Abs like Ronaldo? Break a sweat with Serena? Customized workouts anywhere? Alright Nike, sign me up.

Sticking to fitness routines is as much a motivation challenge as a logistical one. The Nike Training Club fitness app does a fantastic job addressing both of these user concerns. Here’s my review of the first fitness app to successfully get me out of bed on a weekend morning.

Fitness apps are a dime a dozen and finding the right fit is not easy. In a fairly crowded market, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the most obvious but critical user pain points.

From a personal standpoint, I would summarize my fitness goals across three major themes:

  1. Staying Motivated: Although I have tried a gym membership in the past and also briefly used a Fitbit; neither of these methods lasted beyond the initial honeymoon phase (2 months at best?). My Fitbit served as a gentle nudge to leave my books or laptop and hit my walking targets for the day. Eventually, I learned to ignore these nudges too (it’s easy to make excuses when you work long hours :) ). I believe this is an issue for most casual users looking to build a better fitness routine. Motivation is a mystery. There is simply no established recipe to convince a user to workout. Yet, Nike was able to do motivate me with some of the oldest tricks in the book. I have clocked at least three workouts a week for the last four months and suddenly the motivation seems to be coming through a lot easier.
  2. Finding a Workout for Any Situation: After graduating college in 2014, I worked in management consulting which required me to be on the road Monday thru Thursday and work 12 hour days on average. I would often wish for the ability to work out in my hotel room but didn’t really believe it would be effective. Perhaps more importantly, I questioned whether I would be able to build a routine with turbulent schedules and a lack of clarity on where I would be the next week. I simply didn’t believe that I could have a great workout “anywhere, anytime, without any equipment” while still meeting my personal fitness goals. Being able to confidently rely on a workout routine that can adapt to my location setting and availability of equipment was something I craved for.
  3. Mixing Things Up: I find it surprisingly easy to get bored of a regular routine. After a few weeks, the bench presses and pushups begin to feel repetitive. Once the boredom kicks in, I miss a couple of workouts to sleep in or Netflix, and that’s the end of my routine for a while. The importance of incorporating sufficient variety in a workout extends well beyond more holistic muscle development. It adds some spice and keeps you on your toes. You don’t know what to expect or how challenging your next workout will be. The element of the unknown adds a thrill that can make a difference between hitting the gym and staying in.
It’s really easy to resonate…

A little bit of research suggests that these three factors are not unique to me. In fact, some combination of the above factors collectively describes why most casual users drop out of fitness plans both online and offline. Former athletes, fitness junkies, and workout enthusiasts do not fall into the category of users that fall prey to these challenges. But the sizable population of less self-motivated folk (such as myself) that could use a helping hand is often forgotten when striving to build the most intensive and comprehensive fitness applications.

Here’s where the Nike Training Club does an incredible job. By managing to address these three core pain points for both casual and power users, they have built a powerful yet flexible fitness tool.

What is Nike Training Club? How does it work?

At a high level, Nike Training Club provides many of the same features as several other digital fitness apps in the market.

Users can choose from a broad variety of fully-guided workouts categorized by muscle type, duration or fitness goals. They can also build customized workout plans based on their goals.

Workouts are categorized by muscle group, workout type and collections.

Each guided app includes crystal clear audio and video assistance for form and timing.

Audio and video guidance make it easy to master form and keep pushing.

So what’s helped Nike Training Club hit more than 15 Million downloads and over 400 years of accumulated workout minutes since launch? The devil is in the details and Nike being pretty smart about gets even casual users like me to get motivated.

What makes NTC uniquely effective and engaging…

Celebrity-Athlete Inspired Workouts: One of the biggest draws of Nike Training Club is a collection of ‘Athlete Workouts’. Nike has played to its strengths here and leveraged its endorsement relationships with leading athletes in their fields to offer 37+ guided video workouts.

As a huge soccer fan who grew up idolizing Cristiano Ronaldo (Messi who?), the opportunity to do a guided video workout with CR7 was too compelling to pass on. The knowledge that Ronaldo helped design this workout himself, combined with an inspiring quote by him set against a backdrop of him crunching hard was all the motivation I needed.

How could this not make you want to work out?

Sure, you could argue that celebrity endorsements are amongst the oldest tricks in the book. But this goes beyond a simple marketing gimmick. Each of the athlete workouts is crafted and designed in detail by the athletes themselves and in doing so appeal to two sets of users. The naive fanboys such as myself are inspired to give these workouts an attempt and get moving. More advanced users also enjoy a highly effective and well-planned workout that is not too basic for their needs either.

Most importantly, Nike capitalizes on its incredible array of athlete partners to strike a chord the moment you open the app. From household names like Serena Williams to lesser known sports stars such as Chloe Kim (the youngest Olympian to win a Gold in snowboarding) and Lakey Peterson (ranked World #1 by the World Surf League), the collection of athlete workouts is targeted to a wide range of sports fans.

