App Review: Renewing Your Fitness Resolutions


This is a repost of an article Gregg published on our miniListings blog that I want to share with all of you.


Did you decide that 2011 was the year you were going to focus on getting fit? Now that we are four months into the year, how are you doing?

For a lot of people, this is around the time when those New Year’s resolutions start to fade. How do I know? I see it at my local gym. It starts filling up during January, reaches a peak in February, and then fades through March and April. In fact, when I was at the gym this morning, it was about half as full as it was in mid-February.

If you’ve fallen behind in your fitness goals, or just want to keep better track of them, your smartphone can help – a lot! Devesh and I have been using a few fitness apps this year, and for this month’s app review, I wanted to highlight the apps we’ve found particularly useful.

My Tracks

I got a Golden Retriever last summer and somehow got appointed as the official dog walker for the family (long story, don’t ask). As I went on my various walks, I became curious how far I was going and thought it would be neat to track it. Enter an app called My Tracks.

My Tracks uses the GPS in your phone to track how far you walk and where. It also keeps stats for your walk such as time of walk, speed, elevation, average speed and max speed. I particularly like that I can upload each walk to a Google spreadsheet. Then, at the end of the month, I can tally up my results and see how far I walked.

In addition to walks, you can use My Tracks to track any outdoor activity – running, hiking and biking. So if you’re trying to set goals for yourself, this app is a must. For example, my walking goal started at 50 miles per month at the beginning of the year, and I’ve since moved it to 70 miles. Once you can track your progress, it’s fun trying to beat it.

My Tracks is a free Android-only app, but the iPhone has an equivalent call RunKeeper that Devesh uses.

MyFitnessPal

I use MyFitnessPal on my iPhone and obsess about it daily. It’s a really easy way to track your workouts and food intake on a daily basis, so you can make sure your meeting caloric goals. The keys to MyFitnessPal are its easy-to-use interface and large database of crowd-sourced foods which make tracking my daily caloric ins & outs simple… basically eliminating all excuses not to use it.

MyFitnessPal let’s you create a public or private profile with your fitness targets, basic things like height, gender, current weight, target weight, activity level, etc. It then sets your Net Calorie Goal based on the amount of weight you want to lose (if that’s your goal… it’s mine) and the amount you plan to workout every week. It takes only 5 mins to download and setup. Then you simply start entering whatever you do or eat. Simple (I’ve used that word a few times because it really is).

Using MyFitnessPal, I also monitor my daily nutrient breakdown so I know what type of foods to eat so I can stay on target. It’s obviously an honor system thing, but to see what you are eating in writing definitely guilts you to stay true. The app also lets you see your weekly performance and has a social media component built in that pushes messages to your “friends” on your positive AND negative progress. The best message is “Devesh has not logged in for 3 days”… oops.

MyFitnessPal is a free app available for the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. You can get more details on the MyFitnessPal website.
 

Daily Burn

Daily Burn is very similar to MyFitnessPal. It helps users track workouts, calorie intake, and review progress. I used this app first for about 6 months before switching to MyFitnessPal. The best feature of Daily Burn is it’s workout tracker – I could setup workout routines and the interface walked me through each exercise easily. When I was using it, the interface for food entry was too slow and complex so I wasn’t motivated to keep using it… basically gave me excuses to cheat.

Daily Burn has a free version and then paid versions that unlock more sophisticated tracking features. I have a feeling the paid version fixes some of the issues I mentioned, but I didn’t want to pay since I found a free app that works – MyFitnessPal.

It’s possible that you could have different findings than me, so if you want to give Daily Burn a try, visit their website.
 

The Habit Factor®

At a recent networking event, someone told me about The Habit Factor®. I just got around to loading it on my phone and am anxious to start using it.

In a nutshell, The Habit Factor® encourages you to set goals that you want to reach, and then track the habits to reach those goals. It is based on the book The Habit Factor® written by Martin Grunburg.

For example, you might have a goal to lose 10 pounds or to run a 5K. You set your goal and then create the habits to reach it. To lose 10 pounds, your habits could be walk two miles per day, eat 2 pieces of fruit, consume less than 2,500 calories, use MyFitneesPal, etc. The app tracks your progress and provides reminders.

One of the best parts is that you can use it for more than fitness. If you have other personal or business goals, you can track them and their associated habits. You can also just track habits that you want to establish, even if you don’t have a goal associated with them.

