Digital Fitness. There’s an app for that.

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Home gym.

Home Gym, November 26, 2022 — Being in shape has been a lifelong priority.  Fitness itself is not the primary objective.  Instead, being in shape is a means to a higher quality of life and an open invitation to activities denied those who have gone to seed, especially at my age.

I doubt it will extend my life my much, if at all.  I do think it immeasurably improves quality of life and experience.

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Being fit allows me to hike hundreds of miles with far younger people as a peer, not an elder for whom they have to stop and wait.  While we can find meaningful trail work for almost any level of fitness, the fit folks can do the good stuff – carry heavy tools on strenuous approach marches, work with big rocks and heavy timber,  and schlep chainsaws up and over the mountain du jour.

It truly makes a difference when you can run with the big dogs.

This spring, the balloon popped.  The personal training gym franchise for which I was a loyal customer for 16 years, changed ownership. The previous owner was a bodybuilder/gym rat first and a business owner second.  As a West Point grad, we bonded over our mutual military service.  When he sold, I understood, but was disappointed nevertheless.

The new owner was friendly enough, but was also a newly minted mid-life MBA.  He was amassing a collection of gyms in several states.  For him, it was all about the dollars, and my opinion, very little about sense.  I girded my loins for Mr. Finance.

As I anticipated, he raised my rate.  I was heavily discounted for a couple of reasons, including as one who paid well in advance.  Cash is king in a small business.  Customers who give you interest-free money are the ones to love.

Love wasn’t exactly the new owner’s approach.

A little TLC would have gone a long way toward winning me over. He could have simply said to me, “Hey bro. Thanks for the free classes and hikes you led and for paying so far in advance, but costs are increasing dramatically.  I’ve gotta make payroll, insurance and rent.  In appreciation for your loyalty, I’m going to give you the best deal I can.”

I could afford the new rates.  Instead the sterility of the transaction turned me off.  I kept thinking the rate increase would be the first of many until he got me paying the full non-discounted amount.

So I quit. Now what?

The new terms were still reasonable.  It’s not like I could find a better deal somewhere else.  Individual personal training is priceless and rightfully expensive.  Group training is near worthless, for me anyways, so I thought I try one of the new apps.

There’s also a twist.

During the pandemic, we trained virtually via Zoom.  I decided to push myself hard and dramatically increased the amount of weight I could lift.  My then personal trainer, Sam, did an excellent job coaching me as I improved.

Secret:  I have hated the weight room my entire athletic life.  Weights can make you humble.  They can bring you to your knees and turn your limbs to jelly.  Their ultimate revenge can put you either on your ass, or in the driver’s seat of the porcelain bus.  That “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” is a profoundly true statement.  Weights can exact revenge far faster than sprinting suicides. (Wind sprints for older folk.)

Father time also weighed in.  As one ages, connective tissue becomes less elastic.  We become far less flexible.  Pushing the weight led to tendonitis almost everywhere and occasional sciatica.  Moreover, during this period, I finally graduated to the medicines commonly prescribed for people my age.  Among them statins, to lower cholesterol, can have some nasty side effects.

Fortunately for me, they were minimal, but added to the tendonitis and some muscle cramping.

Quitting gave me a chance to take a break.  I decided to take the summer off from lifting to recover while I searched for a fitness app that would work for me.

Taking time off isn’t always the best thing to do.  In fitness, there is a concept known as detraining or regression.  When one stops or dramatically reduces exercising, fitness levels drop slowly as fist, then much faster.  In this equation, age is an exponent.  The ability to run five miles can become one mile seemingly over night.  The same applies to strength training or any other strenuous activity.

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The effect was soon noticeable.  When Sam and I were sawing away on this brutal (triple bind) blowdown in October, I noticed that my fitness level had decreased precipitously.  Sam was kind enough not to mention it, but I could not hold my own for the first time ever. I had allowed myself to regress to the mean.  It was embarrassing, but highly motivational.

Now to find the right weight training app.

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During the summer I had messed around with more than a dozen fitness apps.  Then I discovered “Future.”

