Joining a health club or gym gives you access to a variety of equipment and classes to spice up your workouts, but if you don't like the cost or environment of a gym, you can also get great exercise versatility - and more convenience - by turning your iPhone or iPad into a portable gym, complete with all the classes you'd find at your local gym. Here are a few excellent, inexpensive apps you can use to create a customised fitness program or "gym in your pocket."
How to Use Your Pocket Gym
Scheduled gym classes are great because they can help motivate you to get off your butt and get to your fitness "appointment". To get these same benefits, use an exercise logging or tracking app to create a gym-like schedule and rotate targeted workouts (cardio, abs, etc), much like taking different classes at the gym or working out with a trainer.
You can use your general fitness tracking app, for example, to focus on abs and weights on Mondays and Wednesdays, cardio on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and yoga on Fridays. Take a look at actual gym schedules for some inspiration, like these from 24 Hour Fitness, this P90X workout schedule, or training plans from Daily Burn (which we cover below as a great all-in-one exercise app). The most important thing is to choose a variety of exercises that will keep you motivated and provide a balance between aerobic exercise and strength conditioning.
General Fitness Tracking: Gym Buddy ($2.99): Although individual apps for running, abs, yoga, etc, all have built-in workout tracking, a general fitness logging program will let you get a bird's eye view of your customised exercise regimen. Unlike a lot of fitness tracking apps that try to do it all and may overwhelm you unnecessarily with exercise illustrations and advice, Gym Buddy focuses on doing one thing well: letting you schedule, monitor, and track workouts easily. You can use it to log specific exercises (number of reps, time, etc.), track basic body measurements, use an interval timer, and - very conveniently - plan workouts on a calendar. (Note: if you want to be able to choose from preset workout schedules rather than one you plan yourself, take a look at the apps under Exercise Programs at the end of this article.)
General Cardio: Daily Cardio Workout (free or $0.99): Only have 10 or fewer minutes to spare? You can get in a good aerobic workout with this free app, which includes 10 general cardio exercises like knee-ups and jogging in place. The exercise countdown timer and convenient combination of video and instructions on the same screen make for easy-to-follow, quick workouts. Choose between five-minute, 7.5-minute and 10-minute workouts. Upgrading to the full version adds an additional routine, exercise randomisation and daily reminders. (Note: the developer also offers similar Daily Ab, Butt, Yoga and Arm workouts.)
Running: Nike+ GPS ($1.99): There are so many stellar running/walking apps, including free RunKeeper (available on Android as well as iOS), iOS-only Runmeter ($5.49), which doesn't require you to upload data or login to a website to use its robust cross-training features, Adidas' free miCoach with great coaching/motivation support, and Nike+, which last year ditched the shoe chip requirement to track your runs. They're all so well done that it's hard to choose between them, but I like Nike+ right now for the purposes of this "pocket gym" because it offers different run types to track - the basic run with no set time or distance (the kind you find in other running apps), plus timed and distance goal modes. Motivational messages and feedback, as well as records of your runs and Twitter/Facebook integration can keep you on track (pun intended). It's also nice that Nike+ offers an iPod sport kit or sensor for $35 to track your run without GPS with the iPod version.
Other running app considerations:
- If you want to use a GPS tracker for more than just running, Runmeter ($5.49) or RunKeeper (free) may be better choices, as those apps let you choose different activities like swimming and cycling whereas Nike+ is just about running.
- For a beginners' running program, where you may want more guidance than just free-form running tracking, or to train for a race, take a look at Couch to 5K ($2.99), which offers a training program consisting of 30-minute interval workouts three days a week for nine weeks. I found Couch to 5K to be very motivating because I was working towards a set goal and felt like I was progressing towards it. (Note: the app also comes in a Couch to 10K version which is a 13-week program.)
- What if you just want to hop on a treadmill at home and don't need or want GPS tracking? iTreadmill ($0.99) is an advanced pedometer that can monitor your steps as you run in place, on the treadmill, or outdoors. Put it in your pocket as you walk or run and iTreadmill will track your steps, distance and calories burned.
Cycling: Cyclemeter ($5.49): Several of the running apps also can track other activities via GPS; Cyclemeter, from makers of Runmeter and Walkmeter, is one of the most feature-rich apps for biking (and also supports running, walking, skiing, skating, etc). In addition to recording your time, distance and speed - and announcing your progress audibly, Cyclemeter features automatic stop detection to remove stopped time from your stats, route import, and - my favourite feature - ghost racing, where you can compete against your own previous cycle times. I also like how Cyclemeter doesn't require you to join a community, though you can share your progress on Twitter and Facebook if you want (for a more community-centric bike route sharing and racing app, check out free iMapMyRide).
