Gamify Your Workout: Apps That Make Fitness Fun

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eHow Tech Blog

I know I’m not alone when I say that regular exercise is a necessary – but not very fun – part of staying healthy and fit. I’d rather play a game, read a book, or do just about anything besides jumping on the treadmill — and judging by the proliferation of apps and websites designed to “gamify” working out, I suspect I’m not alone.

If you’ve spent any time on tech blogs over the past year or so, you’ve probably seen the word gamification at least once or twice. Gamification is the process of taking a task that’s often considered boring and adding game mechanics, like achievements, levels and social interaction, to engage users. The idea is that by appealing to your competitive spirit, you’re more likely to continue “playing” the gamified task. It’s a concept that works especially well when it comes to fitness, since working out only works when you do it on a regular basis.

If you enjoy your workouts with a side of friendly social competition, Fleetly (Web, iOS; free) combines points and medals with a workout tracker to create a service that encourages you push just a little harder each time as you race to the top of the leaderboard against your friends. The app also includes instructions and videos to teach you more than 200 exercises, and works with Nike+ and the Withings Wi-Fi-enabled scale.

Looking for something a little spicier? Zombies, Run! (iOS, Android, Windows Phone; $7.99) turns a boring run into a race to escape a horde of hungry zombies and rebuild your civilization. As you run, the storyline unfolds through narrative tracks interspersed among songs from your own playlist. You receive orders that guide you toward the completion of more than 30 separate missions. Along the way, you collect items like medicine and ammunition; once the run is over and you’ve returned to your base, you must decide how to allocate these resources in a way that keeps your people safe and healthy. The app integrates with ZombieLink, an online system to track your runs and share your progress with friends.

If you want fewer zombies in your workout, consider Fitocracy (Web, iOS; free). It’s a fitness-centered social network that rewards you with points for every workout you complete; gather enough points and you’ll level up and gain badges, both appearing on your profile to show the world how hard you’ve been working. The site allows you to check out your friends’ routines and save your own for quick access, track all of your workouts, leave comments and props, and join groups for an extra push of motivation. The Fitocracy Hero paid subscription nets you additional perks, like the ability to challenge other players to a “duel” and save workouts uploaded by other people.

While all the positive reinforcement in the world can’t get you into the gym, perhaps a hit to your wallet will – at least, that’s what the creators of GymPact (Web, iOS; free) hope. The app raises the stakes of missed workouts by requiring you to commit to working out for a certain number of days each week, with your own money forfeited if you fail. To prevent cheating, GymPact requires you to check in at the gym or import GPS-verified RunKeeper activities; if you live up to your promise, you earn real money paid for by the people who failed to meet their goals.

Now that I have the fate of humanity in my hands and a few bucks on the line, lacing up my running shoes and hitting the trail feels less like work and more like play. What’s your best motivation for working out?

Photo courtesy of Zombies, Run!

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