Rival fitness platforms battle to make remote workouts more sociable

Woman working out in her living room, and looking at another woman on her TV doing the same pose
(Image credit: MyFitApp)

As lockdowns ease around the world, it's great to see so many gyms re-opening. But even so, many of us are now used to virtual workouts, and won't want to give them up. So it's fantastic to see so much innovation continuing in this space. 

Specifically, we've just seen two major launches from virtual workout platforms. The first came from HD livestream and on-demand video service myFitApp, which was launched in 2011 by Innovatise, and is used by more than 1,700 gyms to give virtual lessons to their members. 

Still trying to build on that early advantage, which served it well during the pandemic, myFitApp yesterday announced a number of new interactive features. Most notably, these include a live chat function, allowing gym members to talk with instructors in high quality audio. 

This means gym members can ask questions, and instructors can give feedback, both during and after the workout. Class members can also chat to each other and share what they call 'emoji storms' while working out.

Woman in yoga pose on mobile phone screen, surrounded by emojis

(Image credit: MyFitApp)

That's smart thinking. There's a reason, after all, that many people prefer group classes to one-to-one sessions or training alone. The social aspect, and the subconscious need to keep up with the pace of the group, is a powerful motivator.

The second launch came from Barry's, a network of studios dedicated to high-intensity workouts, founded in 1998 in West Hollywood by Barry Jay, Rachel Mumford and John Mumford.

Building on the At Home workout programme they launched during the pandemic, Barry's yesterday launched Barry X, which again is software for live and on-demand workouts that features high-end video and audio. The real twist here, though, is that you get personalised privacy settings.

This means you decide who sees you when you're on camera: everyone, only selected people, or just your instructor. Given the hideous, sweaty faces many of us pull when in the middle of a strenuous workout, we can see why some people might want that option.

The words 'Meet our instructors' and two fitness instructors in dramatic pose

(Image credit: Barry's)

Make some room

Barry's and MyFitApp are by no means the only actors in this increasingly competitive space. Earlier this year saw the launch of Bande, a fitness community that offers over 100 live virtual classes each week. 

Its activities include HIIT (High-intensity interval training), barre, yoga, cardio sculpt, pilates, kickboxing, and cardio dance. Bande's instructors hail from well-known brands in the boutique fitness space, and are firmly focused on giving customer a studio experience at home.

The company was founded by working mom Rebecca Balyasny, who was motivated by the sense of isolation she felt during lockdown. And so as you'd expect, it's strong on social features, including such as group chats, private voice messaging and a friending feature, all designed to "celebrate a feeling of togetherness".

Woman in yoga pose shown on computer screen

(Image credit: Bande)

There are many other similar apps, and likely to be more besides. Because despite society opening up again, anecdotal evidence suggests that gym members now have the 'workout from home' habit, and it's one they're unlikely to want to let go of.

Some are still uncertain about the safety of leaving their houses, especially to go into a small, poorly ventilated room with lots of other people sweating and breathing heavily. Others, meanwhile, have just become used to the convenience of working out at home. Especially if their lives have become much busier since lockdown ended, and they just haven't got time to travel back and forth to the gym.

Range of phone and computer screens showing graphs and video of woman working out

(Image credit: MyFitApp)

During lockdown, with their customers stuck at home, it was okay to cobble together online lessons on a free platform like Zoom. But now customers are expecting something more reliable and user friendly. 

Ultimately, we're certain they'll end up shifting to platforms that manage to combine robust and reliable streaming with user-friendly, social features, matched with the appropriate level of privacy. Hitting that sweet spot will mean your customers see virtual gym membership as much more valuable than just following a YouTube video or workout DVD.

Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in tech, design and sleep products. Over the years he's tested a number of mattresses, duvets and pillows, and as a back pain sufferer, has a keen interest in finding ones that offer maximum support. Plus, in running a successful Airbnb business, sleep hygiene and providing the right bedding for guests has become a big part of his day-to-day life. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books.