User Research: Fitness app vs Gym

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Every UX Designer must have hands-on experience in ‘User Research’ to do justice to his/her work and that’s the dream that all of us here at UXShots decided to tackle a couple of months ago. Our research objective was to try and answer this question, “Can fitness apps replace gyms? And why?”

As techies, we spend a large majority of our time sitting in front of a computer and typing away. Our lifestyle is more sedentary than we’d like to admit and we want to change, if only it were that easy. Here’s a quick summary of how it happened.

Sample size: 30

Target group: Employees of Technopark

Mode of research: User Interviews. 

Some of the questions we asked:

  1. What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Fitness’?
  2. What do you prefer: gyms or apps? why?
  3. Did the apps you used help you? If yes, how? If no, why?
  4. Are you still using the app? If yes/no, why?

Many interviews and interesting conversations later, here are the key insights we gained:

Pros of apps:

  1. More women have tried fitness apps in comparison to men. Most apps they installed had the term “women” or “female” in the app name.
  2. Apps provide more flexibility to its users than visiting a gym which was widely appreciated.

Cons of apps: 

  1. Lack of motivation: The biggest reason for the abandonment of fitness apps was the lack of motivation to workout. Apps rely on self-motivation and it is not enough to keep users hooked. Some apps have timely notifications to workout and recommendations to add friends but so far, it hasn’t been effective.
  2. Advertisements: Advertisements tend to distract users from working out. Many users admitted that advertisements play during a workout session leading them out of the app and thereby ending their workouts.

Pro gym:

  1. 5 in 6 people believe that real change can be obtained only by visiting a gym. Apps were used largely for tracking via gadgets like Fitbit
  2. Gym goers were more consistent with their workouts due to the camaraderie they have with fellow gym members. A huge motivator for most users was the direct results they saw from visiting the gym.
  3. Gym trainers provided diets that are customized based on their goals, preference, and workouts. 
  4. Detailed information about each workout such as which muscles are being used, how many calories are being burned provided by trainers is further motivation for gym-goers.


Gym is still the most preferred workout medium. Though there has been an increasing boom in fitness apps and gadgets, the real user needs such as motivation, detailed information, customized diet plans, etc. that are met by gyms are yet to be explored in depth by apps. Apps may succeed when we use technology to figure out how to provide the in-person guidance and support provided by gym trainers.

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