How to Build a Fitness App: Types, Tech, Features, and Tips

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Anastasia Osypenko
Market Researcher

Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing rules provided a massive boost to health and fitness apps as users switched to working out at home instead of hitting the gym. 

A 2021 Research and Markets study notes that the global fitness app market should reach US$15.6 billion by 2028, which indicates that home-based fitness is here to stay.  There has never been a better time to break into fitness app development, and the profitable market.

fitness app market post pandemic

Source: Grand View Research

Making a new fitness application is an excellent idea yet there are challenges. The market is thriving, plus your app can actually make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing. But it’s also challenging as the market is crowded, meaning your product must be better than the average fitness app offering. 

When creating our SmartRun app, MadAppGang gained some in-depth perspective on building fitness applications. In this article, we want to share our expertise and help people who are planning fitness app development but don't know where to start. 

Before we get technical,  let's review the types of workout applications and look at what’s in demand in late 2021. 

build fitness app outsource

The SmartRun app user interface.

Types of fitness mobile apps

All health and fitness programs started from activity trackers. They grew from simple pedometers to complex systems that measure all kinds of movement and body statistics. In addition, many give recommendations for workouts, nutrition, and general wellness.

While some apps are dedicated to one particular goal, such as losing weight or mindfulness, others try to embrace every possible function. But is it better to concentrate on a single service or pack the app with maximum functionality? 

There’s no definite answer to that question. While it seems more reasonable to focus on one aspect of fitness, it’s well recognised that people don’t want to install hundreds of apps and prefer universal options.

The different types of fitness apps have four main focus points, let’s take a closer look at each.

Activity tracking

Most of us have in-built activity trackers in our smartphones (for example, SamsungHealth) that automatically count our steps and remind us to be active. However, for reliable results, the smartphone’s sensors need to work properly. Meanwhile, more elaborate trackers are available on the market, and these usually integrate with wearables. 

Wearables are smart devices that contain sensors to monitor heart rate, skin temperature, galvanic skin response, and the quality of surrounding light. Popular options include smartwatches and fitness bracelets. Many fitness trackers, such as Apple Watch 7 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, also track users' sleep patterns and overnight respiration.

If you want to build an exercise tracking app, bear in mind that coming up with an original idea is going to be tricky. Since existing programs perform a vast number of functions, you’ll need to offer a novel design and added benefits to compete. Straffr, a German startup brand, has done just that. Straffr’s smart resistance band works like a wearable personal coach. The sensors analyse a user’s training session and the connected app gives feedback on "the exercise quality."

develop app like staffr

The Staffr system in use. Source: AlternativeTo

Personal training

Due to Covid-19 restrictions for gyms and the growing trend of personalised workouts, apps that provide personal training plans are in the spotlight today. One of the most popular products is Sweat, which was founded by the Australian fitness coach Kayla Itsines. Sweat includes different types of training plans, with bodybuilding and post-pregnancy options guided by several female coaches.

Another example is Fiit, an app that provides 10 to 40-minute yoga, pilates, cardio and high-intensity interval training (Hiit) sessions. Let’s not forget about big sports brands, too. Nike+ Training Club offers customised workouts guided by famous trainers and athletes while the Adidas Runtastic app features a cheerful Voice Coach for daily jogs and workouts.

The Fiit app user interface. Source: Get Sweat Go

If you plan on making a home gym app, find a real influencer among the trainers in your target area and narrow down your audience. As we discovered in our article on health and fitness app development, the female fitness niche really hit the bull’s eye. Or, enrich your app with advanced features to compete with other solutions (for instance, a voice-controlled app is one idea).

Startup Obé Fitness managed to stand out from the pack by combining fun and workouts. The platform provides classes that often feel like parties. When starting Obé, its founders didn't yet know how uplifting the service would be for people during lockdowns. No wonder that the platform’s user base increased four times over during 2020. In 2021, Obé's popularity continued to grow and the company netted some serious investments.

Example of Obé Fitness in-app training. Source: FitnessClone

Another trend in this niche is apps integrated with fitness equipment. A well-known example is Peloton, an internet-connected stationary bike. There’s also Tonal, an app connected to a strength-training system that’s powered by electromagnetic resistance. The home muscle-building machine offers customised training programs.

