If you grew up anything like I did then you've undoubtedly spent countless hours in front of the TV jumping on Goombas, collecting coins and trying to save the princess.
Sorry, dude, she's in another castle.
We've been surrounded by games our whole lives. Whether you grew up playing Mario Bros. or Zelda like me or you have an epic Candy Crush or Pokemon GO addiction, you know the struggle:
There's always another level to beat... and the challenges increase. And you MUST win or at least level-up that Charizard.
So why is it that when most people think of fitness, there is only one level? It tends to look something like this:
Level 1: Go to gym + do some bendy things and pick stuff up
Level 2: Go to gym + do some bendy things and pick stuff up
Level 3: Go to gym + do some bendy things and pick stuff up
Level 4: Go to gym + do some bendy things and pick stuff up
Level 1: Lose Fat
Level 2: Lose Fat
Level 3: Lose Fat
Level 4: Lose Fat
It's like playing the same level of Mario Bros. over and over again. Killing the same Goomba, getting the first mushroom, snagging a few coins, jumping on the turtle's head and then twerking down the flagpole.
And then starting the same level over again.
For all of eternity. It's insanity.
So why in tarnation does it make sense to do it with our fitness and nutrition goals? There should be a way to make progress, get better, and reach the f^&*ing princess (or prince)!
What if there was a way to gamify your fitness?
Need help with your fitness skills?
First, What is 'Gamification'
The dictionary defines gamification as:
Basically, life is a game and can be navigated just like you do with any point-based game or video game. Every action, interaction and relationship carries value and will help you progress or have to start the level over.
And like any game, there are rules of play, points and increasingly challenging (or at least different) levels!
Recent studies have shown that gamifying your fitness can lead to healthier behavior and long-term consistency with getting your fitness on. Rad!
Gamifying your fitness is basically a way to let you know that there are various levels and intrinsic point systems for certain tasks and activities. Go go the gym? Get some points. Nailed your food prep for the week? You get them coins gurrrrl.
How I see it, there are two types of game play that would fit nicely into a good fitness plan:
- Point-Based Gamification
- Task-Based Gamification
A point-based system would be various ways of earning points to level-up, use on cool rewards, or stash for the long haul (I mean, you'll DEFINITELY need those fitness points one day!).
A task-based system would basically be a way of progressing to the next level by completing pre-determined tasks. Sort of like a role playing game like Final Fantasy or one of the newer versions of Zelda.
Rack Up Them Points
If you've ever played old school arcade games then you're certainly familiar with achieving high score. Every action has a point value attached and the more challenging the action the more points were awarded. Killing baddies, beating a level and performing certain actions would help you rack up them points.
Setting up a point-based system is an easy way to ensure you're both making progress and rewarding yourself for your efforts. It's simple enough to add a value to any activity that moves you towards your goals.
- complete a workout: 10 points
- lift a heavier weight (fitness PR): 15 points
- attend a new class: 20 points
- meal prep for the week: 25 points
- master a new skill (eg first push up, pull up): 50 points
Keep track of your points and set realistic rewards for yourself. This could be a night out a new restaurant you've been wanting to try, a new pair of jeans (especially if you've been working dem glutes!), or even a brand new car! You get the point(s).
Important Note: I'm not a fan of this as a long-term solution but it will certainly help you build some solid habits as you Sonic the Hedgehog through some loopty-loops collecting rings. Weeeeee.
Exploring the Levels
Get started by setting up specific tasks to complete for each level. You'll want them to be specific and attainable to ensure that you're able to progress at a reasonable pace. This will also help you attain a sense of accomplishment as opposed to repeating the same frickin level over and over again like I mentioned before.
There are limitless possibilities here and you will have to choose your own adventure but if you're new to fitness it only stands to reason that you should start at the beginning. But not everyone does that...
In most video games when you start out you'll just be getting out of bed and then standing around slaughtering chickens and low experience creatures in bushes to gather exp before you head to the first boss level. In fitness, however, most people try to skip right to the hard shit. It's like going to slay the dragon in your boxer shorts with a wooden sword...it never ends well.
Instead, I recommend starting with the first step you have to do next to make progress.
Level 1: Find a place to start training (preferably one that is fun, welcoming, and supportive)
Level 2: Learn the basics so hard you can do them in your sleep (a good coach can help with these)
Level 3: Complete 50 workouts (it helps when they're fun AND sustainable)
Level 4: Attend one educational workshop (fact: knowledge will help you beat levels faster)
One thing to remember is that change takes time. If you've never done the beginner stuff, we recommend nailing that shit for anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on how you're training progress is going. The next levels can start to increase in difficulty as you start to move past the beginner phase.
Level 5: Deadlift your bodyweight
Level 6: Do 2,000 kettlebell swings
Level 7: Take 4 different specialty fitness classes
Level 8: Nail an exercise you've never been able to do (eg pull up)
You can even set up a whole bunch of side quests that have point values where you can collect points to reward yourself as in point-based gamification. Side quests we like are:
- Introducing a friend to fitness
- Doing a home workout
- Opting for an outdoor activity over Netflix
- Picking up an active hobby
Game Over (but it's just beginning)
Whether you just wrap your mind around this as a concept or create a system that is more concrete, it's a fun way to create lasting change and good habits. It can also help you start to make some serious progress on your fitness journey and enjoy more process-based goals.
Looking for a way to reach a BIG goal? Create what the ideal 'YOU' looks like and start creating your levels backwards from there. What will it take? What challenges will you face? Write it out and have fun with it!
Need a little help getting your fitness journey started? Schedule a FREE Strategy Session to see where you are now and come up with a plan!
Steve is co-founder and head coach of AMP Fitness, downtown Boston's most inclusive personal training studio. His background is in posture, performance, injury prevention and strength development and packaging fitness in a way that is accessible to everyone. He's a soon-to-be dad (yay!), an avid reader and enjoys nerding out to science fiction.