I’m a big Chris Hemsworth fan. The guy is walking workout inspiration. I spend hours at the gym hoping that one day I’ll achieve Thor-style arms. But so far, no luck.
That’s why Centr, Hemsworth’s new fitness app, immediately caught my interest. I was intrigued to learn the secrets of the training regimen that keeps him looking like a superhero. So I eagerly downloaded the app, hoping it would help transform my puny arms into guns worthy of Thor.
Centr review: Where is Thor?
The first thing I noticed when I opened Centr was a distinct lack of the man himself. Looking for Chris Hemsworth in Centr is a bit like playing Where’s Waldo? Apart from a photo on the launch screen and a brief introduction, the actor is missing in action.
If you just want to see the Avengers star’s buff bod, you’d be better off saving your money and following him on Instagram instead. Centr employs around 20 regular contributors, including personal trainers, chefs and even a psychotherapist. But Hemsworth is not one of them.
Instead, the Thor star takes a backseat role as program curator. He claims to have ”gathered a team of experts to help you develop a happier, healthier life. It’s the same team I’ve used over the years to center myself.”
Centr is a late entrant into a crowded market. The App Store is already full of apps like Freeletics and 8fit that offer a combination of workouts and diet advice. Centre’s main differentiator is Chris Hemsworth. That’s why I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more Thor. But the promise of insights from his team of trainers persuaded me to give it a try anyway, despite the eye-watering $19.99 monthly subscription fee.
Living the Chris Hemsworth lifestyle
Centr is more of a glossy lifestyle magazine than a fitness app. It features sumptuous photography, mouthwatering food, lavish landscapes and, of course, plenty of health and fitness tips.
But unlike a regular magazine, the content is tailored to your individual needs. When you first launch the app, you’re prompted to enter your gender, height, weight and training experience. It then automatically collates a selection of features for you and presents them in what it calls the Planner.
Each day, the Planner suggests a workout, together with meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a post-workout snack. Centr emphasizes the importance of variety and versatility. So there’s always something new to try. If you’re not keen on a workout or meal suggestion, you can swap it out for something else.
In theory, that sounds like a good idea, but in a busy life, it feels a bit unrealistic. The Planner is full of meals that take loads of time to prepare. Even the post-workout snacks look pretty fiddly. And when you finish a workout, there is often a bonus workout still left to complete.
Following “your new Centr lifestyle,” as the app optimistically calls it, is basically a full-time job in itself. Which is exactly what it would be for Hemsworth, who gets paid to look super-buff on screen. But then, he has that team of 20 people to help him “center himself.” For the rest of us, living the Centr lifestyle is not so easy.
Fitness: Train like a Norse god
I assumed that, like most bodybuilders, Hemsworth’s training would focus primarily on lifting heavy weights. But it turns out that’s not the case. Sure, all the big lifts are there: squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc. But there’s also plenty of conditioning workouts, including MMA, HIIT and boxing. These workouts raise your heart rate and burn fat, which presumably gives Hemsworth his impressive muscle definition.
The variety of workouts is good, but you don’t get a huge library to choose from for your $19.99 a month. There are eight different personal trainers, offering a total of 108 self-guided workouts and 75 coached workouts (by my count, in March 2019). Centr promises to add more over time. But that’s far fewer workouts than you get for free from Nike Training Club. (Check out my post on iPhone strength-training apps for more alternatives).
The only real difference between Centr’s self-guided and coached workouts is that during coached workouts, the trainer shouts stuff at you like: “You got this. Push the tempo. Go! Go! Beautiful.” Personally, I found this did not make me work any harder. It just made me laugh.
The design of the workouts looks great. You can choose between an images mode, where you hold the phone upright and scroll down a list the exercises, or a video mode, where you can put the phone down somewhere and follow along with a video. For coached workouts, you can stream the video to your TV via AirPlay. But oddly, that’s not an option with the self-guided workouts.
