Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/9/2013 (1125 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Our smartphones are incredible devices. If mine ever crashes, I will probably curl up in a corner and start twitching uncontrollably. It is always by my side, and if you're nodding your head thinking this sounds a lot like you, I am not surprised. The issue: Many of the daily uses of our hand-held devices are 'time burglars' and most likely don't increase productivity. Our games/social apps outnumber the education/reference tools, and as much as I enjoy knowing (OK, seeing) Paulina Gretzky is happy, half-naked and engaged on a yacht off the Keys, it doesn't make me better. But let's not dismiss the power these things have; they can be used for good. Let's try adding a few fitness functions to our app arsenal.
Now, don't get me wrong; nothing will ever replace the knowledge, motivation and support of a real personal trainer, but they are cheap or often free, versatile and accessible. Unless you're someone who prefers to disconnect during your workout and keep your smartphone in your locker (which I can definitely appreciate), most of us have them with us during a workout anyway. So while a free program will never trump a professional beside you, they can be a useful addition to stimulate or fine-tune your workout.
There are plenty of 10-best fitness app reviews out there for you to Google, and writing a review paper on a couple of applications when there are literally millions of these programs out there seems slightly advertorial, so instead I'd like to present to you a few reasons you may want to try one, and break down them down into a few sub-genres.
Tracking: (A) The GPS technology in our phones has proven incredibly useful in allowing us to map and track exercise sessions. Running, biking, even stand-up paddl boarding (don't forget the waterproof cover!) can be mapped and measured in distance, speed, pace, etc. and then uploaded and stored on a website and even shared with your friends on Twitter and Facebook. While they can be a bit draining on your battery, they are very helpful if you're not great at judging distances or pacing yourself. Download one if you're thinking about buying a GPS watch, are frustrated with your current model or are looking for different ways to store and share your tracked data.
(B) Tracking can also mean uploading your workout data to a server that processes it, tracks it and breaks it down into numbers and progress markers that are easy to understand. These apps allow you to upload workout duration, type, intensity and often food consumption and then process it against baseline data you input (height, weight, weight-loss target, etc.) and provide you readouts and graphs that show how close you are to your goals. Attempt one of these apps if you are adamant about data, numbers and tracking progress and don't mind spending an extra 10 to 15 minutes a day inputting your data.
Timing: We've talked about interval training and its benefits. Timer apps allow you to personalize and preset your intervals so you don't need to be constantly looking at your watch. They do not utilize fancy GPS or online technology, but simply replace your need for a $20 gym timer. Try one if you are having difficulty looking at your watch during your tabata intervals.
Programming: This is the meat and potatoes of the fitness app industry. It is also the sub-category in which you will never quite replicate the effectiveness of a true trainer. These apps are exercise databases that have 200-plus exercises for you to choose from, and often have pre-designed workouts for you try. Many of them have workout-tracking capabilities and also videos for each exercise to help you with technique. The obvious shortcoming of these apps is you're still not provided with a way of verifying that an exercise is being performed correctly, which can be dangerous in both short and long term. Try one of these apps if you are well-versed in strength training techniques and are looking for new exercise routines to spice up your current regimen.
Emerging new fitness apps are constantly finding ways to improve upon their predecessor, and there are some interesting new types being released at an amazing rate. Keep in mind many applications will incorporate several of the aforementioned features, but since we all have varied fitness goals and are stimulated differently, I don't think there can be one best app for everyone out there. Many of them have a free version, can be downloaded at the touch of a button and are one drag-and-drop away from being frustratingly thrust into deletion. So take a few minutes from your current Candy Crush game and get your smartphone help you improve your life. As always, you still need to do the work... so insert frown-faced, crying emoji here.