Ripping down a steep hill near my house, I felt like I was flying as Weezer’s “Back to the Shack” played in my right ear. “Let’s turn up the radio,” Rivers Cuomo sings. In my own way, I felt like I was raising some hell with the band—as if being completely present in my body is its own form of rebellion.
This particular Weezer song isn’t in my usual workout playlist, and while it’s not unusual for me to get completely lost in my music while running, I wasn’t listening to a playlist at all. I was running with a new app that launched in July of this year. Perform promises to be “your smart workout DJ,” using artificial intelligence to curate music selections you’ll enjoy—music that will not only match your workout effort, but motivate you to push your performance.
How It Works
When you download the Perform app, the first thing you’ll be asked to do in account creation is to link to either Apple Music or Spotify. (Pandora and Amazon Music integration is reportedly coming soon.) You can select specific playlists you already enjoy working out to or skip that option entirely.
The fun part comes in selecting your power songs. These are the songs that will come on with the push of a lightning bolt button when you need a familiar anthem to drag you across the finish line.
After setting up your music integrations, you have to optimize how you want the fitness portion of the app to work. You can link it to your Apple HealthKit and Strava accounts to have your workouts automatically uploaded. Then you’ll set up your fitness zones, marking what is a high, medium, and low heart rate for you and similarly what is a high, medium, and low pace. This is how the AI will determine what tempo of music to serve you.
To start a workout you select the activity (running, cycling, strength, walking, or other), your workout mode (heart rate-powered, pace-powered, timed workout, or a manual mix), and what device is reading your heart rate (probably your watch). For music, you can request that the app only pulls from your pre-made playlists, the AI recommendations, or popular songs from certain genres. You can mix and match those selections as your heart desires.
The set up sounds a bit involved (mainly because you have a lot of choices), but is actually simple and quick to go through. Once you start the workout, all you have to do is listen to the music as you go. A double-beep leveling up noise will sound if you’ve moved up or down in heart rate or pace and you can expect the tempo of music to change in turn.
Running out of juice and need that power up song? Press the lightning bolt to get it instantly, or ask Siri to play it.
Finishing the workout gives you the option to share your new playlist and progress on a myriad of social media accounts as well as rate the songs you heard.
Perform App on My Run
After playing around with all of the options in set up, I was pretty stoked to try it out for myself.
The first time I used it was on a 3.5 mile local trail run that ultimately did not go according to plan. While the app was playing music, it was all slow and sauntering. Alice Phoebe Lou’s “Witches” was so dreamy in the forest while I was warming up, but when the pace never picked up I started to question my effort. About halfway through the run I stopped to check, and sure enough, the heart rate on my watch was showing what I set as my high effort range, but that wasn’t being recorded in Perform. I switched to a more manual mode of working the app to get some fast-paced tunes, taking ample advantage of my power songs.
I decided to give the heart-rate workout another go on a strength-training session where I’d be able to more easily monitor all the specifications and make sure the app was performing how I wanted. It took a handful of starts and stops, but I finally got it to pair with my watch and record heart rate semi-accurately.
For my second run, the app performed exactly as I wanted. This time around I opted for a pace-based workout and went off on a fartlek-style run to test how responsive it would be to changing paces. The answer: very.
As you can see from the change in tempo on my songs, it rode the wave with me as I flew down hills and then huffed slowly back up. The music kept me honest in my warm up and rewarded me in the cool down.
More than a playlist, I appreciated the responsiveness and the mix of songs that I already love and new music ready to be discovered (and only a few I could have skipped). Perform is still technically in its beta phase, and I can’t wait to see how this app grows to be even more responsive.
My Test Specs
- Devices: Apple Watch Series 3, Apple iPhone 8, Apple Airpods 2nd Generation
- Linked accounts: Apple Music, Spotify, Strava, Apple HealthKit
- My power songs: “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” by The Offspring, “Hero” by Weezer, “Pollyanna” by Green Day