One stride after another, Nathan Maehren’s heart rate ticked up as he walked on the treadmill. He was also able to track how many miles he had moved and log his progress in a fitness challenge with other gym members, all with just the swipe of his wrist.
The St. Paul Midway YMCA where Maehren exercised last week is the first YMCA location in the country to participate in Apple Watch Connected, a program that allows members with Apple Watches to find gym classes, join fitness challenges, check in and pay for membership as well as track their health progress on exercise equipment.
YMCA leaders believe wearables will continue to revolutionize fitness.
“More and more members are coming to us with Apple Watches or other technologies that they expect to work in here and for new experiences that you can’t get out of your home,” said Maehren, senior vice president of digital for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.
It has been little more than a week since the Midway YMCA premiered the full Apple Watch Connected program with the YMCA MN app on the Apple Watch.
Through the app, members can check in as they arrive at the YMCA and browse class schedules. Members can also follow personal training plans that have step-by-step instructions on exercises with videos. By scanning the Apple Watch so that it pairs with cardio machines including treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals, and stair climbers, the Apple Watch can track progress in terms of total calories burned, heart rate and miles traveled. By pairing the watch to the machine, readings are more accurate than by just wearing the Apple Watch by itself, Maehren said.
Another major component of the app is the YMCA Move for Good program that allows Apple Watch users who complete activity challenges of moving, exercising and standing for certain time periods to collectively and automatically log their progress and earn community rewards. For example, until the end of February, every 40 Apple Exercise Rings that are completed, one child will receive free swimming lessons. Those without Apple Watches but with other wearable fitness trackers or cellphones can participate in the community challenges. As of last week, 15 youths will be given free swim lessons thanks to participating challenge members and sponsor John W. Mooty Foundation. Sponsors and rewards will change monthly.
“We see tremendous potential for this program as YMCAs across the country begin to roll it out over the next several years,” said Kevin Washington, president and chief executive of YMCA of the USA, in a statement.
The Midway YMCA, which was rebuilt and reopened in 2016, has been a “test bed” for new ideas as it attracts a diverse array of members in terms of age, background and income, said Sarah Halby, digital marketing manager for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. More than a year ago, the Midway YMCA also introduced an eGym strength training group of equipment that adjusts automatically for each person and tracks progress through the machine and a smart bracelet the user wears. There weren’t additional costs associated with the Apple Watch Connected program as the YMCA had already installed the cardio machines that helped make the project possible, Halby said.
Joe Mueller, 44, of St. Paul, discovered the connected cardio equipment by accident one day as he was using a machine.
“It knew everything,” Mueller said. “My watch is feeding into the treadmill and the treadmill is feeding my watch.”
Mueller, who tries to work out three times a week, is also a big fan of the eGym circuit of equipment. When shown how he could participate in fitness challenges with other members on his Apple Watch, Mueller immediately joined the challenges.
“That’s neat,” he said.
The Apple Watch Connected program has launched not only at the YMCA but also with three other fitness franchises: Orangetheory Fitness, Basecamp Fitness, and Crunch Fitness.