BodBot is an amazingly adaptive exercise app that allows me to find new ways of doing joyful movement while feeling like a fitness god. Finding joyful movement is an important part of wellness. I’m not talking about the body. But overall body-mind-spirit feeling good overall about yourself and life.
First, let me set some ground rules. This isn’t about losing weight or fat or about gaining muscle. This is especially not about diet culture. This about helping people find a way to put joyful movement back into their lives without pressure to meet some horribly ableist ideal of what our bodies “should” look like and what we “should” be able to do with our bodies.
Before I get into the things that make BodBot an incredible app for disabled people to use, let’s talk about my personal history with exercise. Spending time thinking about your history is going to play a significant role into what BodBot does to add some positive movement into your life.
My Personal History with Exercise
I used to have an extreme athletic body. I have always enjoyed movement and exercise. I just feel good mentally doing it. I used to dance 20 hours a week. I never followed any diet. I just ate whatever I want. I still do eat whatever I want but with some small adjustments that do not fit into diet culture, but have to do with food allergies, intolerances and making sure I get the proper balance of macros to manage both my reactive hypoglycemia plus keep my muscles from atrophying. Then as my chronic neuropathic pain increase, my ability to dance and exercise went down the crapper.
I had developed multiple RSIs, which I am learning is quite common among us autistics as we don’t have a sense of how much force we apply when doing things. And then compound that with a non-cancerous spinal cord tumour, I cannot take more than about 20 steps before it starts to really aggravate things below my waist. Each shockwave up my sciatic nerve as my heel touches the ground really makes the tumour that is displacing both sciatic nerves angry.
Not being able to exercise was a real bummer for me. Because I genuinely love it. No-one dances 20 hours a week unless they love it.
Eventually, I found some things I could do, like yoga and playing Just Dance while bouncing on a stability ball and following the movements with my upper body. So. Much. Fun.
The Apps I Tried Before BodBot
It wasn’t long before I started to look into exercise apps. My first exercise app was FitBit Coach. I enjoyed it because the exercise was adaptive. Movement types and durations increased based on feedback. It also has Chromecast which made it possible to exercise without annoying noises as it was easy to see visual prompts.
As I have a FitBit Pulse with premium, it was a naturally fit. The exercises never really satisfied the emotional joy I get from movement, but it did the trick when paired with Just Dance. Then, FitBit shut it down and their premium exercise found in the FitBit app completely miss the mark when one has mobility issues. Plus, there is an overreliance on steps. See above about spinal cord tumour.
When Coach was retired, I researched many other exercise apps. Most of them were step tracking based. None of them were adaptive to fitness level, goals, or disability. I thought I had found an alternative with FitOn, but even their “easy” exercises were presented in an ablesist fashion. Sure, the instructor would give modifications, but they did them as fully able-bodied people. This resulted in pushing myself way too much and feeling dejected after each session and beyond fatigued. Didn’t matter how much I adjusted my goals or how much effort I wanted to put into the exercises, I always felt like I was failing.
Finding BodBot Changed Everything
I’m not sure how I came across BodBot. It was either an Instagram advert or a mobile in-game advert. One of the sales positioning points was fully customizable with a one-week free trial of the premium version of the app. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. After the second session, I knew I was going to pay for the full version. I finished each exercise feeling like an exercise GOD who could do anything.
Reason 1 to Use BodBot: It Truly Is Fully Customizable
Picking in which order to list the reasons was the trickiest thing about writing this article. But I started here because there are as many ways to customize this app as there is ways in which mobility can be impaired.
If you are a wheelchair user, you can tell BodBot to not include any exercises that are meant to work muscle groups from the hips down. If you are like me and have a spinal cord tumour, you can tell BodBot to cut any exercises that put pressure on the sciatic nerves. For me, this was super important because those are the nerves affected by my tumour. If I do anything that puts prolonged weight on my heels, exercise that require pushing up through the heel, or do anything that involves shock up through my heels, I lose feeling in my legs and feet as the nerve gets jostled and puts more pressure on those nerve roots.
