Gettin' Naggy With It: The Latest in Fitness Tech

By Nathaniel Mott , written on July 26, 2012

From The News Desk

Some people catch the exercise fever right away. You know these people. They're the ones that always seem to be up for running through the park or playing one "sport" or another. For some, exercise is a genuinely pleasurable activity that doesn't feel like a chore or burden. For others exercise is a pain in the ass, a facet of life that is best ignored via three hamburgers and a ChocoTaco.

It's possible to convert the ChocoTaco crowd, but it takes persistence. Fitness tech (which I have written about here and here) seems to have realized this, as a number of services have launched or been updated with the express purpose of nagging users into exercising. Now the only question is whether or not these services can successfully grab users' attention and entice them to get up and moving.


PumpUp is a platform in private alpha that will cost $10 per month on release. Currently available as a Web app, PumpUp is developing iPhone and iPad apps for a future release. PumpUp is in a relatively early stage of development, but it's far enough along for its main draws to be defined.

Built around single exercises, PumpUp will take your personal data (height, weight, etc.) and what you want to accomplish with each workout and develop a personalized exercise regimen for each user. Once an exercise is generated, PumpUp will ask users to choose their workout days and times and will send an email reminding them that it's time to get up and get moving. I received an email on each of the days I had designated without fail, and each email shows images of the exercise and the number of sets, reps, etc. needed to constitute a full workout.

GAIN Fitness

Free in the App Store with the option to purchase expansion packs for around $3 to $7 a pop, GAIN is similar to PumpUp in that it will automatically generate exercises based on certain criteria. The "freemium" nature of the app will be off-putting for some, but the benefit of making one, finite purchase instead of paying a subscription fee can be cheaper in the long term.

GAIN's notifications are more personalized than PumpUp's, simultaneously persistent and almost apologetic. "So you missed a few days," it will say. "It's not too late to get back on track." GAIN's notifications aren't available across all platforms in the same way that PumpUp's are, but they have the benefit of being self-contained and separate from the hundreds of other email notifications a user may receive.


Wello uses real, live trainers to develop personalized workouts and interact with users via video stream. The service is more costly than both PumpUp and GAIN, with some trainers costing upwards of $100 per hour.

You can't beat a real person when it comes to nagginess, though. It's hard to tell a trainer that you're working out when you're actually eating ice cream, for example, and when you're paying $100 per hour to get in shape you're damned well going to get your money's worth. Wello is, by its very nature, more "involved" than either GAIN or PumpUp, but that may be what some users need.

Does Nagging Translate to More Exercise?

But here's the kicker: Do these services, with their varying degrees of persistence, actually encourage exercise? The answer, unfortunately, is "Maybe."

Using email or notifications to remind someone to exercise sounds great on paper. "They always have their phones on them!" or "Everyone checks their email constantly!" you'll think, and you'll be right.

I get more email than the average person because of my job, but a glance at some family member's and my fiancee's email inboxes show that they also receive a large number of spam emails, from Nigerian princes and Walmart and the like. (There are other examples, but we like to think of PandoDaily as a family-friendly blog.)

PumpUp's email is just one more in a 50-email queue waiting for me when I wake up, and by the time I get around to that particular email it's too late for a workout anyway. GAIN suffers from a similar problem. It seems that every app wants access to notifications these days, ranging from news to a new challenge in one of many games. And that's not taking into account the missed calls, text messages, Tweets, Instagram and Facebook Likes, or, again, email.

Fitness app notifications may be separate from those of other apps, but they're still swimming in an already crowded sea. So what's the solution? I may sound like a broken record at this point, but the answer lies in the combination of hardware and software.

Jawbone's Up wristband (before it was pulled from the shelves) would vibrate when its wearer had gone too long without making some kind of movement. The real, physical nudge from the wristband was harder to ignore than one email or notification.

That isn't to say that PumpUp or GAIN's notifications won't be enough for some people, but it may not be enough for the those in the ChocoTaco crowd who need to exercise but are finding it difficult to cross that initial hurdle. Both services are on the right track and are worth a look for their other features, but it's hard to beat the persistence and presence of a physical reminder to get up and get moving.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]