Fitness Apps in the PRC: an Industry that Combines Exercise and Social Activity


A renovated interest in health and sports is spreading in China. But while many white-collars do not have time to go to the gym, fitness apps have become a perfect tool to combine exercise and social activity


In Western minds, Chinese people are all fit. The common prejudice is that of old ladies all practicing Taijiquan in parks and men being all Kung Fu fighters. But this is not always true, especially in bigger cities where the Western influence brought new lifestyles and fast food. As a result, new pathologies like diabetes and overweight emerged in the country.

However, the rising in popularity of mobile fitness apps is a clear sign that the Chinese population is taking back the concept of a “healthy mind in a healthy body” while a growing number of people now carve out a little bit of time for exercising. Indeed, other than simply putting more thought into their look, Chinese people have also become more aware of overall fitness. Working out is now a part of their daily lifestyle as well as the awareness of nutrition in their quest to look and feel better.

This new interest in the sports industry does not come from anywhere. Recently Beijing started a big plan of investments in order to strengthen the economic reforms as well as productive sectors in many fields, including sports, so that sportswear industry is now on a secular uptrend in China, supported by macroeconomic factors and by government incentives.


While the total volume of the fitness market in China was $1.11 billion in 2016, almost half of that revenue was generated by mobile fitness applications.


In 2017, Anta Sports – the strongest sportswear domestic player in China – collaborated with the Economist Corporate Network in a research report on the growing sports industry in China. The report revealed that one-third of the PRC population practices sports at least once a week showing the emerging success of the fitness sector.


Fitness Apps in the PRC - gym - cifnews

© Unsplash. Today, Beijing hosts over 1,500 fitness clubs and half of the city’s population is involved in physical activities at least once a week.


While the fitness industry in China generates 10.3% of annual growth, the reasons that led Chinese people to gain a wider health consciousness are various.

Better living standards together with a higher disposable income have risen leading people to engage in new activities. The concept of a “healthy mind in a healthy body” is another reason for Chinese people to start exercising while chasing new beauty standards as well as a way to escape an intense work environment.

On the other hand, while the population was moving from rural areas to big economic hubs, the emerging of a wider middle-class society let private consumption to grow. Cities such as Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin thus turned into new favorite fitness cities. As a result, according to – a leading Chinese online city-guide – now Beijing hosts more than 1,500 fitness clubs compared to just 20 professional fitness studios in 2013.

“Chinese people are not only putting more attention on health but they are also more willing to pay for better consumption experiences,” said Tang Lin, founder of iFitness Space.


Thanks to the increase of per capita GDP of China and thanks to the demand for more sports consumption, the sports industry is facing rapid growth while China could become the biggest fitness market in the world within the next 20 years.


The Chinese government also bets on the sports industry. A recent guideline released by the State Council provides new business models of sports consumption in order to respond to the increasing demand and to promote further development of industries related to health and leisure.

In this modern rediscovery of fitness, smartphones play an important role. As many white-collars do not have time to go to the gym, mobile devices are useful tools to exercise properly and keep track of improvements. Therefore, as a response, major companies started to approach the sports app sector catching a glimpse of opportunity in this lucrative market.

“After using mobile fitness apps I seldom go to the gym. Using mobile apps to do sports is more flexible. I can enjoy extensive strength training or a yoga course whenever and wherever I want to,” said Jin Chi, a worker from Beijing.

A report by the Beijing market research consultancy Analysys revealed how many people today rely on online products to support their fitness lifestyles, showing that the number of active users on online platforms already reached 68.5 million in the PRC. Among these apps, walking, running, and fitness-focused applications are the preferred platforms accounting for 34.3%, 34%, and 18% of users respectively. However, yoga and cycling apps are also very popular in China.


Fitness Apps in the PRC - yoga - cifnews

© Pixabay. Most popular fitness apps in China focus on sports like running and walking, but yoga and cycling apps are also trendy.


An important feature of fitness and health apps is their social nature. Indeed, as the success of social-commerce revealed, Chinese people demonstrated to be more involved in sharing activities and ideas while getting in touch with people with the same interests.

Sports apps cannot lose sight of this Chinese particular aspect. Therefore, tracking physical activities and sharing them with friends on social media is something that has become more and more popular in the Dragon with numerous online platforms acting more as a social network than as a simple tracker.

KeepFree Sportsground 自由运动场 – is currently the most favored health and fitness app in the country. Founded by Ning Wang in 2014, the Beijing-based smartphone application is a mobile fitness community that offers a variety of training programs for different groups of people. It soon became the country’s biggest online sports community also extending its success beyond Chinese borders.

It actually allows users to create custom workout programs so that users can workout anytime, anywhere. When first using the app, users have to answer some questions about health and lifestyle. After that, the app keeps track of activities and users’ route and speed, recommending new exercises when needed. Keep uses videos, classes, and challenges to improve people’s quality of life and it also includes a food page, providing its users with diet advice, recipes, and calorie info.


Chinese fitness apps like Keep or Yodo Run managed to combine exercise and healthy lifestyle with social media, allowing users to share their physical activities on popular social networks.


Moreover, those who share their personal results on social media platforms get discounts on the app’s webshop. Plus, Keep also has a “community space” where users can share their experiences and find support.

In 2017, Keep reported that it had reached 100 million users in China, compared to 23 million in the US and 20 million in Europe. It also revealed that 23% of the users live in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, therefore, in five of the Dragon’s largest cities. Even the Chinese tech giant, Tencent Holdings, has decided to invest an undisclosed amount in the startup.

Yodo Run 悦动圈 is another of China’s leading social health and fitness recording apps. Founded in Shenzhen by the Rejoice Sports Tech Company, its mission is to help users to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Through Yodo Run’s advanced step counting and GPS algorithm, users can keep track of their movements. The app also provides exercise schedules and video tutorials leveraging the educational method of rewards to improve users’ activity.

Nevertheless, Yodo Run’s interesting feature is its focus on bringing people together to exercise. According to the website, the app has enabled people to meet in more than 500,000 “sports groups”, which are spread over more than 300 cities worldwide.


Fitness Apps in the PRC - keep - cifnews

© Keep. Already in 2017, Beijing-based startup Keep was the first Chinese fitness app to reach 100 million registered users.


China has the right combination of factors: 415 million millennials, a growing middle-class that is willing to spend money on fitness and health-related products, and the government’s support in the sports industry. However, a narrow time frame for exercise and a busy lifestyle are the worst enemy for people wanting to go to the gym.

But wide internet penetration and the fact that almost every Chinese citizen has his own smartphone have played a major role in the success of fitness apps in the country.

According to Euromonitor, today, China’s gym and fitness sector represents a $6 billion industry, whose sportswear market is expected to reach $43.10 billion by 2020. For what concerns the fitness app and wearable device industry, instead, it could generate over $6.5 billion in revenue in China, thus surpassing the US by over a billion dollars.

Therefore, as long as the mobile market grows, the fitness app industry will become an unexpected driver for economic development, with massive positive repercussions in both the Chinese lifestyle and health.


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