Lifestyle writers and WWAC Warriors Meredith and Kate set out to compare and contrast their experiences with the 7-minute Superhero Workout, available on both iOS and Android for $2.99. The app is by Six to Start, the company that made Zombies, Run!. Six to Start’s apps specialize in combining fitness with a compelling storyline. Playing the apps feels a little bit like LARPing which means that the apps have to be both a fulfilling fitness experience and a great RPG experience to succeed. Meredith tried her app out on her iPad, while Kate used her iPhone.
You are the pilot of a new “AEGIS One Battlesuit,” a suit that seems comparable to Iron Man’s suit. In the story, the suit stands up to both spaceflight and underwater exploration and is described as “our last chance for survival.”
Based in part on the famous “Seven Minute Workout” that’s floating around the internet, the 7-minute Superhero Workout is broken up into 8 minute parts, and you perform different exercises (jumping jacks, pushups, planks, etc.) for 30-60 seconds at a time. Sometimes you get a brief rest between exercises, and sometimes you don’t. The workout is actually pretty technologically advanced, in that it utilizes the phone/tablet’s camera in order to record and monitor the exercises. And hey, look! In the tutorial it shows a woman!
There are 20 missions (so far) that are made up of two or three parts each. You can do as much or as little at a time as you want, and the workouts don’t require gym equipment. Instead, they use things like chairs, tables, and walls. The app lets you know at the beginning of every mission which equipment you’ll need.
The app includes “Story Missions” which follow the storyline; “Workouts” which are plain 7-11 minute routines; and “Battle Workouts” that allow you to design your own workout. The iOS version of the app also includes “Challenges,” where you compete against your Game Center friends on different fitness contests.
I played Zombies, Run! when it first came out, but quit pretty early on because the storyline was too dark for me: Running is my happy place, and having my “friends” in the game killed by zombies was just too darn depressing.
What Meredith Liked
- The Superhero Workout kicked my booty! After the workout, I was sweaty and felt like I’d really accomplished something. (I did a complete mission at a time, not stopping at the 7-minute mark, but I did hit “pause” a couple of times to grab a drink of water.) The exercises in each mission do a great job of focusing on different muscle groups to give you a total body workout, and the app gamifies different accomplishments with achievement levels for “glutes,” “core,” “stamina,” and other areas. The next day, my muscles had that great “day after” feeling of soreness. For $2.99, you can really gain strength and stamina with this workout, using stuff around your home, and that sure beats spending a ton of money on an “As Seen on TV” workout package or machine.
- If calorie counts trigger you, you can turn them off in the settings which is a really thoughtful feature.
- The graphics and music add a lot to my experience. When I punch, the game makes laser sounds! The heroic soundtrack really pushes me to try hard! (I like to imagine that I have my own soundtrack, anyway, so this part made me really happy.)
What Meredith Didn’t Like:
- So far, I’m not really that invested in the storyline because it’s hard to hear the dialogue over my iPad speakers. Also, I’m too occupied with trying to keep up with doing as many reps of the exercise as I can and then moving on to the next to really pay attention.
- 7-minute Superhero Workout isn’t great for beginners. It doesn’t assume you’re in great shape, but it assumes that you’ve done all of the different exercises before and know how to do them correctly. The app shows an animated person doing the movements, but it doesn’t explain correct form. (I am a form nerd: I’d much rather do an exercise more slowly and do it right than do a million reps the wrong way. Some of the exercises in the app, such as squats, can hurt you if you do them incorrectly, while others, such as planks, are ineffective if you don’t do them correctly. I ended up looking up directions for a couple of unfamiliar exercises on the internet.) In a perfect world, this app would have “levels” like a videogame and explain more to beginners. That’s probably expecting too much from a $2.99 app though.
- You do have to move your device around a lot so the camera can “see” you, and the app doesn’t always count your reps correctly. This didn’t bother me a ton, but I can definitely see where it might bug other people.