There are a few ways to cut exercises. One is to search by exercises by keywords in preferences and tell BodBot to exclude them there. Another way is to tell BodBot to never again include the exercise when it comes up in your routine. The other way is to eliminate certain muscle groups in preferences.
The best part about removing an exercise is the message you receive when doing so. Instead of ableist messages about pushing harder, it returns a message that says, “No worries, we didn’t like that guy anyway.” So reaffirming.
Reason 2 to Use BodBot: It Creates a Program Designed for Exactly Where You Are At and For Your Goals
One of the very first things you do when using BodBot is to complete an intake exercise of sorts. It asks you to choose one of 16 primary goals:
- Build Muscle Mass & Size
- Lose Weight & Burn Fat
- Increase Strength & Lift More Weight
- Tone Up – Gain Muscle & Lose Fat
- Get Fitter & Feel Healthy
- Cross-Train Many Fitness Qualities
- Train For Tactical Readiness
- Improve Basketball-Specific Fitness
- Improve Soccer-Specific Fitness
- Improve Baseball-Specific Fitness
- Improve Endurance Running
- Improve Triathlon Performance
- Facilitate and Maintain Cognitive Fitness
- Improve Sexual Health and Fitness
- Increase Flexibility
- Build Martial Arts Fitness (General)
You can change your goals at any time.
BodBot asks other questions to help create the best plan for you. It asks gender, height, and weight.
One downside here: There is no non-binary option.
Then it asks about your history with exercise, like how much you have exercises in the past. It also does some fitness and flexibility testing to see if any areas need extra stretching and to really dial into your needs. It also allows you to input which home equipment you have available to serve you exercises you can do no matter what that situation is without any special equipment. You also get to set if you want BodBot to pick your exercise schedule (recommended) or you. Plus, a tonne of other really small fine-tuning that really helps you get the most out of the app.
Finally, you can tell BodBot if you want standard workouts, superset workouts, or circuit workouts. I like superset – expansive for best complementary muscle group exercises and to keep things fun.
Reason 3 to Use BodBot: The Exercise Levels Increase and Decrease as You Exercise
After you complete each exercise, BodBot asks you to rate how you felt on a scale from very easy to it took everything out of me. If it took everything out of you, the exercise gets dialed back because the attitude of “push yourself to the limit and then do one more” is very harmful and does not yield the best results.
If you find the exercises anywhere from very easy to somewhat challenging, the exercise either increases in repetitions for next set or increases weight. And if you score it hard, that means it is just right and you have found that sweet spot. If it is set 2 or 3 and you mark it as hard, BodBot dials it back for the last repetition so you can make it through the entire training session.
Each step of the way is paired with positive reinforcement so you never feel like you are failing for not keeping up with some coach who may be at a vastly different fitness level than you are. BodBot makes sure that you are not only exercising the most efficient way for your goals but also, that you are doing it safely and to your abilities.
When you done for the day, BodBot says to you, “Workout Completed! We’ll take the details of your completed workout into account in your future workouts.” There is also a voice affirmation that makes me feel powerful.
And if you need to miss a day for any number of reasons and press the ‘Skip Day’ button, BodBot tells you something to the effect of, “No worries! We all have off days. We’ll simply readjust your routine to keep it efficient to meet your goals.”
Reason 4 to Use BodBot: It Is Based on Many Scientific Studies and Cites Them!
Throughout the intake process, BodBot will cite studies as to why certain exercises will be added to your routine and what goal it is trying to achieve. I recently added to my fitness test to tell the app my ability level for hip extensions.
When I finished, BodBot spat out the following message, “Hip Extension Test. This will help us target your supine hip extension exercise . 1) Cook, Gray, Lee Burton, and Barb Hoogenboom. ‘Pre-Participation Screening: The Use of Fundamental Movements as an Assessment of Function – Part 2.’ North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 1: 132-139. Print.”
It does this in a lot of other areas, too, including the macro nutrient recommendations it gives to help you meet your goals.
