Dos and don’ts of building
online fitness applications:
best design practices

Design a great app that will meet your customers’ expectations. Discover best UX practices used in the top custom e-fitness applications such as Yoga International, Freeletics, and AAptiv.

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What features top online fitness apps have
How to structure your video sessions & courses
How to learn about your customers’ needs
How to keep users engaged and motivated

Extraordinary times for online sports

The E-fitness industry is growing and there is no doubt about it. A recent analysis by Report Ocean found the online fitness market is anticipated to reach $44.7 billion globally by 2026, compared to $6 billion globally in 2019.

In response to the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, downloads of fitness and health apps increased by 47% in Q2 alone, and many streaming services experienced dramatic increases in demand.

The growth on an unprecedented scale has affected both businesses that were started as offline businesses (with Covid-19 as a catalyst for digitalization, forcing them to rethink how they can reach their members) and those that were online from the very beginning (with Covid-19 as a growth accelerator).

Lauren Foundos has been successfully running an online boutique fitness platform since 2015. Like many other entrepreneurs from the fitness sector, she forecasts the future to lie in a hybrid model: 

“I believe the future will be a blend of the two worlds. COVID-19 has forced many more people to try apps faster than they would have. And, the overall opinion is favorable.

This current situation sped up the evolution that was already happening. Studios need to create digital platforms, and users demand that from their favorite brands. A digital offering is no longer optional. It’s a must. Zoom, Instagram, and Facebook are great, free ways to connect to your community, but they are most certainly not long-term solutions.”

So, with virtual space and online fitness becoming the new normal, building a fitness app is no longer a question of if. It’s a matter of when and how.

Having built over 50 digital products with clients from all over the world, we can testify that building software products is not an easy feat. It’s a complex project that requires:

  • a prior experience in building digital products
  • the ability to meet your customers’ needs (that you may not really know at this stage)
  • remaining competitive in a rapidly growing market

To help founders design great apps that would meet their clients’ expectations, our design team put together some of the UX best practices used in the top custom e-fitness applications.

The ebook covers:

  • the features of top online fitness applications 
  • how top players structure their courses
  • how they uncover user needs
  • best practices to keep user engagement high

Ready, set… stop!

Not so fast! Before we move on to discussing different types of features that these top online fitness applications have, let’s stop for a moment.

The truth is that when it comes to app development, having ideas is just the beginning of a long journey. And just like with sports, starting without the right preparation can easily lead to having an injury that can effectively prevent you from finishing the race.)

You may have heard that 9 out of 10 startups fail. But did you know that these statistics haven’t changed for the past 10 years? According to the recent Failory report on the Startup Failure Rate, 34% of those failures are caused by the lack of product-market fit – meaning that they failed to meet users’ needs and expectations.

So how to start in the right way?

Learning your customers’ needs

The first step of building an online fitness application – or any digital product, to be honest – is to learn your customers’ needs and get to know what problem your app is supposed to solve. Before you start listing your app’s features, you need to identify your customers’ major Jobs-to-be-done, the pains they face when trying to accomplish their Jobs-to-be-done, and the gains they expect by getting their jobs done. Then, you define the most important components of your offering, how you relieve pain, and create gains for your customers. Value Proposition Canvas from Startegyzer comes very useful at this stage.

Building online fitness applications - unique value proposition canvas
source: Strategyzer

The thing is, your users don’t need specific features. They need to solve a specific problem. 

Let’s take an example: gamification features. Cool, right? But do the users really need them? What they really need is something that would help them build habits. And this can be achieved in many different ways: push notifications, challenges, badges, rewards. If you start thinking about these ways before you name the problem, you may simply miss it, being too focused on the color of the badge for the most persistent users.

Know your competitors

Step two. Once you know your customers’ goals and needs, once you understand their problems and know how you can help them, take a look around and see how other companies approach these problems.

If you want to compete, you need to know what you compete with. Note that your competitors are not only those who have a product similar to yours but with different designs or some non-core features. Your competitors are the ones who solve the same problem – in any possible way.
In order to create unique value, you need to understand your competition as a different way of solving the problem that you are attacking.

Matt Kurleto, CEO at Neoteric

Discover products of your competitors and try to make some benchmarks. Focus on the problems you have listed before and see how other companies approach these problems. How do they structure their content to make it accessible and easy to search? What information do they present to help their customers choose the right training session? What registration options do they use to make creating an account as easy as possible? What payment methods do they use? Don’t limit your research to the online fitness industry, though. Take advantage of the selective perception you have at this stage and see how other industries approach problems that your customers have.

