Community is Critical in Digital Fitness - Part 2

Going Virtual

In part 1 of this blog series, we made our case for why community in digital fitness is so important, but summarized that it really hasn’t been done that well yet, especially for local and grassroots fitness creators (influencers and traditional boutique brands and studios).

Since we wrote part 1 of this blog series, one of the companies we highlighted in part 1, Strava, released their Year in Sport report, including data that the Strava apps gathered showing that people workout harder and longer when they do it in groups versus doing it solo:

And now here in part 2 it’s time for the more detailed assessment.  We’ve tried to categorize companies to some degree below, but of course the categories are kind of gray at the edges - they overlap.

Direct to Consumer Tech First

This is in general where the most innovation has happened in the end user experience, including in driving community between users and members:

  1. Strava - Primarily focused on the outdoors, Strava has become the primary way that athletes ‘keep score’ on running and riding times for different routes.  Athletes in Strava have both friends and followers, similar to Instagram, and also have a feed (again like IG) where people can like and comment on their workouts.  Athletes can post photos from their runs and rides, and also share routes with reviews to help other users select their routes (analogous to reviewing restaurants).  In addition to individual users, Strava supports groups and clubs, similar to groups or pages in Facebook - again driving community.  Overall, Strava has some of the best community features out there for outdoor athletes, which helps explain why Strava now has around 100M active users!
  2. Oura - A smart ring designed to monitor your health, Oura is primarily focused on measuring an athlete’s heart rate and blood oxygen levels, tracking sleep and recovery so you know how hard to push yourself in your next workout.  More recently, Oura has launched Oura Circles - a way to share this data with family and friends or training partners, and have friends and family react to your achievements.  It’s hard not to see the irony in Oura’s website listing family sharing right after menstruation and period cycle detection in women given articles in Vox and The Guardian among others, but these concerns have been around for a while.
  3. Apple - Apple made wearables mainstream and cool with the Apple Watch, and then shook up the fitness content market with Apple Fitness+.  Apple added activity sharing with friends, so friends could see how you’re doing on ‘closing your rings’ and you could high five someone after a class.  There are programs and challenges, but the community or social aspect up to now has been secondary.  It’s rumored that Apple is working more fitness features for the Vision Pro, so it’ll be interesting to see what they have in store when disclosed, likely later this year.
  4. Peloton - For the vast majority of users, Peloton is still a mostly solo experience.  There’s a leaderboard, there are hashtags, you can follow other people, and you can high five them - but for the longest time, identity integration with Facebook and other social networks was an afterthought, and you couldn’t really do a group ride with friends.  Peloton’s current CEO Barry McCarthy said “Peloton should look at developing: its own social-media platform, more seamless ways for members to interact and compete with each other during classes” but this hasn’t translated into reality … yet.  Peloton’s own list of community features hasn’t been updated in over 3 years.  Read that again :-).  Peloton has active Facebook groups, and its coaches have become insta-famous.  It has also added scheduled workouts and sessions like watch parties, but somehow they don’t feel core to the user experience.  Peloton is pivoting more towards its app now, so it’ll be interesting to see if it strengthens its community features.
  5. Lululemon (Mirror) - Similar to Peloton, Lulu is drifting more towards an app only strategy and moving away from its Mirror hardware acquisition.  Users can see other participants in a row of little video chat circles during the class, and in ‘face off’ mode a user can go head to head with another for who can burn the most calories / have the highest heart rate during that time.  Coaches will also comment on form for participants during the classes.  Both the app and the Mirror support ‘Friends’, and a user can filter who they see in video chat to only include friends.  Lululemon Studio (as it’s now called) supports smart weights and rep counting as well heart rate to play into leaderboards, it also lets users share selfies at the end of workouts.  Of course, with the recent announcement that Studio is being merged into Peloton, this will go away.
  6. Fitbit - One of the first wearables, now being slowly assimilated into Google.  Users can post photos on the Fitbit community page, and the platform also lets users connect to up to 10 individuals in the app to compete and throw fitness challenges.
  7. FitOn - FitOn is one of the best fitness apps, and it’s free to boot.  Started by an executive from Fitbit, it integrates with wearable data, and lets users have friends, join or create challenges, etc.  Being free, it’s much easier for someone to invite their friends to signup, and this has helped take FitOn to over 13M users today.  FitOn has a community feed for members to interact with groups and progress, also add and manage friends then do on-demand classes as watch parties with video chat with friends.