Another part of this science is the structure of the workout routine. Each routine begins with some warmups of targeted muscle groups. Then
Reason 5 to Use BodBot: It Checks in With You Before and After Each Exercise
Before you begin your session, the app asks you how you are feeling on a scaled of Tired, Fine and Great. If you are Tired, the intensity of the exercises is dialed back as well as the session length, without compromising goals. Intensity and length increase as your self-reported energy levels increase. And if you connect it to a FitBit that records sleep data, it will also factor in your last night’s sleep into your routine for the day.
The app also asks if there are any specific muscle groups that are sore and adjusts, as necessary.
When you are done the exercises for the day, it will also ask how you are feeling. If you are feeling tired, then it takes that into account and adjusts your next routine. The better you feel after, more intensity is added to your routines the next time.
Reason 6 to Use BodBot: The Macro Nutrient Help
To make sure I am meeting my complex dietary needs, I use Cronometer as it is the app recommended and used by doctors and registered dieticians alike. It is a great app because the nutrients too can be adjusted based on a lot of personalised needs. I thought I had my macros dialed in but wow, was I wrong.
I was basing my macro ratios based on every day normal needs based against what Fitbit feed to it was my daily calorie needs that fluctuate with activity level. After doing the intake with BodBot, it turned out, that for my activity level and goals, I was not even meeting 50 per cent of my protein needs. It was no wonder that I was experiencing unexplained muscle loss.
Reason 7: Excellent Customer Service
With an app like BodBot that has almost everything about it customisable, there needs to be good customer service. Even with the most tech-savvy person or thorough documentation, it can be easy to still be unable to figure out something. I was having issues finding the settings the eliminate entire exercise types all together, and not just swapping it on day-of. I couldn’t figure out the correct keywords when searching the documentation. All it took was a quick email to support and they wrote out detailed directions.
I made some suggestions to make the app more accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing people and they were happy to receive them. I also suggested to be able to sync data between Cronometer and BodBot and they told me they’d see what they can do.
Reason 8: Video and Text Guide to Every Exercise with Easy Swap
We all have diverse ways we learn best. The creators of BodBot understand this. So, every exercise has a guide you can consult before, during and after an exercise comes up. The Guide included both a video example and details text explanation. There is also information about which muscle groups and parts of the body the exercise is meant to target to help you figure out if you are engaging that group when doing the exercise.
In this area is also where the user can element the exercise for that day–or for good–or swap it out for a different exercise. When swapping the exercise, the exercises from which you can choose as the swap all target the same muscle groups and parts of the body. This is all to help make sure you are going to obtain your goals in a way that is adaptable and respects energy levels and/or disability.
Areas Needing Improvement: It Relies on Auditory Prompts and No Chromecast
The app has a few features that make it good for the Blind and visually impaired. You can use a screen reader with it. It has audio prompts to let you know when it is time to switch between timed exercises and when the next exercise begins.
But it is not one hundred per cent friendly to the Blind and visually impaired. You cannot use a voice assistant to tell the app how much weight you used, how many reps you did, and when you are ready to move onto the next exercise.
It is also missing features for the Deaf and hard of hearing. Because it relies on audio prompts for timed exercises, it really makes it difficult, if not impossible, to know when it is time to stop and move on. The user could watch the timer on their phone, but that leads to improper posture when doing the exercises, which can lead to injury and undesirable outcomes. This would be an easy fix if the app had Chromecast and AirPlay so users can cast to their televisions. While the user can also find the day’s exercises on the web version of the app, the web version of the app is missing features and not user-friendly.
There are probably other issues that my lack of awareness and unconscious biases result in me not thinking of them. So please know, these drawbacks could be an incomplete list.
BodBot Bottom Line
Bottom line: BodBot will work and be amazing for most people. I wish it could work for all people because of how adaptive and body positive the app is, plus how it uses constant positive reinforcement to encourage users to continue their journey to reach their personal goals. That said, BodBot it aware of these drawbacks and are working to see if they create the necessary solutions so that everyone can use the app.