💡 Example: if you see that your customers struggle to find time and motivation to train every day, see other situations when people face similar challenges. Learning languages may be a good analogy – it also requires persistence, it takes time to see results, and it requires lots of self-motivation. See how apps such as Duolingo or Busuu keep their users engaged. Look for other inspirations from outside your industry as well!

At this stage, you collect inspirations. And that’s what the next part of this ebook is about!

Dos – how to design a top user experience for your customers

Top fitness apps do not win the market by providing their users with some unusual features. They win by providing their users with features that they need and by making sure that using them is dead easy.

But how do they do it? Let’s get inspired by the top fitness applications and see how you can support users in achieving their sports goals:

Help them find the content they need – regardless of the device they use

Think of how the users would search for your training session. What parameters are important for them? If you haven’t done it yet, try to ask them how they choose training sessions. Don’t be surprised if it turns out that they consider different variables, e.g. duration, level, style, or even necessary equipment. 

This need for flexibility is something that yoga apps’ creators clearly understand! In most popular applications, you will find different filters that you can mix to find content that is most adjusted to your needs.

Building online fitness applications - Yoga Anytime app - filters
Yoga Anytime app – filters

As your app’s content becomes more and more extensive over time, your users are going to need a lot of help to get to what they want in the most efficient way.

Content findability is an important factor in your user experience, and it’s highly recommended to plan for it ahead of time.

Hint 1: List the properties that you can use to describe your content. It’s a great starting point for figuring out your filtering options. Then ask users to prioritize the list in order to determine the potential visual hierarchy of those options, or even exclude some of them – if they find them confusing.

Hint 2: Build the advanced features of your app mobile-first. According to Statista.com, mobile accounts for approximately half of the web traffic worldwide. There’s a very high chance that your users would like to access your content on their phone, and an easy way to filter your content is even more important on smaller screens.

Konrad Majewski, UX/UI Designer
Building online fitness applications - Yoga International app - mobile-first filters
Yoga International app – mobile-first filters

Make your content easier to discover

When you want your users to train at home, your competitors aren’t only other fitness apps. It is also a sofa in your customer’s living room, right in front of a TV connected to Netflix.

The cool thing about Netflix is that it knows what we want to watch. Giving users the ability to browse movies manually, it is always ready to suggest something based on what they watched in the past. They can easily return to watching series they have recently started or watch something new that is very likely to suit their taste.

Netflix doesn’t risk that their users won’t be able to find anything and decide to turn the TV off and do something else instead (some training, perhaps?). And when competing for those users’ attention – you shouldn’t take that risk either!

The designers of YogaAnytime understand that perfectly! Here is how they present dropped training sessions next to the recommended ones.

Building online fitness applications - Yoga Anytime - welcome screen recommendations
Yoga Anytime – welcome screen recommendations

What’s even more important, the entire starting page of the app presents many different types of content which encourages users to try new activities, and find what they like.

Konrad Majewski, UX/UI Designer

Hint: Make sure that finding the relevant training session is super easy for your users. Even if you’re not ready to make personalized recommendations using AI (you need a lot of data to get there!), you can use tags and base your recommendation on these tags: if a user watched 3 videos with #HathaYoga class, he may enjoy other Hatha Yoga sessions as well. 

Let them plan their future training sessions

Another cool thing about Netflix is that it helps its users remember what they wanted to watch. So whenever they browse recommendations or the catalog, and they find something interesting but not necessarily right at this particular moment, they can add it to their list and watch it later.

Fitness app users are not that different from Netflix subscribers. In fact, they are very often the same people. And just like they save movies they would like to watch someday, they may save video trainings that are:

  • too long for the specific moment (but perfect for the weekend)
  • too advanced for their level (but they would like to get there)
  • or simply different from what they are searching for (but still cool).

Hint: When organizing your content in an app and thinking about different lists or catalogs, consider how your users can customize their training plans. Here is how they do it in the Do You app: In the preview of every session, you can add it to Favorites simply by clicking on the heart button.

