Use workout apps long enough, and you’ll realise you can’t trust a single one. Sometimes they go defunct, or you take a break from running and forget your password, or your phone dies and takes your data with it. And even when all goes well, the apps can’t always track the metrics you should be tracking.
That’s why it’s important to own your training data. Don’t trust it to an app or to the cloud; write down your running mileage or your lifting routines on paper, or keep a digital document that you have control over (and that you back up). Here’s why.
You’ll forget where you logged everything
Sure, using an app works now, while you’re thinking about it. But I’ve been running for years, and let me tell you, my workout history is a trail paved with defunct websites and lost passwords. Where did I log my training data from my last half-marathon, which I ran five years ago? No idea. Or my first ever marathon, in 2012? I found the website where I think I logged my mileage, but it doesn’t recognise my password or any of my current email addresses.
So often, we’re focused on our current workout routine, but it’s also valuable to leave data for your future self. Five or ten years down the road, you might be wondering “how did I train in 2019?” You need to leave yourself the data to answer that question.
Fortunately, I do have some of my old data, and that’s because I wrote it down on paper. When I trained for that marathon in 2012, I printed out my training calendar and hung it on the wall. I coloured the squares green when I did that day’s workout, red when I missed, grey for rest days.
I still have that calendar in a file folder in my office. I also have a year or two worth of workout data on this type of paper log, and at this point my only regret is that I ever slacked off the low-tech logging.
Apps only measure what they want to measure
The easiest, simplest thing for a running app to measure is your overall pace: workout time divided by total distance. And that’s one of the least helpful numbers you can possibly get.
After all, different workouts should be run at different paces. If I’m doing a long slow run, I’d expect a slow average pace. But if I’m doing a slow warm-up mile, then three miles of fast tempo running, and a slow cooldown, that total pace tells me nothing useful about the run. If I run track intervals, who cares what the total pace worked out to be? Nobody, that’s who.
I still use apps when I run and when I’m lifting in the gym, but now I come home and transfer the important numbers to a notebook. For each type of workout, I note how long it took and how it felt — either with a smiley face system, or a number representing how intense it was. (10 is a killer effort, 6 is a jog in the park.)
Think about it: why are you tracking your data at all? You either want to see and think about it in the moment—in which case you should write down the metrics and feelings that you want to reflect on—or you want to be able to look back on it later. Probably both. So keep track of what matters.
It’s ok to use both
I’m not saying you need to stop using apps if they’re convenient. I love the Strong app for lifting, because it does a lot of maths for me, lets me log most of the things that matter in the moment (like weights, reps, and rpe) and it reminds me what I lifted last time. But as soon as I get home, I open my training notebook and jot down what exercises I did, how many sets, and what my working weights were.
Likewise for running: I let Nike measure my mileage and create little Instagrammable photos imprinted with my data, but at the end of the day I also write down the day’s mileage in my notebook along with notes about pacing, how it felt, and other details that might come in handy later.
If you want to skip the apps and bring your notebook to the gym, that’s cool too. (I might even be a little bit jealous that you’re getting your exercise in without letting any corporations track your location and personal data.) Either way, make sure that you have a system that works for you, and that no lost password can take away from you.