I’ve been using Fitocracy for several months now, and I felt it was finally time to post up a review, along with some suggestions. While I’m not sure Dick and Co. will be particularly interested in what I have to say, I still feel it needs to be said regardless.
An overview of Fitocracy
First and foremost, let me explain Fitocracy for those who are not familiar with it. Fitocracy is a social networking site for fitness that combines exercise tracking, social networking, and RPG elements to create a site that hopefully helps keep you motivated to reach your fitness goals.
The main part of the Feed page is taken up by a feed which (after the latest update) is filterable by feeds from friends, groups, or chatter directly aimed at you. This is where most of the social aspect of Fitocracy takes place, and a lot of diverse things end up in the Feed.
For example, you can see here a couple of conversations from people I am following, Niobe and pOly_. In Niobe’s feed, she posted an update to her status where she states that she should probably start a photo album of her progress (I completely agree). pOly_, on the other hand, is commenting on GeneStarwind’s profile about his new routine and making suggestions.
These are both pretty common feed items, but you will also see one other very common type of update in your feed: Workouts.
This, for example, is one of my posted workouts, and how it shows up in the feed. For each exercise, it shows the reps and weight for each set, and then you have a small place where you can add a note about the set (shown in red). All of the little images below the exercises are thumbnails of people who gave me ‘Props’ for my workout.
Props are kind of like giving someone a thumbs up for a job well done, and are probably the most common way to interact on Fitocracy. One small piece of Fitocracy etiquette is to prop every actual exercise you see for all of your friends. It doesn’t take long, there’s no negative for doing it, it helps motivate folk, and it engenders goodwill. You can make a case for only propping stuff that is actually useful (like heavy compound lifts), but that’s a little arrogant (who are you to dictate what their goals should be?) and ultimately useless, because enough others are propping everything to make your lack of propping just ‘noise’.
Anyhow, after the props, you see a section where people are commenting on the workout. This is another good place that discussions get rolling, and there are a lot of good conversations that happen here.
The next page, ‘You’, is where the major information about you is kept. Here, you can see the RPG elements of Fitocracy, like your level, title and points remaining to the next level. These will be covered more in depth later, but a few additional things to note here are on the subsections of this page. These are: Titles, Achievements, and Quests.
Titles are the simplest, and are just things you can choose to have displayed at the top of your account based on things like exercises performed or level achieved. For example, mine here is ‘The Disciplined’, which I was able to choose because I got the ‘Get Low’ achievement.
Achievements are things you get for accomplishing certain single-exercise goals. For example, you get the ‘Get Low’ achievement when you perform a single rep of the barbell squat for 1x bodyweight. This is the first ‘level’ of the squat achievements; The next one is ‘No Stranger to the Rack’, which you get for performing a 1.5x bodyweight squat. Most achievements have three levels, and show up as little medallions on your profile page when you get them. People tend to prop achievements pretty heavily too.
Quests, on the other hand, are like achievements but are typically with multiple exercises that must be completed within a specific (usually short) time-frame. For example, the ‘Consistency is Key’ quest has you complete at least 10 total sets within 7 days. However, some quests simply exist to get you to try and exercise (‘The Squat isn’t so Scary’), or have you try to get a target number of reps with a target amount of weight (all of the ‘Widowmaker’ quests).
After the ‘You’ page is the ‘Track’ page, where you can track and save your workouts. This is actually one of the shining parts of the site, because they have a large number of diverse exercises, and a simple, easy to use interface.
Then you have the ‘Groups’ page, where you can see the groups you are a member of, the feed for all of your groups, and search for and join new groups. Groups allow you to join subsections of the community that are geared more towards your specific needs and goals. For instance, two of the groups I belong to, Powerlifting and Leangains, are geared towards my preferred lifts and diet style, and commonly have interesting discussions on these subjects.
Finally, you have the forum tab, which actually switches you out to a completely different interface with, as far as I can tell, completely separate data structures (like user accounts). The Fitocracy forum is pretty similar to any other forum you’ve ever been on, except it’s missing most of the upper-end features that are now common to most boards.
