I’ve had my eye on virtual fitness for a while, but it wasn’t until last week that I took the plunge and signed up to Fiit, after being targeted by it for months. When my gym shut and I felt the need to put muscle over matter in the face of lockdown, I tried out various online workouts and plans, but it wasn’t until I downloaded Fiit that it all clicked. Here’s what I think other brands can learn from the platform (lockdown or not), and why I’m a self-confessed Fiit fangirl (for now, at least).
- Make it feel fancy
Let’s start with the obvious one. For a stay-at-home gymer to forgo the thousands of free videos on YouTube and pay money for an app subscription, it’s got feel worth it. Both the interface and the video content must look the part, and make the workout feel like a level up from what you could do alone in your living room. Fiit’s studio aesthetic, camera work and soundscape hit the nail on the head – it definitely feels more Equinox than it does school gym hall.
- Give me structure
In lockdown, we’re all clutching at whatever structure and routine we can get. Beyond the traditional breakfast/lunch/dinner, exercise is what seems to be giving our days the semblance of routine that even the flightiest of us long for amid what Naomi Fry calls this ‘shapeless reality’.
Though fitness apps were not created for lockdowns, this logic still applies. In ‘normal’ times, those likely to use a fitness app are the busy bees or people who simply cannot get to a gym due to distance or conflicting commitments. IRL gyms classes require you to book in advance, and increasingly penalise you if you don’t show up – it’s a true commitment, a forced structure. Online workouts can create this structure, even when the practicalities of going to a gym cannot.
This control, advanced commitment and satisfaction can be mimicked in-app. Fiit do it by allowing you to schedule classes, creating plans for you and then sending you push notifications to ensure you stick to them. For apps, it seems to be more about the carrot than the stick – gaining points for the more classes you attend, and awarding prizes, seems to give fitness fanatics the hit of satisfaction they need.
- Don’t make me choose
Many apps boast hundreds of classes on demand with ‘all’ your favourite instructors (even if you don’t know they’re your favourite yet). Whilst this is undeniably a benefit, we’re all familiar with the Paradox of Choice and the Analysis Paralysis it gives rise to. Confession: I have regularly spent at least 15 minutes lying in bed booking and then cancelling classes as I try to work out what the ideal week of toning, sweating and balancing should look like. The perennial, privileged, pointless question of, ‘to BodyPump or not to BodyPump?’
This is another moment when Fiit’s plans pay off, and why their three simple ‘studios’ (Cardio, Strength, Rebalance) and either-or session lengths (25 or 40 minute) are so important. Many people claim to go to classes because they ‘just want to be told what to do’. PTs go one step further by planning your entire eating and exercising existence. Fiit’s easy-to-navigate catalogue of classes find a happy, accessible, financially realistic middle ground, as do many other downloadable plans. It’s just enough to make me think I’m getting what I need without too much of the thinking, so I really can roll out of bed and put on a workout whenever I feel like it, trusting that it will be just right.
- It’s not what you do, it’s who tells you to do it
Let’s go back to the claim that classes are worth the time and effort because someone will ‘just tell you what to do’. While this is true, it can’t just be anyone. A trainer makes or breaks a class, as I emphasised in my article on the rise of these apps. So having the right person shouting at you from the TV important. The Covid-19 lockdown has really shown the power of a fitness instructor’s personal following. Those with large networks have been able to bunny hop* the gym into client’s living rooms and get clients to pay directly for the privilege. While it might all fade away after gyms reopen, it’s given trainers a freedom and power they haven’t had before, and it shows just how much of an emotional attachment we have to our favourite trainers. I have attended gym classes before for the sole reason of feeling I would otherwise ‘let down’ the trainer who, in my mind, needs me for their morning motivation just as much as I need them.
Fiit have got social media stars on-side and ensured that they put their trainers front and centre. While it’s possible to sell your app to consumers through a unique wearable or concept, it’s just as likely consumers will get on-side because of the right person is leading the workout.
*For the innocent and uninitiated, bunny hops are up there with the most gruelling cardio gym exercises that exist. I would venture to say they’re worse than a burpee, and make jump squats feel like child’s play. Approach with caution, or perhaps don’t approach at all.
- Let’s get social
And this, dear reader, is where my fandom of Fiit comes to a stop. Even if you’re not a ‘class person’ and your main activity in the gym is judging other members for leaving the weights in the wrong place, there’s a sense of motivation, concentration and belonging when you workout with a group of other people, even if you’re all doing different things while cocooned in noise-cancelling headphones. Doing work outs on Instagram Live, Zoom or with your colleagues over Microsoft Teams has one thing that YouTube and more traditional streaming lacks: live interaction, and that extra layer of structure, commitment and competition, knowing there is a real person on the other end. Whether it’s seeing different names ‘join’ the class, seeing each other’s videos or the instructor shouting a word of encouragement to you by name (which makes you feel as though you’ve finally made it into The Plastics) social is crucial. It is the only thing that can mimic the motivation that comes with everyone doing the last excruciating reps together.
Fiit has not been able to fully incorporate this into its platform yet, save the workout counter that greets you as you open the app. If the Covid-19 lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that distance has nothing to do with being social. To me, it seems that a feeling of togetherness, which is hardwired into our DNA, is the crucial ingredient – as much as the exercise itself – for creating that endorphin high.