Bonnie Cha

Fitness Apps Turn Your iPhone Into a Personal Trainer

I’m participating in my first sprint triathlon in October, and I’m starting to freak out. I run and bike regularly, but I’m nowhere near ready for the race, and upper-arm strength is a particular weakness. I need help finding the proper exercises and learning correct form, but I can’t afford to hire a personal trainer. Luckily, a smartphone and the right app can step in as a budget-friendly alternative.

This week, I tested two personal-trainer apps for the iPhone: Fitness Buddy by SkyHealth, and iFitness Pro by Health Xperts. Both cost 99 cents (Fitness Buddy also offers a free version with fewer features and an Android app) and include a large catalog of exercises, training logs and more.

For serious fitness buffs or people who are already on a weight-training program, Fitness Buddy is the better choice, as it offers a more comprehensive library of exercises and specialized workouts. IFitness Pro’s list of exercises isn’t quite as extensive, but if you’re a beginner like me, there’s more than enough to get you started, and the addition of a calorie tracker is a nice touch.

I used both Fitness Buddy and iFitness Pro at the gym and at home. I would recommend taking the time to review each app before you hit the gym so you can select the right program or create your own custom workout. This is because the paid version of Fitness Buddy contains more than 1,700 exercises (the free version has around 300), and sorting through them is an overwhelming task.

The app categorizes exercises by muscle group, such as lower body, shoulders, chest and arms, and also includes sections for cardio and stretches. Each subcategory features an alphabetical list of various moves, and once you select an exercise, you are given step-by-step instructions, along with pictures and video.

Since I’m a novice, I found it easier to go with one of the preloaded workouts rather than create my own from the list of various exercises. Fitness Buddy offers a number of programs built around different fitness levels, equipment, goals and sports. For example, the app includes programs for weight loss and kettlebell workouts. In the end, I chose the “Female Oriented” workouts, focusing on various muscle groups three days a week.

It took a while to get a rhythm going, since I had to stop and read the instructions for each maneuver. But by having this prebuilt routine, I felt more confident knowing that I was doing the right exercises to achieve my goals.

For each activity, you can record weight and number of reps or sets, and the app will chart your progress. There are also tools for logging and tracking your weight, body metrics and blood pressure. The ability to create a music playlist from within the app is a nice touch, too.

There are several things I didn’t like about Fitness Buddy. First, the programs tailored around sports conditioning are limited to just football, baseball, basketball, hockey and tennis. I wish it had more general categories like running and swimming, as well.

The user interface could also be better. There are icons located at the top of each page, but it’s not immediately clear what they do. Finally, it bothered me that all the female-focused workouts featured male models.

IFitness Pro operates much in the same way as Fitness Buddy but has a smaller selection of exercises. You still get more than 300 activities — plenty for the casual gym-goer, but maybe not diverse enough for more advanced individuals. You can choose from a list of exercises categorized by muscle group, or choose from 22 predesigned programs.

The Body Toning for Women workout, which features female models, concentrates more on strengthening the core and lower back, and doesn’t really address the upper body, which was disappointing. Fortunately, iFitness Pro has a sports-conditioning program for swimming — something I need to focus on for my upcoming triathlon — that includes upper-body workouts. The app also includes training programs for running, soccer and golf, in addition to the sports listed for Fitness Buddy.

For individual exercises, you get written step-by-step instructions, photos and video help, but I had a slight preference for Fitness Buddy’s layout. The latter provides instructions and photos on the same page, whereas iFitness Pro separates the two. I felt that having the written description and visual aid together made it easier for me to learn the moves and make sure I had correct form.

That said, I liked iFitness Pro’s user interface better, overall. It’s clear what each icon does, even without a text description: A pen icon lets you record your workout; the TV icon leads to video. I also thought the app had a more modern look and feel that made it more pleasurable to use, and it offers settings for backing up and syncing your data to the cloud (either through Apple’s iCloud service or the app’s own service). It also lets you add other user profiles.

One other advantage of iFitness Pro is its calorie counter. You can log and keep track of all your meals and snacks, choosing from 90,000 food items. Preloaded entries include brand-name products and fast-food items, such as McDonald’s and General Mills, but if you don’t see an item, you can add it yourself. Keeping track of my caloric intake can help with meeting weight-loss goals. It certainly was an eye-opener for me. Though I try to eat healthy, I saw how all my snacks and juice intake added up.

With such tools, a user-friendly interface and a more manageable exercise list, I think iFitness Pro is the better personal-trainer app for those who are just starting on their fitness goals, whether it be to lose weight or tone up. If you’re already on a program, Fitness Buddy is a great resource for taking it to the next level.


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