The plan is that soon you’ll be able to waltz into a gym, connect your Apple Watch to a treadmill, and earn cash back or a free watch just for showing up.
There’s not even a catch, supposedly. If you already own an Apple Watch, a new program Apple launched with select gyms will offer perks for putting in the work you were probably already doing to close those activity rings. According to Techcrunch, the Apple Watch Connected initiative includes four gyms to start: YMCA, Crunch Fitness, Orangetheory, and Basecamp Fitness. If you work out at one of those gyms’ locations, you’re not automatically enrolled just for owning an Apple Watch—you’ll have to sign up for the program and opt into sharing your data.
As part of Apple Watch Connected program, Apple requires gyms to offer an iPhone and Apple Watch app for users to log in and track their fitness, so gyms will know how much you work out using the watch. Apple also requires its gym partners to offer a way for users to earn rewards with their watches, so giving gyms that data could be worth it—at least if you want cash or a free Apple Watch for your efforts.
Let’s stop here for a second. You might be concerned about gyms using your workout data for weird internal reasons, or selling it to advertisers who would love to know how often you go to the gym and what you do there. I know Apple stores my exercise data on-device, but what do the gyms plan to do with it?
According to a CNBC report, Crunch Signature CEO Keith Worts said during a press event that the chain “complies with every privacy program there is” and claims it won’t even use data from watch sensors to figure out which machines are used the most. Apple told CNBC that your workout data isn’t shared with them, either. It is not clear how Orangetheory, Basecamp Fitness, or YMCA would use the data. We’ve reached out to each gym, as well as Apple, for comment on their data policies and will update when we learn more.
Crunch’s perks include a few bucks back each week toward the next month’s bill for working out a certain number of times. If you work out at Basecamp Fitness three times a week for a whole year, you’ll work off the Apple Watch Series 5 the gym will give you for participating in the program. The YMCA will hook you up with free classes for your kids.
Apple also requires gyms to support Apple Pay, so you can buy food, drinks, or gear without bringing a wallet. And the gyms’ cardio machines will need to support GymKit, the framework Apple developed for connecting Apple Watches to gym equipment for more accurate workout-tracking.
The caveat is for studios like Orangetheory, which use cardio machines as part of a circuit routine. Gizmodo’s Victoria Song tested out Orangetheory’s Apple Watch integration, which uses a watchband clip to sync the watch’s workout-tracking with Orangetheory’s own heart rate-monitoring system for a high-tech but seamless overview of your workout.
The Apple Watch Connected program has limited availability to start. Two New York City Crunch locations are already on board, with more to come. The YMCA is starting its rollout in the Twin Cities before bringing the program to 22 more locations in the next few weeks. Orangetheory is also starting with two Manhattan locations tomorrow before expanding nationwide over the next year. Basecamp is targeting a 2020 rollout, too.
As a former Crunch and YMCA member who would’ve loved an easier way to track my workouts and get statement credits for pricey NYC gym memberships, Apple Watch Connected appeals to me. It could also inspire people who struggle to find the motivation to work out regularly. After all, if we know anything about humans, it’s that we absolutely love gamifying our lives and will do just about anything for free shit. Apple Watch Connected could be the best of both worlds—and, hey, at least it’s healthy.
Update (1/24/20, 12:00 p.m. ET): Apple pointed Gizmodo to the App Store guidelines for health and fitness apps, which are more restrictive than the rules for other types of apps—specifically in that health and fitness apps are prohibited from sharing user data with any third parties “for advertising, marketing, or other use-based data mining purposes other than improving health management, or for the purpose of health research, and then only with permission.” Gyms won’t be able to take the workout data you share with them for rewards and sell it to advertisers without risking Apple’s wrath (and being booted from the App Store).