Salt is a difficult ingredient. Not because everyone’s mother loves to yell “That’s going to clog your arteries!” but because salt needs to be carefully measured and applied to any recipe. Too much salt and the dish is ruined, not enough and the meal is bland. Building a social network around fitness is the same way. Too much time spent socializing and sitting in front of a computer talking about fitness is probably about as effective as sucking Twinkie filling through a straw. Without that social element, however, fitness can become dull and unexciting.

Fitocracy is adding a little salt. The company’s social side used to take a backseat to its gamified fitness tracking element, but a new redesign puts the emphasis on who you’re talking with about fitness instead of what you’re doing to be fit. Gamified fitness tracking is still present, but it is no longer the core aspect of Fitocracy.

The two elements of the service were blended together earlier this year to create the Duels feature, which allows two users to fight to the…well, until one of them loses, as other users gather around and throw taunts. As I wrote when Duels was officially unveiled, the feature can only exist, because users were comfortable enough as a community to expose themselves to what could quickly become a school-yard brawl conducted via the Internet.

Duels may have been the perfect gateway feature to lead into this new redesign. Users were encouraged, via a shiny new feature, to build their community and transform fitness tracking from something that is a typically solo affair into a social, community-based process. Today’s redesign pushes the needle further from gamified fitness tracking  and closer to a social fitness platform as a continuation of the community groundwork laid by Duels and the way users interacted with the service.

New users will be asked a series of questions concerning their fitness goals and their interests, and Fitocracy will automatically generate groups that the user may want to join. Fitocracy’s foundational ethos is that as users engage with each other, both as individuals and via groups, they will be more receptive to fitness advice and motivated to make appropriate changes in their lives.

Fitocracy will have to walk the narrow line between too little and too much emphasis on social networking with this new release. The basic premise, that users will meet their fitness goals faster if they are able to connect with like-minded people, is sound. But – and this is a big “but” – connecting via a group that isn’t rooted entirely in fitness may end up backfiring and creating a “fitness” site where users sit around and discuss their mutual interest in grammar or JRR Tolkien (and yes, those are both real groups). The team at Fitocracy has realized this and is planning to expand its workout tracking tool in a future update, but the service will have to play a careful balancing act moving forward.

All told, I find myself enjoying Fitocracy’s latest update. The company’s original site wasn’t poorly designed, but this latest iteration blows the previous out of the water. There is ample white space on each page – a growing trend in UI design – and a few animations that make the site feel like an entirely new service.

To continue with the food metaphor, Fitocracy is like a dish served in an upscale restaurant. With this redesign, Fitocracy has assumed the role of the server whose sole job is adding salt and pepper to the diner’s meal. If they add too little salt  – in this case, social networking – the meal may not be interesting enough to keep people coming back. Add too much, however, and the meal has been ruined. The trick is to know when to say “when.”

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]