Technology in fitness – are we seeing a social revolution?

When you stop and analyse it, it’s quite staggering how technology has changed our lives. The whole purpose of this blog is to look at how technology in fitness is revolutionising how we motivate ourselves to get fit, how we go about getting fit and then how we stay in shape by continuing our workout regimes. Technology in fitness has gone through two distinct phases in my opinion, the first was technology which can help us measure our progress and to push ourselves more and the second phase, 2.0 if you will, will focus on social fitness.

Fitness in technology 1.0 – Measuring and pushing

Technology first started making a big impact on the fitness World with the advent of the heart rate monitor. When Polar launched their first ever heart rate monitor 35 years ago they kicked off a fitness technology revolution. For the first time, everyday gym goers and fitness enthusiasts could actually measure their progress over time, allowing them to work to improve their fitness with scientific precision.

The fitness technology market emerged into a multi-billion dollar industry, with Polar at the forefront alongside Garmin, with a wealth of competitors behind. These fitness technology giants launched huge ranges of products, from affordable heart rate monitors to advanced wearable fitness technology which measures everything pertaining to your performance.

More latterly, the historic giants of the fitness world, like Nike, have got involved with their Nike+ fuelband which is captivating the wearable fitness technology market and is making technology in fitness even more commonplace amongst everyday folk.

Fitness in technology 2.0 – the advent of social fitness

I think the past two years have seen the emergence of a whole new area which is affecting fitness in technology and the role that it plays. The rapid emergence and proliferation of smartphones and other connected devices has meant that huge chunks of the UK and USA market have access to fitness applications.

Fitness apps take on a whole range of guises, from diet tracking to workout tracking, incorporating workout building and training tips and tricks (with an endless supply of six pack abs shortcuts, it must be said).

One emerging feature is the idea of getting fit with your friends, and this is commonplace across swathes of these apps. This becomes a form of social networking around fitness, encouraging users to share their workouts and their daily calories with their friends. On the surface of things, this sounds mighty tedious, but it could just trigger an upsurge in people working out and actually pushing themselves.

Theres nothing like a bit of ‘friendly competition’ to ignite a competitive spirit, and this is always evident when you watch two men (usually, but it can of course also be women) training together. If one pumps out a set of 12 reps, the other must beat that. If one guy is running at 12km an hour, the other bumps his treadmill up to 12.5KM. If one sprints at 17km, the other goes a bit faster or a few seconds longer. You get the point – friends and friends rivalry pushes people to perform that little bit closer to, or beyond the confides of their comfort zone. So much of improving fitness requires you to do that, so this sort of in gym rivalry is a great portion of the reason why it’s generally accepted that people get fitter when they attend the gym with a friend. Friends attend the gym more frequently, push themselves harder and get better results.

Now the great problem is that it isn’t typically possible for many people to train together, at least not frequently. I live in London, where the pace of life is extreme. People eat out all the time, socialize most nights and work to squeeze in workouts where they can. Many travel for up to two hours to get to work and repeat the feat to get home every night, and friends and colleagues typically live a good distance apart. This obviously isn’t conductive to a consistent training route, however good the fitness technology, and therefore training together is a tough ask. However, what is fitness in technology, or more specifically the new wave of social fitness could change that?

Fitness technology is not going to change people’s hectic lives but what if it could give the benefit of training with a friend, without actually having to? Social fitness apps enable people to share their workouts with their friends, and whilst there isn’t ever going to be that immediate feedback loop (‘he just got 12 reps, I need 13+’) but might people push that bit harder if they know their friend is doing the same workout that day? Mentally it isn’t a huge leap, instead of ‘he just got 12, I need 13’ it becomes ‘he might get 15, so I need to smash this!’. The sense of unknown could actually be even more powerful.

Then there’s the diet side of things. It’s well-known that making people accountable for what they eat means they eat better. This has often been in the form of dieticians, or more realistically personal trainers, pushing their clients to write down everything they eat. Apps are replacing black books for this job, and social fitness can make dieters even more accountable. If you’re working to shed a few founds, you may do so with a friend. I have known both men and women who have entered diets together, often with a shared goal like an upcoming holiday or the start of a new year to push them along. In the long dark nights of winter, it’s easy to sneak down a big bar of chocolate or to generally cheat when nobody is looking. Being made to write everything you eat down can make a person feel guilty – essentially guilt tripping them out of doing the bad deed, but what social fitness and fitness in technology could amplify that? Admitting to your dieting buddy that you just had a mini-meltdown and consumed 1,000 calories of chocolate may be all the more painful!


So in conclusion, the fitness in technology market may be changing again. The elements are definitely here to stay, but perhaps social fitness could be the next revolution. One look at the app stores shows that enough app developers buy in, and the download numbers are growing strongly.