How fitness apps can help boost your workout

Mark Hallam
Trainer Mark Hallam says apps and gadgets can be a good way of maintaining your motivation for your fitness regime
No 1 Fitness personal trainer Mark Hallam tells us how technology can take your health regime to the next level – but will never replace a human touch.
Thanks to the Apple Watch, wearable technology that can monitor your heartrate and calorie intake has moved well and truly into the mainstream, while fitness-tracking apps are becoming increasingly sophisticated. But how much use are they to the regular gym goer? Top City-based personal trainer Mark Hallam gives us his professional opinion.
I always use MyFitnessPal – I’m big into nutrition and it’s great for keeping a record of what you eat. Knowing what you’re putting into your body – and seeing it all written down at the end of the day – is a massive help, whether you’re just starting a fitness regime or you’re already super-fit and want to go to the next level. I also use an iPad app called The Training Notebook to track how my clients are progressing from week to week. You can log exercises, weights and sets, which gives you a good indication of how you’re improving over time and allows you to make sure you’re keeping your routines fresh.
A lot of the guys at the gym also use the Polar heart rate monitor, which is one of the best out there: it lets you see how hard you’re really working, and how your body adapts as you get fitter.
Complete beginners don’t necessarily need heaps of information – at that level it’s more about consistency: eat right, get moving, start lifting weights. Once you progress a bit, the information starts to become more useful, especially the nutrition. Professionals have been doing this stuff for years, it’s just starting to make it to ground-level gyms. The fitness trackers are really useful for triathletes and marathon runners, where tracking incremental improvements is crucial, but I find they’re less useful for your average gym-goer who’s more interested in the aesthetic benefits of getting fit.
It depends how you use it – if you’re serious about improving specific areas of your workout then they’re a great tool. If you’re the kind of person who’s going to the gym and tracking your workout, apps are probably going to motivate rather than distract you. These things also help people remember that a fitness regime doesn’t start and end at the gym – anything that reminds people to eat well and sleep well is going to help them to lose weight and get fitter.
One of my clients is working on a book about whether technology will eventually take over the majority of human work, so it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. There are elements of my job that could be automated – an app could set out a program that’s tailored to you and tell you what to eat. But there isn’t an app that can tell you if you’re at risk of damaging your back because you’re not squatting properly, and it won’t motivate you to squeeze out an extra couple of reps at the end of a tough set. And they can’t replace the human side of being a trainer: you have to be there for the people you train, especially if you’re seeing the person three or four times a week. They might be having family problems or trouble at work and want to get things off their chest, or just unwind with a chat at the end of a hard day’s work.
Mark is a trainer at No 1 Fitness, which has gyms in the City, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf. Email or call 0207 621 1312 to make an appointment


This is one of the top food-tracking apps out there, with a vast database (more than 5m) of meals with pre-loaded calorie counts. Eating less is far easier if you’re faced with a list of all your indiscretions every day. It’s also free, albeit with optional upgrades.
Free, iOS and Android
This is really one for the pros, allowing you to log details for multiple people in one handy iPad app. You can even use it to keep in touch with people you train, emailing them directly from the app. If you need to track information for more than one person, this app is for you.
£10.99, iOS
Strava is a cycling app that maps your speed through GPS and ranks you against other cyclists who regularly use the same routes. The fastest cyclists on certain routes are crowned King of the Hill. The goal is to make you put in extra effort to beat the average speed.
Free, iOS and Android
GymPact asks you to pledge to go to the gym a certain number of times a week. If you miss a session, you’re charged a minimum of $5, although you can opt to invest even more. The fines are distributed among those who make it to the gym. Get fit and get rich.
Free, iOS and Android
One of surprisingly few decent weights-dedicated apps, StrongLifts asks you to complete five sets of five reps (5x5) of various exercises, giving you reasonable recovery times in-between and telling you when it’s time to progress onto heavier weights.
Free, iOS and Android

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