During lockdown, or indeed just keeping fit, there are a plethora of online classes, apps, videos and ideas just waiting for you to explore. Going for a run or a jog? Plug in your headphones and listen to the music as you achieve your 10,000 steps. BUT WAIT. Are you craving for a totally different way to keep fit? I think I’ve found what you’re looking for – Apocalypse Survival Training. This is a story based fitness app created by London based fitness trainer Adele Andersen. Using the app, you can immerse yourself into a different world, a world where you are a secret agent trying to save London from an alien invasion whilst all the time getting fit to with running, circuits and yoga workouts. Sound intriguing? I thought so too, so after doing a quick spin of saving London, I had a chat with Adele to find out more… Hi Adele!
Hi I’m Adele Andersen, creator of Apocalypse Survival Training. I’m an Aussie who came to the UK 14 years years ago but somehow never quite made it back home. I’ve been working as a fitness instructor for 11 years and run a west London bootcamp. I live in Acton with my metal singer/music producer husband Rasmus and our three cats.
What inspired you to create the story based fitness app, Apocalypse Survival Training?
7 years ago I was doing a lot of script writing and had just had a radio play performed at a Discworld fan event, Hogswatch (essentially the Christmas celebration of Terry Pratchett’s novel series). In a conversation after in the pub, a group of friends were complaining about how boring exercising is but how they wished they could be fit like I was, which came around to the question of what would make exercising fun for them – an entertainment factor – and whether I could combine my fitness coaching with my writing to make story based workouts which people would want to keep going with, to find out what happened next in the story. It’s been a looooong process from that night to now!
Have you always wanted a career in fitness or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?
Absolutely not! Never even stepped inside a gym before I came to London! I only ever wanted to be a Grand Prix dressage rider and write fantasy novels. Tragically, I was not a particularly gifted rider and feel like I will never be able to afford horses again 😭 I’m finally finishing my first novel though!
I started on horse yards in the UK but quickly ran out of money and ended up in London looking for a job. I started working at Sky in the winter, where I left and got back home in the dark and cold, and had no natural physical labour to do anymore. The office had a lunch gym group so I went along for a Body Pump class, which I liked, and then a Body Combat class, which I adored. I ended up in the gym a lot – I’m pretty high energy and not well suited to a desk job – so when the financial crash of 2008 froze hiring, one of my best friends suggested I train as a group fitness instructor to at least be paid for the many hours I was taking part in group exercise classes. It was loosely intended as a 3 year plan, but it turned out to be something I’m really good at. The first job I’d ever had that I was naturally good at. I qualified in 2009 and am still teaching – and loving it – 11 years later!
In your capacity as a fitness trainer, what type of fitness training or exercises are most popular with the classes that you have taught?
Broadly speaking, exercise to music. There’s true magic in exercise choreographed to music because the music is a driver but also an amazing emotional connector, and so people work harder but experience genuine enjoyment while working out, which makes them more likely to keep exercising.
Have you always wanted a career in fitness or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?
I only teach classes I am truly passionate about and so can deliver with heart and soul. Body Combat is my absolute favourite, it’s an incredibly exhilarating class and the reason I have a career in fitness. I also love Body Pump and Body Balance, which have big performance elements on my part, and then my own freestyle HIIT cycle and a complete switch to my outdoor bootcamp, which is community driven, social and requires very creative planning to keep it super interactive for members.
I love exercises and movements that use the whole body – never ever got the hang of machines. The feeling of moving your own bodyweight around is incredible, and that feeling of having worked all over at the end of a session is the best.
Must admit, when exercising, I hate doing “burpees” … even more than push ups!! Which exercise do you dislike the most?
Well the one that’s beating me hard at the moment is pull ups. I’ve had a few years of issues with my right arm which stopped me being able to pull my bodyweight, but in lockdown Ras has challenged me to do his workouts, and those rings are just kicking my ass! Anything I hate though I know is an opportunity to push my comfort zone and I love the feeling of conquering a problem though, so I’ll keep hanging off them and swearing through negatives until I’m able to pull properly again!
Back to the app, how difficult was it to organise the sound effects, storyline and to choreograph the exercises to create the effect that you wanted to create?
Just after we recorded the original test episode, Hardman’s Army, I met Ras, who is a singer, composer and audio producer. I dated and then married my audio producer! That made life a LOT easier 😉
We got lucky with a recommendation from a friend to Adam Hay, a BAFTA award winning game sound designer, who did the sound effects on Part 1. I sent him scripts, he sent me back amazing sounds, and Ras mixed those in with the dialogue and music (which is SUPER complicated).
The storyline took ages, and I actually rewrote episode 1 about a dozen times. We recorded and edited two or three versions before the one on the app, and it’s still the episode I wince the most about. The storyline itself came out of a throwaway line from Hardman’s Army about a city being completely destroyed by aliens – that was the obvious place to start (although it took a friend to point that out to me!). Finding a story frame that allowed us to put in the Strength and Control episodes with the Speed episodes, in a reasonably natural way, was also very challenging.
