Train Like a Beast With Your Smartphone


by Chris Marzarella, CFT

“Fitness bands are nothing more than glorified pedometers”

Leo Laporte, The Tech Guy

I completely agree with this statement. Yes, you can read books if you have the time, you can go on YouTube but you need to sift through the poor instruction and “bro-science” and “abstract scientists”, or you can use your already available smartphone to track your progress. This is a far better solution than a notebook that can get wet, damaged or even worse pages can be lost. However, there’s no substitution for a qualified trainer who has the educational credentials and who has actually had the practical experience of going through what you’re going through.

iPhone, Android, Windows all have something in common: The two things all major smartphones have in common are an accelerometer and a gyroscope. There are other sensors to help, but these two are the main components that act as a device to measure speed and range of motion. This is a very watered-down version of what really happens inside of a smartphone, but that’s too much geek-speak for me to go into and I don’t really have the knowledge to break it down, no matter how geeky I am. FYI, if anyone wants to play Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead or Skyrim via PC, I will be more than happy to.

I took a look at the Google Play Store (I’m a Nexus 6 user) and Apple App Store, and searched for a pedometer, a device or in this case, an app that measures the steps you take. There are literally hundreds of FREE apps you can use to measure almost everything that a fitness band measures, from pulse to calorie burning to macronutrient management to whatever you choose to track or assess.

The one thing phones are great for is simply taking pictures of progress from month to month. I do this with my online coaching clients. They are scheduled via Google Calendar to send me a photo, front, back and sides to assess what they may not see on the scale or in the gym. When they see the differences every two weeks (I use this measurement for physique athletes and figure competitors nearing a show) to a month for every day folks, they see the difference and this sets it up for a motivating climb or that they need to do some work.

I just don’t see these new gadgets like FitBands, Apple Watch-or any smartwatch for that matter as having any serious use or having any type of long term adoption into our lives. A Star Trek device called a Tri-corder that measures health statistics and sickness or disease with the wave a wand is a long way off.  That’s not to say we don’t have the technological capabilities to do it, but to measure blood pressure or glucose levels with a device that isn’t injected or x-rayed just isn’t useful for a trainee with an everyday device right now.

So what can we do to ensure a more effective workout through the use of technology?

There are several apps that I love to use on a daily basis in my line of work. This isn’t a complete list but it helps me get through the day as a trainer, so I am hoping some of you who use your smartphone in this manner will take note. The bottom line is, if you are accurate in detail, you can accelerate your progress and that starts with good note-keeping. Below is my list of go to apps. Some are paid apps, some are not.

Workout Management

You can create workouts, chart sets, reps and weights, your training history, track one-rep maxes and more. Nice interface, but ridiculous pricing. The sheer number of different exercises and protocols found in this app is simply amazing! A one person plan (called a Plus plan) is 6.99 a month and is charged to your credit card.

Ugly but utilitarian interface. Saves training logs well, can crash at times. Free for one user, but as a trainer, there are different tiers of pricing. Not a bad option with the ability to upload video tutorials to YouTube. I have noticed some really awful training videos with a lot of douchebag trainers with their shirts off while showing the form on curls. Really? Is that needed asshole?

Free, no graphics, very basic. You write out your training program and days, fill in th numbers and it saves either locally or in the cloud. Not a bad option if it’s only for you. I would suggest using one of the above if you train with clients.

Macro/Calorie Management

My favorite all-around macro planner. Recipes, macronutrient (protein, fats, carbohydrates) management, weight tracking and goal planning all in one very simple to use interface. Contains a barcode scanner inside the app which makes it very easy, plus you can also create a product that isn’t in their extensive database. It also remembers past meals and gives you the option if you want to save an entire meal. Can also give you an idea of how many calories you burn during an exercise with time.

MyFitnessPal: Similar interface, different method of tracking macros and calories. Includes a barcode scanner. When I get bored of FatSecret, my go-to always seems to be this one.

Calculators and Timers

There are a host of 531 calculators out there, but my favorite is Wendlerized. It’s extensive and detailed interface is amazing, and FREE!! It calculates your one rep maximums and training maxes, tracks percentages and even gives you incremental data for raising the weights. All these are that are important for 531 success.

When embarking on heavy weights, you need warmup sets, otherwise you’re risking injury. This app is worth the money because it takes the guesswork out and ensures you don’t get injured. It only shows the core five-squat, bench, deads, overhead press and the clean. But it’s sheer simplicity is what makes it so useful.

TABATA PRO: A very cool, easy-to-use app that clocks your tabata (or complex) time management with a warm up, work time and a cool down. The buzzer is loud, so you’ll hear it and it helps keep you on track for metabolic conditioning. It also features a talking countdown on the final few seconds to warn you of the upcoming rest interval or startup.

Music Apps

These are either paid or with ads. I won’t go into what stations to create because music is so personal, but there are many apps that you can use that really make a strong difference in how you train, and for what activity you’re doing.

A free option is available and for what Google Music allows you to do should be made a payment only option. It offers you a host of options, from when you’re working out with weights to do some cardio, to getting out of bed to enjoying working around the house. Most of the time, the algorithms are on point and can really drive a workout or getting something done, but there are limits to how many artists are available. I have a hard time finding AC/DC when I want some classic rock, so I would need to upload it to Google-not a bad option really, if you are on a desktop computer, but who is using a desktop these days? This is a good option if you’re into Android and want something that fits the Android experience.
SPOTIFY: What hasn’t been said about this free for use but for no ads and a more extensive programming option, this one is hard to beat. I love the interface on Spotify.

PANDORA: Good flexibility with creating personalized radio stations, with a paid option. The free option is nice, but the amount of ads that are forced is kind of ridiculous and can get in the way when going for a new personal best.

FITRADIO: Trial period, but a payment option is required. This app can really help you drive up some personal bests. The music is mixed which is a great option and ranges from modern rock to classical, to hiphop to death metal. When I say mixed, think DJs offering their takes on a base song and loading it with club addons and you get the idea. It’s great. It has an option for high intensity cardio or low impact steady state music.

APPLE MUSIC: I have used this on my wife’s iPhone and while it’s great for iPhone users, I don’t see the point of using this over iTunes, other than iTunes being phased out. There are better options available, and the one thing I liked about Apple Music is that you get a long trial period.
YouTube: I use YouTube for several things, but when I do my hamster wheel cardio for long periods of time, nothing kills time faster than watching YouTube.

This is just a small list of what is available on our mini-computers-in-our-pockets right now. Suffice to say, technology is getting closer and closer to being able to do things that we want done, except the workout! I would love to hear what apps you use, or if you have an idea on how to use present technology for a great workout. I know this is a small listing of what is out there, and your feedback would be fantastic for us to explore other options. What apps do you use that aren’t on the list? What do you like about them? What have you used in the past?