January 23, 2023
Industry Insight
Jake Cawdery

What is fitness gamification?

If you’ve ever perfected your Ariana Grande routine on Just Dance or shunned the office lift for the staircase to reach your daily step target, you’ll have some idea of just how seamlessly the ideas of fitness and gaming can complement each other.

For a wide range of businesses - e.g. exercise equipment and device retailers and fitness app developers, through to gym owners, and health and wellness specialists - fitness gamification has the potential to boost user engagement with your product offering, widen your user base and increase brand loyalty. To illustrate this in action, here’s how the best bits of gaming can level up your fitness marketing initiatives. 

What is Gamification?

Gamification is where you take one or more of the core elements of gaming and apply them to a non-game product or a real-life activity. For product developers and marketers, it involves understanding how games work and considering how these mechanics might enhance product design and presentation.  

Fitness gamification 

Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular gaming elements, and how they can be applied to both IRL and virtual fitness products.


1. Daily Challenge 

When those box fresh runners arrive, you want to try them out straight away. Without the occasional dose of encouragement, however, that initial enthusiasm can fade fairly rapidly. The apps are ignored; the protein shake subscriptions go unrenewed, and the exercise bike finds a new role as a clothes horse.  

A regular nudge - i.e. a gentle prompt or a snippet of inspiration - can often be just what’s needed to ingrain fitness at a chronic level. Gamified features such as daily or weekly challenges can be especially useful for this. They keep your product on the customer’s radar, remind them why they were drawn to it first, and can provide the trigger to spur them into action. 

2. Level up 

Customers’ ultimate goals - e.g. the ability to do 10k in less than 50 mins, or reach noticeable glute gains - can seem a long way off; sometimes even impossibly so. 

This is where the level up principle proves valuable. You can essentially guide product usage by segmenting it into levels, with each one slightly more difficult than the last, thereby splitting the journey to that end goal into much more psychologically manageable chunks. There’s a further important engagement driver at work here: we keep “playing” (i.e. using the product) precisely because we want to see what’s coming next, and how well we can handle it. 

3. Badge 

Marketers need to know about dopamine: the neurotransmitter that’s triggered whenever we achieve something or experience pleasure. By incorporating common gaming reward features into product usage - e.g. badges, points and trophies - you can trigger or amplify that dopamine hit to help keep customers coming back for more. There is also the possibility of converting some virtual rewards into vouchers, free gifts and other real-life perks. 

4. Leaderboard 

A lot of the messaging surrounding fitness marketing focuses on reaching personal milestones. However, once you widen the message beyond the personal to include elements such as collaboration, friendly competition and peer group comparisons, it can have huge benefits in terms of both user engagement and brand building. 

Example features to consider here include leaderboards, group tasks and friend challenges; perhaps with links to socials and rewards for getting friends onboard. Actively promoting this can help expand brand reach in an organic, cost-effective way. 

Examples of fitness gamification 

The Yoga app, Glo, is a good illustration of how the elegant integration of basic game dynamics can enhance a fairly traditional fitness product offering. This subscription-based service offers thousands of classes and pieces of content covering yoga, pilates, meditation and general fitness. Features such as simple gamified difficulty-level icons and interactive goal tracking help users to really get the most out of the content and keep them coming back for more. 

On the simple, ‘daily nudge’ front, apps such as Playfitt deliver users a daily dose of customised activity goals and performance-based rewards, while simultaneously helping users track progress via mobile. 

Meanwhile, if your ambitions stretch to a fully immersive game-like experience, Peloton’s recently rolled-out 'Lanebreak' feature is worth looking at for inspiration. Choose your track, select your playlist and chase your “Beats”, “Breakers” and “Streams” to notch up a new high score. A recent Engadget review remarked how it looks and feels much more like Guitar Hero than any traditional instructor-led studio setup.  

What next? 

For any fitness-focused business, the potential of gamification is definitely worth exploring. This might involve researching whether gamified features might help you smooth out some of the sticking points associated with your product; i.e. those areas in the customer journey where engagement tends to fall off. Likewise, it’s worth considering whether the introduction of game-like elements could help you engage with new groups of customers, including, for instance, younger audiences or those who might otherwise be intimidated by the idea of old-school workouts. 

The 2023 Fitness Consumer

Having notched up an impressive XP score in the field of fitness marketing recently, our consultants have produced an analysis of the trends most likely to shape the sector this year. You can take a look here.

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