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Flywheel and the Quantified Self

Flywheel and the Quantified Self

When it comes to the quantified self, I'm very interested in ways that we track ourselves, specifically through the use of iPhone and other smartphone apps. Most smartphones have an app that tracks data automatically. For iPhones it's the Health app. There’s thousands of apps today that self-track a variety of subjects. One app that I use in particular to track myself is the Flywheel app. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Flywheel, it is an indoor stadium-style cycling class that currently has locations in thirteen places around the world, including Dubai. North Carolina has two studios located in Raleigh and Charlotte. Flywheel is a very different experience than most other generic workout classes. It is very high-energy and upbeat from the energetic music, to the motivating instructors and even the atmosphere. You can choose between 45-, 60- and 90-minute classes. Each class is led by a world-class instructor who will guide you through the entire process.

Other than signing up for classes through the Flywheel app, it also allows you to track your performance. Once you create an account and begin attending Flywheel classes, you don't even need to input any information into the app, which is nice. It works so that every time you take a class, you can then go and review your performance afterwards. It automatically tracks percentiles, trends and your class stats as well as your class rank. The class stats include your total power, average torq, max torq, average speed, calorie burn and total distance you biked. Your torq is your resistance. There is a dial on your bike that allows you to adjust it throughout the class. You usually start off with a low torq of about 10-15 and as the class goes on the instructor will advise you when to adjust it and what to change it to. At every point during your work out you are able to view and adjust your effort. Each Flywheel stadium has two large TorqBoards that are large flat-screens at the front of the room displaying leaderboards. Throughout the class, there will be opportunities to race. If this is not something you feel comfortable with, you can easily opt out of your numbers being posted on the big screen, but your data will still be inputted into the app. The app also tells you the length of the class and the instructor's name. The class rank section shows you where you came in place overall. All of this information is saved so that you can go back and view it whenever you’d like, tracking your progress along the way.

This app could be improved easily with an option to input your specific goals and then be given a concrete workout plan to reach them. It does not post to social media, as far as I know, but I’m sure the option is given. I have found the app to be somewhat discouraging in the sense that seeing I am towards the bottom of the class rank can be dispiriting. Of course, this could be attributed to a variety of factors such as a class full of experienced cyclers whereas I am more of a beginner. This is similar to a conclusion my English professor reached when he allowed one of classes to have a ranking based on grades. Students were able to view their rank in the class. He found that students towards the bottom almost gave up, whereas students at the top would do almost anything to get more points. They were motivated by this method and on the contrast those who fell behind in the class rank were discouraged. I can imagine that being at the top of a Flywheel class would boost my feelings of happiness and fulfillment, but I have not yet experienced that. To me, there is always something to work towards, or a goal to reach, and that is motivation alone.

I'm not sure whether any other workout classes have taken this approach of using data to allow people to track their performance and progress. I definitely can see it becoming much more popular in the future. With the large social media prevalence today, I have seen many people posting data on their quantified self, whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Sometimes I interpret this as bragging, although other times it might be that people gain a sense of confidence and satisfaction from posting and receiving feedback. To me, it often makes me feel as though I need to compete with them, especially if they are friends. Much of social media involves comparing ourselves to friends and others around us. This app definitely has the aspect of competitiveness, as it plays a small part in the idea behind Flywheel. Although the website states that the classes are only competitive if you want them to be. The website also makes it clear that you do not have to be in amazing shape to do Flywheel. After all, everyone has to start somewhere. Many locations also have Flybarre, a bar class with total-body sculpting, in case cycling isn’t your thing.

This example of self-tracking exemplifies the good side of it. I can’t see a much better way to work out than this fun, upbeat environment. Not only can you feel better, healthier and stronger from Flywheel, but you can visualize results specific to you in a concrete way. With the app, all the data is right at your fingertips. There is a bad side to self-tracking as well. What happens when this personal information is used in a way that users don’t feel comfortable? This question touches more on the ethical implications of self-tracking and involves privacy.

Before taking this class on big data, I was unsure what the words even meant. Now, it has become so important in almost every aspect of my life. At the very least, we need to be aware of its capacity and the huge impact it is making in areas such as self-tracking and others as well.


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