In a Wired article earlier this year, entitled “Fitness Isn’t a Lifestyle Anymore, Sometime’s It’s a Cult,” writer Meaghen Brown observes the recent trend towards collaborative fitness, reflecting on movements like CrossFit, Orange Theory, and specifically The November Project. She writes: “Fitness researchers see the trend as both natural and encouraging. ‘Perhaps what was unnatural was the movement toward exercising alone that the fitness industry often promoted,’ says Pedro Teixeira, one of the most extensively published experts on motivation and exercise. ‘We tend to find meaning and pleasure in sharing our activities with others.’
In my last post about this topic, “Health and Fitness Online Part 1“, I talked about Daily Burn, which is a digital tool tapping into this same “movement” and “community-oriented” mentality. Daily Burn recognizes that the average person doesn’t always have time to drive to a gym and instead delivers the community experience to your living room–or wherever you prefer to work out–through live streamed and video archived workouts, paired with a vibrant online forum staffed with personal trainers and nutrition experts.
As affordable as Daily Burn is ($14.95/month), that price can still be hefty for a large chunk of the population. For many Americans, fitness is a luxury because the price of gym or fitness movement memberships is simply untenable. Even for those who can afford the membership, is it really worth it if you are only using it occasionally? (See NPR’s “Why We Sign Up For Gym Membership But Never Go to the Gym,”) I faced this same problem after I was no longer at university, with access to the school fitness center and access to my college roommates with whom I would work out.
Before I discovered Daily Burn, I stumbled across an app called “MakeMe“. MakeMe’s premise is simple–it’s a group accountability app. You can use it for all sorts of things, but the primary objective is to recreate the kind of accountability network you may have had in college or living with roommates. You begin by identifying a goal that you would like to achieve, for instance, working out 4 times a week. Then you identify and connect with a group of friends (or acquaintances!) who also wish to accomplish that goal, or something similar. MakeMe allows you to plug all that data in and then sets up a communal challenge.
Then the challenge begins. Every day you sign in to inform the group whether you “Made It” or took an off day. Your amount of off days depends on the parameters you set for the challenge. Photos and location tags allow you to “prove the make” and earn extra points. In addition, you gradually earn cards throughout the challenge that you can also play instead of or in addition to your makes. Cards range from strategic–3 day unplugs let you take a few days off if needed–to team-building with various encouraging phrases aimed at one or all of your teammates. Another form of affirmation comes with the ability to “fist-bump” your teammates, essentially the equivalent of a “like” in MakeMe.
Throughout it all, the app keeps track of you and your team’s progress. If one team member fails, other team members can use cards to “save them” . At the end of the designated duration of the challenge, the app then tells you how you did and who managed to complete the challenge successfully.
The beauty of this app is its flexibility. You, the individual, set the parameters. Over the years in which I have used this with my friends, we have tried a number of different incentives and consequences, and we have altered the goals as needed. In addition, each participant can tweak the team goals to suit their individual needs, without altering everyone else’s personal goals, at the start of each challenge.
Though the app is specifically geared to accountability, it ends up acting like a social network as well. My current team predominately lives in Southern California, while I live in Colorado. Through the app, I can keep up with their lives and see a glimpse into what they’re up to because of the photos and comments left by my friends.
The app, of course, is not perfect. It can be buggy at times, and we still don’t quite understand some of the mechanics. It is also only as effective as the team members make it. We have to sign in regularly and actually use it for it to work. But we do. For the endorphin-releasing fist-bumps. For the joy of each other’s sweaty selfies. Even for the occasional moment of guilt when we’d rather stay in bed but know that the others are putting in the work and so should you.
This is accountability for a digital age, and I think MakeMe gets at the heart of what using technology well looks like. We cannot rely on technology to do the work of fitness for us. Technology aimed at improvement should simply provide a scaffolding, while we the humans continue to do the work. That being said, I find most fitness or improvement technologies are simply mimicries of analog tools such as notepads. Yes, they may add up your calories and allow you to easily search a database for food items, but you could also do this with pen and paper and a little mental math. These types of technologies simplify analog tasks but they don’t truly utilize technology to empower in innovative ways. MakeMe, in contrast, while it is still simple, taps into both gameification and network logic in a brilliant way–harnessing the energy of one’s existing community along with humanity’s love of games to help one succeed in daily life.
It is not enough for technology to simply copy our analog lives into the cloud. Rather improvement technologies should harness the cloud and other technological capabilities to serve and empower our analog lives. At the end of the day, we can only rely on ourselves to make the next step forward but technology could lend a helping hand.
Please note that my link to Daily Burn is an affiliate link – I receive a month’s worth of credit if you try the program out. (It’s a 30 day free trial!)
The featured image was made available for use through a CC.0 license on Pexel.