By Adrian Hon of Six to Start

The number of people in the UK with gym memberships has risen to an all-time high in the last few years, with over 9 million people now subscribed to a gym. This is an impressive figure. But when you consider that some fitness apps have generated over 1 million downloads alone, the scale of the market suddenly becomes more obvious.

But how have these fitness apps impacted the gym industry? Are they simply stealing users or are gyms and apps working more harmoniously alongside one another?

If you look simply at the numbers, it seems fairly balanced. But this doesn’t take into account the numbers of gym membership or app downloads that go unused. It’s estimated that around two-thirds of gym membership goes unused after the first month or two, for example. However, there are a few areas in which apps are winning:

1. Cost

Six to Start Run LogApps tend to cost a much less than gym memberships – the technology is easily scalable, requiring few additional resources. When we first launched our most popular app, Zombies, Run!, it cost $7.99. People called us crazy. But compared to the cost of a month gym membership it was nothing, pittance. Our downloads exploded.

2. Availability

Another key challenge the gym industry will have to address is that of availability. You need a physical location and space will always be limited. As they gain more members they will meet capacity issues. New premises lead to increased costs. Any returns are eaten up by growth costs. Apps, on the other hand, are available at any time and don’t require anything but trainers.

3. Entertainment

I began working on Zombies, Run! as I was bored of gyms. Staring at a TV playing the UK Top 40 while I bounced around on a treadmill wasn’t really getting me excited. Forcing myself back to the gym time and again felt painful. Zombies, Run! turns that around by adding a narrative to your run. The immersive story means you almost forget that you’re running to keep fit – you begin running for fun!

4. Exciting Future

Okay, I’m sure there are some people who get incredibly excited by new equipment at their gym. I am not one of them. A treadmill will always be a treadmill to me, regardless of the bells and whistles. Apps, on the other hand, have almost boundless potential. It could be stories, virtual races, virtual personal trainers, linking you with an expert half-way around the world – and that doesn’t even take into account future tech like virtual- or augmented-reality.

What can gyms do?

For gyms to stay at the forefront of the market they need to go through a period of innovation and change. They need to consider what makes their users stick to their training plan, keep coming back week-after-week, and push themselves further than ever before. They need to understand how technology can be used to encourage users to come back and make even more gains.

The gym of the future could look like a physical space augmented with apps, or it could go completely virtual as apps out-perform physical gyms. It comes down to what gyms do next.

About the Author:

Adrian HonAdrian Hon is CEO of Six to Start (c-creators of Zombies, Run!), author of ‘A History of the Future in 100 Objects’ and a former neuroscientist and tech writer.

Six to Start are co-creators of Zombies, Run! – the world's most popular smartphone fitness game with 250,000 active players, 30 million km logged online, and 200+ epic missions.

To find out more:

Twitter: @adrianhon

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