Social media fitness sites offer support, motivation

Written By BY DIANA NOVAK Staff Reporter Posted: 03/12/2014, 04:54pm

When social media and fitness intersect, what comes to mind?

If it’s #thinspiration shots of models on Pinterest and in-your-face gym mirror selfies posted by bodybuilders, you wouldn’t be totally wrong.

Often, those images of perfection leave many feeling inadequate and discourage them from hitting the gym.

But a growing number of entrepreneurs are figuring out how to tap into social media to ignite motivation. As exercise has become more social — think mud runs with friends, or “sweatworking” with business contacts — many push themselves harder because their peers hold them to it.

Sharing fitness goals and achievements on social media can be about pride you feel in yourself, say many Chicago users of sites dedicated to tracking and sharing workouts.

The newest of these networks is Sweat Sync, which was developed as a scheduling tool for friends looking to sweat together, according to site founder Anita Mirchandani.

Mirchandani started a crowd-sourced map of fitness studios in New York called FitMapped. She polled her users and found that while it helps to know what kinds of fitness classes exist near you, friends actually are what get you to go.

“They told us, ‘The only reason we would try a new workout is if we had a friend waiting for us,’ ” Mirchandani said.

Sweat Sync launched Jan. 1 in Chicago as a platform that allows you to organize a workout with your friends and rate studios. The site still is in its early stages, but it is only the latest in a trend that Mirchandani expects to grow.

“People are more inclined to sticking with something if someone else is holding them accountable,” she said of her survey.

Not all friends are open to being your workout buddy, though. New Yorker Dick Talens founded Fitocracy, a fitness-based social network similar to Facebook, with his friend Brian Wang in 2011 after they had success with using more anonymous online communities to lose weight and build muscle.

Fitocracy is a “community of support and feedback” with a Facebook-like design, where people can announce their goals, track them and get “props” from fellow users. There’s no friending on Fitocracy, though — it employs Twitter’s interaction style: People, largely strangers, follow you and “prop” you if they are interested in how you are getting fit and want to see you succeed.

“Most people who are not fit, [or are] out of shape, have an offline pool of friends who are similar. You try to make a change, and they will kind of discourage you,” Talens said.

Using Fitocracy to simply announce your goals brings you closer to accomplishing them, Talens said, because you are setting yourself up for accountability and encouragement from the community.

Jay Ryan, 36, an Internet systems engineer in Aurora, tracks all his workouts on the Fitocracy app while he moves around the gym. Fitness is a major part of Ryan’s life, he said, but he has a hard time finding support from friends and family.

“In every other form of social media, [when I post about workouts] the amount of hate that immediately gets generated by my friends or family is really intense,” Ryan said. “On the other end of that spectrum, if you were to post on Fitocracy you ran five miles today, there would not be no hatred.”

“It’s really beneficial for people who are trying to make a positive change in their lives to have other people who have also been there,” Ryan said. He writes himself notes to remember to follow along with and commend Fitocracy friends’ progress as they train for marathons or try to reach other goals.

The pull of the community is key, according to Talens, because it takes time to reap the benefits of a workout.

On Fitocracy, users post photos and statuses, join groups and earn points based on logged workouts — enough to keep people on the site an average of four hours a month, which Talens said rivals Facebook.

“We see people coming every day to interact with the community,” Talens said.

Chicagoan Lynette Geris, a corporate accountant, said being able to discuss fitness and diet topics in Fitocracy’s groups keeps her coming back. “Any health questions … that’s my go to,” Geris said.

Ben Weiner, co-creator of dailymile, a social training log for running and other exercise that launched in 2008, said the original idea behind the site was race registration. They added the social networking platform as an afterthought, but were surprised to learn that was what people wanted most from the site.

Now, more than 1 million people actively track their fitness on the site, according to Weiner.

“We got really lucky early on with the type of people who started using the site who established a really positive, encouraging culture,” Weiner said in an email.

Efraim Juarez, 31, a Chicago accountant and marathon runner, said dailymile is particularly helpful when training gets tough.

“It’s nice to have the motivation between different people if you have a bad run or a bad week,” Juarez said.

No matter what, Juarez said he tracks every run on dailymile. As he’s running, he thinks about what it will look like on the site.

“I better finish my run that I started so I can post it on there.”


Twitter: @dhnovak

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