It’s hard to remember a time when maintaining a healthy lifestyle didn’t involve a Nike watch, an app that tracks your pace and calorie burn, and a bracelet that monitors your sleeping habits. With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to keep track of your exercise habits … but does it keep you motivated, or is it all a distraction? We reached out to fitness experts on their recommendations for when to go digital and when to hold fast to the old school—like everything, both options have their pros and cons.
Pro: It Keeps Track of Your Training
Logging your workouts has never been easier thanks to a slew of apps that allow you track your workouts manually. “It’s very rewarding to type in the documentation indicating that you completed a workout,” says clinical psychologist Ben G. Adams, the author of the diet and fitness book called The Creative Process Diet. Other apps, like MapMyRun, track your progress throughout the workout so all the work is done for you, providing your pace, time, mileage, and calorie burn. With your phone always at your side, it’s easy to keep on top of your goals.
Con: It’s Time Consuming
“Most people take more time filling out their nutrition and training info for the day than they actually do working out,” says trainer Jason Serapiglia, the owner of Pique Fitness in Staten Island, NY. Tracking your calorie intake the first few weeks of a diet is integral to losing weight, and calorie-counting apps make that easy work. Once you have a clear understanding of what your optimum calorie intake looks like, however, focus more on the foods you eat (produce over processed!) than the count overall and save yourself some time programming it into your app of choice.
Pro: They Provide Free Educational Content
“Some apps, like Nike Training Club, deliver unbelievable free content,” Serapiglia says. “Nike Training Club in particular has a few hundred pre-loaded workouts that are geared toward people with different goals—fat loss, strength, cardio, and more. It’s also customizable with progressions and regressions for exercises and will even link up with your iTunes to give you some inspiration while you train.” For those who can’t afford a personal trainer or organized fitness class, this gives them the opportunity to get free instruction instead of going it solo and possibly getting injured.
Con: This Content isn’t Always Trustworthy
“The app creators may not even have any education in fitness, kinesiology, exercise physiology—something some of us study for 6+ years,” says Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer Joey Gochnour. “Why are you doing 50 reps of something? Why are you holding it for longer time? Is a burn always a good thing or is it chasing a feeling? Most people don’t know the answers to these questions … or the point of exercising in general.”
Serapiglia agrees: “The educational component has to come from an entity whose main reason for existence isn’t page views or downloads. We get a lot of misleading information because everyone is looking to climb to the top of the Google results. My one suggestion, something that I always tell my clients, is to not suffer from fitness ADD. We all love the bigger, shiner object but usually, the tried and true method wins out in the long run.” Make sure you know something is clinically proven to work before giving it a go.
Pro: Social Apps Make You Accountable
When you’re constantly posting your workouts and meals—and more importantly, your goals—on social apps like MyFitnessPal and Fitocracy, you make yourself accountable for maintaining a certain level of fitness. “Fitocracy is a really interesting platform in that it touts itself as the first social network for fitness,” says Serapiglia. “Users can pit themselves against one another in fitness competitions to earn points for leveling up and earning badges. It’s an awesome way for someone not using a trainer to get some accountability and find a great support network.” MyFitnessPal may be less competitive, but the app requires you to set daily goals, logging in your calorie intake and workout regimen. It’s much harder to lie these days.
Con: But They Don’t Make You Accountable Enough
“None of these apps get your butt into the gym and make you want to work out,” says Serapiglia. “As always, it’s on you for that initial spark of motivation to make a change.” Finding that motivation is the hardest part, and because it’s different for everyone, it’s impossible to prescribe. “If I knew how to catch that first spark of motivation in a bottle, we’d probably be able to end the obesity epidemic tomorrow! It’s usually some sort of negative situation that gets people moving in the right direction. [It could be] having new meds prescribed by a doctor, not fitting into clothes, or a desire to be able to run around with their kids. The key to staying motivated is to have a great support network when things inevitably get tough during your journey.” The strongest support network truly are tangible ones. Join a running group or sign up at a yoga studio—make yourself so accountable that people ask you where you are when you decide to play hooky.
It’s also imperative to remind yourself why you work out. “I recommend starting a list of all the reason you like going to the gym,” says Adams. “The list can include anything, like things you like about the actual experience of being at the gym and working out, as well as things you like about how you feel for the rest of the day after having worked out.” Realizing all of the benefits creates instant motivation opposed to guilt.
Bottom line: No matter how much you use technology to your advantage, it will never be the driving force in getting you out the door. “The most important variable in any good workout can have absolutely nothing to do with technology,” says Adams. “It’s a mistake to think that we are one day going to discover the one app that is going to motivate us to work out. The best thing you can do is just show up and work out.”