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Your phone as a personal trainer

Your phone as a personal trainer
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First Published: Mon, Sep 14 2009. 09 08 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Sep 14 2009. 09 08 PM IST
To prepare for his first marathon last year, Michael Nolan trained for six months with the New York Road Runners Club, running up to 20 miles a day, five days a week.
Nevertheless, he finished with an average speed of about 11 minutes a mile, a full 60 seconds a mile off his target pace. This year, he vowed to be faster. “I didn’t want to take that long again,” he says.
So he got a personal trainer. Now, as Nolan prepares for this year’s New York marathon, he is leaner, stronger and “easily” averages eight-and-a-half-minute miles on training runs, he says.
Nolan’s new workouts are not coached by a running guru, but by iPhone applications that show video workout instructions and tabulate every set of burpees and step-ups.
The sports and health industries are just beginning to tap the computing power of smartphones. Applications range from simple calorie counters to heart-rate monitors that use complex metabolic calculations.
These applications can help an athlete achieve a personal best, but some doctors say that more important is their ability to produce no-fail routines for the sedentary and obese which could improve health and drive down medical costs. Here are some of the popular fitness applications out there:
Weight loss
In theory, losing weight is simple: Just burn more calories than you eat. Martin Gramckow, an avid bicyclist based in California, had considered that fact since a cyclist he met on a ride bragged about losing 50 pounds. “I’m huffing and puffing trying to keep (up) with him, while he leisurely pedals along and tells me how he did it,” Gramckow says.
The answer was calorie counting. But Gramckow thought logging every morsel that passed his lips “was always too much work”. Then he saw Calorie Tracker for the iPhone, a free application from LiveStrong.com, an affiliate of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
As with similar applications, Gramckow can search for foods by name or meals from restaurant chains and the application calculates and stores all the nutritional information.
“Sure enough, I find a couple of things in my meal plan that are out of whack,” says Gramckow, who trimmed 10 pounds in less than a month. “I’m not far away from being the fittest I’ve been in a long time,” he says.
Calorie Tracker, which is also available for the BlackBerry ($2.99), won’t give you a breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates and fats (unless you sync it and view the result on your computer), but a free iPhone application called Lose It! will. The application also allows you to enter the ingredients of your own recipes and store a list of meals you commonly eat.
My Food Diary may have the most complete food database and it can be accessed from any mobile browser, but it has no phone-specific application. Phone access is free with a $9-a-month (Rs436.5) membership to the website. Make sure you point your browser to the site formatted for the phone, Mobile.myfooddiary.com.
Indoor fitness
FitDeck Mobile ($4.99 for iPhone and $14.99 for BlackBerry) is designed by a former Navy Seal instructor, Phil Black, as a simple workout that requires no equipment. Illustrations show exercises such as jumping jacks and push-ups.
Fitsync is a website with a collection of workout routines that can be loaded on to phones using Android, Palm or Windows Mobile software, as well as an iPhone. The company claims a library of 1,600 exercises organized into at least 400 workouts such as “Rock Hard Challenge” and “Bikini Body Cardio”. Scheduled workouts from the website can be sent to your phone on workout days. An annual subscription, normally for $39.95, is being offered at $2.99 for Android phones.
Nolan used applications from PumpOne, which has 20 workout applications for the iPhone, including ones for specific sports such as golf or specific goals such as burning fat. The newest application from the site, FitnessBuilder 2 Plus, has 5,000 images and videos of exercises, and 500 ready-made workout programmes for a $4.99 monthly subscription or a $99.99 one-time fee. Designed by an exercise physiologist, Declan Condron, workouts can be researched by muscle group, effort level or type of equipment or goal (such as speed or strength). It also lets you enter the number of reps and the weight used.
Smheart Link ($124.95) makes a heart monitor that links to an iPhone. Smheart Link works with four applications that allow gym rats to arrange a display screen to show what they want, such as calories burnt, average heart rate or elapsed time. It also links to sensors on indoor and outdoor bikes that measure cadence and estimated speed and distance. Hardcore riders can attach a power meter that measures the watts a cyclist generates, a measure bikers often use in competitive training.
For precise data, you can visit a New Leaf-trained technician, who employs metabolic testing equipment to measure your heart and lung efficiency in a gruelling aerobic test (average cost $175-200). Using that data, New Leaf sends custom exercise programmes to your phone and works like a virtual personal trainer, telling you how high to push your heart rate, when, and for how long.
It also tracks results through the Smheart Link heart monitor. New Leaf’s detailed reports show how many fat and carbohydrate calories you have burnt, and how much time is spent in each of the five heart rate zones.
Outdoor fitness
One of the beauties of a mobile device is that you don’t have to be wired to a machine in a gym. Several applications are designed with hiking, biking and running in mind.
MyTracks, a free application for Android phones, uses GPS signals to track your time, distance, speed and elevation as you hit the trail. The data can be loaded into a spreadsheet on Google Docs to determine whether you are getting faster, or you can put the map and statistics in MyMaps to share with friends. You can also send an email message of your route to running buddies from the application. If you want heart rate data or calories burnt, however, you will need a second device.
The Nike (Plus) iPod Sport Kit is made especially for runners (it can be used in a gym for cardio workouts as well); it tracks time, distance, pace and estimates calories burnt. It uses a $29 sensor compatible with a Nike (Plus) shoe and beams information to an iPod or iPhone. It does take some set-up to calibrate. You will need to run a known course to set it up for highest accuracy.
The cycling application iMapMyRide turns the iPhone into a GPS cyclometer, recording time, distance, speed, altitude and estimated calories burnt. You can see your position on a map as you travel, and it has a button to pause your ride. Your maps and statistics are loaded to the MapMyRide website, where you can measure your progress and, if you like, share your routes with other riders.
MapMyRide has a free application if you don't mind seeing advertisements or an ad-free $4.99 version that also stores a greater number of rides and statistics. There is a separate running application as well. The website requires a separate subscription, but there is a free option, as well as an unlimited-use $99 annual membership.
There is one respect, however, in which these applications don’t go the distance. Powering the screen while also using GPS or a heart monitor (and maybe listening to music as well) will leave your batteries wheezing like a tubby, two-pack-a-day smoker. If you’re really into getting fit, your smartphone may hit the wall before you do.
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A change of heart
• Not needed
For a long time, it was believed that the following two tests were very useful. But cardiologists are now having a change of heart:
1. Positron emission tomography (PET): A nuclear medicine imaging technique, it produces a 3D image or picture of functional processes in the body.
2. Thallium stress test: It shows how blood flows to the heart muscle, an indication of the heart’s health.
• Be careful
Heart disease affects the kidneys or lungs only indirectly. For instance, if the heart is not pumping well, the kidneys and lungs get damaged. When your heart fails, it puts pressure on the brain, leading to blood clots.
• Prevention, the best bet
You can take care of your heart with regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle and by ensuring good sleep.
Write to us at businessoflife @livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Sep 14 2009. 09 08 PM IST