How Under Armour Wants to Use Data to Make You Healthier

April 5, 2016, 6:43 PM UTC
Under Armour Inc. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Plank Interview As Company Debuts Global Women's Campaign
Kevin Plank, chief executive officer of Under Armour Inc., speaks during a news conference in New York, U.S., on Thursday, July 31, 2014. Under Armour Inc., the maker of compression T-shirts and other athletic apparel, launched its most expansive global women's marketing campaign. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg Bloomberg via Getty Images

Under Armour has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into digital fitness–a nascent slice of the world of health and fitness that the athletic-gear company says is still in the early days of development. And executives at the Baltimore-based apparel maker say there is great potential to make consumer athletes even more efficient by combing through billions of physical activities each year.

It does that through a suite of apps—MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, Endomondo, and UA Record–three of which were acquired for $710 million in deals that propelled Under Armour to oversee the world’s largest digital health and fitness community. Business is booming for this segment, which recorded $53.4 million in sales last year, up 177.8% from 2014.

But Under Armour (UA) executives say what’s most alluring is the potential these apps present to track nutrition, fitness, activity, and sleep data–and over time make helpful suggestions that can make a difference in people’s lives. Under Armour says it wants to build a complete ecosystem to manage health and fitness with data insights, and it is doing that through software investments and physical gear that can track performance.

How can data help an athlete’s performance? That’s still a development with a lot of potential.

If you are tracking sleep over time, for example, a clearer picture can develop about how much sleep is ideally needed to maintain top performance while out on a run or some other physical activity. Some apps can track the amount of miles that a runner logs–and tell the user when it might be time to toss the shoes in the trash and replace them to avoid injury.

“Technology will play a bigger and bigger role in helping athletes get better,” Mike Lee, SVP of Connected Fitness at Under Armour told Fortune. “And that’s the mission at Under Armour.”

Under Armour on Tuesday is unveiling two surveys that focus on the running community, data that showed some surprising findings. Among the most intriguing: runners in the 45-54 age group logged runs that were 22.5% longer than those between 18 to 24 years old. And roughly half of athletes said they were more likely to show up to a workout if meeting a friend–and would also be more likely to work harder.

Lee said those results also surprised him, and pointed to an additional survey data point that caught his eye: 46% of high-mileage runners say it can be a struggle to get out for a workout.

“To me, that was really comforting,” Lee said. “Knowing that even people who are logging a lot of miles find it a struggle is actually comforting to me.”

Lee joined the Under Armour team after an app he founded, calorie counter MyFitnessPal, was acquired in early 2015. That app was launched in 2005, after Lee wanted to lose weight ahead of his 2003 wedding but found many of the food tracking offerings at the time were either uninspiring (physical books that required hand-written notes) or inefficient (websites at the time that were cumbersome to use).

He now steers Under Armour’s broader digital fitness division. And he points to individual goals–like his own wedding–as an important component of the connected fitness revolution. He says consumers are more likely to succeed when recommendations are tailored closely to their lifestyle and health and fitness goals.

Lee envisions ways to further integrate the apps so that the data can be more closely linked than it is today. For example, after tracking a run on MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal could suggest local spots where other runners enjoy a post-workout snack. He also envisions MapMyRun data being used to help runners find popular courses in their neighborhood–or even setting up competition among local users.

“That sort of coaching is exciting and an example of something we would like to do in the future,” Lee says.

Of course, some of these suggestions could result in apparel and shoe purchases. But Under Armour says that isn’t the core focus.

“We are in the first phases of helping athletes get better,” Lee says. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”