It was with great interest that I read the MIT Technology Review of assistive technology to help the blind get moving. I, too, have not yet found a running group to join or a tandem cycling partner; and the closest gym is in an area that is not easily accessible to me.
Thankfully, the Austrian fitness platform Runtastic.com has a number of apps in the App Store which are accessible to VoiceOver users and thus enable me to stay fit independently at home. Now that we are approaching the season when being active outside is not the most appealing idea for any of us, these apps come in handy for everybody.
In this post I would like to introduce Squats Pro, Sit Ups Pro, Push Ups Pro and Pull Ups Pro by Austrian fitness accessory company Runtastic.com. Each specific App Store URL will be posted below accordingly. Squats, Push Ups, Sit Ups and Pull Ups are all available as a free version with the Pro version priced at a moderate €1.79 or $1.99, respectively. They either use the iPhone’s gyroscope, motion sensor or the proximity sensor.
What the apps look like
VoiceOver users will be happy to hear that there are no big surprises to be expected. All tested apps are structured in the exact same way. This consistency also applies to the few unlabelled buttons; some will be highlighted here, whilst others are not relevant enough to explain them here in great detail, they just open menus.
Once you know one, you know them all.
At the bottom of the main screen you will find four tabs which are, left to right:
* History: lets you have a look at your own workout progress, i.e. repetitions and calories burned in previous sessions
* WorkOut: displays information about your progress at your current workout level as well as the sets you will have to do in your next session
* Leaderboard: the frustrating display of one’s own statistics in comparison to those who seem to work out as a full-time job
* Me: here you find all the usual settings for your account, training plan and voice feedback.
Speaking of Voice Feedback
Runtastic apps feature built-in real speech feedback which speaks:
* 3-2-1-Go at the start of each set,
* the repetitions left to go in the current set and to reach one’s own record and
* a more or less motivating phrase at the end of each session.
VoiceOver should be left turned on as the voice feedback does not speak menu items or any information other than the above.
How it works:
Now it is time to talk about unlabelled buttons, and there are three of them that matter.
We select the ‘WorkOut’ tab on the main screen. Right above the four tabs are two unlabelled buttons:
* Double-tapping the left one starts the guided training session. Depending on the level you are at, the app sets up a training plan for you and calculates the number of repetitions in each session.
* Pressing the right button starts a free training session which leaves the number of repetitions entirely up to the user.
* Between sets in the guided mode or after pausing for a few seconds in the free training mode, the app will display a pause screen. If we want to skip the pause in guided mode or want to continue in our own time in free training mode, you have to double-tap the only unlabelled button at the centre of the screen.
Once we are done with the training, we look for the slider at the bottom of the screen which VoiceOver calls “stop and save”. VoiceOver users have to do a double-tap and hold and then slide to the right. This is a bit tricky, but it works.
This is what all apps have in common; and here is how I use them:
Standing up, I put my feet parallel on the floor, keep my upper body straight and then bend my knees – up and down. It is not necessary to go all the way down until my butt touches my heals. For me, going down as far as for my upper and lower legs to form a 90° angle works just fine. When doing squats, I usually just put my iPhone in my shorts’ pocket, and off we go!
Additionally, I put my hands behind my head and twist my upper body left and right alternately with every squat.
Having a web radio player or a playlist of my own music running in the background gives me a nice rhythm to keep up a steady pace.
I have heard people say that they don’t have time to work out. I always do squats while I am waiting for the kettle to boil in the morning or evening or while I brush my teeth. Starting the day knowing that I’ve already 200 squats done feels good.
As opposed to the other apps listed here, Push Ups Pro does not use the iPhone’s gyroscope but the proximity sensor in the front-facing camera. When doing push ups the phone is put on the floor underneath one’s chest with the screen facing up. Once Push Ups Pro is started as described in the general section above, the app counts push up repetitions whenever one is close enough to the phone on the floor to trigger the proximity sensor.
Mind your nose!
Alternatively, I do press ups behind my back with my hands on the bed frame, whereas the phone is on the floor and the proximity sensor is activated with my butt or legs.
When doing sit ups with Sit Ups Pro running and the training session started, the phone is pressed against one’s chest in landscape mode, and Sit Ups Pro counts the repetitions through the motion sensor. Alternatively, to add more weight, one can hold the phone in landscape mode above one’s head.
A different exercise to strengthen one’s belly and lower back muscles is to kneel on the floor with the knees slightly apart and lowering the upper body into a horizontal position. The iPhone is pressed against the chest in landscape mode or held above one’s head with the arms straight.
When doing pull ups (using a pull ups bar, if you have one available) the phone can simply be put into one’s short’s or shirt pocket, and Runtastic Pull Ups Pro counts the repetitions.
A few things that I don’t like, it’s gotta be said.
Nobody is perfect, no app is perfect. Here are three things that I don’t particularly like, although they do not really impair the use of the apps:
* It would be cool if the aforementioned unlabelled buttons were labelled, so that VoiceOver users don’t have to do it themselves.
* It seems to me as if overall records get lost on the leaderboard whenever the phone is reset, the apps are uninstalled and reinstalled for any reason. And this leads me to No.3.
Runtastic has created a nice little microcosmos of apps which allow the user to keep track of their activities. These apps are paid apps, and I do not agree with a gold membership to save my records on the everlasting leaderboard. Unless this is unintended; then it is a bug and should be fixed. FYI, I have been in touch with their very responsive support about this.
Now have a healthy winter season, and keep pumping!