Fitness Designed for Every Body
ISE Magazine -Volume 49: Number 02
By Cassandra Johnson

As a young boy, Ryan Eder loved to draw and thought it would be amazing to find a career that would enable him to continue his creative pursuits. When he approached college age, Eder was tipped off to the industrial design program at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP). “I remember taking a tour while in high school and seeing a drawing of an iron and the actual model right next to it. … I saw the connection of my drawings becoming real. … That’s really all I wanted to do, so I signed up and continued to fall in love with it.”

A few years later Eder was working out at a gym and saw a man in a wheelchair struggling, and that sparked his interest in what people with limited abilities face when dealing with exercise equipment. “It’s hard for any of us to try to be active and maintain physical health, let alone if you’re dealing with products and systems that aren’t designed with you in mind,” Eder said.

Fast forward to senior year and Eder chose to tackle the topic of exercise machines for people with limited abilities. Eder worked with paraplegics and incomplete quadriplegics (people with no movement below the waist and limited dexterity in their arms) for his thesis to understand the physical, cognitive and emotional challenges they face. He even joined a wheelchair football league and worked out in rented wheelchairs to research a design concept he called Access Strength.

“Two things really stood out,” said Eder. “One was that anyone I talked to who was in a wheelchair had zero interest in a wheelchair-only system. … [The other] was that people wanted a universal system that can accommodate everybody, regardless of whether they were in a wheelchair or not.”

In 2007, Eder entered his thesis in the student category for Industrial Designers Society of America’s International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) – a competition for corporations, design firms and students – and won best in show and people’s choice. The next year Apple would win best in show for the iPhone.

“It rocked my world,” Eder remembered. “I started traveling around the country to share this idea and felt guilty because people were asking me where to get it, but I didn’t have anything to actually deliver.”

Eder used his recognition to push his concept further, partnering with the University of Cincinnati and investors at CincyTech and Proctor & Gamble (P&G) to build earlystage prototypes of his design.

Throughout the process, he developed various solutions to issues people with limited mobility faced.

“They ranged from user stability while exercising to a lot of dexterity issues, whether it’s adjusting the equipment to get in the right position, changing the weight [or] how you hold the grips if you don’t have strong dexterity,” Eder said.

Eder also knew it was important to position the machine so everybody – no matter their size or whether they were sitting in a wheelchair or standing – could access it. He examined every element and interaction of the equipment, looking at how engineering design could improve things. Through this process, he patented a pulley configuration, weight selection dial and adjustable handles.

After Eder made a prototype that had all of the individual innovations with P&G, he worked to raise more than $500 million from different groups in the Ohio area. At the same time, Eder was working at Priority Designs, an industrial design consulting firm based in Columbus, Ohio. He ended up hiring the company to develop the first Access Strength model, giving birth to IncludeFitness.

To shop the machine in the market, Eder had a custom showroom built to resemble a mobile gym. “So we took it on this tour really to validate the function and feel of the machine and everybody loved it. But around 2013 people started talking about digital health, the Quantified Self and the power of data, and I’m realizing we may have the opportunity to do something bigger [than address] physical ease-of-use,” Eder said.

He then floated the concept of integrating a cloud-based system that enabled users to download and browse through various workouts and exercises or create their own and record high-fidelity data in the background.

“People’s eyes got really big. … So we went out and raised more money to develop that as well,” Eder said. Eder and his team developed cloud software that captures high-fidelity data through sensor technology. The IFCloud became the epicenter of IncludeFitness, and Access Strength became a conduit to feed the data into the cloud.

“The information we collect through the sensors gives us a tremendous amount of data at our fingertips and can provide insights on an individual basis,” Eder said.

The data can reveal how a user is responding to his or her workout or how a whole demographic obtains a certain outcome.

“We realized as we were doing this that we have a big value proposition in the way we deliver care, whether that’s in the healthcare networks, community centers [or] universities,” Eder said. “We could really do something big.”

Eder’s initial goal to provide easily accessible fitness to people in various demographics evolved to include optimizing the value of care from a provider and payer standpoint – in his words, getting people healthier as quickly as possible for as long as possible and in the most efficient way.

The technology enables rehabilitation for almost any muscle because the machine is loaded with hundreds of upper and lower body exercises available to anybody – whether seated, standing or perched in a wheelchair. When it comes to IncludeFitness, Eder said, “Some people are very interested in the inclusivity, some people are interested for the data and [for] some it’s a combination.”

Eder decided to take on his business full-time in 2014 and since then has pre-sold units to inpatient and outpatient care facilities, universities, community centers and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which plans to install the equipment early this year.