Eating plans

Managing exercise without managing nutrition won’t bring about efficient results. As these aspects are closely connected, many applications combine both, tracking workout performance and eating habits. There’s also an array of apps dedicated to nutrition that offer comprehensive information about foods, including their nutritional value and macro breakdown.

Example of a meal planning app. Source: MealTime

Once again, the secret to success here is having a specific focus. Do your users want to lose weight or do they want to maintain a healthy diet? Have they switched to a particular diet (paleo, vegan, low-carb) and do they have any allergies or illnesses requiring nutritional control? Ask yourself these questions and more before building a diet and nutrition app.

Self-care

Self-care apps are among the most lucrative in the health and fitness market. People’s desire to be more self-aware, calm, and motivated hits upon a trend that’s hard to ignore. Meditation applications are a big deal these days. They introduce users to various meditation techniques and sell monthly subscriptions along with sleep stories and other side products.

If you want to join the trend, think about how you’ll differentiate your app from the others, especially from the two undeniable leaders in this field, Headspace and Calm. These apps offer guided meditations, breathing programs, sleep stories, and relaxing music. What could you add to this range?

bukd app like calm app

An example of a meditation app. The Calm app. Source: Google Play

Fitness app development technology

In fitness-tracking apps, accuracy is key, so is how well the app interacts with a device’s in-built sensors. Smartphone sensors measure atmospheric pressure, light levels, and movements. The accelerometer sensor is important here. Based on its information, tracking apps detect steps, speed, and direction.

Regardless of the type of app and its purpose, it has to work seamlessly with the other services included in a smartphone, like the sensors we talked about above, GPS, and the camera.

GPS

For basic fitness tracking, you won’t need a global positioning system (GPS). But if you want to provide an option that allows users to choose the best routes for certain activities, you’ll need to integrate a map service and accurate GPS. This is a must for fitness mobile apps which connect users with nearby gyms or a community of runners.

For example, Strava powers its map based on user-generated data and offers a route builder that’s created and updated by the community. The program also visualises user trips with a handy shareable map.

The Strava app mapbox. Source: Strava

The key here is making the solution efficient in terms of energy consumption. Since the GPS service has to be on for as long as a person trains, it can significantly drain the phone’s battery.

User personalisation

You'll need to collect user information such as weight, height, age, and gender to create customised diet and workout plans, or suggest video courses. Apart from this, you can enhance your fitness mobile application with AI-powered features such as a visual recognition system. 

Some AI-powered apps capture user movements by using the smartphone’s camera. This way, instead of just watching workout videos and trying to repeat the exercises, people get a truly customisable experience with recommendations for adjusting their moves in real-time. This is a promising area that needs many improvements before it’s widely adopted.

Visual recognition is more common in nutrition-focused applications. Many apps can scan barcodes to identify products and their values, while some recent solutions like Calorie Mama AI can identify meals via a photo. 

Such systems are far from perfect currently; they simply aren’t capable of identifying all the possible foods that are produced and served in different countries. Moreover, any nutritional app requires lots of manual entries from users, which is why many people eventually stop using them.

Goal setting and activity summaries

When you develop a fitness app, your focus is on helping users get measurable results. So, let users set the desired results and then provide tracking. A graph overview of the metrics is one way to keep users informed about their fitness activities daily, weekly or monthly. It allows users to evaluate their progress in a given timeframe and set long-term goals accordingly.

Activity summary in Fitness App for iOS 14. Source: Mac Stories

Voice Guidance

In any type of fitness application, you can provide voiced instructions. For simple exercises, voice commands can replace the coach and give the impression of a group session.

These messages can be pre-recorded phrases for setting workout goals or cheering up users. You can also integrate voice services from providers who develop SDKs for their smart voice technologies. Google and Apple have specific text-to-speech (TTS) packages to make voice overs. Their TTS features are inbuilt into smartphones and can be used by apps through the native application programming interface (API).

Third-party integrations

Most users today use multiple devices to track and improve their sports activities. For this reason, it’s essential that your app provides easy and quick synchronisation with third-party fitness trackers and apps. By way of illustration, Apple Health and Google Fit both sync data from other fitness apps like Strava and MyFitnessPal. 

Chatbots

The technology is not yet there to replace human coaches, as any workout or nutritional plans need to be custom-built and vary greatly depending on individual needs. However, we see many AI-powered solutions appearing on the market equipped with smart chatbots that communicate with users. In-app conversations can help improve fitness habits and motivate users.

