How to Build a Fitness App

7 min read

We’ve all set a health and fitness goal for ourselves at one point or another, whether in the form of a New Year’s resolution or the promise of a fresh start come Monday morning.

Emily R.
Emily R.
Published March 8, 2022 Updated March 15, 2022

But do we stick to them?

While you likely know the answer to that question, you may not know the “why” behind it. Research shows that 43% of people give up only one month after setting a fitness-related goal — with the top reasons for this outcome centered around one common denominator: lack of accountability.

Fitness apps have exploded in popularity over the past few years, with downloads increasing by nearly 50% in 2020 alone. These apps help users achieve their fitness goals by eliminating obstacles that typically stand in their way, like expensive contracts and long commutes. But, the truly defining features of successful fitness apps inspire a sense of community that translates to a genuine sense of accountability.

Are you looking to take your gym’s offerings digital, share your meditation practice with the world, or simply put your development skills to the test by creating a nutrition and activity tracker? We’ve outlined the must-have features, ways to monetize, and ideal development flow for your fitness app.

What is a Fitness App?

Fitness apps can target a range of health-related goals, like tracking nutrition, optimizing mental health, improving strength and mobility, etc. A critical step in developing your fitness app is identifying the niche it will fill. Here are the top four types of fitness apps:

1. Diet and Nutrition Apps: This type of app works like a tracking device but for the specific function of recording eating habits. You can design your diet and nutrition app to target a specific diet, like paleo, or a particular goal, like weight loss. Users can then set custom caloric goals, learn the nutritional breakdown of their foods, and log their daily diet.

Examples: MyFitnessPal, CarbManager, and Fooducate.

2. Activity Tracking Apps: This type of app tracks the different types of physical activities or exercises its users complete. Your activity tracking app should be able to track distance traveled, steps counted or climbed, heart rate, sleep metrics, and calories burned. Given the biodata needed to calculate these metrics, activity tracking apps are often paired with a wearable watch or ring.

Examples: Map My Run, Strava, Oura, and Whoop.

3. Workout Apps: This type of app serves as a virtual personal trainer or digital exercise studio. It provides users with instructional videos they can follow along with to gain muscle, improve cardiovascular health, or lose weight.

Examples: Peloton, Melissa Wood Health, and The Become Project.

4. Meditation Apps: This type of app leads users through mindful, meditative experiences to help them relieve stress and calm their sympathetic nervous systems. Unlike workout apps, audio is more important than visuals in meditation apps. They rely on verbal cues while users have their eyes closed or focus on a meditative object.

Examples: Headspace, Calm, and Buddhify.

Must-Have Features for Your Fitness App

Regardless of the type of fitness app you plan to create, you’ll need to include two essential features to guide users through a supportive experience, keep them accountable, and help them achieve their fitness goals.

Activity Feeds

Activity feeds, also called news feeds, are the heartbeat of any social experience. They provide a real-time look at what users are doing and allow them to interact with each other through likes, comments, reactions, and shares. When successfully integrated, activity feeds not only add to a sense of community for users but also increase your app’s engagement and retention rates while lowering customer acquisition costs (CAC). Be sure to add the following features to your solution:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Reactions
  • Comment aggregation
  • URL enrichment
  • Hashtags
  • @mentions
  • Notifications
  • Post composer

Strava has incorporated activity feeds into its user experience. It allows users to see what routes and activities their friends have completed, and gives them an opportunity to react and comment on the accomplishment as well. Users of activity trackers and workout apps in particular benefit from activity feeds, they give them a sense of accountability if they have a fitness challenge going with their friends, and seeing other people’s workouts can serve as a motivator to get moving, too.

Strava Feeds

Goal Setting

An integral function of a fitness app is giving the user the ability to set goals. For example, a user who tracks their nutritional macros would benefit from a visual representation of how their progress contributes to the overall goal they set for themselves. Including a goal-setting feature within your fitness app creates a better UX and keeps users motivated to stick to their plan by seeing how far they've come.

Push Notifications

Leverage push notifications to increase the metric of time spent on your fitness app while also providing a nudge for users to get moving, track their meals, log a run, or meditate.

MyFitnessPal allows users to set push notifications to remind themselves to log their daily food intake. A key component of push notifications is enabling users to silence them for any given reason or period of time. For example, a user might not want to be told to log their food during the holidays or while on vacation.

myfitnesspal push notifications

Multimedia Content

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Due to the nature of fitness apps, incorporating dynamic audio and visual content is a must. Instructional videos help visual learners improve their form while performing new exercises, and clear audio files will enhance their meditative experience.