I like the concept of the app and hope to incorporate it into my daily routine (hey – my first goal!). The opening screen has great quotes about setting habits. Here’s a couple samples:

  • “We first make out habits, and then our habits make us.” – Charles C. Noble
  • “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn
  • “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” – Vince Lombardi

There is a “lite” (free) version for Android and iPhone, and a premium version that you can upgrade to once you get more serious.
 

Your smartphone can be a powerful ally in your quest to keep your resolutions this year, and these are just a small sample of the apps available. Devesh and I would love for you to share other fitness apps that you’ve found useful – please leave them in the comments.

Good luck getting back or staying on track with those fitness goals for 2011!

(I’d like to thank Devesh for the MyFitnessPal and Daily Burn reviews)

App Review: Streaming Music

When I got the BlackBerry Curve 8900, I was really excited to load up my MP3s and use it as a portable music player for my workouts (besides that I don’t really use my MP3s anywhere else except at home and possibly when traveling).  I bought a larger memory card online and started moving over my music.  This was great and easy to do without any special software.  However, as time went on, I started getting tired of my music collection, got disorganized in terms of playlists, and kept forgetting to transfer new songs to my BlackBerry.  This was not good as I got bored at the gym and my workouts started suffering.

So, I decided to try out a streaming music app and see if it solved my problem.  But which one?  There were several apps in BlackBerry App World so I decided to experiment with three that my friends had recommended: Flycast, Pandora, and iheartradio. 

I used each app for a minimum 2 week period (or about 8-10 workouts) and rated each one based on their music selection, connection quality, and ease-of-use.  Music selection is an obvious metric since it’s the reason I started my little experiment.  I like to listen to different music depending on what I’m doing – for example, I want something more upbeat/rhythmic when doing cardio but want more heavy/alternative when lifting weights.  The second criterion, connection quality, is probably the most important metric for me as my phone only has an EDGE connection outside the house since there isn’t Wi-Fi at the gym.  I need the music to stream with good sound quality or else it’s not worth using.  And the final criterion, ease-of-use is a standard metric, in my mind, for any app.

The list below summarizes my ratings from most favorite to least: 

1. Pandora

Overall, Pandora is my favorite streaming music app and won in all three categories.  It really helped me step up my workouts and stay focused at the gym.

  • Music Selection: Excellent.  Beyond a vast library and minimal repetition, Pandora’s Music Genome Project is ideally suited for the gym as I was able to customize stations for my different workouts.
  • Connection Quality: Excellent.  When I first downloaded the Pandora app, it took quite a while to connect with their server and start streaming music.  After my second use, they released a newer version which resolved all of my issues.  The app starts up and connects to the server in less than 30 seconds on an EDGE connection and never skips a beat once connected. 
  • Ease-of-Use: Excellent.  When I downloaded the app, I also started using Pandora at work through my computer’s browser.  I can create, customize, or delete stations from my desktop browser or through the mobile app while both stay synchronized.

 2. Flycast

Flycast was the first app I tried, but its connection quality and menu layout prevented it from being my favorite.

  • Music Selection: Average.  Flycast has a large variety of genre-based stations that should be enough to satisfy anyone’s taste.  Since I could not control the programming in each station, I found myself station-jumping a lot trying to find something that matched what I wanted at that time.  I found it distracting during my workouts.
  • Connection Quality: Below average.  Flycast lists stations by their connection speed (i.e. 3G vs EDGE), so I selected stations that were marked as EDGE.  The app would establish a connection fairly quickly but the connection would drop very often.  I found this extremely frustrating.
  • Ease-of-Use: Poor.  Flycasts menus didn’t always load when I opened the app, so I couldn’t navigate to a station unless I had it marked as a favorite.  Not good at all.

3. iheartradio

This was my least favorite app due to the music selection.  It’s a good app for anyone who loves listening to existing broadcast radio stations but not for pure streaming music. 

  • Music Selection: Poor.  iheartradio supports a comprehensive list of existing broadcast radio stations but I don’t really listen to them when I’m driving, so why would I want to listen to them at the gym?  I just want music, so this was a huge negative for me.
  • Connection Quality: Average.  The app establishes a connection quickly but does drop the connection periodically, so it can be frustrating at times.
  • Ease-of-Use:  Below Average.  I found the menu layout and selection screens to be difficult to use when at the gym.  They required too much navigation/selection.

  

So for now, I’m sticking with Pandora as my streaming music app unless any of our readers can tell me about another app they think is worth trying out.  Leave your suggestions as a comment to this post.