Future is maladroitly named.  I think it’s founders were thinking it is the future of personal training apps, and I think it is.  The problem is that the name doesn’t suggest much of anything.  The name is certainly not motivational or aspirational.

Hint.  If you’re naming something, start with the audience to which you’re going to sell it.  If you’re the owner, you are not the audience.

Here’s the key that sold me.  Future comes with a real coach.  Remember about my need for accountability?  Found it.  Add the Apple Watch and Apple health app interfaces and you can’t hide, ghost or fake it.  The data tells the truth.

First, about the coach:

Point guard:  LSU women’s basketball team.  Assistant strength and conditioning coach, Auburn University and North Carolina A&T.  M.S. in sport coaching.  There’s much more, but simply put, she’s an athlete’s coach.  We’ve been working well together for a month.

The coach designs the workouts and monitors the data.  After each workout the athlete gets feedback via email or text.  Live Zoom calls occur monthly.  For someone who knows his way around a gym and values motivation and feedback, this is truly an ideal model.  The monthly cost is equal to the weekly cost at the franchise gym.  Sounds like a best value to me.

The process starts with a detailed in-take questionnaire which asks about the equipment you have, goals, experience, physical limitations, exercise style and coaching preferences.  Based on this information, a coach that should fit your style is assigned, but can be changed at anytime.

A 15-minute Zoom coach/client interview with your new coach follows.  We talked about physical limitations, workout design and intensity, frequency and women’s basketball of which I am a huge fan.

There was a lot of trail and error in the first few sessions, but the feedback loop allowed for excellent communication and adjustment.

These screen grabs offer insight into how the app works.

IMG_9889Note interface.  Length of workout.  Equipment list.  Overview is a preview of each exercise.  Settings turns data features on/off.

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I find the overview feature critical.  It allows me to adjust weight or the actual exercise itself before trying to do it in real time. This page shows the warm up for that day’s workout.  Each workout starts with a short pep talk from your coach.  The coach can also add verbal pointers variously along the way.

Each exercise is continuously demonstrated on a video loop that plays until the reps are completed and the client presses the forward button.  Recovery pauses are built in.

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At the end of the workout, clients rate the difficulty and provide feedback to their coach.  You can add a photo to illustrate problematic exercises or other difficulties such as form.

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The stats are amazing.  Dogging workouts:  Busted!

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More info available and the end of each workout session.  In this case the graph shows my level of effort was solid.

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The watch and health apps have even more data such as VO2 uptake, blood oxygen, etc.

So far, the Future App has been an excellent choice.  Four stars.

Sisu

Why I Vote

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Kensington, Maryland, Election Day, 2022 — We’re lucky.  We “walk the vote” at our neighborhood middle school which is a pleasant 10-minute stroll down leafy streets.  Most of the leaves are down now but enough are hanging on to offer a pleasant autumn ambiance.

Neighbors were on the same mission, quietly filing along by ones and twos, some pushing strollers,   A few held hands, walking with a sense of purpose, as they might on their way to schul on Friday evening or church on Sunday morning. 

As voters approached the school entrance, candidate signs decorated the final few yards while campaign reps offered to persuade the undecided. 

The early November breeze was just chilly enough to find the gaps in my puffy jacket.  The chill reminded me of elections past.  Only one other time, in Massachusetts, was walking to vote possible.  Mostly you drive, hope to find a place to park, and line up for your turn.

The American armed forces place a lot of emphasis on its members voting without telling them how to vote.  Having been a military brat and then a career officer, I’ve watched this process since I can remember.  Because most military members are far from home, the effort is all about absentee ballots which must be requested early, making the emphasis on election season seem much longer than in civilian life.

I’ve also served our nation in war and peace.  I know what authoritarian regimes look like.  Along the way, some of my friends have given all and aren’t here to vote, but all of us have sacrificed some to defend that for which we claim to stand.  For me, voting is a continuing duty in honor of those who are no longer with us.  That’s why I do it.

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For some reason, election day here had a pleasant zen of its own.  The people I met were particularly pleasant.  I snapped this on my walk today.  It seemed about right.

Sisu