  8. Samsung - Samsung offers a fitness app that allows users to track their physical activities, monitor their sleep patterns, set fitness goals, and access various workout programs. Currently, it doesn’t work with any third-party apps (Google Fit, Garmin Connect, Fitbit, and more) except Strava, which has its own community. The Together tab in the app helps users connect with others who are working toward similar fitness goals. It allows smaller group challenges or compete with other Samsung Health users across the globe as part of a monthly step-count global challenge. Samsung Health has more than 60 million monthly active users, and 11 million daily active users worldwide.
  9. Garmin - Garmin Connect app empowering 50M users worldwide to track, analyse, and share health and fitness activities from their Garmin devices. Its community engages users through friend connections, completing over 10M active challenges, fostering motivation and camaraderie. With 1M daily interactions, the dynamic activity feed allows users to celebrate each other’s milestones and achievements. It is supporting over 100K active groups worldwide, where like-minded fitness enthusiasts can share insights and organise events. Personalised data insights, such as heart rate variability and VO2 max estimation, helps users optimise workouts and set smarter fitness goals.
  10. ClassPass - ClassPass offers a convenient way for individuals to access various fitness classes worldwide through a single membership. In 2022, they had over 10M members across 30 countries. The ClassPass community allows other community members to see their posts in a personalized feed, fostering discussion through forums and participating in live events.  Members can add friends to increase the relevance of posts they see - friends discovery is from name, phone contacts and Facebook friends.
  11. Zwift - Fresh off an astonishing $620M raise (in this market), Zwift is now the 800lb gorilla of online fitness games.  It has taken a huge investment in engineering the user experience, but Zwift has now achieved network efforts that make it super hard for competitors (like Rouvy, RGT Cycling, Bkool, MyWhoosh, VirtuPro, etc) to challenge Zwift.  It has a ton of community features - badges / achievements, profiles, the ability to invite other people to ride with you in the 3D world, races, leagues and clubs (similar to Strava, but virtual), chat and audio groups during rides, etc.  For me, Zwift has the most developed community features of any digital fitness experience, probably in part because of their mindset from gaming.
  12. Playbook - Really more like Instagram, and a beautifully created app for influencers to monetize their fans, it has pivoted back and forth between being creator-centric and having a single subscription to access all creators / influencers.  There are few social or community features between members, though interestingly it does have an employer option in which employers can see how much their employees are using the service.  Playbook has a “community” in the app, but it seems to really just be a list of class reviews.  The app also supports direct messaging, but when I tried messaging an influencer personally, she replied after a month and said I should just DM her on Instagram as she doesn’t check her Playbook messages very often.
  13. Supernatural - Their “community” is a Facebook group (not that surprising really) with around 86K members, the game itself also has a multiplayer mode in which one user can invite their friends into the same world to smash imaginary 3D objects.  Other than that, Facebook.
  14. Fiit - Fiit Club offers interactive workouts led by top trainers. With leaderboards and challenges, members can compete and stay motivated. The community aspect is strong, as users can connect as friends, share achievements, and host watch parties for on-demand classes together. However, there’s no two way video, so the interactivity is limited to text chat and the leaderboard.  Leaderboards were originally just based on heart rate straps, but more recently Fiit added support for connected bikes and treadmills.  With 1M subscribers worldwide, Fiit Club has built a supportive and active fitness community.
  15. MyFitnessPal - With over 6 million recorded foods and a convenient barcode scanner. Users can track exercises and sync with 50+ apps to maintain comprehensive fitness data. It has a community where users can connect with friends and followers. The app facilitates messaging between users, encouraging communication and support. Feed- like feature allows users to share updates, milestones, and fitness achievements. The platform offers both system-generated and users-created collaborative challenges, fostering motivation and accountability among its 200M registered users.
  16. Fitiv - A heart rate tracking app with a small team, it does a great job of heart rate tracking during cardio (I actually use this).  It does have a community feed where people can post achievements and comment or like posts, but in general I’ve seen that no-one does like or comment, likely in part because people use it just to track workouts.  Given this, the feed is kind of a lonely echo chamber with little interaction between users.
  17. Runtastic - A partial competitor to Strava, Runtastic was acquired by Adidas.  It does have a newsfeed and community tab in the app.  Runtastic also has a separate training app with workout videos and programs, it has the same newsfeed and community features.

