HONG KONG — Don’t tell my trainer, but my smartphone has become my favorite exercise companion.
To novices, that may sound lonely and pathetic, but it’s nearly 2012 and the technology on offer is extraordinary. I have discovered a few high performing fitness apps that motivate and teach like a professional. They go where I want, when I want, at very little cost, and record my every move so that I can track my progress. And they’re fun.
Take it from a self-proclaimed appaholic and get with the program. Here are a few of my favorites:
Endomondo is an app that derives its name from “endorphin,” hormones that are released to the brain during sports, and “mondo,” Italian for “world.” It’s quite a kick for the globally minded.
The app primarily maps and records your physical activity with GPS, but it does much more. Endomondo broadcasts your route to your worldwide network of friends, and even strangers if you allow, while you are on the move. Friends can track you and give you a pep talk along the way.
When I travel, I can peruse the app’s Web site for routes that locals have taken, download them and follow. No maps needed. Just the app.
One of its strengths is data collection. So far, I know I’ve clocked about 110 kilometers, mainly on walks to and from work, burning the equivalent of 14 hamburgers. It is more reliable than other GPS mapping apps I’ve tried, like Trailguru, because it runs undisturbed in the background while you use other apps.
The company was founded in Denmark in late 2007, when Christian Birk, a former elite runner, and two of his colleagues from the consultant firm McKinsey opted to combine their passion for sports and technology. Endomondo says that 5.5 million people have downloaded it and 2.7 million are registered on its Web site. The iPhone version is free, but an upgraded version costs $3.99. (Prices here and below may vary slightly by market.)
RunKeeper works much like Endomondo and is just as reliable. It allows you to post your results directly to Facebook and Twitter; you can download the routes of others; and you can find friends nearby. The app is a classic, one of the first 200 on the iPhone. It was created by Jason Jacobs of Boston, who was frustrated when he used a Nike system to train in 2007 for his first marathon in Chicago.
Last month, RunKeeper added a few small features that enhance the app. Now an “auto pause” means that you don’t have to keep stopping and starting the app every time you pause for a drink or face a red light. And, now both Android and iPhone versions allow you to take photos that appear on RunKeeper.com along your mapped route.
One twist, and one of the ways the company makes money: If you want to be tracked by your friends, you’ll need to join RunKeeper Elite, which costs $4.99 a month, or $19.99 a year. Otherwise, the basic app is free.
iMuscle will make you question why you are shelling out $80 dollars an hour on a personal trainer. It’s that good.
The app doesn’t spot you as you bench press, and it won’t make you feel guilty for missing a session. But if you already feel comfortable at the gym, or want to learn new exercises, iMuscle is worth the small investment.
Once started, a detailed illustration of a body appears. Tap, for example, the breast muscle (pectoralis major abdominal part) and the app displays 28 exercises to strengthen that particular spot, complete with animation to illustrate exactly how to execute the exercise.
You can then design a workout — like “chest,” “shoulders,” or “biceps” — with your selection of exercises. Each time you do an exercise, you input the number of repetitions and weight. The app keeps a log to track your progress. It costs $1.99 for the iPhone and $4.99 for the iPad.
Nike Training Club dubs itself “Your personal trainer. Anytime. Anywhere.” This is indeed the perfect app for anyone on the road. Unlike iMuscle, it hardly requires equipment — a jump rope, medicine ball and a couple of dumbbells suffice. The app is targeted at women, but the 60-plus workouts and 90-plus drills are just as brutal for men.
The app takes a while to download, but that’s because it incorporates video to make sure you understand the moves, the app’s major strength.
After choosing your goal — getting lean, toned, strong, or focusing on a specific muscle — you choose your level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), set your music and go.
I tried a 45-minute strength-building program that used dumbbells and a medicine ball that was divided into 53 segments. Never mind that you have no clue how to “pretzel stretch” or “Russian twist” — that’s what the video is for. You are guided every step of the way. It’s free for the iPhone.
Total Immersion Swimming is one of the few apps for the sport that caught my attention. The American Terry Laughlin has developed a swimming technique that focuses on economy, rather than speed, for long-distance open water swimmers. Courses are held around the world. I attended one several years ago in the Alps near Zurich.
The app’s value lies in the video. Mr. Laughlin breaks down his freestyle technique into a number of drills. In the absence of a coach, it is helpful to view videos of them at the poolside between laps. The app costs 99 cents for the iPhone for the first few lessons; 99 cents for subsequent lessons.
Calorie Tracker, developed by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong.com, is a good app for tallying your caloric intake. The database contains more than 625,000 food and restaurant items.
One day, the app quickly calculated that my breakfast (yogurt and grapefruit juice), lunch (Greek salad) and dinner (pad thai and green chicken curry with jasmine rice), added up to 1,364 calories. It figured that my 85-minute brisk walk home from the office burned 575 calories. All told, I went to bed having consumed only 39 percent of my recommended caloric intake. The app costs $2.99 for the iPhone and iPad.