And now for the main event…
So, now that I’ve gone over the basics of what Fitocracy is, let’s get into the review. First and foremost, I love Fitocracy. It’s without a doubt, my favorite social network, for a lot of very cool reasons. First and foremost, the social community is much more tight-knit than either Facebook or Google+, much more like a small message board or old-school BBS than Facebook.
On Facebook, for example, the only people I friend/follow are those who I know in real life, with the sole exception of Richard Talens, which happens to be the Dick behind Fitocracy (ah, how I do love Dick jokes). Anyhow, I keep up with many of my friends and aquantences feeds on Facebook, but on Fitocracy, I keep up with people whom I hardly know.
I’m honestly hard pressed to say why this is. Perhaps this is a case of specificity and shared interests winning out, as we are all trying to succeed in our fitness goals, and our posts tend to (mostly) relate to those. However, I’m not sure that’s the whole story.
Regardless of why, the tightness is there, and when a user whom I have been following a while gets hurt, or has an emotional or physical setback, my heart goes out to them and I empathize with them. Similarly, when they succeed at reaching a goal, I feel some of their elation and get a great rush from cheering them on.
This pervasive sense of community is perhaps the greatest achievement, IMHO, of Fitocracy, and I’m honestly not even sure why it exists. I’m almost certain, however, that if it dies, so will the site.
A second crowning achievement of Fitocracy is the quality of both the UI and the iPhone app. I have to admit that the iPhone app, in particular, might be the best fitness app I’ve ever seen on any platform. It’s really that good.
To give you an idea of where I am coming from here, I currently use both the Fitocracy and DailyBurn iPhone apps to view and track my progress, and I am a paid member at both sites. Fitocracy’s first generation, brand-new app is better designed, more feature-rich, less buggy, and even prettier than DailyBurn’s multi-year-old app. However, this pretty much mirrors my experience with both sites. With the exception of nutrition tracking (which Fitocracy stubbornly refuses to add) and body measurement tracking, Fitocracy is a better platform than DailyBurn Tracker in pretty much every possible way.
The final place where Fitocracy shines is in the general idea. The idea of making a community where folk can compete, challenge, and motivate each other to reach their goals is awesome. For instance, groups can (and often do) create challenges within the group to achieve certain goals, like ‘Who can get the heaviest Widowmaker’. These can and do inspire people to do things far above and beyond what they normally would.
Case in point, my current best Widowmaker was inspired by a group challenge (which I won). I never would have even tried a Widowmaker had it not been for Fitocracy, and while I’m not sure it really helped my training any, it certainly broke the monotony of training through an injury.
All that being said, the implementation of a lot of this leaves a lot to be desired. For example, my biggest gripe with Fitocracy, in general, is the fact that the whole site is built on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mold. This philosophy doesn’t work in the best of cases, but it certainly doesn’t work with fitness.
In general, as far as fitness is concerned, you have three basic primary goals:
- Competitive Fitness: The goal here is to compete at the highest possible level in your speed/strength/endurance sport.
- Aesthetics: The goal here is to look good naked, whatever that means to you.
- Athleticism: The goal here is to be well rounded, fitness-wise. Skill-based sports athletes (Baseball, Football, anything where the sport involves something other than a direct physical contest) also usually fit this mold, as do most Crossfitters.
Most people are looking for some combination of the above three goals. Of course, you occasionally have people who are all into one camp or another, but for the most part, the average person is trying to get fit to A) Look good naked, B) Be in better overall shape and C) Impress folks in the gym/on the track/etc.
Fitocracy, however, takes all folks and lumps them into one big pile regardless of their goals. For example, there are Achievements and Quests that completely do not apply to me, and never will. I am never going to run a marathon. If that’s your thing, more power to you, but I think it’s retarded. I want to lift heavy shit and make women think horrible, evil thoughts. Running a marathon not only doesn’t meet my goals, it is actively harmful to them.
