Lets get something straight right from the outset here. There are currently two major contributors to the MRG, plenty of supporters, contributors, lost souls, general nutters without a cause, but two core contributors (currently). There is the fitness obsessed, super strong, super fast, gym loving, getting up at 5.00am to lift heavy things one and… there’s me.
You see I have a problem with gyms. I have a problem with complex, time consuming fitness regimes in general. Don’t get me wrong its not that I don’t want to be fit and healthy because I very much do. My sport of choice is the piloting of the humble mountain bike and to me, ridden hard and properly, a mountain bike is a very real all body work out. To ride fast and well you have to be fit and strong (as well as mildly insane) so this isn’t some anti-effort, anti fitness cry. Far from it.
Over the years I have set myself plenty of goals around my weight, around training, around miles to be covered or pavements to be pounded. Often complex schedules and structured diet plans and all the baggage that comes with the science of getting fit. Over the years I have regularly failed to meet my goals and very often its cost me more than a pretty penny and swallowed a boat load of time to do so.
Its not only me. I reckon most, if not all of my good friends have at one stage or another had a dormant gym membership tearing not insignificant gaps in their bank balances for zero use. I would also wager that a very high percentage of them have a fitness related ‘Doohickey’ or gadget languishing in a cupboard doing a great job of collecting dust. I’m sure all of these things were gathered with the best of intentions but getting fit is a bit like going to rehab if you approach it with a shiny gym membership. Total change is the only method for success. Big investments in terms of cash and time, and by extension investments from friends and family because, lets face it, very few of us spend our time doing nothing completely alone. So what ever it is that you give up to go to the gym you do because you quite like doing it, or the people your doing it with and once the novelty wears off will a sweaty gym still have more appeal than doing the thing you quite liked doing with the people you quite liked doing it with? For the lucky few it will and they are the get out of bed at 5 and lift heavy things brigade. For the rest of us work, family, friends, life in general usually make the ‘grand life change’ approach a sweaty step to far into the changing room of improbability.
So as an engineer type I’m sat building the requirements for a fitness solution that could really work for me. Limited time, limited financial resources, a busy life that I quite like which means I don’t want to (or can’t) change it or the content of it massively and a large tribe of dependents, dependables and general head cases that I want to spend time with. Most of whom are more likely to be found sticking pins in their private bits than residing in a gym. I’m also a bit of a tech head, more recently focused on in-obtrusive technologies. I’m very interested in technology that compliments your life not gets between you and the real world.
I have a a piece of technology on me or near me almost 24/7 that has the ability to register movement, manage schedules, time events and activities, reference data sources and collate data into very pretty pictures. More importantly its portable and easy to customise. I have a smart phone. Can a phone really fix my fitness woes? Yes, I believe (for the ‘not and never getting up at 5 to lift heavy things’ clan) it can offer a good and solid way to begin the journey to slim.
As a tester I started with a particular application on my iPhone. Now I don’t want to get bogged down with Android V’s iPhone etc, etc, etc, yawn. Basically it seems that no matter what it is if its a smart type device you can add this stuff to it. I was sat in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Marlowe to be precise. I had (with the best of intentions) planned to use the hotel gym after work prior to a business dinner. Meetings ran late, traffic to the hotel was more akin to a torture method than travel and as is an every day occurrence I didn’t have the time to get a gym visit in. I was fairly hacked off. Once again my ‘training’ (believe me when I tell you there are people who know me well who just sniggered….) was screwed for the day. Something had to give, I needed a real world solution. In despair I did what all self respecting adults of my generation now do when faced with a limited amount of time to achieve something: I started wasting it by aimlessly faffing around with my phone. In five minutes I had learned what most of the ‘friends’ I wouldn’t recognise in the street had eaten for lunch, that my wife who has no idea who makes sat nav’s really liked Garmin (?) and that a girl who is world famous for being on Facebook was now getting more famous for telling people on Facebook why the pictures of her on Facebook weren’t pictures of the real her in any case and to resolve the issue she fully intended to now add pictures of her real self(ie…?) to (you guessed it) Facebook. What a relief.
What I hadn’t done, in any way shape or form was assisted my body in reducing the size of my Moobs. I’m a middle aged man and much as I deny it the ever present spectre of my baggy flesh weighs on my mind. Not surprisingly none of my (no idea who most of them are) ‘friends’ had assisted in any way. But it did give me an idea. I had time to pick up my phone. I had time to surf tat. I have apps on my phone for everything from managing my money to helping small birds flap through gaps, surely I could get my phone to help out on the Moob issue?
In for a penny, or rather 89 pennies and I bought an app to get me to do 200 (per session in 4 x 50 sets) press ups in 10 weeks. ‘Pushups XT’ by fitness 22 ensconced itself into my happy Apple gadget in the usual pain free way, and with a happy jingle informed me that I needed to stretch for 5 minutes. I’m a ‘stretching is for wimps’ idiot usually so I actually quite liked this and almost used half of the time to stretch (!) before it announced a requirement to complete 20 press ups ( as we English people call them). Pushups XT is an app built for people capable of completing 5 sets of 20 press ups with 90 second rest periods which I was able to do. For those who can’t there is a starter app to get you from zero to hundred hero in the same time period. The app doesn’t use any clever technology to track your progress unlike some. You simply tell it you did the exercise and it prescribes a rest period before telling you the next exercise.
But here I was, in my hotel room, no need to get fully dressed into gym kit, no noise, smell, unwanted intrusion of any kind doing a very simple exercise. I don’t think I needed the app to tell me if I had or hadn’t completed it. Lets face it if you go to the trouble of cheating an app in the privacy of your own hotel room nothing is really going to help…. 12 minutes later (not including my diligent 5 minutes before and after of stretching of course) and I’d done something, however small, to combat the Moob invasion. I made it to dinner and felt better than I would have done for simply reading about the lunch menu of Facebook inhabitants.
