Fitbit, Peloton – Do Fitness Apps Really Work?


This post was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen and edited by Chief Editor Angel Cheng.  

Do Fitness Apps Really Work?

Health and well-being and fitness are hard to quantify, yet we can see health and well-being when we see it.

Even stronger, we can feel it.

We definitely feel it when things aren’t going well.

Awareness, energy, decision-making, even happiness. All these attributes increase when we are healthy. And decrease when we aren’t.

In this post, I’ll look at how positioning our wellness from a place of White Hat motivation will help us succeed in the long-term.

I’ll also discuss the pitfalls of Black Hat design in approaching a game like health and wellness. In doing so, we’ll take a look at Fitbit Blaze and Peloton Bikes in supporting our health goals.

We’ll also take a look at procrastination and short-term vs long-term thinking in routine-building for health and well-being.

With luck, you’ll learn something going into your New Year’s Resolutions…but stand by for next week’s post, because thinking about Year-End Resolutions is much more powerful.

Starting with White Hat

Since a maintenance of health and well-being is a forever game (if you don’t have health, you don’t have much), then beginning from a place of seeking health and well-being as a purpose is a smart motivational decision.

By assigning purpose, we fit any activity (desired action) in support of maintaining a healthy lifestyle into Core Drive 1: Epic meaning and Calling. Core Drive 1 is a White Hat Core Drive and straddles our left and right brain (it involves extrinsic and intrinsic motivation).

There are many other motivations for fitness. You might want to get in shape for your wedding. For someone else’s wedding. Because you want to date more. Your doctor told you. Or because someone told you that you should consider losing some weight.

Not all of these motivations come from Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning and Calling. A model who needs to lose a few pounds to keep her job might be operating under CD4 and CD8.

Designing for Wellness

Even though Core Drive 1 is being served, other Core Drives can be put to service desired actions. I recommend using a mix of White Hat and Black Hat design.

Too much Black Hat and you might burn out.

Procrastination on fitness

Procrastination is as prevalent in fitness as it is on anything. Working out usually isn’t that fun. It might make you feel good after the workout (or in some cases–during–as is the case with “runner’s high”), but workouts can be annoying at best and uncomfortable at worst.

So it’s understandable that you sometimes succumb to procrastination.

You might be tempted to use Black Hat design. Yu-kai talked about how Black Hat design can work to overcome procrastination in the short-term, but the longer one relies on Black Hat design, the more the risk of burnout rises.


Wearables and environmental physical motivation

Wearables provide environmental cues that are on your person (I previously wrote about this in Moti vs Pavlok), tools, and reminders to aid workouts. I’m going to take a bird’s-eye view now of wearables with Fitbit as the proxy. A future post will compare various products against Fitbit.

Fitbit Blaze

For a specific example, let’s look at the Fitbit Blaze (my girlfriend owns one, so I’ve seen it in use for several months).

The Blaze has a heart-rate monitor, GPS connection, and coaching built-in. (The coaching is automated–not an actual human.)

We see Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment for achievements and Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession (tracking stats over time).


I feel this particular FitBit product should add a collaborative challenge option, a group-based goal to get, say, 100,000 steps between a group of friends over a weekend. This targets the White Hat side (collaboration) of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, versus the Black Hat side (competition).


A member of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook community Jacob Bender recently shared an example of gamification applied to a fitness product: the Peloton exercise bike. He saw the bike advertised during a commercial on Hulu.


Beyond featuring live classes and social leaderboards (CD5), it also features performance tracking and easy to read stats. At a glance, this product attempts to tap into Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling, Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment, Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, and Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. The website is designed to onboard various people looking for different things. It’s interesting to see these design elements in something like a simple exercise bike.

The website also steers potential buyers away from cognitive dissonance (the price tag is $2,000) such as user reviews (Core Drive 5), motivational calls-to-action explaining how it will feel (Core Drive 1), and allows you to pick a trainer that fits you (Core Drive 4). Here in the Discovery phase, we see a slick combination of marketing and product features.

The advantage of environmental cues

I previously wrote about Moti (in Moti vs Pavlok). In the case of the Pelton (if you have one in your apartment or home), the physical bike serves as an environmental cue.

This works to trigger the desired action by reminding us of our motivation. People like Justin Kan (formerly use stationary bikes to workout while also answer questions on Snapchat and Whale (his new startup).

I have used a similar product, the Expresso bike, to play games like Dragon Chase. There’s a small difference between me and Justin–this bike is located in my apartment building’s fitness room, so I can only use it if I walk there (still, I love having a fitness center in my apartment building versus having to drive to the gym).

Avoiding Putting Exercise “At Odds” with Priority Work

Ever heard someone say, “There’s never enough time in the day”?

Do you find yourself nodding or wanting to solve the problem?

Here’s where I stand.

Objectively, there are only 24 hours in a day (I secretly wish there were 29 hours, because I like to work long hours and sleep long hours…I could do some kind of 18/11 split).

But, do you really think you are busier than, say, Bill Gates?

Probably not.

But this argument alone might not be enough to sway you…

You might have two kids, a primary job and a side hustle, and so on. But because lives are busy, it’s easy for other things to get in the way, or for workout habits and routines to get in the way of things that matter to us. Especially when implementing new routines, watch out for this pitfall.

Which is why you should consider…

Making fitness a good habit (or a routine)

Making fitness a habit isn’t easy. Nir Eyal and others have described how, sometimes, willpower is to blame.

If only exercise were more engaging. If only it was fun! We see some of the above products and experiences trying to add creativity or social or fun to the actual workout itself, making it playful. Less like work and more like recess was in grade school.


Gary Vaynerchuk famously struggled to get his workout routine established, even after deciding he wanted to get in better shape.

He missed morning workouts for months until he found out what motivation techniques worked for him. For him, he didn’t want to let down his trainer. He didn’t want to let people down.

This made him accountable to other people, not just himself.

Wait, isn’t this Black Hat?

It certainly seems like it.

But on the other hand, Gary’s decision to add workouts into his overall work routine (Gary loves to work), he has shifted the intent of the workout into a different sphere of his life–his working life.

Short-term versus Long-term fitness objectives

If you were with me on the premise that health and well-being is a forever game, then the argument follows that short-term exercise goals (if not connected to long-term purpose) are at best dubious. Short-term goals, unless they trigger the next action as part of your motivational design, won’t get you long-term health maintenance.

My next post will be about making year-end resolutions. Because there’s still time to finish things you had on your plate this year.

I’ll see you in the comments. What workout routines have been effective for you? What Core Drives help you get there?


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