So how would I approach fixing this? Well, first, I would build a little interface with some sort of slider to allow you to weight your personal goals. Then, I would weight your points towards those goals.
For example, if you want to be strong as hell, then you should get something like 2x the normal points for setting a new PR, and even more than that if it’s a really impressive one (like a 2x BW bench). However, running a mile should give you almost no points, and running a marathon should probably give you negative points because it is actively catabolic.
Unfortunately, to do this right, Fitocracy is going to have to really step up their game on the measurement front, and also implement a food tracking (or at least a macro tracking) component. Why? Well if Aesthetics are your goal (and come on, almost everyone wants to inspire a sin or two), then food and measurements are the only real arbiters of success.
In following along with this theme, there also needs to be a ton more Achievements and Quests, and they should be specifically linked to your goals. Furthermore, I think that you could implement a Title and Class system based off of your expressed goals and really make level mean something as well.
In short, there’s a lot of mileage that could be gained out of the RPG idea, but it seems like the team simply hasn’t put enough thought or time or both into making it happen. And the unfortunate result is, well, it just doesn’t work at present. Levels don’t inspire me, Achievements don’t inspire me, and Quests don’t either.
However, this may be for the best, because the other downside of Fitocracy is that for some folk, it may actually promote too much effort. I can only speak for myself, but I am one of those people Lyle McDonald would term as ‘high strung’. I’m self motivated, highly efficient, and disciplined, and I positively don’t need to be pushed externally.
Case in point, my recent injury. I’m was coming to the end of a damn near year long cut, and my lifts were all (correctly) progressing very slowly. The right thing to do was to simply stay the course and progress slowly, then push hard once calories came up. However, I wanted to impress folk. A little less flatteringly, I want to show off to the Fitocracy community. So I pushed. Hard. And something broke.
Now, I’m not blaming this on Fitocracy. I take responsibility for my own actions, and this is certainly no one’s fault but my own. Showing off has been the bane of my existence since I was a little boy, so I really should know better by now. But I obviously don’t, and I also obviously have more will and desire than my body can realistically recover from, so the last thing on this earth that I need is external motivation. What I truly need is the ability to moderate myself, which isn’t something Fitocracy can help me with.
However, this event did make a few things strikingly clear to me. First and foremost, Fitocracy’s game/competition element may actually be capable of doing more harm than good, especially when you combine it with the obvious cheating that occurs. I’m not going to call anyone out, but when people you’ve never heard of are posting damn-near world record numbers or 4 hour long daily workouts, something is awry. If you are the type that is highly motivated by competition, there’s a very good potential for injury in your future.
In this regard, I’m not sure that I have any good suggestions for the site, as I don’t think ‘policing’ updates is a good or sustainable strategy. However, for users, my suggestion is to compete in contests or with users that you are sure are legit. You are never going to be at the top of the overall leaderboard. There are people who will game the system or outright cheat to win, so I wouldn’t even bother. Instead, I would suggest to set goals and compete against those. Alternately, if you feel like you want to compete, use the upcoming PvP feature or group competitions as a way to more safely push yourself. As always though, listen to your body, and when you feel ‘injury’ pain, slow down. No competition is worth the months or years of setbacks a bad injury will cause.
The final criticism I have for Fitocracy as a whole is in regards to the comment/forum systems. First, they are separate, and there is no reason for that. At all.
Let me explain; both systems exist to allow people to discuss and read discussions about various aspects of fitness. However, the forums are ugly and antiquated, and lack the speed and fluidity of the commenting system, so they aren’t used very much. On the other hand, the commenting system has woefully limited posting facilities, is unsearchable, is not archived, and doesn’t have any real ability to attach or post rich media. My suggestion? Combine these systems. Make one system with the features and capabilities of the forum and the speed and fluidity of the commenting system. Then you will have something amazing, and probably unique to boot.
Overall, despite my rather harsh criticisms, I still think Fitocracy is an absolute gem of a site and community. And whether they act on these shortcomings or not, I hope they continue forging ahead with the same passion and wit that they have shown thus far.