloton in a patent-infringement lawsuit filed by Icon against Peloton's "auto-follow" feature on its Bike Plus models. In a separate lawsuit filed in November, Peloton alleged Icon stole company trade secrets. 

"We have been doing it for a long time, and we've been innovators and leaders for a long time. And we defend our intellectual property," Logan said in reference to the legal battles.

NordicTrack S22i_cycle_iFit_moab
A woman does a cycling workout.
Icon Fitness

The future of interactive fitness

Like Peloton, Icon also reaped the benefits of the at-home-fitness boom brought on by the pandemic, which prompted sales to increase by 600% year over year in 2020. Now, as it considers an initial public offering, it's estimated to be valued at $7 billion.

According to Logan, Icon's product portfolio is designed to reach a wide variety of consumers at different price points. She described NordicTrack as the company's premium home product, ProForm as its mass-market brand, and Freemotion as its luxury home-workout equipment. Meanwhile, an iFit subscription — which retails at $40 a month — can be used across all of its products.

Icon declined to comment on the possibility of an IPO. But Watterson said he expected Icon — which was already growing at a triple-digit percentage rate before the coronavirus outbreak — to continue to grow at a similar clip as it was before the pandemic once the outbreak subsides.

The fitness company recently began experimenting with new forms of content like meditation and outdoor workouts streamed from iconic sites around the world to diversify offerings. One such workout included a recent class in which Icon filmed climbers ascending Mount Everest as instructors on-site guided users at home on how to simulate the experience on treadmills or stair climbers. 

"It's an interactive experience completely different than a connected experience that maybe customers are more accustomed to," Watterson said.

He added: "More and more people are becoming more health-centric, as the pandemic has drawn more light to the need for overall well-being and — and trying to make sure you're balanced within your physical, mental, and emotional side of your life."