Tech Flex

A Seattle Startup’s AI Designs Your Workout

From the U.S. Department of Defense to a rugby team in Senegal, Volt Athletics users aren't just work-from-homers.

By Erin Wong January 15, 2021

Volt app with barbell

Volt's app has more than one million subscribers.

Dan Giuliani, cofounder and CEO of Volt Athletics, has a question for the greater fitness technology industry: “What’s the blueprint? What is the road map to becoming overall healthier, fitter, happier?” Sure, wearable devices offer all kinds of intel, from daily steps to a recovering heart rate. But what do you do with all that data?

The artificial intelligence at Giuliani’s Seattle-based startup seeks to, at least in part, write that road map for its users. With more than one million ongoing subscriptions, Volt’s app generates long-term strength and conditioning programs based on users' goals, experience, and available equipment, adjusting the intensity with user feedback on how challenging they found certain workouts. Every training program designed by the AI, known as Cortex, draws from a combination of research and industry best practices, all of which meet the approval of experts certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

For individuals, the app acts like a pocket-sized personal trainer. You enter your height, weight, and age, indicate your equipment (or lack thereof), select a training purpose, and Cortex prepares the first week’s worth of a 52-week program. During your workout, Volt guides you hands-free through several circuits, with looping videos of the exercise, and a voice timer announcing the next set or seconds of recovery. It suggests warm-up routines and post-workout add-ons, like core strength training, although the options might be hard to wade through for beginners.

When Volt first introduced its program to individuals, the app saw the most success in gyms, where athletes could access a range of equipment and walk in with a plan. Mid-pandemic, the market for online fitness guidance flooded, with giants like Nike Training Club providing at-home programs for free (at least, for members). Volt, a team of 25 based in Fremont, saw the storm approaching, one in which Apple Fitness+ and fellow industry giants could flatten smaller apps that depend on the Apple and Google Play stores to get downloaded in the first place. “Anytime the owner of the biggest marketplace competes directly with your product, you're in trouble, right?” Giuliani says.

Volt app

While engaging individual consumers remains a challenge, Volt’s looking to expand its list of institutional partners. With tactical experts on staff, Volt has landed contracts with local fire departments, law enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Defense, including a partnership with the air force. While an American football team in Finland, a rugby team in Senegal, and the Texas National Guard might seem like strange bedfellows, they’re united by a demand for flexible, efficiently administered exercise regimes.

The company’s also begun to partner with Optum, a health service provider with a focus on preventative care, including overall fitness. It’s Volt’s Day One clients, however—high schools and colleges—where the company’s seen the most growth in the pandemic. Coaches and P.E. teachers can use the app’s management platform to develop personalized training plans, then track their athletes’ progress from afar. In the future, Giuliani aims to scale this model: “I want to help a trainer or a coach who currently works with 10 people to work with 100.”

Back in the early 2010s, Giuliani, then a high school coach, typed up training plans and printed Excel spreadsheets he’d hand out to his students. Trevor Watkins, his roommate and best friend (and an IT consultant at Accenture), watched the painstaking process with intrigue. Then, like so many other founders, they just had to ask: What if we could make that system more efficient?

Now that they’re rounding their mid-30s and considering broadening that fitness blueprint to include nutrition, physical therapy, and other aspects of holistic health, the cofounders’ faith in Volt’s trajectory matches their faith in long-term training: “We know it takes time,” Giuliani says. “We know it takes patience and progression.”

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