Quantify This: How To Avoid Fitness Fails


CC-licensed, thanks Crossfitpaleofitness on Flickr.
CC-licensed, thanks Crossfitpaleofitness on Flickr.

There are many pitfalls on the road to building abs at least strong enough to support your desk job and lung capacity to sing through your next epic road trip. To get there, you plan on using your omnipresent iPhone and Mac plus a tracking device like Jawbone or Fitbit and a bunch of apps.

Before you dive in, Cult of Mac polled a number of fitness experts to find out how you can avoid the fitness fails that gadget-happy folks commit most often: it turns out that over relying on apps, trackers and yourself may leave you flat.

Move That Goal Post

It’s about as well-worn concept as an obsessive marathoner’s favorite shoes: goals matter. Focusing on the gadgets (personally, I live for having another manual to read!) instead of the outcome is an easy way to get your desire for six-pack abs lost in the shuffle.

“For technology to be effective you need to start with a strong, well-thought goal(s), and determine your tactics to achieve that goal,” says Michael Rucker, director of digital products at Club One Fitness in San Francisco.

“This might seem straightforward, but I cannot tell you how many indoor cyclists who purchase a popular accelerometer like a Fitbit or Jawbone UP and then quickly become frustrated because given their fitness affinity they would have been better off with a heart rate sensor (with a corresponding appropriate algorithm) for calorie tracking.” Rucker declares himself “device agnostic” but says he’s currently a fan of easy-to-use Moves app.

How to make sure you don’t get left on the wayside with your gadgets gathering dust? “Pair the right tech with well thought-out goals and this creates a powerful combination akin to giving a carpenter the perfect hammer, opposed to a plumbing wrench,” Rucker says.

CC-licensed, thanks mike_mccormick on Flickr.
CC-licensed, thanks mike_mccormick on Flickr.

Why That Tracker Is All Washed Up

If you’re getting started (or getting started again) on a quantified self kick, it’s also good to think about which device will go the long haul for you. Some people will prefer a wristband, others a tiny tracker, says John La Puma MD, but each comes with pros and cons.

“In the first case you tend to stop wearing it after a few weeks, in the second case people sometimes forget the tracker in their pocket and it ends up in the washing machine,” La Puma, who is also the author of “Refuel: A 24-Day Eating Plan to Boost Testosterone, Lose the Gut and Pump Up Strength and Stamina, Naturally,”  told Cult of Mac.  As a physician who specializes in fitness, La Puma says losing the tracker is the most common mistake he sees. “They fall into the oven, come off while
running, or stay on a previous pair of pants,” he says.

The other speed bump on the way to tracking your health? Not taking advantage of wireless syncing. “Getting your numbers delivered to you is another way of getting a nudge to succeed,” La Puma says.

Time After Time

Once you’re setup with a tracking system, give it some time. The initial glow of seeing your habits may wear off quickly once you see you’re logging in as many steps as a poodle with a hip replacement but eating like an Olympian power lifter.

“The key mistake people make is not using them consistently, says Jenn Mitchell, a trainer and the force behind comebackmomma.com. “The best way to track trends with eating, activity and sleep is to stick with it for at least a month. The use of these tools need to become a habit.”

Her favorites? Get started with My Fitness Pal, a free app for tracking food intake as well as activity with a large following and built-in community. “I find that clients who can make a connection with others really find success using at app like this.

If the time crunch is limiting your workouts, try Interval Timer by Deltaworks. “You can get a great cardio workout in as little as 15 minutes with a good interval program. I recommend compound movements that use multiple body parts like burpees for best result,” she adds.

Mitchell also suggests getting family and friends involved in a “friendly competition” as of keeping yourself on track.

Stop Fudging Your Calorie Counts

Tracking your calories is a good way to keep your intake in line with your goals, but there are a few costly pitfalls you can take. Not all apps are created equal, says personal trainer Julian Hayes II who runs 206fitness.

“Some common mistakes people make with fitness apps is underestimating how much food they are eating when it comes to food tracking apps such as myfitnesspal.com and loseit.com,” Hayes says. “When this happens, they throw off their calorie numbers and, in turn, overeat for the day.”

Hayes recommends Fitbit, because in addition to accurate food tracking clients also can also monitor sleep quality – which may explain some of those late-afternoon sugar attacks. If you’re working with a trainer, Fitbit also helps them keep an eye on what you’re eating to bolster accountability. Going solo? Try social fitness network Fitocracy, he says, where you get virtual cheer leading from the community.

Don’t Keep It To Yourself

It may feel better to keep your 15-minute mile to yourself, especially in early days as you slouch from couch to 5K. While you may never want to broadcast your risible fitness levels to the world, be smart and sharing them with someone who will support your goals.

“People sometimes keep their numbers to themselves: they don’t have to go up on Facebook or Instagram, but they do need to be shared with someone who can help you evaluate and improve them,” says physician La Puma.

Take The Old To the New

CC-licensed, thanks ToddMorris on Flickr.
CC-licensed, thanks ToddMorris on Flickr.

If your habits are already on track, don’t bore yourself out of a good thing. Runners, especially, are prone to getting into a groove that quickly becomes a rut. New shoes, a new route and new training can help break things up.

“It’s easy to get bored of the same old scenery if you run the same loop every time you go for a run. Varying your running route keeps things interesting, motivating and challenging,” says personal trainer Justin Hepner.  Hepner also advocates buying some new kicks to start the year off right, “a new pair of running shoes is an invitation to run. Seeing them will remind you of your resolution. It’s an investment in your fitness.”

And mix it up, he adds, if you don’t have variety in your routine, it’s a non-starter in the long run. “Try mixing in some interval training or pace training. Add some weight or strength training and/or some stretching or yoga. It will make you a better runner.”

Overtrack at Your Own Risk

Many of the experts Cult of Mac polled said that tracking is good, but over tracking is risky. It can quickly spiral into focusing on the wrong things or over focusing on some unobtainable ideal.

“One of the potential hazards that really scares me is when people are influenced to change their original vision of success in unhealthy ways because of the limits of the technology being used,” says Rucker of Club One Fitness.

Rucker recalls working on a biometric tracking case study where an experience athlete started “obsessing” over weight when given a wireless scale.

“Also, many of the algorithms in activity tracking technology are initially standardized for general populations,” he notes. “People who begin self-experimentation need to remember they’re an n of 1 and should be wary of general baselines and instead create their own baselines calibrated to the technology they’re using.”