You’ve decided you want to lose weight or build lean muscle. That is amazing! Grab your smartphone now. It’s a valuable asset that can help you achieve your physical fitness goals, whether it’s improving your health or improving 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 that contribute to weight loss and muscle growth. And while wearables from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin and others offer exercise tracking from your wrist, you really only need your smartphone for all your fitness tracking.
Please note that I am not a certified fitness or medical professional and you should consult your doctor before continuing with any rigorous fitness routine. I write 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 lost another 50 pounds over the course of ten months. 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 get through the day, so your body starts burning fat to make up the difference. To keep your caloric intake in the range of weight loss, you 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 well-known 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 take full account of your consumed and burned calories.
Both apps are free, but lock some useful features behind a subscription paywall. For example, Lose It requires a subscription to connect to other services (although connecting to Google Fit is free). On the other hand, MyFitnessPal allows you to connect a wide variety of fitness services, including apps that we’ll cover later in this guide, at no extra cost, but requires a premium subscription to unlock barcode scanning, which Lose It free offers.
Anyway, since your smartphone is always nearby, it’s pretty easy to get into the habit of entering your meals as you eat them.
2. Cardio workout tracking
Controlling what you eat is only half the equation for weight loss. While you can reduce your calorie intake by watching what you eat, during daily exercise you burn the calories you eat and the fat your body has stored while building lean muscle, which is denser than fat and therefore less bulky to take.
When I started my fitness journey, it had been about ten years since I stepped into a gym. I started running in my neighborhood, using the Couch to 5K program. It helps you get into a running routine with walking and running intervals, increasing the length of the running intervals each week. I created playlists with song lengths that matched the walking and running intervals (which is easier to do if your musical diet is heavy on punk rock and thrash metal).
To help you on this journey, there’s the C25K app. However, the full 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 started a fitness routine, other apps provide additional functionality. Apps I’ve used in the past include Runtastic and Runkeeper. Runtastic has been acquired by Adidas and is now called Adidas Running, while Runkeeper has been acquired by Asics.
Both time your workout and for distance workouts use your smartphone’s GPS to measure distance and map the route of your run. You can choose from a catalog of workouts or build your own workout (such as the Couch to 5k workout) and receive audio notifications for each interval. You can also sync your runs with your favorite music app.
Finally there is Strava. It can track walking and running workouts, but it’s the front runner for cycling. Strava not only tracks time and distance, but also altitude. Connect a cadence sensor to your bike to track the number of revolutions per minute. It also integrates with Fitbit, which syncs with Peloton if you find yourself competing with the fitness service.
3. Weight training
I’ve found that a combination of cardio and strength training is most effective based on experience and recommendations from others. By switching training types every day, you can also give opposing muscle groups a rest.
Strength training requires a different app than cardio training. Two apps I’ve used are Jefit and Progression. With both apps, you can build workouts with multiple weight training and weightless exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, or choose from the available workouts. Record your weight and reps for each activity during your workout to track your progress week after week.
4. Sync all your data
You now have several apps for tracking calories and exercise, but you need one more app to bring it all together.
For iPhone users, the apps we’ve covered can sync with the Apple Health service, which also tracks your steps. Based on data synced from other services, Apple Health serves as the 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 rather than a dedicated running app, though I’d 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 much more fun with a soundtrack. Upbeat music also sets a rhythm to match your running pace or lifting reps.
Services like YouTube Music and Spotify offer workout mixes for the free tier. Apple Music also offers 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 plans, you can create personalized workout playlists and share them with others.
Other music streaming services worth checking out include Deezer, Amazon Music, Pandora, and Tidal.
Another way to make fitness fun is to make it a game.
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 mechanic; Hatching eggs to acquire more Pokémon and generating candy to make your Pokémon stronger and evolve is based on your distance traveled. In addition, your steps tracked through Google Fit with the Adventure Sync feature will contribute to your progress in the game, even after the game is closed. If you haven’t been in the game for a while, check out this guide to get back up and running.
Try Zombies, Run! This app gives you a running routine synced with immersive story missions where you have to outrun hordes of zombies. Your running pace determines whether you survive. While games like Pokémon Go require location tracking, Zombies, Run! lets you choose between GPS for outdoor running, step counting for treadmills and indoor running, or simulated running for ellipticals, rowing machines, and stationary bikes. You can also keep listening to your music between audio prompts for the story mission.
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