GymKit is the best thing to happen to treadmills in a long time

Gyms are often intimidating places. When I walked into the flagship Equinox location in Toronto's swanky Yorkville neighborhood, I saw a guy effortlessly lunging across the room with what looked to be 100-pound dumbells in his hands. Like it was no big deal. Where was I?

To be fair, I'm not unfamiliar with the gym environment, but in recent years I've kept my training mostly at home, both to save money and to save myself the embarrassment of having to come face to face with perfect lungers.

I shouldn't have been worried, because before long my head was buried exactly where I like it: in a screen. I was there to demo Apple's nascent GymKit platform, which was announced at 2017's WWDC keynote but didn't debut in the U.S. until December. Having since arrived in several other countries, it's now available to use in Canada at Equinox gyms and on Life Fitness machines, and it's a really great experience.

The Apple Watch effect

Gymkit at a Gym

Gymkit at a Gym (Image credit: iMore)

Tracking exercise on the Apple Watch is one of its primary use cases for a reason: it's really good at it. Accurate and easy to set up, the experience of filling those rings is like nothing else on the market. And while many people already use Apple Watch at the gym, on treadmills, ellipticals, indoor bikes and stair steppers, the stats between Watch and machine don't always align. GymKit changes that by making a direct two-way connection between your vitals, as measured by Apple Watch, and the machine you're using.

If you're really into tracking your stats while exercising, GymKit-enabled equipment is going to be a dream.

Every Apple Watch has an NFC radio in it to use Apple Pay, and that same chip enables the handshake between Watch and treadmill, for example. It's a seamless process, since every piece of GymKit-enabled equipment has a specialized board in it to ensure the Bluetooth connection, once established, is strong and secure. (You just need to make sure your Apple Watch is running at least watchOS 4.)

Stats like calories burned, heart rate, distance, speed, and floors climbed show up on screen without ever having to place your hands on the machine, and once you end a workout, the link is severed and any personally-identifiable stats are purged, ensuring your privacy.

A late start

The beautiful thing about GymKit is that you don't have to use it immediately after beginning a run or cycle session — you can tap on the equipment's NFC reader any time after beginning a workout and all the data will be synced between Apple Watch and machine up until that point. Once the workout is over, all of the data is shared and stored on your Watch or iPhone.

The best part about GymKit is that you don't have to think about it. Like Apple Pay, it's just tap-and-go.

I got to try the experience, and it's really as simple and seamless as it sounds. And on the Life Fitness equipment I tried, I was able to sit back and look at the virtual trail on screen, or even begin watching a show on Netflix or Hulu. While gyms will have to replace their existing equipment with GymKit-enabled equivalents, Equinox has committed to doing just that throughout the U.S. and Canada beginning this year, with other manufacturers like Matrix and Technogym following suit in other markets around the world (Apple is working only with Life Fitness and Equinox in Canada right now).

It just makes sense

Apple knows its market and understands that millions of Apple Watch owners also go to the gym; that Venn diagram is pretty spacious. Nearly everyone I saw during my visit to Equinox was wearing a fitness tracker of some sort, and the vast majority were Apple Watches. That makes sense: gym-goers want to track their workouts to measure improvement over time, and to share their accomplishments with friends and family.

That aspect has been a known quantity since the early days of Apple Watch. Now, though, the metrics part is taken care of: what you see (or, when you're running, don't see) on your Watch is now displayed beautifully on the machine's screen in front of you.

And when you're done checking your stats, you can go right back to watching Netflix — at the gym.

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.