Imagine my surprise to wake up to a case of muscle soreness the following day? A welcome surprise. Basic though they were I hadn’t done 100 press ups in some time and my muscles were debating this turn up with vigour. I was hooked. As a point of interest I went to the gym the following morning to find it was a sweaty windowless room with a large screen TV playing depressing news next to a stereo playing music that hurt my ears. I couldn’t get on the equipment I wanted and the guy on the rower next to me smelt like a blend of incontinent tramp and road killed badger. Not exactly an experience I was excited to repeat.
I also started to get data on heart rates and rest/recovery periods. I learned that some days its not wrong to not exercise given the extent of the activity the day before and now I knew roughly what constituted grounds to rest. The best bit was (and is) I’m still engaged. 5 minutes of press ups is not as good as a work out in a gym, but its a lot better than no work out at all. Realising that you do not cover 10,000 steps a day while walking to the toilet every 2 hours (unless you have a way bigger house and office than me at least) was a turn up for the books and easier to rectify than you’d think for no major penalty. Think of it this way, you’re in the office, your heading to a meeting you can wait at the lift or spend the same time walking a couple of flights of stairs, thats free time right there and generally your not expected to answer the phone or email while your doing it while you most definitely are while stood still.
I added a squats challenge to the repertoire, same thing, stretch, reps, stretch. I continued with the press ups. So far I’m 8 weeks and more than 6100 press ups in and feeling good. I really don’t know if there is any science behind the Press Up XT app. I do know that each time it has altered the number of press ups required in each set it has perfectly taken me to the point of failure and changed the rep numbers again at just the point it becomes easy to achieve. I’m now doing 5 sets at 32, 50, 42, 40 and 30 press ups which would have been unthinkable 3 months ago. And its made a visual difference to my physique to. Its still a battle of attrition against the onslaught of the terrifying Man-Bossom but in the battle field of year 41 I’m winning at present. (Lets face it once they go from Moobs to Mussoms its all over….).
They key point of this is simple. It is a massive shift to add multi hour gym sessions into a life that simply doesn’t have multi hour gaps. And while the lucky (?) few look at a gym and think ‘wow, what a lovely place’ most of us look at a room full of noisy machines and sweaty people and are slightly repulsed. There are more than a small percentage of even the 5am crew that see gym time as a necessary sufferance than a pleasure. Of that I am sure. However we pretty much all find time to pick up our phones on a massively frequent basis. Its a social norm so why not use those windows of time to do more than comment on Facebook Daves cheese and pickle sandwich debacle. My wife joined the charge and invested a princely £2.99 in the 7 minute workout. Again is it going to change the world? Is it life changing PT? No, but its way more sustainable than a complete life change and 7 minutes of structure could start you on the road.
Then think of next steps. If your overweight or unfit going to the gym everything hurts, everyone looks (and often smells) better than you and you’re instantly aware just how much the experience is costing compared the the speed of the results. Disappointment is a massive de-motivator and we all want value for our money. I’ve I’d coughed up £150 for my 3 months of press ups, lost 2 hours (lets face it you have to get to, into, out of and home from a gym so factor the travel) every couple of days and put up with the noise, smell, claustrophobia I may be a little disappointed. A little de-motivated. Instead I paid 89 pence. My arms are bigger, my chest is tighter. My phone reminds me to do the activity (bless Siri and calendars) and as yet I’ve not found a situation where 5 minutes of press ups isn’t doable. No, no disappointment. I’m busy telling all who will listen that I can now do 180 press ups… Now imagine I’m a person who can do 200 press ups, who can do a couple of hundred squats. When I have an induction and the trainer asks me what I eat I’ll know. Suddenly that seems like a much more safe jumping in point for a fitness/life change.
As a review this post doesn’t really offer much cast iron detail simply because I think its pretty clear on the quality of the available apps when you down load them. The app stores are supported by a raft of reviews which also helps. Often if you find an app you like there are other complimentary apps by the same developers. Fitness 22 offer and even suggest complimentary apps from within the Push Ups XT app. Many developers offer bundles of apps to construct a wider regime, but again it’s in private at your leisure. For the Facebook junkie most of the apps will even publicise your triumphs on your social media inviting praise from the faceless Facebook population. Let’s not underestimate the power of praise and peer support and it’s true if the app posts it of course!
There are even a Myriad of free versions so cost isn’t an excuse. I will recommend the Fitness 22 applications because I’ve found them to be stable and look nice. But My Fitness Pal has also been a great result, its free although you can add detail for a subscription if you get suitably engaged. The other fringe benefit is a little more abstract. Many of us pay large sums of money either monthly or as an investment in a device to do little more than keep a check on those Facebook lunches or see what Unilad ‘Be like’. Theres always that Kudos to owning a device that is actually utilised. ‘Oh yes I have the HTC super clever 4, use it for all my fitness and nutrition tracking’ sounds better than ‘I paid £600 for an iPhone and now I know what Kevin had in his sarnies.
As I sit in an airport, a tube train even a restaurant its clear that smart devices command way more attention than pretty much anything else in our lives. It seems to me that there simply cannot be that much information or stories happening in iPhone land to fill all this attention so its reasonable to suggest that having data to consider crunched into the little bundle of chips and pixels that would allow us to consider our fitness can’t be a bad thing. It also fits the method of manageable goals in simple packaging. %am isn’t the right time to train for everyone, 5 minutes of exercise isn’t going to change the world instantly but it may well be the beginnings of great things.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have a session with my electronic personal trainer…..