Building online fitness applications - Do You app - add to favorites
Do You app – add to favorites

Let them train whenever they want

Even though it’s obvious for fitness businesses that are, and have always been, 100% online, it’s worth to note that the virtual fitness industry has become attractive to offline fitness businesses as well – especially in the times of Covid-19 restrictions.

Due to these restrictions, the habits of their clients changed and it’s not so obvious that they will change back once the pandemic is over. As noticed by Loren Holland, CEO & Founder at GymNation:

This is a trend we had already identified prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a predominantly brick-and-mortar operator, we wanted to ensure that we are not only connected with our members as much as possible when they aren’t in the gym but we also provide members with the possibility of being able to exercise when they are traveling for business or leisure.

Hint: Even though live sessions are very popular as they give users a feeling of training in a real class, publishing video sessions in a form of on-demand videos may help those of your customers whose daily schedule is not fixed.

Help them adjust their spendings to their needs

Even though the subscription-based model is the most popular solution, some online fitness businesses offer their customers other payment options as well. Just like in a fitness studio – you can either buy a monthly pass or a single ticket.

You can also have different subscription levels or a mix of subscription and extra credits, and let your customers choose between a Basic and a Pro plan. Just like AArmy does: AArmy, a NY-based fitness studio that offers classes conducted by some of the most recognizable coaches in the United States, offers a subscription to access pre-recorded on-demand videos and extra credits that their customers can buy to access live sessions.

Building online fitness applications - AArmy app
AArmy app

Hint: Find out how much your customers are willing to pay for your app and what they expect to get for that price. Keep in mind, though, that the more complex pricing you have, the more complicated it gets to use your service. If you’re just starting out, a simple subscription-based model will most likely be enough.

Help them stick to new habits

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. The time required to do it ultimately depends on the habit itself – yes, certain habits take longer to form. And we’ve got some bad news:

As demonstrated in the study, many participants found it easier to adopt the habit of drinking a glass of water at breakfast than do 50 situps after morning coffee.

The more effort the new habit takes, the longer we need to get used to it. And let’s face it: daily training does take an effort.

Armed with this knowledge, fitness app founders often try to make sticking to the habit of training easier for their customers. How do they do it? Many online fitness companies try to challenge their customers – just as Do You app does. When the users join the challenge, they are supposed to do specific exercises for a specific time (usually it’s 14, 21, or 30 days). The challenge can be goal-oriented (e.g. the split challenge, perfect abs challenge) or time-oriented (e.g. 30 sun salutations for 30 days, 30 days of yoga challenge).

Building online fitness applications - Do You app - challenges
Do You app – challenges

Why does it work? Because it’s easier to make a resolution for 30 days than a resolution that should be kept for a whole year. It’s all about taking small steps.

Feel free to reward your users with badges (just as Do You app does) or limited access to some additional training sessions.

Adding a social aspect to the challenge, just as Aaptive does, can additionally increase the engagement of your customers. Their challenges are time-limited and the users join one of two teams. And here is where the competition begins! It’s a mix of two strong action drivers: the desire to win and the disfavor to let others down.

Artur Tuchowski, UI/UX Designer
Building online fitness applications - Aaptiv fitness app - group challenge
Aaptiv fitness app

Another way of engaging users and reminding them about their daily exercises is to add push notifications to your app. Daily reminders may not make them drop everything they’re doing and start training but at least you won’t let them forget about their exercise plan.

Hint: No matter how you want to engage your customers, make sure you do it. Remember that your biggest competitor is not another fitness app – it’s a sofa tempting your customers to become couch potatoes.

Don’ts – how to avoid ruining your customers’ user experience

Good online fitness products support their clients by helping them achieve their sports goals but also by helping them avoid unpleasantries. See how they eliminate the bumps and what you can do to make your online training sessions more enjoyable and easier to stick to.

Don’t let your users get bored

Building an online fitness business is a never-ending story. Just like you would buy new equipment for your stationary gym or a fitness studio, add new classes or simply modify training sessions, you need to keep providing your app’s users with new content regularly.

What do we mean by “regularly”? Honestly, it depends on your capacities and on the amount of content you already have. Recognized fitness studios such as the AArmy release new practice sessions every day but it doesn’t mean you need to do the same from day one. If you have 200 videos and can make an additional 1-2 every week – it’s fine. The worst thing you can do is to leave your users with a limited number of sessions and make them do the same training sessions all over again. No matter how great they are, after some time, they will simply become boring.

