Apps! Whether you want to find out the name of that “tip-of-your-tongue” song playing on the radio, need a little help deciding what to have for dinner or you want to discover the name of a constellation in the romantic night sky, no part of our lives is untouched by the helpful, world-at-your-fingertips mobile phone app.

In fact, the entire mobile app market is rocketing like a bird in a slingshot and, as the fastest growing sector of the mobile app market in 2014, fitness apps are shaping up to be even more popular than Jesus on Easter Sunday.

Experts are predicting that the fitness app market will grow to an estimated $26 BILLION by 2017.

And it’s not just household names like MyFitnessPal and GoogleFit getting in on the action with standard fitness tracking apps. Innovative independent programmers are using Kick Starter funding to create and market unique game-based fitness apps as random as Step-Ahead: Zombies, a corporate wellness app which has teams of employees working together, running from virtual zombies to improve fitness and team spirit in the workplace. Because, well, who isn’t motivated by the flesh-eating undead?

Less zombies, more walkers

From simple “Couch to 5K” apps to more complex apps like Virtuagym, which lets you work out with your own “3D animated personal trainer”, apps are getting people up and moving about more than ever before. And it only takes a quick scroll of your newsfeed to figure out that people just LOVE to track and share their workout stats on social media.

Apps are becoming more and more complicated too. The technology behind Fitbits and other wearable devices is evolving as I write. In the future, these devices will give us WAY more information than simply the number of steps we’re taking in a day.

Instead of a wrist band or having to keep your mobile phone in your pocket as you jog, the fitness trackers of the future will be woven into our clothing using a new Tron-like “smart textile” which not only tracks movement but also provides detailed feedback on technique and muscle activation… the future is, erm, how can I say this… a PT in your pants?

Hey, that’s my job!

With online fitness programmes and fitness apps becoming more and more sophisticated, people are beginning to use them as a real alternative to more traditional gym memberships and personal coaching.

But while apps may provide basic programming, motivational goal tracking and (in the future) feedback on muscle activation, it’s important that consumers understand the difference.

Fitness appMarketers of mobile fitness apps are quick to use slogans like “Gym in your pocket”, “You are your own gym” and “ditch the gym membership”. People are easily sold on quick, simple, flexible fitness solutions that will fit easily into the rest of their lives and smartphone technology is even being hailed as a solution for public health initiatives to tackle the growing obesity epidemic.

But, whilst it’s obviously awesome that apps are making fitness more accessible, all of this clever marketing and 80’s-future technology means that apps and virtual coaching really are being seen as a substitute for proper in-person coaching.

As an industry, if we are to remain relevant in the future, more technological age of fitness coaching, we need to get involved with the development of this technology NOW to ensure we have a voice. After all, aren’t these apps really designed to compliment rather than replace the real-world stuff?

As great as they are, an app will never truly understand how your body works. It doesn’t understand periodization or keep up with the latest scientific studies on diet and fitness. It knows nothing of the niggling injuries you need to work around or the lower back pain you’ve been having since your last workout. There will never be a substitute for having someone right by your side providing immediate feedback on your form.

As friendly as the robot voice on your app may sound, it doesn’t REALLY care about your goals and it won’t work hard to build a relationship with you. Most importantly, an app will never hold you accountable the way a dedicated trainer will.

How gyms and PTs can stay ahead of the game

When it comes to the bricks and mortar side of the fitness industry, we may use apps a little less creatively, but harnessed properly, this technology can not only help savvy gyms to manage their fitness business but also to motivate members, keep them on track with their fitness goals and help trainers stay ahead of competition by using technology that members understand and already use on a daily basis in every other aspect of their life.

Whether it is to track progress, set workouts and eating plans, as a communication tool or a simple class booking system, there is a definite place for apps in gym and PT management. By incorporating free offers, referral functions and push notifications, your app can double-up as a fruitful source of lead generation.

You can even create your own-branded app using online DIY-app tools like Appmakr. These tools are great for creating apps which inform rather than provide interactive features (for example, providing eating or workout plans with technique instructions). Crossfit gyms, for example, can easily create Olympic lifting technique apps for members using this kind of format.

Other sites like Mobileappforfitness (just one example of the many out there – and I haven’t tried these btw so I can’t comment on their usability) allow you to create bespoke apps with more interactive features, but while using their existing platform will save you on development costs, the monthly fees can still be expensive for smaller studios and PTs.

Why re-invent the wheel?

A better option for most gyms and personal trainers is to use an existing, off-the-shelf client management tool that already has all the usual features a fitbiz might need. Again there are lots of options available. They typically charge a monthly fee and although most of them don’t come with your gym’s branding, they will usually cost less and be much less painful than trying to create your own.

Some of the most popular examples are from MindBodyOnline, the brand behind one of the more well-known fitbiz apps, Trainerize. They offer a whole suite of different fitbiz apps. Take a look at their site to get an idea of what is out there.

There are lots of independent companies with similar offerings too. There are even still some FREE client management apps, like Personal Trainer Assist (currently in beta testing).

Generation Smartphone

Take a walk down any high street and you’ll see hordes of people staring into their phones as they aimlessly meander about their business. According to the latest estimates, most of us check our phones over 200 times a day (and if you don’t believe me, there’s even an app you can use to quantify your own phone usage).

Mobile apps for gyms
Like it or loathe it, the Nathan Barley age of the smartphone has officially arrived. The truth is that your customers live their lives on their phones; why should their training be out of sync with the rest of their world?

If your gym has its very own icon on your member’s smartphone, it will be fully integrated into the rest of their life, which means they’re more likely to remain engaged with your programme, they’re more likely to post about it on social media and, importantly, your gym will be at the forefront when it comes to mobile technology.

As an industry, we should be leading the charge when it comes to new ways to solve the obesity epidemic, not huffing and puffing along behind, trying to keep up.

Are you a fitness professional using mobile app technology in your business? I’d love to hear your experiences, good or bad. Hit me up in the comments!