Workout names are also designed keeping in mind what potential users might be looking for. Who wouldn’t want abs like Cristiano or ‘Beach Legs’ like Lakey Peterson? There’s a natural psychological appeal to these workouts that make them more provocative than yet another workout named ‘Tricep & Back conditioning’.

Last but not least, the audio and video guidance options keep you engaged through the full workout. You can actually watch the athletes perform each rep and set with a timer to master your form or listen to their audio guidance on tips and tricks. My first long-distance guided run on the app, titled ‘Run with Mo’, included a background conversation with Mo Farah (two-time Olympic Gold medallist) as he describes his journey from Somalia to becoming the most successful British track athlete of all time.

“Run with Mo” felt like a real conversation with legendary Mo Farah

For all of us who have ever dreamt of training with our idols, this is as close as it can get. The fact that I could complete a 30-minute ab workout with Cristiano was encouraging enough to come back for more and add that extra spring to my stride.

Personalized Workout Plans that Adapt: One of the first steps in the setup process is a user input form covering information such as height, weight, current activity levels and fitness goals that allows Nike to customize a workout plan just for you. Additional toggles such as available equipment and the preferred number of weekly workouts allow you to customize your routine further. Workouts are then scheduled on a calendar (integrated with Google Calendar) and allow adequate time for recovery days.

Nike definitely seems to have put a good amount of work into this algorithm. The workout plans seem perfectly catered to my goals with very few workouts that seem too challenging or too easy. The Google Calendar integrations also ensure I’m reminded about my workouts well ahead of time and plan my days accordingly.

Adaptive workout plans are completely customized and synced with your calendar.

The best part of the personalized routines is its adaptive capabilities. Users can mark workouts as complete or note that they missed a workout. With exams and assignments often causing missed workouts, this feature has been critical to stay on track as Nike automatically re-schedules the remaining workouts on your calendar.

The flexibility the personalized routines provide is incredible. You can switch up a specific workout for a reasonable alternative if you do not have the equipment you need or can only commit to an at-home workout on a yoga mat. Looking back at my consulting days, this would have been a great way to stay on track without losing confidence in the vigor of the workout.

Nike uses data to build personalized recommendations

Nike further uses the data from the workouts you completed, the time you took to complete them and the difficulty you rate for each workout to recommend future workouts personalized to your routine and goals.

A Workout for Any Occasion: Sometimes we enter the gym not sure of what we’re looking for. Sometimes we’re sure we just want to try something new. Maybe we’re looking to tone up for a ‘Beach Body’ with spring break coming up. Even the most regular of bodybuilders sometimes react to a stray comment about having ‘chicken legs’. Regardless of the occasion, Nike Training Club’s incredibly vast assortment ensures you’re never bored.

Users can browse workouts by muscle type (core, arms, glutes…)or workout type (endurance, mobility, strength…) and also filter through a collection of no-equipment workouts and short workouts (less than 10 minutes).

Inspiring dreams of washboard abs + authentic Nike workouts to boot are a potent motivating combo

If you’re looking for a collection of workouts with very specific purposes such as improving running form or getting that beach body, you can find those too. Nike built these collections after significant user research to understand the most popular and searched for workouts. For popular collections such as ‘Get Leaner Stronger Abs’, they have even added recommendations for nutrition, sleep and more.

With over 200 workouts and counting, the assortment ensures you always have something interesting to work on. The positioning and placement of the workouts subconsciously get you thinking more about areas for fitness improvement and keep you coming back for more. The ‘Beach Body’ collection is definitely something that crosses my mind every year before the summer. For Nike, that’s user retention at it’s finest.

Chromecast & Airplay/Apple TV Integrations: Mobile screen sizes are a frustrating limitation of the fitness apps. Noone likes to crane their neck to check their form or pause to stand the cell phone back up again.

Nike Training Club tries to address this critical pain point with in-built Chromecast and AirPlay integrations. With rapid growth in Smart TVs as well, the app can be easily streamed onto larger TV screens or any device with Wi-Fi capabilities.

I believe this is a major advantage the app holds for a more seamless experience. I was able to stream the app directly to both my home TV and hotel TV screens (using a Chromecast) making my workouts much more enjoyable visually as well as on audio.

With an in-built Spotify integration as well, you can also listen to your tunes during the workout with a slight volume fade when the Nike coach is providing audio guidance. Combined with its streaming capabilities, the entire immersive experience feels comparable to having a live personal coach in the room with you.

It’s Free! (No caveats): The importance of this is probably self-evident. Nike does not view Nike Training Club as a revenue-generating product. As a byproduct of this reality, consumers are treated to an amazing fitness application that has absolutely no charges, ever.