Hint: Remember to grow your app! When you already have an app, create new content regularly, come up with new challenges, and listen to your users. When building your app from scratch, make sure that it’s easy to add new content and that the app is scalable – meaning that it can handle more videos or anything else you will come up with.

Don’t ignore their needs

According to Gartner’s 2017-2018 Gartner CMO Survey, marketing leaders invested two-thirds of their budget to support customer retention and growth. Spending on activities that focus on existing customers is outpacing spending on new customer acquisition. What you can learn from them? Simply put: that customer experience matters.

Your customers need to know that you care and that you want to make your fitness app meet as many of their needs as possible. The bad news is that it’s not enough to claim it. The good news is that it’s not that hard to show it.

Freeletics builds a personalized experience from the first interaction with the app. The message they send is that they want the training sessions to be perfectly adjusted to each user’s goals and needs but also to their limitations.

Artur Tuchowski, UI/UX Designer
Building online fitness applications - Freeletics fitness app - customization
Freeletics fitness app

Another good practice is to… collect feedback. Simple in-app surveys will help you find out if the users like your new feature or a new training program. You can also let them rate videos and courses – that way, you will be able to produce more of the content they like.

Unfortunately, no matter how many user interviews you conduct, you will never know your customers’ needs with 100% accuracy. And there are two cognitive biases to be blamed: a social desirability bias and an interviewer error. Simply put, as human beings, we want to look good and we tend to respond in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. So how to collect reliable information about your users’ needs?

Analyze their behavior. See how often they use your app, how much time an average session lasts, how long it takes them to choose the training session, and which exercises have the highest exit rate. Make sure that your app has an analytics module that will help you track key metrics of your choice.

Don’t let your users struggle with finding the right course

If some of your customers are not sure of what they are searching for, the filtering options may not come as a huge help. In this case, you need to make sure that the catalog of your training sessions and programs is both appealing and easy to browse.

Yoga International provides its users with a simple list of videos with a preview option. Without entering the session, they are also able to see the teacher, level, duration, and branch. All that information helps users choose the session adjusted to their current needs in a quick and handy way.

Martyna Kucińska, UI/UX Designer
Building online fitness applications - Yoga International - yoga fitness app
Yoga International app

However, note that if the structure of your trainings is more complex and instead of providing your customers with a collection of videos to choose from, you want to offer them carefully designed programs, such an overview may not be enough. In this case, it may be a good idea to prepare “one-pagers” with key information about your course. Here is an example from Gymondo:

Building online fitness applications - Gymondo fitness app - yoga course description
Gymondo

In the overview of a training program, Gymondo users can see workout examples, a number of workouts in this program, how it is structured, and what equipment is needed. It also gives information about the purpose of the whole program and who is it for. Notice, however, that it’s not overloaded with the information. The design is neat and clean and even though users can find a lot of details about the program, getting a brief overview of what it is won’t take them more than a few seconds.

Hint: Think carefully about how you structure information. Make sure that it’s presented in an aesthetic way and that you users get to know the minimum they need to make the decision.

Time to build your own app?

We hope that these inspirations will help you design your perfect fitness app that will help your customers achieve their sports goals.

Remember, though, that these are just the inspirations. The process of fitness app development does not start with listing the features you’d like to have and designing them in a way you like. It starts with the research: talking to your customers, learning what their needs are and building your value proposition.

No matter at what point of this process you are now, we’re here to support you.

If you have an idea but you’re not sure where to start, our product development team will help you define the value drivers for your customers and decide how your products and services ease their pains and create gains. 

And if you already have clear goals and validated ideas, you’ve talked to your customers and understand their needs, but you’re still not sure where to start the development, we will help you plan the development of your app, prioritize the features to align project scope with your deadlines and make sure that you deliver value for your customers from the very beginning.

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Copyright © 2021 Neoteric. All rights reserved.

Authors: Claudia Słowik, Martyna Kucińska, Konrad Majewski, Artur Tuchowski

The Neoteric logo is a registered trademark Neoteric sp. z o.o. (LLC). Dos and don’ts of building online fitness applications: best design practices, the cover image, and related trade dress are trademarks of Neoteric sp. z o.o.

While all contributing parties have tried their best to ensure that the information contained in this publication is reliable, Neoteric disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information and shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in such information. This publication consists of the opinions of the contributors and should not be construed as generally applicable statements of fact. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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