Payments

If you make a service connecting users with nearby fitness centres, then it’s best to have integrated payments so people can pay for their classes in the app. Take Mindbody as an example, it offers searches for group classes based on the activity type.

The Mindbody app. Source: Popsugar

You can integrate famous payment platforms like PayPal and Stripe into the app or create a custom payment gateway to process credit card information. Dealing with large payment providers is surely the easier option, especially in terms of PCI-DSS compliance.

Fitness app features you don't want to miss

What are the essential features of any fitness app and which options are most programs desperately missing? Let’s see how to make a fitness app truly helpful.

Profiles

The first thing users do in a fitness app is create a personal account. This should be an easy process with the possibility to synchronise the account with social media. Use successful fitness app templates to get the idea of how the profiles should look and explore negative reviews to gather intel on which elements need improving.

Since the app will store personal data, it needs to be secure. There are numerous instances where fitness tracking programs have exposed user data. Developers should be clear about what information they can use and share. If user health data can be used in medical treatment, the app needs to comply with local regulations such as the HIPAA requirements in the US.

Community and social sharing

For most people who install fitness apps, the user community plays as much of a role as personal goals do in terms of motivation. The best fitness applications for running establish a good pattern to follow here; not only do they motivate users to share their experience through social media, but they also organise running events to bring the community together. 

Sharing, chatting with friends, and interacting with the community entertains and retains users. For this purpose, Nike Run Club users can share their results on different social media platforms. Social integration is essential to keeping users happy in 2021 and beyond.

develop app like nike run

The Nike Run Club app. Source: App Store

Gamification

Game-like challenges in workout apps are a great motivation for users. While kept simple and fun, challenges can actually get people to do extra exercises and neatly designed achievement boards can be shared easily with friends.

Awards in Fitness App for iOS 14. Source: Mac Stories

Gamification has had a profound impact on fitness applications. Some of them, like Zombies, Run!, combine a story-rich game with activity tracking. Game-like features are especially useful in apps designed for kids. For instance, Sworkit has a separate app to make fitness fun and accessible for children.

how to develop sports app for kids

The Sworkit kids app. Source: Freetech4teachers

Communication with users

As for basic interaction with users, it’s always nice to keep up to date with their progress and send them congratulatory emails when goals are achieved or gentle reminders that they haven’t worked out in a while. Adding push notifications to your app is a better way of communicating with users. These real-time messages are harder to ignore, so they may be better at motivating people. 

How to monetize a fitness app

The founder of the now-defunct app for trainers, 38Plank, shared the story of the project’s failure. He was adding more features, expecting each time that the next one would make the service great, but the problem was in the lack of a defined business model. Even if the models for making money with apps are the same for most projects, you need to think through your monetization strategy. What works well for your rivals may not be such a good option for you.

Here are the most popular monetization models:

how to build and monetize fitness apps

The best mobile fitness apps were acquired by sports brands and therefore their business strategies rely on linking workouts to sports equipment users can buy. When talking about paid subscriptions and in-app purchases, it’s crucial to provide something unique to customers. Many people appreciate free functionality but aren’t ready to buy premium versions. 

There’s no universal answer when it comes to how to make a fitness app subscription worth the effort. But the following is a good rule of thumb: the more complex and personalised your offering is, the more likely it is to get audience support, ensure you break even on your fitness app development cost, and consequently, become profitable.

How to create a fitness app that will actually succeed

The fact remains that among the hundreds of health and fitness apps, very few have proven positive results. Many companies share users’ weight loss stories and satisfaction levels as a strong incentive to sign up and to motivate current users. The market is booming. According to Flurry research, fitness app usage grew by more than 300 per cent over recent years.

However, while the MadAppGang team was working on our running app SmartRun, we noticed that existing apps paid minimal attention to the science of running, highlighting performance before everything else instead.

To make sure our app was different, we grounded our solution within the science of heart-rate zones and built the service in such a way that it scans the user’s heart rate and makes recommendations based on that. We also incorporated an AI-powered assistant to analyse the parameters of each person individually, and give suggestions on training programs to improve users' experience.

We’re ready to study the subject even more and provide more advanced and sophisticated solutions. If that’s what you want, let’s build your fitness app project together. Explore our expertise in fitness app development, and reach out for support with the technicalities. It might be a crowded market but with the right kind of know-how, your product can make an impact.