The Best Fitness Apps for 2020

For those who struggle to follow through on their exercise routines, using an app could well help them along the way.

In this series of articles, we take a deeper dive into the different types of apps there are in the hope users come out on top.

First up:  30 day body weight challenge apps

These apps encourage users to do a certain amount of exercises like pushups, squats, sit-ups, or something similar using primarily their own bodyweight, for 30 days.

They may have names like ‘6 pack in 30 days’ and ’30 days to a better butt’.

Example challenges may require users to do 25 pushups a day, doing an ever-increasing number of a squats a day, or doing a different ab exercise each day for the month.

The non app version of these challenges often appear on Facebook as a picture of a calendar month with an exercise written on to every page.

Pros:

  • Often free or very cheap.
  • No or very little equipment required.
  • Tasks can generally be done anywhere.
  • Don’t have to think about what your workout routine is each day for a whole month.
  • These apps are usually super easy to understand and use.   Users know what they need to do and they know if they’ve succeeded.
  • Before starting the programme, the exercises and time frame look to be enough of a stretch so as to be challenging but not so much of a stretch as to be impossible.
  • Virtual rewards like badges and points provide external, visual, shareable sign of achievement.
  • Sometimes there are online social structures encouraging accountability, like leaderboards, Facebook pages, which can help people to feel part of a group and to stick with the challenge.
  • Some come with music, voices, pictures to help it be more engaging.
  • Users who do the required exercise everyday feel good and gain momentum to keep going.

Cons:  

  • Missing a day means failure. These apps usually require the user to do a daily task so if they miss a day they may stop completely on the basis that there is no longer any chance of ‘success’.
  • It’s easy to cheat. Example: On a busy day a user ticks off that they have completed their 25 pushups, when they haven’t. While fully intending on making up for it the next day, that doesn’t happen.  Next week they find themselves  doing it again.  This means two things.  They won’t feel deserving of any reward for completing the challenge, inclusive of self praise. And knowing they can cheat now means they know others can too, which means all virtual rewards and leaderboards are now irrelevant i.e. the pieces in the jigsaw helping to keep them on track are no longer there.
  • Often designed by app developers, not exercise professionals. Among other things, this means exercises could be wrong, outdated and dangerous. A classic example would be the 30 day ab challenges – designed to develop a strong core and a six pack, doing 100 situps a day, type programme.  Yep, exercise professionals give that out all the time….not ever. Developers can now buy stock images and videos and slot them in, so don’t be fooled by the fit looking people and also don’t be surprised if you see ‘lunges’ followed by a picture of someone doing squats.
  • Not great for beginners. For reasons just described, these simple apps are unlikely to be suitable for beginners.
  • Not individualized. Even if an app is designed by exercise professionals and/or asks for a user’s goals and health markers, these types of apps don’t know how to effectively incorporate that info into their stock standard programmes.  They also can’t take into account a user’s technique, which is pretty crucial to the dishing out of something like hundreds of push-ups, squats, burpees, sit-ups etc.  Over time assessments and pre-screens will get better, especially in the more pricey apps,  and that may trickle down into these free/cheap apps… maybe, but at the moment saying that they take personal goals/data into account may well give users a false sense of an app being appropriate for them when it isn’t.
  • Lack of feedback: Informational feedback not only adds to safety and effectiveness it is what motivates us and these types of apps are currently devoid of those.  Can an app say “your left side is holding strong but the right side is dropping, can you lift your right side up an inch?  That’s it.  Feel the difference? That adjustment will save your shoulder from injury. Your form is getting better and better. Great work.” Yeah. Nah. Apps can’t do that yet. In the future more apps will be able to give you personalized tips on form, but that’s only if exercise professionals are at the other end of it or have been involved in the design. At the moment exercise professionals use programmes like Coaches Eye to do this. Very clever, but very manual.
  • Free or very cheap.  This also means the app is easy to ignore. If you’ve paid for something you may be more likely to use it.  If it’s free it also means the app’s income is likely coming from advertising,  funneling you in to a paid for version, selling your data,  or carrying viruses with them to hack into your phone i.e. bust into your bank accounts, turn your camera on etc.   Are some of those things illegal?  Yes.  But some also happen because the owner of an app is neither a developer or a fitness professional.  They have purchased it to make dosh and have no way of knowing how to keep it bug free!
  • No equipment, you can do anywhere and by yourself. It all sounds very positive but unless we’re in lockdown or highly self motivated these features probably won’t work in your favour. For many, that high level of  flexibility means it’s easier to put your workout off for a another time, another day, another year.

