Get fit with Alexa

introduction

For many vision impaired people the thought of fitness is cringing and rather off-putting. I, as a totally blind young person have felt exactly that way for many years. Attending a gym as a blind person, whether you are young or not is not exactly the easiest thing in the world, and I am sure there are plenty of us out there who would not be scared to admit that there are other things we would rather do. For 2 years now I have been exploring the ways in which we can independently exercise at home, in an environment most of us know like the back of our hand. Meet My workouts, a skill for the Amazon Echo devices!

What is it?

My workouts is a skill which allows you to carry out a gym type workout without forking out on fancy equipment or classes and memberships. You can create a profile based on your current fitness ability, which in turn allows the skill to create a more personalised workout for you. This is recommended but not compulsory, and you can try a generic workout if you simply want to test the skill, setup will be explained further in the post so keep reading!

Enabling the skill

Like most Alexa skills, you can enable it by going into the Alexa app on your smartphone, then finding my workouts in the skills section, or you can ask your Amazon Echo device to enable My workouts. Please note that due to a recent software update from Amazon, when you ask your alexa device to enable some skills you may be told to go into the Alexa app to continue. This is a fairly accessible process, as long as you have enough patience while using the app. It can be a little confusing for users of Ios and Voiceover; I have experienced this myself on a few occasions, and I have also heard that some users of Android and Talkback have experienced the like, however I am unable to comment on this myself as I do not use such a device. There is, however a workaround to using the app, and that is to use the interface on the web using a browser such as Firefox for Windows, Safari on a Mac, or Safari on IOs. The layout is the same as the app, and finding and enabling skills such as My workouts is a lot simpler. How to search for and enable skills is beyond the scope of this blog post, however, in summary, log into your Amazon account on the web by going to the Amazon Alexa website, finding the skills tab, then search for My workouts.

Setup

You are first asked for your name, then you are given the option to either create a profile or try a generic workout. Which option you choose to go for is entirely your choice, but be aware that if you choose to do the generic workout, you will be prompted to create a profile nearly every time you open the skill. If you choose to create the profile, you are asked questions such as your height, weight, gender, whether you are under or over 40 years, some fitness questions such as how many flights of stairs you can jog up in a tall building without stopping. Also you are asked how many regular push-ups you can complete without stopping, and how often you have exercised on average in the past week. You are then asked to set a fitness goal: you can choose from either lose fat, get fit, or gain muscle mass. Your profile is then complete, and you are guided to begin your first workout.

Using and controlling the skill

The way the skill works is that Alexa will first tell you the name of the exercise, then she will tell you how many times you do the exercise, and for how long. You then have two options: you can either say “Ready,” and you will get a countdown, followed by some music she plays while you do the workout. Or you can say “Help,” then you will get a very detailed and clear description of how the exercise is done, perfect if you are unsure of how to do the exercise. I am personally very impressed with the descriptions, and if I am unsure of how to complete an exercise, I follow along with the description then repeat if I need to before saying “Ready.” The workout lasts around roughly 20 minutes, and I have noticed that when a set of exercises is picked, then that set of exercises is done a few times to fill up the specified 20 minute length. The type of music played is not quite everyone’s taste, and although it is mostly random, I did experience an occasion where I would hear the same soundtrack about six times in a row. But this has only ever happened once though, and personally I did not mind too much, but some people might dislike this, especially if they are not keen on the sound of the track. None of the tracks sound like songs to me, instead, they sound like samples of music which have been chosen specifically for the skill. You are not able to pick tracks, and are also unable to control the volume through voice whilst in the skill. However, you can still use the volume control on your Echo device. Although using the buttons is a good option, it is not ideal in the middle of a workout during a floor exercise, depending on where the Echo device is placed! The exercises are varied but at first can seem a little advanced for some people who are expecting just simple exercises. For me, it really does simulate a gym workout, having the skill means I can still keep fit despite struggling to attend the gym. I would recommend having quite a large floor area due to the amount of floor work the skill requires you to do. You can use the skill as much or as little as you like, I have chosen to use it during the weekend and have found it really beneficial.

There are very few commands which are used to control the skill, and you do not need to remember many of them because Alexa always gives you the choice of commands which you can say at that particular time. At the end of each workout, you are asked whether you found the workout too hard, too easy, or just right. This is where the skill does let me down slightly. If I tell Alexa that I found the workout either too hard or too easy, she will understand and move onto her next prompt. However, if I tell her that the workout was just right, she seems to always come up with very irrelevant responses. The workaround for this is to just say “Right.” If you found the workout just right and you do not want the difficulty level to change, then she will move on as usual.

Conclusion

Ever since discovering the skill I have completely changed my attitude towards exercise. I have set times in my schedule where I would complete a workout, at the end of which I feel just as much achievement as if I had gone to a gym. The cost of a gym membership, coupled with the additional cost of having to pay for a sighted assistant to help get to a gym and use equipment is much higher, compared to the one-off cost of an Amazon Echo device, especially the Echo dot. For visually impaired Alexa users I think this is a fantastic way of using the assistant and doing exercise in a fun and accessible way. How do you like to keep fit? Do you think technology is a good solution for people to exercise at home? Discuss in the comments and share your views!

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