On computer games and pushups


If you own an iPhone or iPod touch, you're curious about just how creative developers on the AppStore can be, you really should try out PushupFu - it's a great example of successfully applying computer game thinking to transform an existing, somewhat dull, if largely good for you activity, into a great little casual game.

Pushupfu seems to be loosely based on the the One hundred pushups program, helping you get fitter and stronger, by beginning a course of pushups every other day, where you start out with very gentle sets of 3 or 2 pushups, and increase these sets in intensity and duration, working your way up to the finale, where you end up cranking 100 pushups in one go, in an eye bulging, vein popping testosterone soaked display of machismo and sheer masculine potency, that make the Spartans from 300 look like total girls.

It's fair to say, that I'm not there yet.

But, I am enjoying the journey very much, and I think I have a few good ideas why. It's offering me plenty of the following game mechanisms that make doing a fairly mindless exercise much more appealing to the easily bored:

Instant feedback

You can see when you're doing well, straight away here. If you're on bad form, the app reprimand your for cheating, when you don't do a full pushup, or try to do it too fast - every time you do a pushup correctly, the electronic voice from the iphone counts up further - it's a little thing, but the constant feedback makes it much easier to stay motivated. Also, it stops you cheating yourself - when your body starts feeling heavy, it doesn't matter - you still have to keep form or you won't make it to the next milestone.

Tracking progression

Which brings us nicely to the next step - having something track your progress automatically is a godsend - it effectively turns the game into an RPG of sorts, with regular level ups. Having that sense of acheivemen, and grading each stage means that you're less keen on breaking the line, and even if you aren't able to crank out the pushups you need to make the next stage, there's always room for improvement for coming back again. The levelling system is also great for...


This seems to be one of the biggest selling points, and the thing that turns this from a training aid to a computer game - you can challenge people around the world to pushup battles, and whoever can do more pushups in one session walks away with bragging rights, climbing further up the public leaderboard, visible on GymFu. It's a nice idea, and well executed - displaying everyone's stats publicly puts adds an extra element of outside pressure that works as an excellent motivator!

More training needed

However, there are a few things with the app that do leave me wanting - the progression up the stages seems rather uneven, I've been able to breeze through the first four stages, but there's a massive spike in difficulty on the following stage, making it almost discouragingly hard.

Also, challenging people until recently had a really tight window to answer them with no outside notification. Thankfully this has been largely fixed now, and challenges end up in your email inbox as well now.

Finally, scrapping an accelerometer to your arm to measure pushups can sometimes give strange readings, especially when halfway through a set of pushups it starts to come loose; this ends up giving frustrating false positives. 

Finally, accidentally pressing the Apple home button gets you out of the app without saving any kind of progress - hitting this at the end of a set basically means you have to start from scratch again. Annoying, but not a deal breaker.

One of the nicer things about the App Store is how cheap the little apps are - trying out PushupFu costs about the same as a decent espresso, and I've got far more enjoyment out of PushupFu and most espresso's I've tried.

If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, I really recommend giving it a go.

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