x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

TechnoGym founder builds an empire of health and fitness

Nerio Alessandri came up with the concept back in the 1980s, and it was an idea way ahead of its time.

Nerio Alessandri’s focus is not just on gym equipment but a rounded approach to health and fitness. Paulo Vecina / The National
Nerio Alessandri’s focus is not just on gym equipment but a rounded approach to health and fitness. Paulo Vecina / The National

Nerio Alessandri started TechnoGym when he was 22 years old. Today at the age of 53, he is married with two children and his company has provided the gym equipment at five Olympic Games, Bill Clinton inaugurated its head office in the Italian city of Cesena and TechnoGym has a turnover exceeding €400 million (Dh2 billion) a year.

Mr Alessandri, who was born in Italy, completed his education as an industrial designer in 1983. But it was while exercising his body rather than mind that he got his big break.

“I was going to a local gym in the early ’80s when there was no technology at all,” Mr Alessandri recalls.

“Just very simple basic bars, dumbbells, benches, free weights. I saw an opportunity as it seemed that gyms were just for bodybuilders. I had the idea that by introducing technology we could create something easier. So I started designing and building the first gym equipment in my garage.”

He built a machine that made squats easier and safer, and sold it to the local gym.

“It was a great success. The gym asked me for more machines and little by little it became my business. That was the beginning of TechnoGym.”

Nowadays Mr Alessandri’s focus is not just on gym equipment but a rounded approach to health and fitness that he refers to as wellness. His company encapsulates a healthy ideal beginning with nutrition and nurturing nascent fitness using the newest technology. He sees the Middle East’s booming hospitality industry as a draw for his equipment. It is the rise of diabetes in the region that, he believes, will increase the visibility of his products.

“The Middle East is one region where we think that growth will come,” he says. “The diabetes problem here is massive and needs to be addressed at all levels of society. Both governments and businesses are addressing this problem and we see more movement now on the issue. Also the hospitality industry is growing very fast in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, with the Fifa World Cup in 2022, which will create huge opportunities for us.”

As its name suggests, technology is one of the most important elements of the TechnoGym line. The company has more than 200 patents and has just opened a “future gym” in the Atlantis Hotel on Palm Jumeirah.

The Atlantis gym embraces Mr Alessandri’s wellness-on-the-go ethic, using cloud technology. Clients can download a personal fitness regime to any TechnoGym machine anywhere in the world.

“In Atlantis we have the Artis line, a concept with two unique features: it is web-connected so people can log in and have a fully personalised experience on the machine’s display.”

The display looks like an iPad. It allows you to run your own training programme, but also your own entertainment – it even has Skype.

“It also creates energy so all the power that is generated by pedalling the machine is fed back to the gym and we contribute to powering the facility, so it is green, clean, sustainable energy from the gym user.”

Being Italian, Mr Alessandri likes to fashion all his machines with a certain sense of style and he cites an impressive list of celebrity clients and endorsements. The world tennis No 1 Rafa Nadal trains with the equipment, TechnoGym is the official supplier of Ferrari’s Formula One team and also works with the McLaren team, while football has embraced his technology with Juventus, Milan and Inter in Italy, Paris Saint-Germain in France and Chelsea in the UK all supporters of the brand. Sports stars may use the machines but Mr Alessandri sees the main change coming from the public perception of what health and wellness means.

“When I began gyms were focused on fitness, muscles and sweat. Now there is a culture which talks about health and prevention which needs to be adopted here,” says Mr Alessandri. “It is a global pattern. We are an Italian company, it is in our DNA, but we are an international company with 90 per cent of our business outside of the country, and that is only growing.”

ascott@thenational.ae