Why Fitness and Habit Apps Should Be Kinder

'No pain, no gain’ is insane

Key Takeaways

  • Habit and fitness tracking apps can be intimidating with their insistence on compliance.
  • For some, a more relaxed approach makes us more likely to succeed.
  • Gentler Streak is an easygoing habit-tracking app that doesn’t judge.
Someone holding a smartphone that shows a pop-up notification reminding them to "get fit, don't quit."

grinvalds / getty images

Fitness and habit-tracking apps usually harass, cajole, and guilt you into complying, at least until you build a habit of your own. But that's not the only way. 

Phones and smartwatches make it trivially easy to track our habits and run apps that are supposed to help us keep to those habits until they stick. But often, these apps and services favor forcing us to comply via rigid enforcement, whether we're counting calories, counting steps, or following a workout plan. These tactics may work for some people, but for the rest of us, a gentler approach might be a lot more effective. 

"There will always be people who like the 'no pain, no gain' fitness style, and if that works for them, great. But for people who are just starting their fitness journey or overall don't enjoy it, this rhetoric makes exercise intimidating, and they may be less likely to stay consistent with it," fitness instructor Alayna Curry told Lifewire via email. 

No Pain, No Gain

Good habits can be hard. We form habits easily enough—just think how many you already have. But those become habits because they're either easy, or we like them. Building a new habit takes the same time and repetition, only we have to make ourselves engage in that repetition until the habit is formed. 

Add to that the fact that dieting and exercise can often be unpleasant, at least until you get into them. Diets often leave you hungry or make food preparation a chore. And exercise is just plain painful and hard. 

A screenshot from the Gentler app.


The shock approach forces you to confront these barriers and climb them. It's the army-training assault course of methods, and it can end up putting people off. If your app bombards you with daily warnings that you haven't achieved your goals, the natural reaction is to delete the app.

"While shame and aggressive motivation tactics are sometimes effective in the short term, they're only beneficial for a small group of people," Kyle Risley, founder and CEO of online workout planner Lift Vault, told Lifewire via email. "People who are fired up over negative emotions may have an explosive immediate reaction, but they often succumb to feelings of negative self-worth that can be much more damaging over time. Similarly, this approach immediately alienates those who aren't motivated by harsh tactics."

Gently Gently

Gentler Streak is an iPhone and Apple Watch app that takes a different approach. Instead of harassing you day after day, it’s like having the world's chillest personal trainer, a kind of Big Lebowski of motivation. 

Along with the app’s anti-harassment policy, Gentler Streak is also smart about motivating you. If you’re having a good day, for example, it assumes that you are 'peaking,' and offers to up the pace.

Instead of assuming that you are a robot that can perform at maximum Terminator capacity day after day, it recognizes that you are a human. It realizes that you might just feel lazy, that your general energy levels are in a natural lull, or that you’re just having a busy day. Instead of poking you to work out regardless, it acts like a good friend, giving you some space until you’re ready to get back to it. 

Someone meditating on a sofa with a tablet in their lap that has "Relax" and a timer displayed on the screen.

Westend61 / Getty Images

"I think a relaxed approach to fitness can help people stay more consistent and make sustainable changes. When you subscribe to the ‘no days off’ mentality, you’re more likely to experience guilt or feelings of failure when you miss a day,” says Curry. 

And sustainability is key. There’s no point forming short-term habits and reverting to your old unwanted behavior. Like bad habits, these planned good habits need to become either easy or fun. Happily, exercise can be both, especially if you choose something that really makes you feel good, and can be done anywhere, from distance running to yoga. 

"People who integrate healthy behaviors into their regular routines stay healthy despite their demanding schedules. You're completely mistaken if you think the habits must be excessive or insane!”Jod Kapilakan, CEO of mental well-being company Abundance No Limits, told Lifewire via email. “Fitness that keeps you in shape is both long-term and enjoyable.”

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