- Apple announced GymKit in the summer and now, the first examples of smarter gym equipment are finding their way into gyms in Sydney, London and elsewhere.
Apple Watch users are familiar with how strong its health and fitness features are, helping you to monitor how much brisk exercise you do, how your heart health is doing and helping you to take a minute for mindfulness.
Apple announced GymKit earlier in the year, to allow an Apple Watch to exchange data with gym equipment like treadmills, bikes, stair steppers and elliptical trainers. The idea was that though the Apple Watch was good at evaluating much of your active exercise, extra data that a treadmill, say, could glean would add to the Watch’s accuracy.
The barometric altimeter in the Apple Watch would, if you were running uphill outside, would spot the change in altitude and calculate data differently, But if you set the incline on a treadmill to 10 per cent, the Watch wouldn’t know this because the air pressure wasn’t changing.
But if the treadmill could connect to the Watch, it could share that information, making for a more accurate monitoring of your workout.
I went to Virgin Active Health Club in Mansion House, London, to test out the very first installation of GymKit-savvy equipment in the UK, on its first day of activity. This was a series of machines from Technogym which, in a couple of hours the night before, had been configured to be compatible.
GymKit-compatible equipment has already been launched in Australia and other locations are coming.
Virgin Active Mansion House is a modern, gleaming and attractive gym with the latest state-of-the-art facilities, but most Technogym equipment found elsewhere is either GymKit-capable already or can be quickly upgraded so it is.
If you have an Apple Watch, you’ll know that closing those exercise rings can be quite compelling and Apple figured that a lot of users’ most active moments each week were in a gym, so the greatest accuracy was desirable.
So GymKit makes it as seamless and effective as you can imagine. There’s no need to log in, to enter personal details or anything like that. There’s a small NFC-compatible tag in one corner of the treadmill (the same applies to other GymKit equipment) and as you get on, you tap your Watch. This starts the two pieces of machinery sharing information.
The Watch vibrates to let you know the connection has been made and you can start the workout.
The treadmill now knows your height, age and weight so calories can be better calculated. And the Watch now knows how fast you’re going, at what incline and so on, also resulting in greater accuracy. Stair steppers know how many flights you’ve climbed, bikes know your pedalling speed and so on, and all this information can be shared with the Watch.
But what if you don’t remember to log in until halfway through your run, ride or whatever you call it on an elliptical trainer? No problem.
If at any time during your workout, even right up until the end, you remember to tap the NFC tag, the data is shared for the entire session.
Security is paramount to Apple, so it’s no surprise that the company has taken pains to ensure that the data remains entirely private and, as soon as you step off the machine, it’s wiped entirely.
In practice, using Apple Watch with Technogym, and the other equipment partners who will be coming onstream shortly, is seamless, utterly simple and works perfectly. You can see information much more easily on the big Technogym screen and, if you compare the data on your Watch and the big screen after the workout ends, it’s identical in every regard.
If you check it out on the iPhone’s Activity app it shows every detail, including the logo for the equipment you were using, heart rate throughout, distance, elevation (if applicable), time, average pace and so on.
GymKit equipment isn’t everywhere yet, but it will become more common. Andy Birch, Product and Fitness Director at Virgin Active said, “Technology is becoming increasingly part of everyday life and advancements like these allow us to track and monitor our fitness and wellbeing.” One of the effects will be that if club members share their data with the club’s personal trainers, they can offer extra insights to help people train, for instance.
GymKit is a neat way for two sets of hardware to each have access to data they previously lacked, taking the best features from each source. It means that better, more precise workout information is the useful result.