The Behavioral Science Behind Fitness Tech

Akash Radia | November 3, 2021 | 4 Min Read

The home fitness industry was worth $10 billion in 2020, according to IMARC Group’s latest report. Fitness tech plays an important role in this growing industry.

We speak to Akash Radia, Lead UX Researcher at Macadamian, about the rise of the fitness tech industry. We look at what fitness tech is, why it’s projected to grow as an industry, and learn about the importance of behavioral science’s role in this growing field.

 

Macadamian: To begin, what exactly is fitness tech?

It’s essentially technology that brings together hardware and software in preparation for exercise, or during and after exercise. There are apps that provide you classes, instructional videos, or help you track your workouts. Wearable devices, for example, measure your heart rate, or your steps and things like that. They all fall under the umbrella of fitness tech.

 

Macadamian: We’re seeing the rise of digitally-connected fitness equipment and the proliferation of fitness apps. Why do you think we’re seeing this growth?

It’s for a variety of reasons. The ubiquity, accessibility and availability of technology makes it ripe for fitness tech to grow. In addition, the traditional approach to exercising can be unappealing at times—this idea that you have someone yelling at you as you squat. Peloton is a great example of flipping the script on this. You can take classes anytime without anyone pressuring you or screaming at you as you work out on your own terms.

Finally, we need to consider that since the early 20th century, we’ve been living a more sedentary lifestyle. And with that comes lifestyle illnesses, which we know exercise can protect us from. And fitness tech can help with that.

 

Macadamian: What are the trends you’re seeing in the fitness-tech industry? And how’s the pandemic impacting these trends?

Today, many of us are working from home. And if you’re able to work from home, you’re also able to work out from home. One trend I’m seeing is companies like Peloton or Zwift taking advantage of this by building digital communities or artificial environments. You can follow and compete with other people across the world while you workout from your living room. These virtual communities are a growing trend.

But like with any trend, there’s going to be pushback. And I think there is opportunity here as well. There will always be a group of people who don’t engage with the digital space the way others do. Think about it this way, you work from home and you communicate with your colleagues virtually. We’re also communicating with friends and family virtually more often these days. Everything is digital, everything is through a screen. So when it comes to working out, people might be like, “I want to go for a walk outside, I just want to be in nature for a while.” There might be this need to return to nature rather than working out from home or in gyms where you’re doing 12 reps of dumbbell curls. Now, where does fitness tech come into this? Technology can actually help you by providing the tools you need to disconnect and take a break.

 

Macadamian: Why is behavioral science important to consider in the realm of the fitness tech industry?

Getting people to move is hard. Getting people to exercise is difficult. And if you think about behavioral science—health behavior theory in particular—there are many theories to help people work out. Behavioral science helps you understand how to get someone from a state of not exercising to exercising. One of the more successful methods entails contingency management, which can include paying someone to exercise. In the fitness tech industry, however, behavioral science focuses on motivation, and for good reason. When it comes to exercise, most people are extrinsically motivated, meaning that they exercise for some sort of external reward. Intrinsic motivation has to do with working out solely for yourself. Maybe it’s because you enjoy it. Intrinsic motivation tends to lead to lasting change.

Thing is, intrinsic motivation is really difficult. It’s not always possible, and you can’t expect everyone who uses technology to go from an extrinsic to an intrinsic source of motivation to work out. When it comes to fitness tech, behavioral science is built on the assumption that most of us are extrinsically motivated to work out. This can help us dictate the design around our fitness tech products.

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