The Control (yoga/stretch) episodes were the hardest. I think I wrote 4 full scripts and we definitely recorded and edited that three times to get to what’s on the app. I had to keep simplifying and simplifying, because the app is primarily an audio experience and so it’s essential that anyone could follow the exercises, largely by audio cue only (there’s also a player screen on the app for visual reference).
Now that I’m making TALON: Lockdown, a video based workout series as a leader to the app, I’m having a ball because they are visual workouts, so I can work so much more with the music! My only worry with Lockdown is that people who come to the app from the video workouts might prefer the video workouts (even though the app story, audio design and characterisation is far superior – plus you’re the main character of the app, and only implicitly present in the video workouts).
Having downloaded the app & tried it out myself ( the running part at any rate) I was impressed by the clear instructions in my ear. It certainly made it a different experience than running with music in the background. What other workout options are on the app and what levels of fitness do you cover?
The story progresses episodically over three types of workout, what we term Speed, Strength and Control. This means episode 1 is a running workout, 2 is a bodyweight circuit workout, 3 is a yoga stretch workout and then 4 is back to running, and so on.
The Strength and Control episodes have Intro and Advanced options to select at the start, which determines which level of each exercise is shown to you on the player. Then, within the story, we have characters of different abilities, who are all taught to. This is exactly the same as a group exercise class, where I need to coach to the super fit 20 year old and then the middle aged person who hasn’t exercised in 10 years. But we can do that through character, within the story, which is super fun. The hope is that most users will find themselves recognisably represented by one of the characters, and will follow the coaching directed to them.
While the episodes are of fixed duration (as they’re essentially radio plays), meaning the workouts are all around 30 mins length, your ‘handler’, Skyler, who is like your best friend and personal cheerleader, spends a lot of time assuring you that you only need to do what you can, and assuring you that it’s ok to take breaks. I can DIE doing the circuit episodes by pushing very hard, but also people who are not fit can get through them by pacing themselves. That’s the convenience of programming to time intervals – everyone can work their own pace within that time.
Why did you specifically pick an apocalypse survival story as your app? What came first – the idea for the story or the workouts for a story to fit around?
Hardman’s Army, a test episode to see if I could write a fitness audio drama, came first. It was a circuit workout in the story frame of the whole world has been sent to the army to be trained for an alien invasion, and most people don’t want to be there (which made the characters sympathetic to users who don’t like exercising – everything they would be thinking, a character was actually saying!). That tested really well.
Then I wanted to test a concept: that multiple types of exercise could be put to story. At that time, Zombies, Run! was starting to gain traction, but it was only running. So I didn’t really want to do running, BUT I needed a vivid plot/concept, and people ‘got’ the idea of story based running better than say story based circuits!
I did a request on my Facebook for gripping titles – AST was actually called ‘Catalyst’ right up through the first video we shot for the kickstarter, at which point a friend Dig rang me and was like ‘Adele, you have to fix the name.’ There were dozens and dozens of comments and we ended up crowd sourcing the title Apocalypse Survival Training. I mean, it’s vivid, right? And the story was built around this challenge of incorporating 3 types of workout: running, bodyweight strength, and flexibility. We termed it as ‘giving you the speed, strength and control you need to get Apocalypse Ready!’ which was fun.
As you are based in London, is your app available to download worldwide, iOS & Android?
Yes, world wide, although the dialogue with its many accents I think would be very difficult to follow to people who are not native English speakers. Everyone said do iOS first, one of my mentors had an Android phone and I really wanted to be able to make the kickstarter for everyone, so committed to doing both. HUGE mistake, which we’re still paying for! I would now also advise anyone else to do iOS native first.
Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear?
Leggings, EVERYWHERE. I’m so lazy. I have one or two fav tops at a time and they’re all I wear when I can. Because almost every day involves teaching, I’m usually in my sports gear from the morning, save changing later. I work from home or cafes in the area, there’s no office or dress code so convenience and comfort are the name of the game!
Boots Or Shoes?
Boots – or trainers! Boots look better with leggings than any shoe other than sneakers 😉
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more about Apocalypse Survival Training
ANDROID app: http://bit.ly/2wCsy9ziOS app: https://apple.co/31fgzg4Promo Video: https://youtu.be/hyUqsP-3bo8Web: https://www.apocalypsesurvivaltraining.com/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/apcocalypsesurvivaltraining/Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/a.s.t_fitness_app/TALON: Lockdown Ep 1: https://bit.ly/TALONep1
Many thanks for the interview Adele. I hope Adele’s app has given you, dear readers, the encouragement to get up and train, apocalyptic style!
Photographs by Richard Wakefield and Sean Kelly, published with kind permission of Adele Andersen.