Meredith’s Bottom Line:
I like this app, and will continue to use it. I don’t think it’ll be my main fitness activity, but it’s great for days when the weather is terrible and I don’t want to get out of the house!
Here’s what I see on the iPad during a workout:
The list of Story Missions on iPad (at the time, I had completed the tutorial and two missions):
List of challenges on the iOS app:
Having heard friends extol the virtues of Zombies, Run!, I was really looking forward to trying out the 7-Minute Superhero Workout for various reasons: 1) I love superheros, 2) I love workouts that don’t require any additional equipment, 3) themed workouts like these by Neila Rey are my favorites, and 4) I don’t live in an area where I can easily go running outdoors, and running is not a fun activity for me, compelling storyline or not. So for $2.99, I was willing to take a gamble.
What Kate Liked
- The music is awesome. It’s epic and inspiring and makes me feel epic and inspired. But you can also select your own music when doing workouts unconnected to the narrative, and I think a lot of people would like that. Music is incredibly important to me for my workout experience, so if the music had sucked, that would have been a deal breaker for me.
- The narrative is actually compelling and gets me wanting to do missions to find out what happens next. Six to Start is just as good as everyone has said in terms of telling a story and having it unfold. The best thing I can liken it to is that you hear the story unfold like a radio play, but you’re also a character in that radio play, even though you don’t have any speaking parts. While you’re training and doing reps, your monitors are chatting and speculating whether the mission will actually succeed or not and alluding to past failed attempts. It’s incredibly effective storytelling.
What Kate Didn’t Like
- The logistics. The need to move the phone to make sure I’m still in view of the camera (which, for the iPhone, is a very small window) means that you are moving the phone as much as your body, and your workout area needs to consist of stable places for your iPhone to perch and be able to see you. That is a workout in and of itself. And as you can see from the photo below, your eyesight has to be better than Hawkeye’s to see the screen during your workout. This photo was taken about a meter away not the recommended two meters.
- There’s no way to personalize the app in terms of fitness levels or modified exercise options. Despite challenges being worded in such a way as to seem accommodating (“How many power squats can you do in 120 seconds?”) all levels of fitness, the app definitely assumes the ability to do a number of reps from the start, using the proper form, and I am not at that starting level yet.However, there are a few “hacks” for making the app work for those (like myself) trying to start from beneath the assumed starting level:
1) Pause. I used this feature many times during my workouts. I paused between exercises to change the position of my phone and between mission sections to get water, so my “7-minute” workout was closer to 20 minutes in total.
2) Modifying the exercises to your fitness level. Meredith noted that the app doesn’t always record your reps accurately or care about form, but I used this to my advantage and for certain things — like burpees that I can’t do because I get lightheaded when moving too quickly from horizontal to vertical — I substituted a modified squat, and the reps still counted.
Kate’s Bottom Line
I feel that the lack of personalization in terms of fitness levels is really where the developers failed to consider their audience. Perhaps they were seduced by the male power fantasy that “superhero” means making an already good body better, but when I think about superhero workouts, I think about reaching the potential for my particular body and particular goal. That’s why I love Neila Ray’s themed workouts. Black Widow’s workout is different from the Flash’s because their abilities and skill sets are very different. This is, perhaps, my bias from being a long time fan in female comics fandom where discussions about different superheroes’ body types is common. There are a variety of heroes who have bodies other than Superman’s — and I don’t just mean different sexes. Yes, Black Canary has a different body and fitness skill sets than Batman — but so does Nightwing. When I’m designing a superhero body to aspire to, I want to pick and choose. I want to be as flexible as Spider-Man, but with Wonder Woman’s thighs. More important than that, though, I want to know that it’s okay if I’m not starting off already in good shape. I want to meet my personal fitness goals, and use this app to do that, so this one-workout-fits all policy (while, in theory, inclusive of both sexes and different exercise levels) just doesn’t work for me.