Direct to Consumer Content

The primary focus for these apps is the fitness video content and brands or proprietary methods for exercise (not community between members), Weight Watchers is an exception:

  1. NEOU - Self-described as the Netflix of fitness, NEOU evolved into a video library subscription service and then added in gamification features similar to other fitness content services, like badges and milestones.  They don’t have much in the way of community features on platform today, though they did launch a Scoreboard (leaderboard) feature in 2021.  They have a Facebook page, but it’s had one post in the last 5 months.
  2. Centr by Chris Hemsworth - Essentially another video library, with no tracking or community features. Chris is the highlight.  There is announced plan now to introduce form analysis with Asensei, but that doesn’t relate to community.
  3. Weight Watchers - Primarily focused on nutrition, but have WW Connect - an internal social network for WW members.  It allows posts, stories, following other users, joining groups, etc.
  4. Beachbody - Now BODi, the connected fitness world of Peloton forced Beachbody to change - in fact they bought Myx for connected spin classes.  In general, BODi is in a bind and its stock has dropped 96% since listing as a public company.  They are still stuck in an era of video libraries, and have little interactivity or community in their core product.
  5. PopSugar Fitness - The platform lacks interactive features for members to engage with each other, limiting community interaction. It focuses on delivering high-quality fitness content without emphasising social or gamification elements.
  6. JETSWEAT - On-demand video library from different studios, no live classes scheduled right now or any way for members to interact.
  7. JEFIT - An online fitness app, more focused on strength than cardio, the paid plans do allow comparing progress and stats with friends.
  8. FitnessOnDemand - Historically, a video library from various fitness influencers and creators.  However, FitnessOnDemand has recently added live classes as well as on-demand, and challenges that a club or facility can manage for its members, with a leaderboard for how members are doing at it.  That’s a significant upgrade, but there’s still relatively few ways for members to interact with each other.
  9. Les Mills - Another video library.  Great content, no real community experience.
  10. Obe - Similar to NEOU and Central, Obe operates as a video library platform, offering users a collection of workout videos. Obe does include live classes in addition to its on-demand content, providing users with a more interactive experience. While it is not primarily known for community features, the addition of live classes allows users to work out together in real-time, fostering a sense of connection during the workouts. The platform may benefit from further expanding its interactive elements and community features to enhance users engagement and build a stronger fitness community.
  11. Tone It Up - Started life as an early influencer movement, they have nutrition, supplements and exercise videos.  For community they use Instagram hashtags so their members can post and see each other’s posts.
  12. Sweat - The Sweat app has workouts and programs, it was acquired by and is now part of iFIT.  Sweat lets you see how many people are signed up on challenges and programs, it also has a web discussion forum for community, it’s quite active and open to everyone.
  13. 8fit - Another fitness app, it doesn’t have any community features on the platform.
  14. Fitbod - A workout app that has workouts with demo videos, and some interaction with coaches.  There aren’t really any community features, even it seems in their Teams product.
  15. Freeletics - Another workout and training app with guided workouts and nutrition.  Freeletics does have a Community tab in the app with a feed and challenges, but similar to the Fitiv feed, it tends to end up being random content from people you don’t know rather than really fostering a community ecosystem with friends.
  16. Glo - A nice yoga and mindfulness app with live and on-demand video content, no community features.
  17. Gaia - More yoga and mindfulness content, no community features.

Direct to Consumer Goods

Primarily these companies focus on appariel and nutritional supplements, not a workout experience or community in it.  1st Phorm is the exception to this generalization, as they are driving more community interaction in their apps:

  1. 1st Phorm - 1st Phorm took an early dive into community-based fitness experience with their ‘Legion of Boom’. More than just a hub for product promotion, it’s a space where users exchange fitness stories and support. Unlike many fitness brands that ventured into digital community post-covid, 1st Phorm already had an online community.  A big focus for 1st Phorm is the community aspect of their app - between members and in teams each with an advisor.
  2. Gymshark Conditioning App - This just has exercise clips and programs, but little community in the app.
  3. Nike - Nike had its Training Club before covid and before digital apps saw huge growth, but it was never a big winner for Nike - mostly a solo video experience.  Nike just launched its Well Collective - aiming to have 1,000 fitness coaches involved in a community covering content, gear, nutrition, etc.  There’s little announced on it so far, but given the targets of number of people involved, community is likely to be front and center.
  4. GNC - Enormous sports and fitness nutrition brand, but doesn’t have an app with content, and community is left to other social platforms like Instagram.