Yoga: All-In Yoga (free/$1.99 iPhone/$4.49 iPad): All-In Yoga has over 200 poses and yoga classes, and it presents them very beautifully and in great detail (If you have an iPad, I'd recommend getting that version so you can enjoy the videos on a bigger screen). Upgrade to the pro All-In Yoga app to get customised workouts based on your goals or choose specific asanas (poses) for a custom workout. This app stands above over yoga apps because it offers not just static yoga photos that you flip through but videos that can take you through a flowing practice.
Boxing: iShadowBoxer ($0.99): For under a buck, you can get a fun new workout and learn how to do uppercuts, kicks, and more. iShadowBoxer offers two workout modes: boxing or Muay Thai and you can select different skill levels and training techniques (combos, kicks or footwork). The training mode presents a virtual trainer voiceover telling you which moves to make, while the moves section teaches you how to do those moves. It'd be easier if the moves videos/instructions were presented at the same time as the training, but once you get learn the moves, iShadow Boxer can help train or get fit.
Weights and Targeted Muscle Areas
Weight/Strength Training: GymGoal (free Dumbbell Workouts, $0.99 for GymGoal ABC, $1.99 for Lite version, or $4.49 for full version): GymGoal provides balanced routines that focus largely on weight training and are designed to exercise your entire body. You can select workout routines split over several days, filter by free weights or cable machines, and also select your difficulty level. The app offers instructions, muscle information, and links to video animations to see how to perform each exercise. There are almost too many versions of this app: the free dumbbell workouts version focuses on dumbbells, as you probably guessed, ABC is like a database of weight exercises, and the Lite version is like the full version except it doesn't include scheduling or measurements and accesses the animations over the internet.
Abs: 8 Minutes Abs (free): Eight minutes is more than enough time to get that core workout, and this app really focuses on that one area very well. The app offers several different ab exercises with clear indicators for their difficulty and video animations for how to perform them (you can optionally download the videos to your device), as well as different complete video workouts. Scheduling options and more advanced levels (for an in-app $0.99 upgrade price) are available too.
Push-ups: Push-Ups Dojo ($0.99): Push-ups Dojo may be the most fun you ever have doing push ups. Put your iPhone on the floor and virtually smash objects like pottery or eggs with your nose as you do the push-ups (challenging!). It's quirky, but sometimes you need that extra instant gratification to keep going. Progress from the Karate Dojo to breaking bricks in the backyard to smashing pottery then breaking eggs with your nose.
Bootcamp: Gorilla Workout ($1.99) Gorilla Workout is another fun and simple exercise app, except it's designed as a training regimen to take you from little chimp to big gorilla (in terms of massive speed and power). You don't need any exercise equipment for this program, but expect to use every part of your body. Exercises include basics like squats, push ups, and jumps to get you in shape. Both text descriptions and video demonstrations (downloaded to your device) are provided, but there's no timer or drill sergeant barking at you while you do the exercises.
P90x: Fitness Tracker 90 CE ($2.99) Fitness Tracker 90 CE is designed especially for the P90x extreme fitness program, but it's one of the best designed exercise apps in general and may be a good choice for other workout plans. The app allows you to schedule exercises on P90x's 13 week (with recovery weeks) system, easily log exercise reps (and view progress indicators) and maintain body measurements. It doesn't, however, track the nutrition component of the P90x system and there are no individual exercise instructions or videos (you're expected to know how to do those already or follow along with the DVDs).
All-in-one: DailyBurn (free, $25.99 quarterly or $79.99 yearly) - Finally, if all you want is one basic app to manage your diet, track nutrition, get or create workout plans, and commiserate with other exercisers online, take a look at DailyBurn. It's a fantastic universal health and fitness with many training plans and routines you can tap from DailyBurn's online site. The Pro version includes more tracking tools, goals setting, a meal planner, calendar integration and more. Though the paid subscriptions are on the pricey side, consider the time and cost savings versus joining a physical gym.
Whatever your exercise preferences, you'll almost surely be able to find an app or several on the App Store that can give you a good workout (for more suggestions, see our previous round-up of the best health and fitness apps for the iPhone, including food and weight loss apps). Put them all together into a personalised program and schedule your workouts like you would at a gym to get the most benefits.
Using your iPhone or iPad as a personal trainer, so to speak, won't replace what a real live trainer can offer you, but this custom-made program is an inexpensive way to get fit, pretty much any time and anywhere the mood strikes you.
Now that you've seen some of our exercise app picks, what are yours?