- Fitness apps can offer inappropriate, one-size-fits-all advice, potentially increasing the risk of injury
- Privacy concerns arise from location sharing and weak default security options in fitness apps
- Fitness apps may not provide long-term motivation and can even cause negative behaviors in some users
Today, more than ever, people are getting active. Not only are we moving more, but we’re also tracking and recording those activities as though someone is grading us. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Staying active is a great way to ensure a long and healthy life. However, relying on fitness apps while you’re active may have a negative effect and can even hinder your progress. Some issues with fitness apps include offering inappropriate and one-size-fits-all advice, presenting privacy concerns, and possibly increasing your risk of injury. This article will explore the top six reasons to avoid a new fitness app today and your alternatives to those apps.
A Brief History of Fitness Apps
The first fitness app, aptly named Fit Phone, is long gone from any app store. However, its successors, from Strava to MyFitnessPal, are continuing to help people reach their fitness goals. And, while Fit Phone must have been a crude rendition of what we have now, it did help spark the fitness app era we see today. Certainly, today’s fitness apps offer it all, tracking everything from Yoga poses to micronutrients to lap swims. It’s truly astounding that we have the technology to have a training coach at the touch of a button.
However, fitness apps aren’t without their downfalls.
Avoiding Fitness Apps Today
For some people, fitness apps work well for their weight loss and overall health goals. But they also aren’t perfect and can present their own issues.
The top six reasons to avoid fitness apps are:
Fitness Apps Offer Inappropriate Advice
One of the biggest reasons to avoid a new fitness app is to prevent the inappropriate fitness advice that some give. Not every workout is going to work for everyone, yet some apps make fitness goals a one size fits all deal. For example, a running app like Strava has training plans for both cycling and running. Looking at just the running plan, you can choose a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or full marathon plan. For this example, we’ll say your goal is to run a marathon.
When you look at the marathon training plan in Strava, the first week has you running 40 to 50 minutes for the first few days, with a long run of an hour to an hour and a half. While it’s nice that they use time instead of miles, jumping into a training plan like this will set you up for injury if you’re not careful. Let’s say you’re new to running. If you’re new to running, you may not understand the idea behind base-building to avoid injury. This is how training plans, like those Strava offers, can cause issues. Base building means that you gradually increase your running every week so that when you start training intensely, your body is already used to running for some distance. But Strava and other apps don’t always account for a base building time.
It’s unfortunate that some apps don’t explain the process it takes to get your body ready for something as intense as running a marathon. Even the Strava 5k plan starts you out with an hour to an hour and a half long run in the first week. That’s a lot for many people.
Apps Cause Privacy Concerns
Some fitness apps have a feature allowing users to track their runs using GPS. Usually, it’s a fun experience seeing your route after an exercise session and sharing your achievements with friends and family. However, once you add the social element, you now run into the issue of people you don’t know following your activities.
Typically, people will bike and run near where they live and use a fitness app to track that activity. However, if you map your route and allow it to be public, it may become easier for a random person to find your address. Additionally, if you take the same path and go hiking, cycling, or running at the same time every day, anyone can learn your habits and know where you’ll be and when you’ll be there. Thus, tracking you effortlessly through your fitness app. People may also learn when you’re not home, possibly opening your house to thieves.
Location sharing isn’t the only way your privacy can be compromised. In 2018, Under Armour earned the distinct honor of being the victim of one of the largest hacks in history when someone hacked their fitness app, MyFitnessPal. As a result, over 150 million people now have compromised sensitive data. The hackers gained information about their names, email addresses, usernames, and passwords.
Another security issue with fitness apps is that most only require a simple privacy setup. Most fitness apps do not present the option or require two-factor or biometric authentication login credentials. Essentially, apps have weak default security options. And inadequate security means you are more vulnerable to hackers and scammers.
To help protect yourself while using fitness apps, try using a fake username or registering your account with an email address you use only for fitness app accounts. You can also enable biometric authentication on your phone, making it harder for someone to get to your app.
No Personalized Technique Teaching With Fitness Apps
When you attend a fitness class, you get the benefit of learning from a professional. Someone there can show you the proper way to lift heavy weights or perform a downward dog. You’ll learn in a way that is not only the most effective but also the best way to avoid injury. But, unfortunately, when depending on a fitness app, there’s no one around to give you feedback on your form or let you know when you’re doing exercises correctly or incorrectly. Also, unfortunately, not all apps include pictures of the exercise for you to refer to.
All Calories Are Not Created Equal in Fitness Apps
If you use a fitness app that tracks your calories, you may have already noticed that they count all calories as the same. For example, while monitoring your food, let’s say you enter that you ate five walnuts. Well, suddenly, you’ve already had the majority of your fat intake for the day. While yes, you should limit your fat intake, fat from nuts affects and fuels our bodies differently than fat from butter, a large piece of cake, or a can of soda. While you may want to avoid nuts if you’re trying to lose weight, they shouldn’t be seen as a detriment to your healthy eating goals.