This is an incredible competitive advantage as other applications such as Freeletics, PEAR and RockMyRun are dependent on pricing at least some premium features in order to generate revenue for growth. On the other hand, Nike simply views the NTC app as a platform to promote a range of complementary products such as sports goods, offline races and community meetups while building some great brand goodwill.

Pricing & fees are a major obstacle for casual users who are unsure of how often they can commit to a workout. The inclination to pay is simply very low for casual users. The irony lies in the fact that, for users such as myself; there is even more value to using Nike Training Club since we have the entire assortment available for free.

It’s not surprising that I have not downloaded any other fitness application since I started using Nike Training Club. In fact, there has been no reason to even consider an alternative.

A Crisp and Clean Interface: The front-end user experience may not be the most decisive factor in choosing a fitness app. However, Nike does not disappoint. True to the ‘cool’ look and feel you’d expect from a Nike product, the user interface is smooth, simplistic and clean.

The primary white backdrop allows the colors in the workout profiles to pop and present a sleek and sporty experience. Most importantly, the app is very easy to get used to and intuitive enough for first-time users to never get lost.

Nike Could Make This Even Better (If they Really Wanted To…)

Some general statistics on the fitness app market indicate that Nike Training Club and Run Club are not highly prioritized by the company. This would explain their free offering and also the fact the apps have very little marketing. I was surprised to only learn of the application myself last year, despite its launch over 5 years ago. A quick look at usage numbers also belies the tremendous potential NTC has.

As of May 2018 (the most recently available statistics) on Statista, Nike Training Club had less than a million unique active monthly users — far behind Fitbit with 27 million and MyFitnessPal with nearly 20 million.

There are a few improvements I would personally love to see in the app that could also boost user acquisition and retention.

Nike Fuel Points & Social Workout Sharing: Every completed workout on the NTC app earns users Nike Fuel Points. Users can also share their workouts with friends or on social media.

Both of these tools have enjoyed very limited success but hold tremendous potential. Currently, only runners tend to share their workouts with friends but other user segments are either unaware or uninterested in doing so. Nike Fuel Points, on the other hand, seem to have been totally neglected since Nike realized that the Fuel Bands were not catching on.

Nike Fuel could be used for gamification based user acquisition & building greater social media engagement

It would be great to see Nike Fuel Points utilized as a means to incentivize workouts and potentially even as reward points for purchasing Nike products at discount. Personally, I could see this motivating me to hit Fuel Point goals even quicker.

The social component of sharing workouts and broader fitness goals has also been highly underutilized. Fitness can be so much more rewarding and fun with the ability to encourage and workout with friends. Creating leaderboards, social challenges for rewards or even peer-to-peer betting games could be a great way for Nike to build a more social ecosystem around its users. With over 30 Million registered Nike+ users across a range of Nike products, there’s already a massive starting point.

Initiatives such as these could also help referrals and viral popularity increase significantly amongst users without the need for a large marketing budget.

Offline Events & Partnerships: If you choose to opt for email marketing (takes a patient soul) from Nike Training, you would be occasionally informed of local meetups and fitness events. In my opinion, Nike underestimates the power of a more robust offline integration strategy.

With offline events currently limited, Nike could use Training Club as a platform for users to organize sports leagues, pick up games & more

I absolutely love soccer. In fact, I would probably prefer soccer to a workout any day. Integrating the ability to book sports games on the application as an alternative to a video workout could be a massive social feature for Nike. When you consider the massive athlete population on Nike’s platforms, the proposition sounds even more appealing.

Offline partnerships with large companies, enabling their employees to use the app and perhaps purchase Nike products at a discounted rate could also be an interesting avenue to explore. If Nike were to successfully gamify Fuel Points, I would love to see a fitness leaderboard with my co-workers. Not only would it push each other to compete and hold ourselves accountable, but it would also be a great way for companies to encourage employee health and wellness as well.

Initiatives such as these must be driven by a corporate strategy that is ambitious about growth, user acquisition, and potential monetization. At this moment in time, Nike’s digital products simply don’t seem to reflect that internal ambition. With such a great mobile product experience in place; Nike would be truly remiss to not leverage it.

Product developers today have a formidable arsenal of tools at their disposal. From advanced machine learning based recommendation engines to augmented reality powered games, there’s a lot of exciting mobile applications in abundance. Yet, the most effective products are often those that address some fairly basic human problems with a clever understanding of human psychology.

Nike Training Club’s use of idol inspired motivation, adaptive workout routines and an exhaustive breadth of workouts for any occasion demonstrate an incisive understanding of their users. The simple yet effective motivation & guidance tools got me working out at least thrice a week. For that achievement alone, I consider it a fantastic product — and look forward to seeing how Nike continues to innovate on it in the future.

Columbia’14, Cornell Tech’ 19. Group Product Manager at Walmart+. I like football, marketplaces/subscription-commerce, geo-politics and philosophy.

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