MPH alumnus develops online tool to help users find their perfect (group fitness) match

Ed BuckleyThis New Year’s Day, when millions of Americans are making resolutions to lose weight or exercise more, they’ll have a new resource to help them find an exercise class that’s right for them:

Founded by Ed Buckley, a 2011 alumnus of the college’s Master of Public Health program, helps users search for local group fitness classes or use the site’s tools to build online communities for their own fitness groups.

The idea for was born out of Buckley’s own experience as a group fitness instructor and his need to keep more efficient records of workout plans.

“I would write down my lesson plan on paper and then I’d leave it at my house or at the classroom or forget to bring it to the gym,” said Buckley, a doctoral student in health education and behavior, focus in digital health and wellness at the UF College of Health and Human Performance. “As a fitness instructor you need some sort of system to save and catalog your workouts. I started putting workouts on my cell phone’s notepad, which is kind of a crude tool because it’s just a blank notepad.”

At the same time, Buckley started writing his workout plans on a whiteboard at the gym where he worked.

“We had a huge spike in attendance for the fitness classes so as a researcher, an inquisitive mind, I asked people ‘You’re new to the class. Why did you come?’ And they said ‘Well I saw the workout on the board so I felt a lot more comfortable.’”

Buckley realized that when his group fitness students were able to see what a workout entailed ahead of time they felt less intimidated and more mentally prepared to try a new fitness class. He began developing an online group fitness resource with feedback from fitness industry contacts and with the help of the team he assembled of two UF MBA students and a building construction master’s student. He also studied group fitness trends as part of his special project for the MPH degree.

“The reason group fitness is so important is because the metrics will show you that people who are involved in group fitness will stay with fitness longer than if they’re working out on their own,” Buckley said.

Buckley and his team spent last summer testing with 44 universities, fine tuning the site based on feedback from students and fitness instructors. This fall 18 universities, including UF, launched the program. The team will continue to roll out and test new site features with the goal of expanding to facilities nationwide by January 2012.

“My MPH degree prepared me in two really big areas: program planning and evaluation, and putting together a quality research question,” Buckley said. “So anytime I want to know how something is working for peerFit users, I can look at it from a systemic, methodological approach.”