My primary workout is a boot camp I do four or five times a week. I've been doing this for about 2 1/2 years. When someone asks me what I do for exercise, and I tell them, almost invariably the response is something along the lines of, "I could never do that; it's too hard and don't they always yell at you?" As it turns out, my trainers are nothing like that. What's more, I would never sign up for any program that was like that (though for the record, this is boot camp is mighty hard; that part never seems to change.) But I am not, and never have been, motivated by someone berating me, screaming in my face to try harder or move my Jell-o ass, or otherwise verbally abusing me. I wouldn't even listen to the third-base coach on my 8th-grade softball team telling me to steal or slide.
But while yelling may not work for me, it's apparently pretty effective for other people—as evidenced by other screaming-filled boot camps (I hear) and training programs that enthusiastically adopt the "You suck! Drop and gimme 20!" approach. Then this week I started noticing that there seemed to be more apps coming out that follow this line of thinking, too. Since motivation is a key part of why people hate to exercise—it seems to be an ever-dwindling resource, not unlike fossil fuels—I wanted to take a closer look at these apps to see if there was anything to them I might be missing.
The first app I looked at that's getting a lot of press now is focused on weight loss, not fitness: CARROT Fit ($1.99, iPhone only) calls itself "a judgmental weight tracker." Simply put, if you put on pounds or fail to lose, the app will heckle, shame, and berate you. It doesn't sugarcoat its purpose: Its site calls the app "a sadistic AI construct with one simple goal: to transform your flabby carcass into a Grade A specimen of the human race. She will do whatever it takes — including threatening, inspiring, ridiculing, and bribing you — to make this happen."
What I like a lot about CARROT Fit is its sense of humor (dark as it may be) and how easy it seems to be to use: You just put in your current weight and wait for the verbal assault (or rewards) to roll in. If you find it inspiring to be referred to as a "meatbag" this could be the app for you.
Yes, Drill Sergeant (Free; iPhone only) is an app along much the same lines, but focused on fitness, not weight loss. You choose your own drill sergeant—like Sgt. McTesty—based on the training philosophy and program that's the best fit for you (the first sergeant is free; if you want more options you'll need to pay). Workouts (aka "missions") are built around standard moves like push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees, and crunches. There's plenty of running too, and your virtual sergeant is with you, hurling belittling tirades along the way.
Most fitness apps, though, rely more on other factors for motivation, such as showing you results that indicate your progress toward a goal (pounds lost, miles run), giving you a thumbs-up (say, for finishing a week's worth of workouts), or drawing on the support of your fellow exercisers to keep you going. Though there's no one-size-fits-all motivator (most of us need multiple things to keep us doing something as hard to do as exercise), the latter category of apps seem, to me at least, to be better motivators if only because they're more controllable, measurable, and likely to change (hopefully improve) over time.
For most people working out is boring, so I'd be afraid it'd simply be easy to tune the insults out; they're just a novelty that's fun for a bit. I've talked to plenty of people about what they hate about exercise and it's safe to say that most already feel like crap about themselves when it comes to how often and how hard they work out. They don't need an app to make them feel like that. They already do, and it's certainly not motivating them.
What about you: Would an app that yelled at you motivate you to lose weight or exercise more?