Turn Your iPhone or Android Smartphone into a Personal Trainer to Lose Weight or Get in Shape « Smartphones :: Gadget Hacks

Turn Your iPhone or Android Smartphone into a Personal Trainer to Lose Weight or Get in Shape « Smartphones :: Gadget Hacks

You have decided that you want to lose weight or build muscle mass. It’s great! Grab your smartphone. It’s a valuable resource that can help you reach your physical fitness goals, whether to improve your health or improve your appearance, and I’ll show you how.

Numerous apps for your iPhone or Android phone can help you record and monitor the metrics that contribute to weight loss and muscle gain. And while wearables from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin and others provide fitness tracking from the wrist, you really only need your smartphone for all fitness tracking.

Keep in mind that I am not a certified fitness or medical professional and you should consult your doctor before proceeding with a rigorous exercise routine. I am writing from my own experience with weight loss. I previously lost 80 pounds in six months, and after going back years later, I again lost 50 pounds over a ten-month period. If I can do it, so can you!

1. Calorie tracking

The key to weight loss is creating a calorie deficit, or eating fewer calories than your body needs to get through the day so that your body starts burning fat to make up the difference. To ensure your calorie intake is within your weight loss range, you need a way to track what you eat.

I’ve turned to two apps for this functionality: Lose It and MyFitnessPal.

Both apps provide a database of common and named foods along with dishes from national and regional restaurant chains. If you cannot find specific food items in the system, you can enter them manually and contribute to the database. You can even add your own recipes and sync your workouts to fully account for your consumed and burned calories.

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Both apps are free, but lock some useful features behind a subscription paywall. For example, Lose It requires a subscription to connect to other services (although connecting to Google Fit is free). On the other hand, MyFitnessPal lets you connect to a wide range of fitness services, including apps we’ll cover later in this guide, at no extra cost, but requires a premium plan to unlock barcode scanning, which Lose It offers for free.

Either way, because your smartphone is always nearby, it’s pretty easy to make a habit of entering your meals as you eat them.

The Lose It! app.

2. Tracking fitness training

Managing what you eat is only half of the weight loss equation. While you can reduce your calorie intake by watching what you eat, daily exercise is where you burn the calories you eat and the fat your body has stored while building lean muscle, which is denser than fat and therefore takes up less volume.

When I started my fitness journey, it had been about ten years since I walked into a gym. I started running in my neighborhood using the Couch to 5K program. It eases you into a running routine with walking and running intervals, where the length of the running intervals increases each week. I made playlists of song lengths that fit the walking and running intervals (which is easier to do when your musical diet is heavy on punk rock and thrash metal).

To help you on this journey, there is the C25K app. However, the full eight-week program requires a subscription ($5.99 for three months or $14.99 for 12 months) after a seven-day trial period. It may be worth the convenience.

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The c25K app.

Once you get into a workout routine, other apps provide additional functionality. Apps I have used in the past are Runtastic and Runkeeper. Runtastic was acquired by Adidas and is now called Adidas Running, while Runkeeper was acquired by Asics.

Both track the time of your training and for distance exercises, use your smartphone’s GPS to measure the distance and map the route of the run. You can choose from a catalog of workouts or create your own (like Couch for 5k training) and receive audio notifications for each interval. You can also sync your runs with your favorite music app.

The Adidas Running app (formerly Runtastic) and the Runkeeper app.

Finally there is Strava. It can track walking and running, but it’s the league leader for cycling. Strava not only tracks time and distance, but also altitude. Attach a cadence sensor to the bike to track rotations per minute. It also integrates with Fitbit, which syncs with Peloton if you find yourself in league with the fitness service.

The Strava app (left) vs. The Google Fit app (right).

3. Weight training

I have found that a combination of cardio and weight training is the most effective based on experience and recommendations from others. Switching exercise types each day also allows you to give opposing muscle groups a rest.

Weight training requires a different app than those for cardio. Two apps I have used are Jefit and Progression. Both apps let you create workouts with multiple weight training exercises and weightless exercises like pushups and situps, or choose from the included workouts. Record your weight and repetitions for each activity throughout your workout to track your progress week-over-week.

The Jetfit app (left) and the Progression app (right).

4. Synchronization of all your data

You now have several apps to track calories and exercise, but you need one more app to bring it all together.

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For iPhone users, the apps we’ve covered can sync with the Apple Health service, which also tracks your steps. Based on data synced from other services, Apple Health acts as a central hub for all your health data. For example, using data synced from Lose It, Apple Health summarizes consumed carbohydrates, fiber, protein and fat.

  • Install Apple Health: iOS

Meanwhile, Google Fit serves as Android’s health and fitness aggregation app. It can track your workouts for time and distance instead of a dedicated running tracking app, but I’d still recommend a separate weight training app for those workouts. Google Fit is also available for iOS and connects to the Apple Health app.

The Apple Health app (left) and the Google Fit app (right).

5. Musical motivation

Although your mileage may vary, I find it much more enjoyable to exercise with a soundtrack. Upbeat music also provides a rhythm to match your running pace or lifting reps.

Services such as YouTube Music and Spotify offer workout mixes for the free tier. Apple Music also offers workout playlists, but doesn’t have a free tier, although the tight integration between the app and iOS is hard to ignore for iPhone users. For paid subscriptions, you can create personal workout playlists and share them with others.

Other music streaming services worth checking out include Deezer, Amazon Music, Pandora and Tidal.

The apps Spotify (left), YouTube Music (middle) and Apple Music (right).

6. Gamification

Another way to make exercise fun is to make a game out of it.

Location-based augmented reality games like Pokémon Go fit the bill. You can go to find and catch Pokémon or travel to Pokéstops or Gyms for resources or battles/raids. Walking is also a gameplay mechanism; Hatching eggs to get more Pokemon and generating candy to power up and evolve your Pokemon is based on the distance you’ve walked. Also, with the Adventure Sync feature, your steps tracked through Google Fit will contribute to your in-game progress even when the game is closed. If you’ve been away from the game for a while, check out this guide to get back into the action.

The Pokemon Go app.

For a more strenuous workout, try Zombies, Run! This app gives you a running routine synchronized with immersive story missions where you have to run past hordes of zombies. Your running speed determines whether you will survive. While games like Pokémon Go require location tracking, Zombies, Run! lets you choose between GPS for outdoor running, pedometer for treadmills and indoor running, or simulated running for ellipticals, rowing machines and stationary bikes. You can also continue listening to your music between story quest audio prompts.

Zombies, run! app.

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Cover image and screenshots by Tommy Palladino/Gadget Hacks

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