How to ditch the gimmicks and fast track to fitness

29 January 2014 by in Lifestyle

Gone are the days when a run in the park involved nothing more than a solid pair of Reeboks, three Weetabix, a purple shell suit and optional slobbery dog. In 2014, your weekly jog can involve any number of fancy gadgets and gizmos designed to enhance the running experience and improve performance. Developers are using the latest technology in new and innovative ways, and the market for fitness apps, websites and gadgets is growing faster than ever.

A glance at iTunes will show you what’s popular right now. Map My Run (part of a family of apps including Map My Walk, Map My Fitness and Map My Ride) is one of the top free fitness apps of the moment. It counts your calories and tells you how many you’ve burned, connects you with friends and suggests new routes. Most importantly, it maps your previous runs using GPS and records personal fitness stats, like heart rate. But running isn’t for everyone; if you prefer to work out in the gym or in front of the telly, you could try the 7 Minute Workout Challenge. It’s a clever interactive app that guides you through twelve exercises that, it claims, are scientifically proven to produce results in seven minutes. And like Map My Run, it contains other features such as a weight tracker, activity calendar as well as unlockable extras.

This might all sound like a belly-busting alternative to a pricey gym membership, but do fitness apps actually work? It depends what you’re looking for. Fitness apps can only go so far towards motivating a confirmed couch potato – the promise of a virtual trophy is no match for a personal, potentially lycra-clad Mr or Ms Motivator, and although sharing capabilities can go some way towards providing a sociable experience with a competitive element, for many the thought of a night at home with their phone is far less enticing than a game of footie or Zumba class with mates.

Woman stretchingHaving recognised this fact, developers are looking for other ways to lure in potential buyers. This week Mashable is touting Fitmob, a website and app that brings together certified fitness trainers and would-be gym goers with the shared goal of reducing the costs of fitness instruction (read the full article here). The idea is that by attending sessions regularly, you pay less. The catch? Fitmob classes are in the initial stages of development – for now, unless you’re lucky enough to live there, you’ll need to catch a plane to San Francisco to attend.

Another popular fad this year is personal ‘fitness trackers’ – wristbands designed to track how often you exercise, how well you sleep and, like the apps mentioned earlier, monitor vital stats. Some reviewers of the leading brands (such as Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex) are sceptical about how useful all this information actually is: ‘If mainstream users are going to get better insights, we will need smarter gadgets that collect more types of data, more accurately, which are backed by intelligent services that can turn that data into useful recommendations – immediately.’ (Read more here).

Through apps, websites and now even wearable accessories, developers and entrepreneurs are pioneering some fantastic fitness ideas; if the developers have their way we will have evolved into a race of super-humans by 2020 (we’re changing in other ways too – take a look at our previous ramblings to find out how technology is affecting the arts and media industries). But there’s a long way to go before these complex new innovations can provide a seamless, intuitive user experience, that gives the user more than just a list of statistics of dubious accuracy. It’s also hard to replicate the social, interactive aspect of a workout session that provides an essential motivating factor for all but the most hardcore gym bunny.

So for now, let’s go back to basics; ditch the naff bracelets, forget the virtual trophies and keep it simple. We know that good information is king, and that exercise should start with you. With the right frame of mind and the best ideas at hand you can develop a fun exercise routine and get the most out of your workouts on your own terms. So check out our range of books and ebooks, which are full of inspiration to kick start your fitness plans and find the way to a healthier new you. (By the way, just in case apps are more your thing we’ve teamed up with Mobifusion to develop Better Body Abs; remember to check back soon for more simple, effective workout apps that draw on advice from our very own expert authors … because let’s face it, Mr Motivator is just so 1993).