The Centr Apple Watch app was a bit of a disappointment. It’s more of a companion to the iPhone app than a stand-alone Watch app. You have to start the workout on your iPhone first, and you don’t get any instructions, videos or diagrams on the Watch itself. It’s really just there if you want to add Centr workouts to Apple’s Activity app.
Nutrition: Does Thor really start his mornings with chocolate waffles?
Does Chris Hemsworth really start his day with a big plate of cherry-and-pistachio hot cross buns or chocolate buttermilk waffles? I doubt it. You don’t get ripped by feasting on treats. But oddly, these are the first things that Centr tried to persuade me to eat.
To be fair, my goal is building muscle rather than losing weight. So I don’t need to be too careful with my calories. But I still expected the app to help me make healthier choices rather than pandering to my worst dietary instincts. Fortunately, unless someone was making the buns and pancakes for me, they were a non-starter anyway. I’m a disaster in the kitchen.
And therein lies the problem. Centr provides estimated preparation times, but for me, as someone clueless in the kitchen, they were pretty optimistic. And purchasing the wide variety of exotic ingredients the recipes demanded would involve a lot more time searching through farmers markets than I could spare.
Still, Centr’s useful Shopping List feature provides a convenient list of all the ingredients you need to buy if you’re serious about cooking everything in the Planner. And as a vegetarian, I really appreciated the support for pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan diets.
Meditation: How to Centr yourself
Centr does not limit its advice to exercise and diet, though. There’s a third category of content called Live.
The app’s Live posts are a mix of audio (guided breathing and visualization exercises) and blog posts offering tips on things like mindfulness.
Mind-body health is an often-overlooked area of overall fitness, so I think it’s great that it’s included. I also find it interesting that Hemsworth, as the curator, chose to give it so much prominence in his app.
Centr’s biggest weaknesses
Bizarrely, Centr suggests that ”every time you complete a workout [or] try new food, [you should] write it down. Keep a list somewhere.” Great advice. But for $19.99, I don’t expect to have to rely on writing things down on scraps of paper.
Centr offers only the most rudimentary logging features. You can swipe-left on a recipe or workout to mark it as done, but that’s about it. Recipes include calorie counts, but there is no way to track how many calories you are eating and burning per day. So if you’re serious about losing weight, you should consider using a calorie-tracking app like Lose It or MyFitnessPal.
My biggest disappointment with Centr is that there is no concept of progression or periodization.
Most bodybuilders follow cycles of bulking, where they aim to build muscle and put on weight, and cutting, where they strip fat away for definition. But there is none of that here. It feels more like workouts are randomly assigned to you each day with little or no structure.
Centr is not as polished as Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer)
Centr does not feel very polished at this point. I encountered several bugs. For example, when I swapped one recipe with another, it substituted the wrong images. And when I finished a workout on my iPhone, I lost the Activity data for that workout on my Apple Watch.
This is a common issue with Apple Watch apps — you have to finish the workout on the Watch for it to be added to the Activity app. But most apps give you a warning before you lose your workout data.
Centr also does not feel like a native iOS app. For example, swiping right from the edge of the screen doesn’t take you back to the previous screen. That’s a standard user interface convention followed by all of Apple’s built-in apps. But with Centr, if you’ve scrolled down a long article, you must scroll all the way back to the top to tap on the back arrow, which gets tiresome very quickly.
Did I get Thor-style arms?
I have only used the Centr app for a week, so you won’t be surprised to learn that my arms are not quite an equal to Thor’s just yet.
If you want to try some of Chris Hemsworth’s workouts, then Centr is definitely worth checking out. But at $19.99 per month, with no built-in workout-logging or calorie-tracking features, there are other more comprehensive and affordable options already on the App Store. Some are even free.
And if you just want to see some superhero beefcake, well, that’s what Marvel movies are for.
Price: Free, with $19.99 monthly subscription
Download: Centr, by Chris Hemsworth from the App Store (iOS)