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I’m a simple man. I like my coffee black, my whisky neat and my workouts free of superfluous distractions. I’ve never cared much for the marriage of app-based technology and strength training. I don’t even like listening to music while exercising. I prefer to focus on the task at hand rather than trick my brain into thinking it’s having a good time.
But resistance to technology’s pull is futile. Even old-school gym culture has been seduced. Check out the Google Play store and you’ll find apps to analyze lifting form, apps to measure bar speed, even apps that count your reps. In certain situations, I can see some value: If you’re into Olympic lifting, where speed and explosiveness take a back seat only to form and technique, then knowing how fast that barbell flies off the floor is important. For everyone else? Not so much.
This is not to say I have no room in my heart for health and fitness apps. A few have become essential to either my own well-being or that of my clients. These are ones that help with stress management, behaviour change and nutrition – each an important aspect of health that enhance the results promised by a steady diet of strength training.
It’s good sense to ensure your mental muscles get the TLC they deserve. Plenty of science-backed evidence supports the many benefits of simply sitting still with the unquiet mind, and over the years I’ve dabbled with all sorts of meditation programs. My favourite is Waking Up, a subscription-based app created by neuroscientist, author and podcast star Sam Harris.
I love it for many reasons. Number one is, the default length of the daily meditation is 10 minutes. Everyone has 10 minutes to spare - I don’t care how busy your schedule is. Next, the program begins with a 28-day introductory course to help newbies. And, finally, the paid version offers a much deeper and more beneficial experience, but if you’re not ready to drop $100 for an annual subscription, free memberships are offered on a request basis, with 100 per cent being honoured.
The myth of motivation (or, what we mistakenly understand motivation to be) is responsible for more failed attempts at getting fit than anything else. After the initial enthusiasm of taking charge of your health fades – and believe me, it will fade – all you’re left with is yourself. This is why it’s so important to cultivate genuine behaviour change: Once you rewire your brain to actually value a process, you no longer have to channel artificial means to psych yourself up.
Enter Carrot Rewards. The premise couldn’t be more basic: Give people a financial incentive to make healthy decisions and that behaviour will eventually become automatic. Hit your daily step goal? You get a reward!
At its peak popularity, this Canadian-made app had more than one million users who traded their reward points for things such as frequent flyer miles and movie passes. However, in the spring of 2019 funding ran dry and the developers closed shop. Fortunately, Carrot Rewards has been given new life after being purchased by health tech company Optimity. A revamped program with new rewards and challenges is now live. So far, nearly 1,500,000 people have signed up.
Created by Precision Nutrition (PN), one of the world’s leading nutrition coaching organizations, ProCoach is a comprehensive platform for personal trainers and other health professionals who want to help their clients create good habits. Working with a PN-certified coach, users learn the basics of eating and living well through daily lessons and challenges. The content is rooted in the latest behaviour change theory, although the lessons themselves are free from psychobabble jargon.
To date, PN claims to have helped more than 100,000 people lose a total of 965,000 pounds. Unfortunately the app alone doesn’t do anything; you need to work with either a PN-certified coach or PN directly in order to access this resource. But no matter where you live, chances are good there’s a coach in your area.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Toronto.