Vice-President of Fitness Technologies for Apple Inc, Jay Blahnik lets us in on how your watch is slowly becoming more like a personal trainer on your wrist. 

Fitness technology has come a long way in recent years. From the olden-days of watch-based pedometers to futuristic virtual personal-trainer-meets-personal-assistant wearables, there’s such a wealth of opportunities to create clever technologies that change the lives of users.

As fitness fanatics ourselves, it’s hard to go past Apple Fitness+, which has a huge library of workouts and content to make working out at home more fun and immersive.

However, they’ve just launched some new features that we truly think are ‘Genius’, pun intended.

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We sat down with Jay Blahnik, the Vice-President of Fitness Technologies for Apple Inc. to talk about the way these new features have been designed, and what that means for the end user.

Time to Walk

If you’re familiar with Fitness+ you’ve likely already experienced Time to Walk. It’s an immersive audio experience, where a variety of guests go on a walk that means something to them and share stories, photos and music with the listener.

Most recently, His Royal Highness Prince William closed out the second season talking about the importance of keeping mentally fit.

Now in its third season, Time to Walk has a whole gamut of new guests – including Aussie favourite Rebel Wilson (read all about her episode here). You will also find Bernice A. King (an American lawyer and youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr.) and Hasan Minhaj (comedian, political commentator and actor), with more yet to be announced.

Blahnik said some of the reception to this feature has been quite obvious, while others more a little more subtle.

“The obvious thing is that there are just so many people that love to walk, right? It’s incredibly popular…and you can have this intimate walk where you almost feel like you’re walking with the guest and getting a chance to learn more about them and be inspired by them,” he said.

“I would say that the more subtle things we’ve been hearing every day is people really talking about how it’s been fantastic for their mental health as well as their physical health.”

“I think for many people, it makes them feel a little less lonely because we’re more isolated than we’ve ever been. And so I think getting out to walk more often and having the inspiration to do so…people are making it like a ritual.”

We were also interested to find out about how our favourite celebrities found the experience.

“It comes quite easy to many of them, to share something more personal because as often happens when we all walk with each other, you just sort of open up, you just sort of talk and it doesn’t feel as intimidating.”

“So many of our guests, believe it or not, have commented when they’re done how cathartic it was for them. They say, ‘I really love sharing my stories. I love sharing my music’. We think it’s the format. A walk has over history been a great way to solve problems, to get past a fight, to like get your head clear on an issue. It turns out that it’s a great way to hear from other people, too.”

Time to Run

Blahnik explains that after the success of Time to Walk, it followed that running would be the next element to grab developers attention.

“We’ve been thinking about it for a long time. We’ve been working on this one for a number of years. I think for us, the inspiration came from the simple idea of cities and routes that really exist,” he says.

So Apple teamed up with their Fitness+ running coaches Emily Fayette, Jamie-Ray Hartshorne, Sam Sanchez and Scott Carvin, as well as one new running trainer, Cory Wharton-Malcolm, to launch a new audio running experience.

Each episode is focused on a popular running route in some of the most notable and iconic locations around the world – Miami, London and Brooklyn are some of the first to be launched.

Essentially, you can tap on an episode and follow the same running routine as the trainer. While you go around your neighbourhood, they’re running through the featured city, explaining the sites, sounds, smells and general vibe, posting pictures that come up on your watch so you feel like you’re there.

The trainers partly narrate the run – giving you running coaching tips and encouraging you to reach the goal of the episode (they all have a different theme: interval training, paced jogging etc.) – and the rest of the audio is filled with songs at the right beat and tempo to keep you going.

Chosen by the trainers, the music also captures the spirit of the city you’re ‘running in’, for example, the playlist for Miami Beach features Latin music inspired by the vibrancy of the city.

“What we found when we dug into this creatively was that the city not only inspires a little bit of a journey that takes you out of your normal neighbourhood run, but cities are also great inspiration for designing a run. So when the trainer actually goes to that city and they run the route that they’re planning to pick, they immediately get a real sense of what the right thing is to do on the route. Is it the right thing for intervals? Do you want to go a steady pace? Do you really want to push fast, and do a tempo run?” Blahnik explains.

“We like to think of it as this wonderful mix of a little adventure, a little variety of motivation and coaching all wrapped up into one.”

The trainers played a massive role in creating this new feature, and Blahnik says that while they might be great athletes, they really ‘have a heart for the beginners’.

“Everyone is just welcoming. The kind of people that, you know, if you were going to open a gym, you’d want them at the front door,” he says. “I think the number one thing we found in all of our testing was that no matter whether they were more advanced runners or more beginners, everyone said it makes the time fly by.”

“The other thing that we see is that a lot of beginner runners, they just run and they don’t change the way they run. They don’t do speed work. They don’t do intervals. They don’t do progressive builds. And when you have a little coaching just encouraging you to switch it up a little bit, you see results faster and you see yourself improving and it doesn’t hurt your body as much.”

Collections

The Apple Fitness+ library might be huge, but it can sometimes be a little bewildering where to start. Collections is a new curated series of workouts and meditations designed to progressively help you reach a goal.

“If you do have a goal, it can be harder to navigate the library and knowing which videos to do to help reach that goal or which ones you can add on to what you already do. And so the idea behind collections was help people with the goals they have in mind find the workouts that make the most sense.”

There are six collections at launch: 30-Day Core Challenge, Improve Your Posture with Pilates, Perfect Your Yoga Balance Poses, Run Your First 5K, Strengthen and Stretch Your Back and Hips, Wind Down for a Better Bedtime.

While there’s already a lot on offer there, Blahnik says the beauty of this feature for people thinking about taking up Fitness+ is that it’s so scalable.

“We think it’s got a lot of runway and a lot of opportunity for us to help people reach all different sorts of goals. You may have noticed that we tried to pick with the launch collections – they’re not just all New Year’s resolutions. Some of them are health oriented. One of them is sleep oriented. Some of them are performance oriented, and I think you can expect to see that variety coming in the coming months and years.”

Other features of note

Apple also has added to its Artist Spotlight series, with new workouts designed to go to music from Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams, Shakira and The Beatles.

They are also now offering 20 minute core workouts on Fitness+, rather than the shorter 5 or 10 minute length sessions available previously.

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