Confessions of a smartphone blogger: I don't use tech for exercise | webOS Nation

Confessions of a smartphone blogger: I don't use tech for exercise

by Derek Kessler Wed, 29 Feb 2012 3:40 pm EST

Confessions of a smartphone blogger: I don't use tech for exercise

When we were brewing up the idea of doing Mobile Nations Fitness Month at CES this year, I had some reservations. These weren't reservations about doing a fitness month - it seemed like a good idea then and looking back on February it still looks that way.

My hesitation was personal. As some of you might be aware, I'm a member of the Ohio Army National Guard, and as part of that job I have to maintain a minimum level of physical fitness, and through the past eight years I've worked to do so. I'll admit to some struggles in that department - I suffer from bouts of lazy and "I don't wanna", but by and large I've been able to stay in relatively good shape, at least well enough to pass an annual Army Physical Fitness Test.

There's just one thing: I learned how to exercise from the Army in basic training. I can count on one hand the encounters I had with technology during my nine weeks at Fort Knox during the summer of 2004: the pay phone to call my parents and girlfriend, the little CRT TV that we watched Apocalypse Now on for July 4th, the fancy but faulty nighttime rifle range simulator, and the stopwatch the Drill Sergeants used to time our runs. So I learned to exercise, to do pushups and situps and run two miles without the aid of technology. It was do push-ups until your arms turn to jelly, do sit-ups until you can get your shoulders off the ground, and run until you can't stand. There's no tech needed to do that, and no tech that can help with such a simple routine of "go until you can't go anymore, then do some more."

I was seventeen-years-old then, so while I found technology cool, the extent of my collection at that point was a Gateway laptop (chunky, as you would expect for 2004) and a Palm Tungsten T3 PDA (still one of my all-time favorite bits of technology). I still had a film camera (it took me until 2007 to make the jump to digital) and didn't get a cellphone until after basic training - a smartphone took another year after that. And while there were plenty of exercise-tracking technology bits in the mid-2000's, they were almost universally bulky, inaccurate, difficult to use, and of limited usefulness.

My body is not some lean, finely-tuned machine, but I am at least usually attuned to its state. I can tell when I've let myself get out of shape - that hill hasn't gotten any steeper, but it was certainly harder to climb today than a few months ago. And once I start working out again on a regular basis I can feel that I'm getting stronger and that my stamina has improved. I can tell that I'm running faster and easier through the run, and I don't need an app on my smartphone to tell me that. The only time and pace that matters to me is what I manage on the day I actually take off for that two mile run for the PT test. What I ran the day, week, or month before is meaningless - that I ran is important. It's like smartphone specs - they influence the performance of the operating system, but you can't necessarily compare one phone to another and expect the one with bigger numbers to perform better.

Over the past month I've taken a look at a number of webOS apps for fitness, including interval timers and run trackers. And while I could see how some of them could be useful (particularly the interval trainer), none really fit into my exercise routine and scheme.

Technology has influenced if not outright taken over many aspects of my life. I read recipes off a TouchPad when cooking, I'm awakened in the morning by the alarm of my Pre3, I'm guided to work sites by GPS, and I spend my days reading and writing the news on a combination of smartphones, tablets, and computers.

But when it comes to workouts I've become set into a routine where all that technology isn't used. I might put on the previous night's Conan recording when I'm doing my upper- and lower-body anerobic workout (push-ups, flutter kicks, crunches, etc), but that's more for noise and distraction than anything. My workouts don't involve weights or fancy shoes or heartrate monitors or GPS watches. The only equipment I have is an infrequently-used chin-up bar hanging from a beam in my basement.

Workouts for me are an opportunity to take a break from it all (thankfully, this being webOS, I'm unlikely to miss anything during an hour's workout). I leave the smartphone on my desk when I'm doing my pushups or situps or out on that run. Heck, I don't even wear headphones for music when running - it's partly for safety, but also it's a chance to disconnect and just enjoy my surroundings and being outside (for the record, I abhor treadmills).

Mobile Nations Fitness Month has shown me that even down-but-not-out platforms like webOS can have a good selection of useful apps for aiding and tracking workouts. If I were doing a more regimented interval training program, I might be using a timer like A1 Fit Interval Timer. And I can admit that having the data from JogStats is pretty cool, but I have little use for it - it's not going to make me run any faster, only running more and farther will do that.

Personally, I don't feel a pressing need to integrate technology into my workout. I'm happy with my fitness and progress without tracking my BMI or average run pace on a day-to-day basis. That level of information isn't useful to me, though for some it is.

Now, what I could use, is an app that tracks my movement through the day and nags me if I've been sitting still for too long or have failed to actually perform my daily workout. Until I get that or something equally proactive, I'm thinking that technology will stay firmly on the fringes of my exercise life. Sometimes you've just got to unplug, ya' know.