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Apple Watch Connected gym partnership aims to turn activity into rewards

Orangetheory, Crunch, YMCA and Basecamp are first to join the program.

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Apple's new plan for gyms and Watch involves support for an activity-based rewards program.

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The missing links between wearing a fitness watch and, well, actually staying fit are many. The phantom gym membership that I stay connected to, paying every month without going, is a testament to that.

Apple's newest gym partnership, announced Thursday, is aiming to knit the gym experience and the Apple Watch experience more closely together by connecting your Watch's activity data to gym reward programs. The "Apple Watch Connected" program is an extension of the GymKit technology that pairs Apple Watches to gym equipment, and the first partners -- Orangetheory, Crunch, YMCA (starting with Twin Cities YMCA gyms) and the boutique Basecamp Fitness -- are going to include different takes on earned rewards with Apple Watch activity.

Apple has already announced partnerships with gyms previously -- Orangetheory already has an Apple Watch-compatible fitness accessory; and GymKit, launched in 2017, started the deeper-knit connection to Apple Watches by using cardio machines as giant extended fitness trackers.

In a meeting in New York, Apple's Senior Director of Fitness for Health, Jay Blahnik, suggested ways it will work. Your efforts could trigger philanthropic donations -- the YMCA will use earned credits as a goal to build a kid's swimming program; gym discounts -- Crunch is going to offer $3 off memberships if Apple Watch owners complete weekly activity challenges; or you could earn back an Apple Watch -- Basecamp will give members a Series 5 Apple Watch and allow long-term members to pay it off by completing fitness goals.

The Apple Watch Connected program is starting with small numbers of gyms, but expanding over the year. Expansion may not happen overnight: GymKit adoption in gym equipment has been gradual, as gyms have replaced equipment over time. Crunch Fitness Signature Clubs CEO Keith Worts says that in its Manhattan, NY Financial District Crunch gym, where Apple Watch Connected is launching, GymKit is only installed on 30 to 40% of machines, but all new gym equipment going forward will be GymKit-enabled. Crunch plans to expand Apple Watch Connected support to the company's Signature Club US locations by the end of the year.

I peeked at an early demo in action at the FiDi Crunch Signature Club gym, and really, it's like an extension of existing Apple Watch features like GymKit and Apple Pay (and Wallet for membership cards), along with a promise of app support on-watch for partners in the program. CrunchTime Active Rewards app is the gym's new cardio rewards program app. Weekly reward goals are calculated based on algorithms working off height and weight data, and Worts promises the goals will be easy, but will progress with just enough challenge. Making a week means a $3 discount to the monthly bill.

One unanswered question is how gyms will handle access to customer fitness data. Crunch's Worts promises responsible privacy measures will be used (as you'd expect he would say), but Apple appears to be leaving the data transaction between gyms and customers. I have no idea, yet, what it will mean for my gym to know more about my daily activity habits, or how that info will be used to communicate with me down the road. Or, how that data will be protected.

What interests me, though, is the idea of a program that tracks and encourages me to get back to my gym more, and can relate my activity patterns to a coaching/training regimen. Apple Watch Connected isn't quite that yet, but maybe it's a start.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.