The World of Fitness

Every week I run between 40 and 50 miles. Some on the streets; some on nicely paved trails through parks; some even up and down rocky, root-filled forests, passing rills and waterfalls. And I do almost none of it alone. I belong to a running group which meets several times a week. Some runners make almost every run; others show up 2 or 3 times a month. Some are fast; some slow. Some only ever hit the road; some prefer the challenge and grind of technical trails. Some are even triatheletes, using the running group round out a much broader fitness regimen. We’re only united by a passion for fitness and a fondness for striding. Oh, and a love for stats. The runner loves his stats. And for stats you need gadgets.

For instance, almost every runner I know has some kind of fitness watch. A few have as many as 3! These range from the inexpensive and basic Garmin Forerunner ($99) to the pricey Garmin Fenix 3 HR ($649). The more expensive models track not only heart rate and distance traveled, but pop out whacky statistics, like vertical oscilation and vO2 max, that you practically have to be a scientist to understand. They’ll even tell you how long you should rest in between workouts and what speed you should be going during different types of runs. This is an app developer’s dream. If the low key FitBit targets the very casual- people looking to stay healthy without a huge investment of time and money- there’s still a broad market for health related devices and apps for both the slightly more serious and the incredibly devoted.

Indeed, running is no longer a niche market. Before small declines in 2014 and 2015, running event finishes had peaked at over 19 million in 2013, up from fewer than 5 million in 1990. A lot of this increase comes from casual runners, who may want more than a FitBit but less then a Garmin. They’re the 5k- far and away the most popular distance, making up better than 45% of total finishes- runners.

These folks are using all kinds of apps to enhance their running experience, from pure GPS apps like MapMyRun and Strava, to apps that give you training plans and tips like Couch-to-5k and Runkeeper. There are even apps like Outsider which tell you what kind of run to expect given the weather.

Nor is the running world the only market for fitness apps. This week Mathew Fraser won the 10th annual Crossfit Games, winning himself the title of Fittest Man on Earth. He took home a whopping 292k for his troubles. The total available prize money has grown to 2.2 million. This is a far cry from the first CrossFit Games, where the male and female winners took home $500 a piece.

This testifies to the increasing popularity of the sport. Indeed, ESPN and ESPN2 aired, combined, all 10 hours of competition and another 51 hours of extras on WatchEspn, the network’s pay, online channel. Nor is it just a spectator sport. Despite that the brand was coined barely a decade ago (2005), as of 2014 there were over 10,000 specialty CrossFit gyms. Today that number is 13,000 and growing.

For the crossfit athlete, the dominant apps (Pocket WOD and Fitlist) provide WODS (Workouts of the Day), but there are others that mimic some of tools of running apps. “Chronic Timer & Run Tracker” and “Seconds” are both popular because they make it easier for Crossfiters to set up intervals, do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), and tabata (a kind of HIIT workout), all core parts of the Crossfit system. For the Crossfit athlete plunking down hundreds a month for a Crossfit gym, the investment a few extra bucks in an app is barely a drop in the water. In short, while America may still have an obesity problem, it also has a bit of a fitness craze, and it will need more fitness apps than ever to meet demand.