The Melissa Wood Health app holds over 250 workouts for users to choose from. All media files have clear video and exceptional audio quality. Given the high volume of content, it is critical that there be an organization system users can easily sort through to find and save their favorite workouts.

MWH App Content Library

Content Library

Regularly updating your app's educational and inspirational fitness content can result in a difficult search experience for users searching for particular videos or content they enjoy. Creating an organized content library to house your workouts, meditations, and more keeps existing users engaged while providing a stellar onboarding experience for those who are new to your app. Consider adding in the ability for users to save videos to a favorite’s list so they can easily access the workouts they like best.

Chat Messaging

To elevate the sense of community and accountability users feel within your app’s activity feeds, consider adding chat messaging functionality for them to develop an even greater connection with one another.

Some users prefer to take a more incremental approach when joining a community-minded setting, especially regarding vulnerable, fitness-oriented goals. In-app chat places the power of sharing personal contact details, like a phone number or email, in the user’s hands.

Here are the must-have messaging features to add to your app:

  • Push notifications
  • Emoticons/reactions
  • Media support
  • Link preview
  • Direct & group chat channels
  • Thread replies
  • User presence
  • Flexible permissions
  • Slash commands
  • Typing indicators
  • Message history
  • Private channels
  • Public channels
  • @mentions
  • Silent messages
  • User moderation

Social Integration

Integrating social platform buttons into your fitness app enables users to share their posts, goals, and results with their social networks. This inspirational content serves as free advertising for your app and will encourage viewers to learn more about it.

Gamification

Gamifying your app will motivate users and encourage them to engage with your app for longer periods. Awarding rewards, badges, and introducing other elements of competition will incentivize users to work toward their goals and look to your app for motivation to continue.

How to Monetize Your Fitness App

Helping your users achieve their health and wellness goals is a rewarding feat in and of itself. Still, if you’d like to monetize your fitness app, we suggest experimenting with one or more of the suggestions below:

Pay-to-Download Model: If you prefer to gate your fitness content for a one-time fee, you can charge a download fee for your app rather than introducing in-app purchases. You can also bake a subscription model into this monetization strategy and charge users monthly or yearly.

In-App Purchases: By incorporating in-app purchases, you can still launch a free fitness app for your users. In-app purchases generate revenue by asking users to purchase advanced features or premium content to achieve a more successful fitness result.

Ads: By partnering with other companies that would like to advertise on your platform, you can generate passive income for your fitness app. When choosing to run ads on your app, you must consider how they impact the overall user experience. Users might become frustrated and leave your app if they are constantly interrupted by ads.

Support Groups: Similar to offering access to premium content and features for a fee, access to in-app support groups can be an invaluable resource to users looking for a heightened sense of accountability while working toward their fitness goals.

Personalized Training/Meal Plan: You already know that users of fitness apps are interested in online tools to improve their health and well-being. Offering personalized training plans or healthy meals catered to special diets can be a valuable add-on to an app subscription.

Map Out Your Fitness App Development Plan

Once you have determined the type of fitness app you’d like to develop, it is time to put a plan in place. Let the four stages below serve as guideposts for your app’s process:

1. The Inception Phase: The first stage of your development process is defining the scope of work. You should collaborate with your design and development team and any other stakeholders to create a project roadmap that accounts for timing, resources, and budget.

2. Technical Documentation & Design: You and your development team should prepare the technical specification of your app during this stage. Be sure to consider the requirements needed to build a prototype of your application, including use cases, features to include, wireframes, and a basic design scheme.

3. Application Development: After your team has mapped out your app and developed a working prototype, it’s time to develop your fitness app for Android and iOS operating systems to reach as wide an audience as possible.

4. Quality Assurance (QA): Before the official launch of your fitness app, you must move through a round of quality assurance to test your app and fix any bugs. Perform your QA on multiple operating systems to ensure the best possible UX for all users, no matter their device.

Develop Your Fitness App Without Breaking a Sweat

There’s a lot to take into consideration when developing a fitness app. You have to decide on what type of app to create, what features to include, and how to create a strong sense of community to help your users achieve their health and wellness goals.

But, after taking in the information above, you should be able to develop your fitness app without breaking a sweat. Remember, offering customizable workout, nutrition, and meditation plans tailored to your users' needs is not enough to keep them engaged and moving towards their goals. You must design your app to serve as an accountability partner for users — one that inspires them to keep going. By being genuine with your intention to motivate users through different features, chances are that your fitness app will stand out from the crowd and succeed.

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