Move Over, Willpower: My Smartphone Will Take Over from Here

runkeeper app by Magnus DBy Janice Enloe, personal trainer and running coach, RUN Oak Park and Weights and Measures

Nothing signals the end of winter like the first crocuses poking their sweet little heads through the last of the dirty, melting snow. Another sure sign of spring is the sight of empty treadmills and stationary bikes at the local big box gym — New Year’s fitness resolutions littering the weight room floor like so many dust bunnies.

If you are one of the 92% who, according to research by the University of Scranton, were not successful in achieving a resolution, springtime can be the perfect season to revisit, revise, and refine a health and fitness goal. One of the hallmarks of setting and successfully achieving a goal is tracking.

When you track your progress, you’ll see it as it’s happening and will be able to decide if your strategies are working. That information provides control over the process, allowing adjustments to be made that will keep you on the right path. According to Jeff Smith of Precision Nutrition, “Often, we beat ourselves up because we think we’re not making progress. In almost every case, however, we are making tons of progress. We just haven’t tracked it, and so we don’t realize it.”

Keeping a food and activity log in a marble assignment book is delightfully retro but doesn’t provide the feedback and community support of an online tracker. A smartphone, with more than 100 times the power of the average satellite, is well equipped to handle the task.

With an app like MyFitnessPal, you’ll never again have to dig in the bottom of your purse for a sharpened number 2. MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular–and free–health and fitness apps. After entering your personal data and goals, it calculates your daily calorie requirement. Easy to use food and activity logs instantly calculate results, giving feedback on energy balance, nutrient breakdown, and how close you are to meeting or exceeding your daily goals.

MyFitnessPal can pair up with other apps and trackers to increase accuracy. The FitBit, Jawbone, and many smart scales will monitor and update data. Sync with other apps like MapMyRun, MiCoach, and RunKeeper and your workout sessions will be accurately updated as well. Stay motivated by checking out the Community tab to touch base with other users through forums on topics that range from general diet and weight loss help to fun and games.

RunKeeper is an activity tracker with so many features you’ll be amazed that it’s free. In GPS mode, it goes where you go whether you are running, swimming, cycling, snowboarding, rowing–virtually any activity you can do outside while carrying a smartphone. It provides as much or as little feedback as you like during your activity and provides cues while you listen to your playlist, Pandora, or Spotify. It really shines when it comes to running, allowing you to create routes, set run-walk intervals, or follow a workout from the database. It also tracks distance, pace, time, and calories, among many other options. In stopwatch mode, you’ll be able to track indoor activities including fitness classes, strength workouts, and cardio machines. There’s even a function called “Pocket Tracker” that runs in the background counting steps as you go about your day.

One size does not fit all in fitness, so a customizable program is key. RunKeeper allows you to fully customize the program according to your goals, find a training plan, connect with friends, and integrate with other apps. It automatically uploads data to on your computer, allowing you to indulge your inner statistics nerd on the big screen.

According to research (Baumeister, et al 2007), willpower requires a real–and limited–energy source in the form of glucose. When reserves are depleted from managing stress or performing a challenging task, self-control takes a hike. Forget about depending on willpower to keep you going: Let your smartphone do the heavy lifting and get back on the road to a healthier, fitter you.

Weights + Measures at 18 Chicago is a results-driven community offering comprehensive fitness programming and nutrition counseling in a fun, nurturing, small group atmosphere. We aim to be the social heart and the best part of our members’ day! Contact for info.

Photo by Flickr user Magnus D