By SUSAN LAHEY
Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News
MapMyFitness has stuff other fitness apps have: You can count your calories and log your workouts, for example. And it has a stellar map function integrated with Google Maps API v3.9 (the latest version). So users can not only plan, track, and share their routes with friends, they get real time info on traffic and weather.
But MapMyFitness is working to be a premier, deluxe site that integrates your social network so you can share what you ate and ran or biked or lifted—and plan workouts with others. Using the mobile app, you can see if a friend is jogging close by, and meet up. There are analytics for tracking your progress. Last week, MapMyFitness introduced gamification functions such as a leader board. You can use the app for free, or get a bronze, silver or gold membership for between $6 and $20 per month. And there’s a retail section for apparel and fitness accessories. It’s a gold standard fitness site.
Registering for a site and app like MapMyFitness is a no brainer for athletes. But the company is positioning itself as a solution to the nation’s obesity epidemic. Jalichandra said more than 50 percent of its users fall under the “overweight” category. (The app asks about your height, weight, age and gender when you build your profile.)
For people trying to get in shape, he said, even adding 30 minutes of activity a day can dramatically improve health. The tracking and social sharing rev up your motivation to get out there and move.
“After you log your activity for a couple of weeks it becomes addictive,” said Jalichandra who said he lost 17 pounds since he joined the company a year ago. And he was fit to begin with.
David Middaugh, a doctor of physical therapy with Austin Manual Therapy, said he started using the app with MapMyRide when he commuted to work on his bicycle.
“I think it’s a great tool to use to track your fitness progress,” he said. “It gives you objective measures to see if you’re working out longer, going farther, burning more calories. You can see your progress over time. I think for a patient interested in weight loss it would really help them reach their goals.”
Dixie Stanforth, a personal trainer and lecturer in physical education, kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas acknowledged the motivation potential of the site.
“The goal setting aspect of the application could be helpful,” she said. “In the research world it’s called ‘setting intentions.’ When somebody actually makes a concrete intention and publicly commits to it, it can affect their behavior…. It’s a very simple thing but it has quite a bit of power.” She also thought the anonymity of being able to track your fitness and be—in a sense—part of a community without having to go to the gym or a class while you’re just starting out would be helpful.
For new exercisers who like processes and the idea of community support, MapMyFitness works as a solution. But there are barriers. The site, she said, obviously attracts fitness buffs who want to connect with other fitness buffs. They recognize and can connect with other members of their “tribe.” But for someone new to fitness, it might be overwhelming with myriad features and very little education. “I haven’t seen anything on the site yet that would draw that beginning person in and help them become a part of that tribe,” she said.
The app, however, is intuitive, according to Middaugh. “You just push a couple buttons and you’re good to go.” The app uses your phone’s GPS system to track and record your runs or rides.
MapMyFitness recently introduced a beta site that’s significantly more user friendly than its previous version which gave no explanation how to use it and only people who already connect exercise with data and track their workouts could follow. Jalichandra said he’s using the free version of the beta site, rather than the gold. He wants to share the interactive experience with the bulk of his customers so he can keep in touch with how it’s working.
MapMyFITNESS did start out as the collaboration of two fitness buffs: Kevin Callahan’s company MapMyRUN and Robin Thurston’s MapMyRIDE, both started in 2005. Callahan created his app to keep track of his progress while training for a marathon. Thurston conceived his idea while abroad on a cycling vacation. Callahan, Jeff Kalikstein, and Thurston joined forces in 2006 to form MapMyFITNESS. In 2010, the company received $5 million in venture funding from Austin Ventures.
The app’s new functionality benefits hard core exercisers and newbies alike. But MapMyFitness isn’t just aiming for individual registrants. Jalichandra believes they’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. With obesity costing the business world so much in medical costs and insurance premiums, he sees the app becoming a tool for whole corporations to make their businesses healthier by starting company leaderboards and other initiatives. He envisions insurance customers using it to lobby their companies to lower insurance rates.
He sees MapMyFitness being used by schools, corporations, enterprises with a vested interest in inspiring healthy lifestyles.
Each of the meeting rooms at MapMyFitness offices are named for sites where people practice fitness: Parks and trails. Jalichandra’s is called “Redbud.”
“I named it that because it’s a particularly steep, hard hill to bike up,” he explains. So far, with more than 9 million visitors, he seems pretty good with hills.