In addition, sometimes you just have to accept that your calorie counters are only estimates. We say they’re estimates because not every food item you eat is going to be in the app’s database. For example, you may love a specific type of sourdough bread. That sourdough bread may be from a mom-and-pop shop, and it’s not really possible to do more than guess the number of calories, carbs, and other nutrients each slice of that bread has. All you can do is enter that you ate a piece of sourdough and estimate your calorie and carb intake.
Some Apps Don’t Offer Long Term Motivation
A lot of fitness apps lure users in with fun gamification features. For example, some apps reward you with badges for tracking a certain number of activities or miles in a particular month. Additionally, you can earn badges for things like gaining a certain amount of elevation, lifting specific amounts of weight, and making your step goal for 30 days in a row. But is this the best way to keep people interested? Sadly, a lot of people feel that while this type of gamification can be fun initially, it’s not the long-standing motivation needed for the long haul.
Another way fitness apps try to keep you motivated is by sending you workout reminders. But, unfortunately, these reminders are just like any other notification on your phone, easily ignorable and even easier to turn off altogether.
Some Fitness Apps Can Cause Negative Behaviors
While researching the pitfalls of fitness apps, we found some disturbing information. We found that while fitness apps can help you feel great, sometimes they can also have detrimental adverse effects. For example, a study published on the National Library of Medicine website found that some people can develop negative behaviors while using fitness apps.
From the study:
Our findings indicate a wide range of concerns around the wider impact of healthy eating and fitness apps on individuals at risk of maladaptive eating and exercise behavior, including (1) guilt formation because of the nature of persuasive models, (2) social isolation as a result of personal regimens around diet and fitness goals, (3) fear of receiving negative responses when targets are not achieved, and (4) feelings of being controlled by the app.Honary M, Bell BT, Clinch S, Wild SE, McNaney R. Understanding the Role of Healthy Eating and Fitness Mobile Apps in the Formation of Maladaptive Eating and Exercise Behaviors in Young People. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Jun 18;7(6):e14239. doi: 10.2196/14239. PMID: 31215514; PMCID: PMC6604512.
The study further states that while fitness apps can and do encourage constant logging and a habitual cycle, that cycle can have serious side effects around guilt and negative response.
Fitness App Alternatives
Because there are plenty of reasons to avoid a fitness app today, it’s helpful to look at alternatives. You can choose to sport a smartwatch or use a smartphone fitness tracker or even a health app. Additionally, you can still opt to use a fitness app, but combine it with your smartwatch. Using both should give you well-rounded insights.
Smartwatches are different from fitness apps. They give you a general idea of stats like daily steps and heart rate without all the additional distractions some apps feature.
The Best Smartwatch for Daily Use: Fitbit Charge 5 With GPS
- Daily readiness and stress management score
- Health Metrics dashboard, track SpO2, heart rate variability, skin temperature variation
- Built-in GPS
- 24/7 heart rate tracking and Active Zone Minutes
The Fitbit Charge 5 is an excellent alternative if you’re trying to avoid fitness apps. You can track your activities using the watch’s GPS, heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygen level stats. The Fitbit also helps you feel better mentally by offering insights into your sleep and mindfulness patterns.
The Best Smartwatch for Every Sport: Garmin Forerunner 255
- Battery: 14 days or 30 hrs (GPS mode)
- Features a comfortable silicone band
- Includes personalized training tips and workout metrics
- Able to download as many as 500 songs to play while you work out.
The Garmin Forerunner 255 with GPS is an excellent choice for any swimmer, cyclist, runner, strength trainer, or other sports enthusiast. The watch also tracks your health, vitals, and sleep patterns and even supports long-term training efforts.
If you’re looking for a great smartwatch as an alternative to a fitness app, either the Fitbit, Garmin, or other brands of smartwatches can help you reach your goals. Both brands offer a variety of watches with various capabilities, all at prices ranging from around 100 USD to well over 500 USD.
Health Related Apps
If you’re weary about downloading a new fitness app, consider a decent alternative, a health app. Conveniently, you may already have the Apple Health app installed if you have an iPhone. This app tracks your steps and sleep patterns, and gives you insights into your heart rate during and after exercising. You can sync additional apps to track things like mindfulness minutes too.
If you have an Android phone, you may already have Google Fit. Google Fit lets you set your goals, track your steps, and get recommendations on other activities to try. In addition, Google claims to partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Heart Association (AHA). This collaboration lets users track Heart Points, an activity goal meant to improve their overall health.
Whether or not you use a fitness app, smartwatch, or health app, it’s helpful to understand their pros and cons. Knowing both sides of the fitness app coin means that you’ll be better situated to make the right choice for you.
|Inappropriate Advice||One-size-fits-all approach may not suit everyone and can lead to injuries.|
|Privacy Concerns||Sharing location and personal data can lead to security risks.|
|No Personalized Technique Teaching||Apps may not provide feedback on form or correct exercise techniques.|
|All Calories Are Not Created Equal||Apps may not differentiate between healthy and unhealthy calories.|
|Lack of Long Term Motivation||Gamification features and reminders may not provide lasting motivation.|
|Negative Behaviors||Constant logging and tracking can lead to guilt and negative responses.|
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