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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Study Spotlight: Are Fitness Apps Leading Us Astray?

The incorporation of technology into the fitness world may be a blessing and a curse. On the one side, Apps like MyFitnessPal and Supertracker have made it incredibly easy to monitor calorie intake and overall daily energy balance. In addition, FitBits and Garmins are taking over the world in terms of activity monitoring and have development social arenas for challenging fiends and family to movement battles. But are these Apps providing us with accurate information? Are they able to provide evidence based recommendations for exercise programs? Recently researchers designed a study to find out.

What did they do?
Researchers compared 30 mobile fitness coaching Apps to guidelines put forth by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for sound principles of exercise prescription by using the following strategy:

 "A weighted scoring method based on the recommendations of the ACSM was developed to generate subscores for quality of programming content for aerobic (0-6 scale), resistance (0-6 scale), and flexibility (0-2 scale) components using the frequency, intensity, time, and type (FITT) principle. An overall score (0-14 scale) was generated from the subscores to represent the overall quality of a fitness coaching app."

What did they find?
The results are very surprising.  Only 3 apps scored above 50% on the endurance component, while 4 scored above 50% on the resistance/strength component and no app scored above 50% on the flexibility component.  As a measure of its overall quality only 1 app had an overall score (64.3%) above 50%


Take Home Message
So what information can you take away from this study? You may want to exercise caution (see what I did there?) when looking to mobile apps for advice on exercise programming. Sure they point you in the right direction or give you a generic template for a workout plan but that's all it will be is generic. Mobile apps have limitations and this stems from their inability to create individualized programs based on YOUR needs, YOUR fitness level, YOUR availability, YOUR injury history, YOUR equipment availability....you get the point.  Sure you can just head over to a commercial fitness center, open up your smart phone and follow whatever program that pops up, hoping you are completing the movements properly and progressing appropriately, But that's like walking into a gourmet kitchen expecting to create an elaborate 5 course meal because you have your iphone out and you watch a lot of Rachel Ray's 30 minute meals.

So don't be afraid to see out the advice of a QUALIFIED personal trainer or fitness professional to benefit from their educational background, knowledge, experience and expertise when it comes to exercise programming as mobile apps may not be as great as advertised.

Reference:
Modave, F., Bian, J., Leavitt, T., Bromwell, J., Harris III, C., & Vincent, H. (2015). Low Quality of Free Coaching Apps With Respect to the American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines: A Review of Current Mobile Apps. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 3(3), e77.
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