Getting Started with Fitness Tracking
When you're trying to lose weight or get in shape, the hardest part is waiting for results. As humans, particularly in our age of instant reward, we are used to getting results fast. We want to watch those pounds melt away. We want to know we've improved our health.
I am a sucker for data. I like to see pounds dropped on the scale, and I want to see an improved heart rate. Some may be more visual, and want to see their body changing over time. Or maybe you want a visual representation of your nutrition. Whatever your need in terms of feedback from your fitness, if you have a smartphone, odds are there is an app out there that can help suit your needs.
These are some of my favorites as far as getting started.
Calorie, Activity and Weight Tracking
There are two tools I would recommend for this, and both have their strengths. Both have an app as well as desktop version, so you can log your information on the go or from the office. You can also log your exercise into either one, to keep an idea of how many calories you burn as well as intake.
Calorie Count is admittedly a little clunky as far as its look and feel compared to My Fitness Pal, however it makes up for it with impressive visual nutrition tracking that can really help point out where your diet is lacking and where you are overdoing it.
As an example, I was eating a pretty "healthy" diet at one point at least upon first glance. Super lean protein, low carb, well balanced... aside from one thing that I never would have caught without calorie count.
Not only was I not getting enough potassium, I was not getting enough potassium by a lot. As one of the nutrients associated with cognitive performance, this was alarming.
These are the kinds of insights you can get about your calories and diet through Calorie Count, so I would say if your focus is not just calories and weight, but nutrition, this app is right for you.
My Fitness Pal
My Fitness Pal is similar, but lacks the deep nutrition tracking. It does have strengths though in that it can also track your hydration if you have trouble keeping up with your water intake, and it is also a lot cleaner as far as the user interface, incorporating some social aspects that might encourage those who thrive on the support of their community.
This one is easy, I like Instant Heart Rate by Argus/Azumio. You can link it to your Apple Health app if you have an iPhone, it takes your beats per minute via your phone's lens and flash, and allows you to tag your rates so you know your resting heart rate, working out heart rate, and more.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you that to lose weight effectively or otherwise become fit, you need to sleep well. The same folks who made the last app make Sleep Time, an alarm clock and sleep tracker that will attempt to wake you at the time you are most ready to be awoken (between REM cycles, not during).
Set it before bed, go to sleep with the phone somewhere on the bed, and like magic in the morning you will get a chart of your sleep cycles. Use your newfound information to improve. As a bonus, if you got the Heart Rate app, Sleep Time will request you take your morning heart rate to get an idea of your health long-term
If you're in the "I'm getting healthy so I look good naked" crowd, or just plain want to see the fat melt off and pounds pack on while you get in shape, there is a simple little app called EveryDay that reminds you to take a picture every day at the same time, and help you line up your previous day, so that in the end you get a stop motion video of your progress over time.
Very cool for those who don't really want the info but do want to see the positive changes they are making.
These are a great handful of apps to get you started with tracking your physical improvement, but if you are hoping to dive deeper there are plenty of great ways to make a jump up in terms of tracking. FitBit, Nike, and even the Apple Watch can track your activity with even less input from the user, so you can get more hands-off with your tracking.
Once you have the data you want, you can now pinpoint where to improve. Keep up the tracking, and you'll maintain a strong idea of how much you are improving, as well as being aware of holes in your practice!