Fitocracy: Fitness through the gamification of motivation

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posted 4/19/2012 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
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 As I sat on the leg press machine listening to Jay-Z enumerate his problems (which surprisingly, did not include problems with women) a series of tones sounded indicating the end of my 60 second rest period. As the last tone sounded I inhaled and then exhaled sharply as I pushed the stack of weights off their resting position. As I felt the familiar burn in my thighs and hamstrings I started to think about why I was sitting at the gym lifting weights instead of relaxing with my dogs or playing one of the many games in my video game backlog.

The answer? Well it's a little complicated but it boiled down to staying on top of the Fitocracy leaderboard. How did I get there? Well here's the story on that.

Like most of the world I entered 2012 with a resolution around losing weight and getting into shape. This was especially important for me as I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes three years ago. For the first two years I kept the disease mostly in check but in 2011 I backslided significantly which means I am now on a medication to regulate my sugar levels. This sucks for any number of reasons including the side effects of said medication, but mostly it felt like a personal failure to take care of myself.

The problem with this kind of resolution is that the enthusiasm you have at the start of January wanes around the start of February. At that point the newness and fun of working out is replaced by the grind of endless miles on the treadmill and rep after rep of lifting weights. Even with mixing up workout routines you’re still going to the same place for an hour plus a day which can becomes de-motivating. This is visually evident as what was a crowded parking lot at the Gym at 6:00 AM in January becomes a relative ghost down by Valentines Day.


For me the solution to getting past this hurdle has been Fitocracy. In a nutshell Fitocracy adds a gaming element to your workout routines by rewarding you with points for each exercise you do as well as offering achievements and challenges to get you to try new things. These points are tracked on a leaderboard so you can see how you stack up against other users as well as your friends who are also in the service.

I come from a fairly competitive family (my family has turned gift giving at Christmas into something of a competitive event) so having friends and co-workers to complete against has provided that extra motivation to get to the gym. Getting back to the leg press, I was there because I needed a few more points to maintain my lead on my friend Bengi and I wasn’t about to let her pass me up because I was tired and didn’t sleep well the night before. My friend Ben was charging up on me and I was keen to keep bragging rights for another day or so which made that burn feel all the sweeter.

There’s nothing like logging a big workout into the system and then seeing that you’ve passed someone and conversely there’s nothing like having a rest day and seeing that you’ve been passed by someone who was just a little more motivated than you were.  These are the same feelings you get when you see that someone has logged a better time than you in Need For Speeds Autotlog or when you see that someone stayed up to earn those extra achievements on Xbox Live.


The challenges are a nice touch as they allow you to earn additional points for your workouts. This requires you to plan your workouts ahead of time though. I do feel like these help people game the system a bit but they do get you to try new things which is nice (I’m not sure I would even know what a Pendlay Row was if it wasn’t for Fitocracy).

Personally I’d love to see some kind of Xbox Live or PSN app for Fitocracy so that the information is available on my Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. This of course would create some interesting gaming decisions as Fitocracy does award points for playing dance games like Dance Central or Just Dance. Personally I think having to make a decision between fragging people in Gears of War 3 multiplayer vs. playing Dance Central for achievements while burning calories is a decision more gamers should be making.

Since I started writing this article Ben and Bengi have passed me due to spate of personal and injury issues but I’m going to catch and pass them at some point this summer. Of course the side benefit is that along the way I’ll to lose weight, get in shape, and keep my blood sugar under control which means I'll live longer and be able to compete more. Sure it's an endless cycle but I'm glad it's there.
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