Many smartwatches come with a wide range of fitness modes, helping the wearer stay fit and active; however, for all the clever tech in their devices, wearable makers haven’t yet figured out a way of actually enticing those who aren't activity-inclined (read: lazy people; read: me) to make the effort to get fit.
One smartwatch has come incredibly close though: the Honor Watch ES. It has something I haven’t seen in a smartwatch before, in the form of ‘Fitness courses’, essentially a digital personal assistant that guides you through a series of workouts. There’s ‘Full-body stretch’, ‘Core workout’, ‘Ab ripper’...
Yes, you read that right: this smartwatch has a mode that guides you through the process of getting finely honed abs, aka the proverbial six-pack. As soon as I saw the ‘Ab ripper’ option, my next TechRadar feature basically wrote itself (although I wish the workouts had done themselves – it would have saved me a whole lot of aching).
I’m a fitness fan in the body of a lazy person; I go on several weekly runs, but only reluctantly, and only find myself doing sports if they have adventurous elements, like climbing or skiing. I’m also a commitment-phobe when it comes to exercise, so my gym stints or training regimes never last long.
But maybe the Honor Watch ES could change all that – maybe this wrist-mounted companion really could help me get a six-pack. If there was even a chance, I was determined to take it, so while testing the Honor Watch ES for my review, I decided to rip some abs…
Ab ripper mode
Let’s briefly run through the Ab ripper mode’s workout, to give you some context as to what I was doing every day. It’s worth pointing out that the watch shows you an image of the workout, so in theory you should know exactly what you’re doing, but for some of the exercises this isn’t really detailed enough, so you end up guessing quite a bit.
First, you’ve got ‘Russian twists’ which you do 12 of – Russian twists basically involve you doing a sit-up, and wiggling from side to side when you're in the 'up' position.
Then there’s ‘core activation’, a 20-second stretch which involves laying on your back and wiggling your legs, followed by a 30-second plank. Activity four is 10 reps of ‘hand to elbow’ planking, similar to press-ups.
Now we get into the meat of the workout: 15 crunches, 10 reverse crunches, 10 knee-touch crunches and 10 Russian twists, and you go through those four exercises three times. Finally, there’s a 60-second plank, then a 30-second cobra stretch, which involves laying on your front and raising your upper body off the floor.
Fitness enthusiasts may look at that workout and think "Pah! I could do 10 of those before breakfast!"; people at my fitness level, on the other hand, are likely to find it as daunting as I did. The workout takes about 12 minutes, and the watch guides you through it by vibrating to tell you when to move on to the next exercise, counting reps, scheduling breaks and actually showing you the exercise.
I set myself the goal of doing this workout once daily for a week, to see if I could get ripped quick using the watch. As you’ll see, that didn’t quite go to plan…
For the first few days of my workout I struggled, quite honestly – my stomach was on fire for most the time, and I even struggled to sit up in bed after the second session, which is a testament to either the intensity of the workout or the severity of my initial unfitness – probably a bit of both.
The workouts felt pretty hard too; my unfamiliarity with most the exercises resulted in me struggling with them, or perhaps not doing them completely right. I found it impossible to hold the planks too.
After a few days, though, I started to get more used to the workouts: I no longer hurt after every session, and I had more success with some of the more peculiar exercises (particularly the ones the watch didn’t illustrate too well). Moreover, my stomach was starting to become a little more muscular, which helped me to justify embarking on the endeavor, and encouraged me to persevere. I certainly wasn’t ‘ripped’, but perhaps a little torn at least.
My hair-brained scheme to use a cheap smartwatch to get a six-pack in no time at all was starting to pay off, vindicating my belief that smart work trumps hard work every time.
Then it all went wrong.
Reaching the doldrums
For the first few days, my noticeable strength and physique gains kept motivating me to work out, but very quickly the daily improvements tailed off. By the end of the first week – which was my initial deadline – I hadn’t seen any improvement for a few days, which prompted me to extend my trial by a week.
This was a little demotivating, as the prospect of having to do this kind of workout for months in order to actually get toned scared me. I still wasn’t great at the exercises – although, as I've mentioned, I was getting better, I still wasn’t ‘good’ by any means, and I ended each session feeling tired and out of breath (although maybe that was the idea).
At the beginning of the second week, I stopped doing the workouts every day. This wasn’t out of demotivation, but because I was too busy with other things; but as I lost the habit of daily workouts, I sometimes just completely forgot about them – a reminder notification on the watch would have gone a long way helping here.
By the end of week two I was doing the workout roughly every other day, and it didn’t take up as much of my life as it did before. That actually ended up working out pretty well – I wasn’t as tired after each session, and went into the next one with more energy. As a result I tried harder to nail the specific exercises I was still struggling with, and made some gains that way.
Getting better at the different workouts made me feel pretty great. The initial adrenaline rush of getting noticeably fitter, was replaced with a feeling of elation when I managed to crack yet another kind of crunch or stretch.
But I was two weeks in at this point – I was meant to be walking out of the ocean in slow-motion and winning Aston Martins in poker games by now, surely? But I wasn’t as far along as I’d hoped. Had the Honor Watch ES let me down?
I reached the two-week mark feeling a little ambivalent, as the tech had failed to get me a six-pack. But then something unexpected happened.
Playing the long game
Not long after the fortnight was up, I finished writing my Honor Watch ES review and had to ditch it (not literally) in favor of its big brother, the Honor Watch GS Pro, to review instead. The ES era was over.
I had assumed that this would lead to the end of my ab-ripper experiment, but something peculiar happened – I carried on anyway. Every other day, I’d take off the Watch GS Pro, strap on the Watch ES, and do my ab ripper workout.
Somewhere during those first two weeks, between anxiety at my tiredness and elation at my improvements, the watch had instilled in me some kind of motivation to keep working out. So while it hadn’t given me a six-pack as quickly or as easily as I’d hoped, it had perhaps given me the motivation to earn one the honest, time-consuming way.
It reminds me of the famous saying: ‘guide a man through an Ab ripper workout, and he’ll be working out for 13 minutes; teach a man to do an Ab ripper workout, and he’ll be working out daily for the foreseeable future’. I think I remembered that right…
Eventually I stopped doing the workout altogether, but that was only because my testing sessions for the Honor Watch GS Pro had sapped my energy; if I hadn’t switched watches as part of the job, and had stuck with the ES, I believe I’d still be crunching right now.
So despite all the damage tech can do to this world (environmental, societal, cultural), the idea of super-sophisticated technologically-advanced civilizations that humanity used to harbor, wherein tech improves, not destroys, our lives, can sometimes still come true.
The Honor Watch ES smartwatch didn’t let me speed-run a six-pack, but by guiding me through the initial stages of the journey it gave me the motivation and confidence to go the rest of the way myself.