You've decided you want to lose weight or build lean muscle. That's great! Now grab your smartphone. It's a valuable asset that can help you achieve your physical fitness goals, whether to improve your health or enhance your appearance, and I'm going to show you how.
Numerous apps for your iPhone or Android phone can help you record and monitor the metrics contributing to weight loss and muscle gain. And while wearables from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin, and others provide workout tracking from your wrist, you really only need your smartphone for all your fitness tracking.
Bear in mind that I'm not a certified fitness or medical professional, and you should consult your physician before proceeding with a rigorous fitness routine. I'm writing from my own experience with weight loss. I've previously lost 80 pounds over the course of six months, and after regressing 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 make it through the day so that your body begins burning fat to make up the difference. To ensure your calorie intake is in the weight-loss range, you'll 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 name-brand foods along with dishes from national and regional restaurant chains. If you can't find specific foods 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 calories consumed and burned.
Both apps are free but lock some helpful features behind a subscription paywall. For example, Lose It requires a subscription to connect to other services (though connecting to Google Fit is free). On the other hand, MyFitnessPal allows you to connect a wide range of fitness services, including apps we'll cover later in this guide, at no additional 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 create a habit of entering your meals as you eat them.
2. Cardio Workout Tracking
Managing what you eat is just half of the weight loss equation. While you can reduce your caloric intake by watching what you eat, daily exercise is where you'll 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 had stepped into a gym. I began by running in my neighborhood, using the Couch to 5K program. It eases you into a running routine with walking and running intervals, with the length of the running intervals increasing each week. I crafted playlists with song lengths that matched 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's the C25K app. However, the entire eight-week program requires a subscription ($5.99 for three months or $14.99 for 12 months) after a seven-day trial. It may be worth the convenience.
Once you've gotten into a fitness routine, other apps provide additional functionality. Apps I've 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 workout and, for distance exercises, use your smartphone's GPS to measure the distance and map the route of your run. You can select from a catalog of workouts or construct your own (like the Couch to 5k workout) and receive audio prompts for each interval. You can also sync your runs with your preferred music app.
Finally, there's Strava. It can track walking and running workouts, but it's the league leader for bicycling. Strava tracks not only time and distance but also elevation. Connect a cadence sensor to your 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.
3. Weight Training
I've found that a combination of cardio and weight training is the most efficient based on experience and recommendations from others. Swapping workout types each day also allows you to give opposing muscle groups a rest.
Weight training calls for a different app than those for cardio workouts. Two apps I've used are Jefit and Progression. Both apps enable you to construct workouts with multiple weight-training exercises and weight-less exercises like pushups and situps or select from the provided workouts. Record your weight and repetitions for each activity throughout your workout to track your progress week over week.
4. Syncing All Your Data
You now have several apps for tracking calories and exercises, but you need one more app to bring it all together.
For iPhone users, the apps we've covered can sync to the Apple Health service, which also tracks your steps. Based on data synced from other services, Apple Health serves as a central hub for all your health data. For example, using data synced from Lose It, Apple Health summarizes carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat consumed.
- Install Apple Health: iOS
Meanwhile, Google Fit serves as Android's health and fitness aggregation app. It can track your exercises for time and distance in place of a dedicated run-tracking app, though I would still recommend a separate weight training app for those exercises. Google Fit is also available for iOS and connects to the Apple Health app.
5. Musical Motivation
While your mileage may vary, I find working out to be much more enjoyable with a soundtrack. Upbeat music also provides a rhythm to match your running pace or lifting repetitions.
Services like YouTube Music and Spotify offer workout mixes for the free tier. Apple Music also provides workout playlists but doesn't have a free tier, though the tight integration between the app and iOS is hard to ignore for iPhone users. For paid subscriptions, you can create personalized workout playlists and share them with others.
- Install Spotify: Android | iOS
- Install Apple Music: Android | iOS
- Install YouTube Music: Android | iOS
Other music streaming services worth checking out include Deezer, Amazon Music, Pandora, and Tidal.
Another way to make fitness fun is to make a game of it.
Location-based augmented reality games like Pokémon Go fit the bill. You can walk to find and catch Pokémon or travel to Pokéstops or gyms for resources or battles/raids. Walking is also a game mechanism; Hatching eggs to acquire more Pokémon and generating candy to power up and evolve your Pokémon are based on your distance walked. Moreover, 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, refer to this guide to get back into action.
For a more strenuous workout, try Zombies, Run! This app gives you a running routine synced to immersive story missions where you must outrun hordes of zombies. Your rate of running determines whether you'll survive. While games like Pokémon Go require location tracking, Zombies, Run! lets you choose between GPS for outdoor runs, step counting for treadmills and indoor runs, or simulated running for ellipticals, rowing machines, and stationary bicycles. You can also continue listening to your music between audio prompts for the story mission.
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