Fitness apps have the right idea but lack the miracle transformations they claim

April 1, 2020 — by Nitya Marimuthu

With the end of the cross country season, I have turned to the season of eating like a runner without running. My progression to the ideal dad body has been coming along steadily — I’ve even picked up the dad jokes to help with my transformation. 

As prom and summer approach, I decided that it was time to shape up a little bit. Perhaps I should return to having the standard one chin instead of the four or five that I have developed. 

I had seen some ads on various social medias for fitness apps that provide quick workouts, and I grew increasingly intrigued by this concept. 

In the past, I used some kickboxing and other cardio workouts on YouTube when it was too hot or too late to run. The fitness app seemed similar to the workouts on YouTube: They had an array of shorter high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which consists of quick-paced sets of a certain exercise at full capacity.

I came across Workout for Women, a free app that claims to gear its exercises for a woman’s body. Ironically, most of the workout thumbnails showed men. It had surprisingly high ratings, so I chose to give it a whirl. 

The app features a page of workouts where I scrolled through all the different choices and searched for ones with a certain duration or level of intensity. Most of the workouts I came across were seven minutes long, because the exercises are branded as easy to fit into a busy lifestyle. Each workout focuses on a certain section of the body — back, abdominal muscles, legs, etc. — and claims to isolate and promote targeted fat loss and muscle gain. 

After choosing a workout, a list of workouts pops up with a picture of an animated person doing each movement. Upon clicking the start button, a voice talks and introduces the first move before counting down. Most of the workouts were structured for me to do the exercise for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and then move on to the next exercise.

For example, the “7 minute no jumping” workout that I tried had 11 exercises consisting of a variety of squats, planks (side and forward), lunges and crunches. 

For the most part, the app did its job: It gave me followable, targeted workouts that I could use to get moving. Although some of the movements were a little bit challenging, they did not increase my heart rate nor burn substantial calories. 

I had previously seen ads on TikTok for apps similar to the one I was using; in these ads, many TikTokkers wore regular clothes, not athletic wear, while doing the workouts. Now I can see why.

I struggle to call these sets workouts. They were more like fun exercises to strengthen a large group of muscles. The “targeted muscle development” was weak at best. In a seven minute workout, the app that aimed to exercise my whole leg, ended up only working out one muscle. Exercises that target your entire leg usually only have as much effect as using a small candle to light a whole house: Only one part is going to get any light, if even one part.

In addition, once the workout started, the display only  consisted of a timer and an animated video portraying the movement. No directions were given and no actual person explained the form. In order to properly learn the movement, I had to click on the animation, read directions and watch a video. That was entirely too much work — I burned more calories figuring out the instructions than from the workout itself. If I wanted to invest that much brain power, I would have just done my homework instead.

This even struck me as potentially dangerous. Most of the moves relied on technique and could cause injury if the wrong muscles were strained. For example, the movement “plank with hip dips” relies heavily on the abdominal muscles but could strain the back muscles if done incorrectly. 

Despite these critiques, the app itself was well laid out. For someone who is looking for quick workouts in a busy lifestyle, the workouts could easily be done at any location, requiring no equipment. There was even a workout that specified “no jumping,” which proved useful in the second story hotel room I tried it in. You’re welcome, downstairs neighbors. 

Overall, the app did not provide a bad experience — it just did not satisfy my requirements for a worthwhile workout. If I really want a HIIT workout, I’ll just turn to the abundant YouTube videos that feature them.