Who are these apps ideal for

While the apps are marketed primarily at beginners to exercise they are probably best for people at the other end of the spectrum:-

  • People who are self motivated but love not thinking about what their exercise routine is for the day/month, and
  • People who have a good grounding in exercise and know the difference between being uncomfortable and over-exertion, DOMs and an injury etc., as well as how to do the exercises correctly and effectively for their body, health status and goals.

What to look for in the 30 day body-weight challenge apps.

Know people who are keen to use these 30 day apps even if they are not an ideal candidate?  Want to roll them out at your workplace as this month’s ‘Healthy Challenge’?

Here’s a list of what to look for and how to incorporate them to help their users come out a winner.

  • Look for apps that have been developed in conjunction with a registered, exercise professional or exercise physiologist.  Don’t be fooled by endorsements by celebrities or by stock images of fit people.
  • Choose apps that are updated regularly (in last month) to help ensure it is ‘bug’ free and won’t hack into your phone.
  • Choose apps with lots of downloads (30,000+) and with lots of positive reviews. Neither are full proof evidence of a good app or programme and both could be fake, but it is helping put the odds in your favour.
  • Look for apps that offer degrees of success for example: ‘Gold’ for doing 30/30 days of activities, ‘Silver’ for doing 25-29 days, ‘Bronze’ for nailing out 15 -24 days, that way if users miss a day or three they won’t be as likely to stop altogether.
  • If people have never had any personal fitness coaching/training around exercises then have a live, local, face to face session with a personal trainer/exercise professional/gym instructor to look over the app programme and adjust the exercises and programme for each user. It may add to the cost in the short term, but think of it as a great investment which will put you/them in good stead for all future exercise programmes.
  • Generally, most professionals would advise against doing the same strength training/resistance exercises every day for 30 days. Shoot for workouts where the activity is different each day (i.e. uses different muscles) and includes rest days, (important physiologically and psychologically) and/or is interspersed with cardiovascular routines in between body-weight training days.
  • To ensure everyone see the challenge through, look for layers in the app (or add them in yourself) that keep users accountable. An app requiring you to post a video of you doing the exercise  each day or having to do it with other app users, your workplace staff, at a certain time every day etc., would all be examples of strong layers.
  • If you’ve picked up a free version and the adverts in it are so annoying you don’t use it, or it denies you so many important features of their premium version that you don’t use it, then step up and get the paid version.
  • Workplaces specifically: If you are going to go for these 30 day simple apps and challenges, use cardio based ones (think: walk, cycle, swim) as they will likely be safer for more people and/or have a registered exercise professional provide some additional guidance and motivation.

Finally, if you stop using these types of apps and/or don’ get the results you want, don’t blame yourself.  Saying “if only I used it”, “if only I was more motivated”, does not make not using it your fault.  I know that sounds kind of crazy, but like much of the infomercial Ab King Pro type stuff, they are not built with with all the ingredients they need to be a success and it may well not have even been a priority for them.  Take it as sign not to give up on getting fit but to move on to something different.

The future

In the future there is likely to be more accessible/cheap ways to record your bodyweight training efforts (like how Strava, Apple etc., can record how far and fast we run and cycle).  They exist now with the likes of Circuband, are incorporated into gym equipment and to some extent in other types of apps and programmes. This extra layer can go along way to keep us accountable, giving feedback about form, adjusting to suit our energy levels, health etc., and reward the efforts of the users in a way where everyone can be assured no one is cheating and is therefore more motivational.

Personal trainers and apps?

Personal trainers are the perfect addition to apps like this because they can give people individual guidance around the exercises in them. This means their clients will be safe and far more likely to achieve their goals.

Saying all that, there are definitely positives to take away from these apps which make them so attractive to many personality types and which could be incorporated into your own challenges.  The clarity they offer, set time period, simple instructions, etc., may work well for busy ‘Ds’ (if you are in to DISC profiling) providing of course they also got the results the challenge promised.  For an ‘I’ you may want to layer in options to get social and have a choice of different exercises each day. I could go on, but if DISC is your thing, you’ll get the picture.

So while I wouldn’t be thinking these apps are the best fitness apps for 2020 or recommending them to clients I would certainly work with them.  I think they serve to open a door for us to reveal our expertise and it may even be valuable to post one of those Facebook ’30 days to a better butt’ pics on our own Facebook page and then openly comment how we would adjust each exercise, the reps etc.

Apps are however getting cleverer and there are certainly already some better ones out there that this genre I’ve mentioned.  It’s an area well worth keeping an eye on as they start to more and more help us to get greater success with our clients.

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