Gadgets and apps that help me exercise

This post is more than 3 years old.

I really don't enjoy exercising for the sake of exercise.  In my ideal world, my daily activities in the course of making a living and living my life would be sufficiently physically active that I didn't need to add on artificial periods of activity.  Friends, I am far from living in my ideal world: much of making a living currently involves sitting in front of a computer, and fetching dinner is a trip to the grocery or a restaurant, not traipsing across the countryside on the hunt.  And so for now, I mostly have to choose between artificial exercising or not being physically healthy enough.

The office exercise setup

For the last three months, I've been able to hold together a three-times weekly workout routine without interruption, except for one week off.  It includes running, biking and weight-lifting for around 45 minutes each time. This kind of consistency is rare for me; as seasons change or scheduling gets tricky, I've usually found excuses (sometimes as simple as "I don't wanna!") that lead to deferring a session which then leads to ending my routine altogether.

Three kinds of things have helped me stick with it:

  1. My wife Kelly's encouragement, and watching my mom do battle with aggressive bladder cancer this year (and so admirably kicking its butt)
  2. A controlled indoor exercise environment to which I have 24/7 access
  3. A bevy of fitness-related gadgets, appliances, software and websites

The rest of this post is about that third list, in the same vein as my post on my programmable world and all of the devices that talk to me and each other in my life (for practical applications or just for fun).

My body weight over the last year.
My body weight over the last year

The Withings Scale has perhaps been the most useful regular reminder that paying attention to exercise and diet is important, even if I don't want to.  With its wifi-connectedness, it uploads my weight and BMI "to the cloud" and allows me to view trends and graphs over time. It also talks to my other fitness apps so that I can set goals related to weight and calorie intake and then see how I'm doing all in one place.  I know that one certainly doesn't need a fancy wifi scale to get the feedback that comes with seeing one's weight (for better or worse), but something about knowing that the information will follow me even after I step off the scale makes it more interesting and raises the stakes a bit.

fitbitThe Fitbit One has been instrumental in showing my my daily level of activity, regardless of whether I'm exercising that day.  It provides some quick-glance visuals on its small screen about whether I'm on the sedentary or active side of things, and its cheesy motivational statements that address me by name are cute.  It automatically syncs its data to an iOS app and "to the cloud" which allows me to do some more in-depth reporting and analysis of steps and miles walked, floors climbed, calories possibly burned, etc.  For a while I used the One's sleep activity monitor to see how often I was waking up in the night and for how long, but I found that taking it out of it's belt clip and putting it on the wrist-strap each night was a little much. (Tangent: the Fitbit customer support folks are awesome; after telling them how my first One fell out of my pocket in a parking garage and was kicked, scratched and possibly run over by a car, they still sent me a replacement unit at no charge.) and the complementary iOS app is where all of this data comes together.  In addition to getting my weight information from the Withings scale and my daily activity information from my Fitbit One, I can input meals, beverages, snacks and exercise activity to complete the picture of caloric intake and burn off.  Their user interface is very intuitive and easy to use.  After telling LoseIt my target weight, it sets a daily calorie limit and then helps me see (often much to my horror) how a given meal, day or weekly trend is either hurting or helping me get there.  While I can't claim that I'm eating healthy all of the time, having to account for my food decisions sure makes me think twice when ordering food at restaurants or taking an extra serving at home.  And even in the periods where I fall off the wagon of entering every food item/meal, being able to enter my exercise sessions makes them feel more real in a way that reinforces my decision to stay with it.  I can also share my LoseIt account data with Kelly so that she can hold me accountable in person.  (I don't use the features of LoseIt that will post your achievements on Twitter and Facebook, but if you're in to getting that kind of social support, a lot of these tools will make it easy to do.)

For the first time today I tried the service that connects to the NordicTrack treadmill I'm using to run on.  It's mostly yet another fitness tracking app/service, but the cool thing it does it let you map out a run (or, for other equipment, bike ride) on Google Maps and then have the treadmill simulate the elevation and trail as you run it.


The proper snarky question to ask is "why not just run the actual route instead of doing it on a treadmill?"  I guess for some folks there's value in being able to train on routes that you don't live near; on newer models of equipment you can actually watch the Google Maps-generated scenery go by on your treadmill screen.

For me, I've never participated in a group run or race before, and this December I'm planning to run with Kelly in the Frostbite 5K event here in Richmond.  It's a big milestone for me personally to even think about doing that kind of thing, and so being able to train for it a bit in my controlled environment (even knowing I'll need to adjust for real world conditions leading up to the actual event) is really helpful.  Thanks, iFit!

All of this ridiculous gadgetry has yet to substantially change my experience of exercise; I still don't really enjoy it, and I wish there were a better, simpler way.  But I appreciate that I'm incredibly privileged to have the choice to get and/or stay physically healthy when there are those who do not, and so these tools and tracking systems have, for now, made it possible for me to stick with it despite my reluctance.

What's your approach to exercise? What gadgets or geekery do you use to get fit?

One thought on “Gadgets and apps that help me exercise

  1. Good luck with the frostbite 5K! When I ran that race last year, it was the first 5K I'd ever done... and a LOT of fun! And it was great to see Kelly there. Hope she encourages you along the way this year.

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