New Apps, Wearables and VR: How Gamification has Transformed Fitness

In today’s era of entertainment, gaming has quickly become highly profitable. This increased attention to gaming crosses various industries. Recently, the booming fitness industry has begun to capitalize on the widespread love for competition-based games, seeing tremendous growth because of it. Fitness gamification creatively infuses the highly popular elements of competitive video games into workouts. With gamification, the fitness industry has revitalized customer’s passion for an active lifestyle.

The allure around gaming is multifaceted

Structuring fitness activities and workouts to resemble games addresses a large complaint many have with fitness- a lack of noticeable progress. The use of milestones and scores in gamified workouts allows for easy tracking of gains and losses. Instead of waiting weeks and months to see any progress, the win/loss nature of games grants instant workout feedback and gratification. Gamification appeals to sedentary gamers who value the imagination and challenges of video games. Those that enjoy video games’ immersive stories can see fitness as pointless, or a means to no end, however, by incorporating game-like competition, there is a distinct goal to work towards. It makes working out, which many find hard to enjoy on its own, subsidiary to the game. Video games are typically long struggles for success. To win, constant effort and engagement is required. Few are won all at once; it takes continued excellence to beat the game. This structure reflects a fit lifestyle. Improvements aren’t quickly noticed, but rather come with hours of dedication. Gamification is applied in all corners of the fitness industry, but we will focus on wearables, apps, virtual reality, and classes. These areas capitalize on rewards, motivation, immersion, and team creation.


Using gamification in wearables personalizes fitness, making the user accountable for their own fitness success. Because wearables directly inform the user of their activity, it is up to them to alter or maintain that level of activity. This form of gamification is beneficial for developing intrinsic motivation, as it is dependent on the user to better their ‘scores.’ A great example of gamifying fitness through wearables is the Fitbit watch. One of the pioneers in the wearable industry, Fitbit offers a variety of bands that sync with their app. The app organizes the data into a rewards program. The more active a person is, the more rewards the app provides. This little bit of motivation inspires users to increase their activity level in order to obtain more rewards. Fitbit is not the only smartwatch on the market–there are many others with a vast array of various features. In fact, one study reports that as many as 1 in 6 American adults owns a smartwatch with fitness capabilities.


Apps are the most actualized, accessible, and widespread realizations of gamification. The fitness industry is being remodeled by the thousands of fitness apps currently available. As is true with wearables, apps provide transparent and real time performance measures. Apps, however, have more creative possibilities than wearables. With over 1 million users, Zombies, Run! is a perfect example of a gamified fitness app. The app combines running with a thrilling storyline based on survival- the more you run, the more likely you are to escape the hordes of zombies chasing you. The app creators created an experience where “every run becomes a mission where you’re the hero.” In taking the fun and excitement of a zombie game and funneling it into an app, Zombies, Run’s appeal is as a game, not a fitness tracker. They have made running, often a monotonous routine, an addicting game with intense stakes. Zombies, Run! has skyrocketed in downloads since it’s debut several years ago, and with fitness gamification only rising in profitability, we can expect downloads to increase this year.

Virtual Reality

Using virtual reality in fitness gamification transports people to an alternate world that distracts from the were exercise and puts focus on the game. Gamification in virtual reality hides the tedious and ‘boring’ routines of work outs behind the immersion of VR games. VR fitness is still in early stages, but there are established examples in the industry. The Black Box studio in San Francisco offers a full virtual reality workout for its members. They have their own virtual reality game, and their private rooms make use of resistance bands and weights to create a full body workout during the game. Users report that they often feel as if they have done little work after completing a workout. This is one major benefit of gamification through VR- the rift between actual effort and perceived effort. Black Box members feel they exerted less energy than they actually did. Because of this, virtual reality can push people past their perceived limits, as they are more focused on winning the game than the demands of the workout.


Fitness classes combine data-driven gamification with team competition. In expanding the game to more people, classes provide a new layer of motivation. Intensity and dedication increase in group workouts, especially those with competition involved. Many gamified fitness classes are structured around high scores and leaderboard; striving for the top of the leaderboard every class, therefore, naturally leads to beating personal bests. Many companies incorporate gamification into their programs. Life Fitness partnered with VirZoom to gamify cycling classes, using simulated competitions like horse racing and motorsports. There are other methods too, though. A gym in Britain offers Fortnite dance classes to increase youth participation. In addition, Pursuit by Equinox and Surfset in Toronto provide gamified classes in cycling and surfing. For instance, an example of a franchise that gamifies fitness is OrangeTheory. They use heart rate monitors as their scoring system, pushing members to best both their own previous scores and the scores of those around them. Members say “the competitive side of me thrives on that energy so the heart rate monitor is like I’m competing with myself and my peers at the same time.” Above all, this provides extra motivation and inspiration to improve personal fitness.

The future of fitness gamification

Gamification in fitness is still a new trend, but has already shown to be a valuable innovation. It eliminates many of the things people don’t like about working out– repetition, no discernible progress, and boredom. By crossing fitness with games, there is more motivation, interest, and feelings of accomplishment. The growth in wearables, apps, virtual reality, and classes helped gamification become a major fitness genre. Gamification inspires many to get active and stay active; those who have never thought of working out are now doing so because of things like Zombies, Run!, Black Box, and Orange Theory. In conclusion, gamification makes fitness less of a have to do and more of a get to do.
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