Direct to Consumer Brick & Mortar Fitness

Overall the focus for digital in brick & mortar fitness brands is buying and booking ‘in real life’ classes (in studios) via gym management software, sometimes coupled with high quality video content for solo at-home workouts:

  1. F45 Training - For online community, F45 uses Facebook pages and groups (for each franchise location), and also Instagram.  The real focus for community is relationships built in real-life, in the studio.  They have the Lionheart heart rate system, and then body measurements to use as part of transformation challenges.  F45 uses the Mindbody app, which has no community in it.
  2. Orangetheory Fitness - Similar to F45, Orangetheory has active Facebook groups where members can post and encourage each other.  The mobile app is really about booking classes, but it does also record personal records in the app.  Orangetheory maintains Splat points (based on heart rate zones during classes) as a form of member status, and then uses selfies with brag boards that they post to social media for community and marketing.
  3. Barry’s - Built on Mariana Tek, the Barry’s app is really focused on booking and billing for physical classes, and the Barry’s X app just has video content.  Barry’s has been adding a loyalty program, but it doesn’t relate to community.
  4. Crunch Fitness - The core Crunch app is just for booking and billing classes, like so many other gym and studio apps.  The Crunch+ app is a video classes and content app, similar to Barry’s X and others.  There are no community features in their apps.
  5. CrossFit - CrossFit is intensively competitive as a culture.  They do have a CrossFit Games app with competitions and profiles of participants, but it’s focused on the elite athletes competing versus regular members going to CrossFit studios.  A lot of CrossFit studios use PushPress for gym management, and PushPress does have performance tracking, high fives and community chat in their apps for studios.
  6. Equinox+ - The main focus is again watching videos of workouts, but they do have challenges and ways to share achievements.  There’s very little inside the app though for interacting with other members.
  7. X+ - The workout app from Xponential, again it has workout videos across many devices, but no way for members or subscribers to interact.  For gym management, Xponential uses ClubReady, which has no community features.
  8. Barre3 - Barre3 has no digital community capabilities - their primary app in a white-labeled Mindbody app (see below), and the Barre3 digital membership is just videos.
  9. SoulCycle - Part of Equinox, SoulCycle also has the SoulCycle bike with similar features to Peloton, and a in-house built class booking app with no in-app community.
  10. Zumba Fitness - Zumba doesn’t have any explicit capabilities in their app for community, but they do have a centrally managed live (Zoom) class marketplace involving local instructors rather than just a centralized content library.

Perhaps one of the ironies is how critical community is to the ‘in real life’ (in studio) experience in boutique fitness, but how absent community is from all of these brands' digital strategies.

B2B SaaS and Content

Few SaaS offerings used in fitness have community-centric features.  FitGrid is an exception, and social platforms like Facebook and Instagram do drive community but do so on their own terms:

  1. Tribe - That’s us.  We have two way video, text chat and leaderboards during classes, class summaries with personal records, and a bunch of other features in the pipeline. :)
  2. Forte - Forte is the main competitor to Tribe as a platform for studios to do interactive fitness classes.  It allows two way video and text chat during classes, a live leaderboard and badges for finishing classes.  More recently Forte partnered with LiveLike to add other features into the live experience.
  3. Funxtion - Funxtion is out of the Netherlands, and streams video content (including from third parties) in full classes as well as supporting clips of exercises put together like personal training tools.  It has a bunch of features, but none really focused on community - it’s more of a content publishing / access platform.
  4. Wexer - Wexer also hosts video classes for studios, both content created by each studio itself and content from other creators and brands.  In general Wexer is more focused on content streaming, including on big screens in studios, than on a community experience, so it doesn’t really have any community features.  Similar to Funxtion, Wexer is kind of a hybrid of a technology platform and a content service like Les Mills.
  5. Trainerize - Has nutrition, video clips for workout programs, business / billing operations, etc.  For community, Trainerize has messaging between coaches and members, and integrates with Skype for live classes.
  6. Wodify - Has the core gym management type features, but also group heart rate monitoring via a link up with MyZone.  They have separate apps for wellness challenges and competitions, and in their core platform they do support competition and leaderboards.  Overall the platform is very Crossfit-centric.
  7. FitGrid - They have lots of features and keep growing that number, but they have two that are particularly relevant to community.  The first one is a social network inside the FitGrid app, in which members can friends each other, join groups, message each other, etc.  The system also tracks who does classes with who, to automatically figure out ‘classmates’.  More recently, FitGrid has added FitGrid AI to try and figure out how to improve member retention automatically.
  8. Virtuagym - A gym management platform, but they also have their Engage product that includes a news feed / community post board, profiles for members and coaches as well challenges and badges.
  9. MyZone - The focus of MyZone is heart rate monitoring during workouts - they have proprietary heart rate watches and bands to measure and record data, and that data can be shared in a studio.  MyZone has its MEP points as an achievement currency, similar to Splat points in Orangetheory.  MyZone does have a news feed and inter-user messaging, with the ability to add friends, as well as supporting live classes with leaderboard data.
  10. Mindbody - The big gym management software vendor, they have tons and tons of features, including a Virtual Wellness Platform (live and on-demand videos).  But as of today, Mindbody doesn’t really have community features - they’re focused on schedules and booking, payments, marketing, a class marketplace etc.
  11. Mariana Tek - Similar to Mindbody, really focused on booking and billing rather than community, so has no messaging or community features in the apps.  For community, “Promote your instructors—and their Instagram handles—to build community.”  So essentially they see community as being off platform.  They have also launched a “customizable 5th tab” so you could build your own community features there.
  12. Glofox - Focused on gym management again, where they have many features for marketing, sales, booking classes, billing, etc.  Glofox doesn’t list any community related features, or ways members could interact with each other on the Glofox platform.
  13. Walla - A new gym management platform, does all the back office work and enables booking and billing.  No community features.
  14. Arketa - Similar to Walla, a newer gym management platform, very focused on booking and billing with good flexibility in offering packages and programs.  No community features.
  15. Zoom - Great video chat platform, allows two way video with other members and text chat during class.  Zoom does have persistent chat as a separate product to compete with Slack, but I doubt any fitness studios use it.  There are not fitness-specific features - like programs or challenges.
  16. Vimeo - Allows comments on videos, but in general Vimeo is a (market leading) video hosting platform not a community platform.  Vimeo has targeted its OTT product at fitness businesses, but it’s really in the style of traditional fitness video libraries and celebrity coaches with minimal interaction between subscribers.
  17. Uscreen - Similar to Vimeo, Uscreen is a generic video hosting platform for creators - it has no features specific to fitness.  They do have marketing content about community and a quick summary of features, but what it boils down to is a bunch of advice for things you can do off platform (good ideas, just not related to Uscreen) and having comments and text chat during live streams, similar to Twitch.
  18. Facebook - Here I’m using Facebook in the context of being a free SaaS offering for studios to create groups and pages for their members.  Facebook has more community features than any other platform I know of - it’s almost exhausting - chat, posts, feeds, likes, reactions, …  The main challenges in using it as a studio for digital community are:

a. You don’t control the user experience - it can serve ads for your competitors, you don’t own user the identities, FB controls what users see in feeds so groups often ‘disappear’ from user feeds.

b. You can’t tie to your ownership / franchise hierarchy, etc - you need separate groups for every location and brand parent, and they aren’t linked together other than in the overall user’s feed

c. There’s no easy way to automatically tie it to gamification data or anything else in your own apps and backend - members have to manually post everything.

d. People just don’t use Facebook as much anymore, a lot of younger people have moved off it entirely to Instagram / Snapchat / TikTok - they now view Facebook as ‘uncool’.

  1. Instagram - Now much more popular than Facebook but ironically less functional in feature sets.  Studios can (and all do) have an Instagram page, then can have followers and push posts and updates to them.  Members can comment on posts, like them, and follow or message each other.  There isn’t really an analog to Facebook groups in Instagram.  Instagram doesn’t make it easy to auto-publish posts, or use performance or other data from what members are doing - that all has to be done manually (or automated off-platform).

Justin Marston

Thinker, writer, innovator, runner, Star Wars fan

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