Around 2013 I threw out my back several times. Each time was incredibly painful and although most of the pain subsided after a week or so, I never felt fully recovered. I dealt with this pain for a few years before finally seeing a doctor about it. Multiple visits, an X-ray, and an MRI revealed that my back (and neck) were indeed in disarray. My doctor referred me to a physical therapy clinic. At the clinic they focused on strengthening my core muscles so that I wouldn’t put so much strain on my back while sitting or standing. They gave me a series of exercises to complete at home and suggested that I take up other forms of exercise, like yoga or pilates. All I needed to do was get in shape.
In late 2015 I started taking spin classes at a studio near my apartment. I figured that before I tried focusing entirely on my core I would start with something just to get active. This studio also offered classes in something I hadn’t heard of before, called Lagree fitness. It used a large machine called a Megaformer that I was told was like a pilates reformer. I had no idea what that was. The Megaformer looked like a medieval torture rack. I decided to give it a go.
As of February 2017 I have been taking Megaformer classes for about a year. I lost 40lbs. I have also been training to become a certified Lagree Fitness instructor. All I wanted to do was get in shape so that I could reduce the pain in my back. That’s it. It seemed like a reasonable goal.
Now that I have had the opportunity to teach a few Megaformer classes myself, I thought about how an app might be a useful aid for instructors. I have taken classes with many trainers and they are all incredibly motivating and organized. I figured that for an app to be useful, it should be something that could be used both during and outside of class. At the very least I was thinking about how an app could be used to put together a routine. For example, there could be a database of available moves with additional information about body placement, duration, modifications, variations, range of motion, and target muscles. Once a routine has been created, the app could give you heat maps showing how much each muscle group is being targeted and for how long. This information isn’t entirely necessary, but it could be helpful to know.
Prior to starting this project, I had observed that fellow instructors inevitably hit a point of writer’s block when it comes to preparing their routines. I myself have experience this, and for most instructors it means going to the official Lagree fitness web portal and researching the latest and greatest moves. Unfortunately the official site, while filled with information, is a bit of a mess. It’s also not friendly on mobile browsers as it uses (gasp) frames in addition to many other mobile-unfriendly features. Other instructors I had spoken with also indicated that whatever methods they were used to using to create and organize their routines were a mess. Word documents scattered around their desktop and various folders, numerous Google docs with confusing names, etc. Other fitness programs, such as Schwinn Indoor Cycling, have had very useful teacher resources and I wondered how Lagree could benefit from some as well.
“As an instructor, I want a way to rapidly create routines from the full database of current moves so that I can always have something fresh prepared to teach.”
“As an instructor, I want to be able to see all of the related moves based on a variety of criteria so that I can improve my routine writing abilities.”
“As an instructor, I would like a resource that I can easily access from my phone so that I can quickly reference it while teaching.”
I started out with a basic sketch of the app and thought about what the major features should be. Users should be able to create, view, and play routines easily from the app as well as modify any existing moves for their needs. A saved routine is not unlike a playlist or an album in a music app. Each move lasts one to two minutes with a brief transition period before the next move begins. Each move requires specific placement on the machine with a variety of variations and modifications. Moves also typically include a suggested level of spring resistance. Spring resistance is set via cables with red and yellow knobs that run underneath the machine. Routines last 40-45 minutes and cover legs, arms, core, and obliques.
I quickly threw together a few designs based on my initial sketches. I decided to implement Google's Material Design language as a foundation for the app. It provided me with the basic building blocks to communicate how the app would work, and I could easily enhance the design later with additional stylistic choices. A floating action button was used for the main action in both the view and edit modes. In edit mode, users can easily add additional moves to an existing routine. In play mode, users can "play" the routine which displays related information in real time.
I have developed a functional prototype of this application on the web. It's a bit different than my initial mockups but my focus here was to get a feel for the basic features.
I learned the importance of keeping things simple. From the start of the project my goal was to make a semi-automated routine builder, but what made more sense in the end was a simple method for creating routines by hand. Other instructors I spoke with indicated that they could see themselves using a special app, but that it would be difficult to break their existing habits.
My initial assumptions were that users would find value in a method for auto-generating their routines. What I discovered was that Lagree instructors would benefit most from access to a list of moves. They were looking less for an automated solution and more for a way to jog their memory of available moves.
Typically I have been much more focused on design aspects of a project, but for this user study I worked alone. One of the most challenging aspects was playing to my strengths rather than trying to pick up a bunch of additional skills. I leveraged my web development background to assist me with the most challenging aspect, which was making the prototype. For a time I considered diving into newer frameworks or creating a native iOS app from scratch, but these objectives, while certainly educational, would have distracted me from completing the prototype.
My favorite part of this project has been the ability to get quick feedback from my fellow instructors and students. It means I can quickly get unvarnished thoughts and criticism as this project evolves. I plan to return to the Design and Discovery phases of my process and take another swing at a rapid prototype. This time I intend to scale down the list of available features and ensure that my solutions are specific and impactful.