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Turn Your Phone Into a Fitness Coach


Ready to get outside this summer and get fit? Your smartphone’s hardware, software, and app store full of programs can help lead the way. Here’s a guide on how to get the most out of your device. Just remember, medical data is sensitive information, so read the privacy policy of any app that’s collecting it or tracking you. Consult your doctor before making significant changes to your dietary or workout routine.

In 2014, Apple and Google announced dashboard apps to track personal health and wellness, and the companies have been enhancing those apps ever since. The Google Fit app works on the Android and iOS operating systems. (It can also import health data from Wear OS, Apple Watches, and third-party apps.) Google Fit helps users set activity goals to earn “Heart Points” for better cardiovascular health in collaboration with the American Heart Association.

This year, Google announced that the app could also use the phone’s camera to measure heart and respiratory rates for informational purposes (but not as a medical diagnosis); Google’s own Pixel phones were the first to get this function. Both Apple Health and Google Fit include essential tools like a pedometer, which uses the phone’s motion sensor to track your steps, but fitness and food apps can provide more detailed information.

Fitness Coach

If you’re looking for a workout app for an exercise plan that goes beyond step-counting, you have many options. Most of the popular programs are available for both Android and iOS. These include the Jefit Workout Planner and Skimble’s Workout Trainer; both offer guides to specific exercises and routines for small subscription fees.

The Peloton app ($13 a month) offers video-driven workouts, and Google Fit has a curated list of free exercise videos on YouTube. The Apple Fitness+ service is $10 a month for those planted in the Apple ecosystem and requires an Apple Watch with your iPhone to monitor your vital signs.

Credit…Skimble; Google

Runners and cyclists wanting to measure their progress have a variety of apps to consider. For beginners, the $3 Couch to 5K app provides a training plan for somewhat stationary newbies to work their way up to a solid running routine. Runkeeper and MapMyRun use the phone’s location services to log and trace routes; both are free with in-app purchases. Cyclemeter and Strava are also inexpensive apps that track running, cycling, and more.

If you want to focus on dietary adjustments — eating more protein, consuming less sodium, shedding a few pandemic pounds — and don’t want to manually log food labels, consider a dedicated nutrition app. Many are free to download but offer in-app subscriptions for personalized diet planning, community support, and other features.

Credit…Lose It! / MyFitnessPal

Lose It! focuses on calorie-counting and weight loss among the apps in this category and can share its data with Apple Health, Google Fit, and other apps. Lose It! has a vast nutritional information database for millions of items and can scan package labels to add new foods. MyFitnessPal is a similar program with a database of 11 million foods, a vast online community, and the ability to sync up and share data with 50 other fitness apps and devices.

Your phone’s maps app can help you get more active in general. For example, just enter “gyms near me” to see where you can get a workout or “hiking” to find nearby trails. Last year, both Apple Maps and Google Maps added new features for urban cyclists, including biking routes in certain cities, the location of bike-sharing docks around town, and elevation information. In Google Maps for Android and iOS, you can also tap the Layers button to see Cycling routes and the Terrain — so you can really be prepared for any non-metaphorical uphill climbs on your journey.


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