Smartphone: Fitness Friend or Foe?

In Coaching by Dale HillLeave a Comment

There’s an App

For That!


There's An App For That


Freedom or Not?

Smartphones are an essential fixture in many of our daily lives. bringing the world to the palm of our hand with a tap or swipe, it’s hard to imagine our lives before Smartphones. The progression of mobile phone technology over the years has both given us a great deal more freedom and accessibility while simultaneously tethering us to the device.

On the communication front, the advances in technology and immediate access to the myriad of social networks “anytime, anywhere” makes simple text messaging look like ancient technology. The phrase “There’s an App for That!” has quickly replaced “Can you hear me now?” and the smartphone has become the preferred entertainment device for many people. Actively participating in social networks, texting, playing games, watching movies or TV programs has a lot of people spending their days in constant neck flexion staring at their phones. From a structural perspective, this can wreak havoc with our kinetic chain and we should be mindful of proper stretching techniques to counteract this activity.

Smartphone usage and sustained neck flexion

Smartphone usage and sustained neck flexion

Is Your Smartphone Making you Fat?

Researchers at Kent State University recently set out to answer this very question; specifically looking at the relationship between cell phone use, physical and sedentary activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness in a sample of U.S. college students (note 1)

No surprise, they found that cell phone use can disrupt leisure time physical activity and promote sedentary behaviors among high frequency users. Additionally they noted that those users were more likely to forgo opportunities for physically active pursuits in order to use their cell phones for more-sedentary activities such as using Facebook, Twitter, video games, apps, and surfing the internet. Study author Andrew Lepp, PhD observed that since “cell phones fit in our pockets and purses and are with us wherever we go, they provide an ever-present invitation to ‘sit and play’.”

It’s easy to see how cell phone usage can impact your day-to-day; on the low end of the scale Low Frequency users self reported on average 90 minutes of cell phone usage a day while at the other end of the spectrum, High Frequency users reported over 14 hours a day of cell phone use! One high frequency users gave her spin on it:

“Now that I have switched to the iPhone I would say it definitely decreases my physical activity because before I just had a Blackberry so I didn’t have much stuff on it but now if I’m bored I can just download whatever I want and just sit there and play. I really cannot get bored using it. Before I would always get bored and I would have to find something else to do and that would involve like going somewhere or playing sports or doing something.”

and another noted:

“It decreases physical activity because, for instance, the other day, one of my friends called me during my work out, and like, I haven’t talked to her in a while and I had to tell her a lot of stuff. So it kind of distracted me from my work out.”

The Right Tool for the Right Job at the Right Time

But wait! With all the Apps available to track fitness, nutrition, health information, etc – isn’t the smartphone a useful tool in managing our fitness and helping us stay on track? Absolutely! It can be an extremely useful tool, but just as everything else – when it fulfills a specific need and is used in moderation.

Never before have we had so many tools available at our fingertips, to help us stay accountable on our fitness journey. As a Personal Trainer and Coach, I recommend many of these to my clients – really no different than maintaining a pen & paper food journal or manually logging your workout’s Sets/Reps/Weights – the information provided by these fitness apps can be invaluable in tracking your progress. Social Media accountability groups are huge in keeping people engaged and on task, as a matter of fact this element is a key component of the Beachbody Challenge.

However there is a time and a place for everything. Avoid the tendency to use your smartphone while you are actively working out unless it is to record completed activities or you’re following a guided workout program.

Texting, playing games, surfing the web while you are working on a cardio machine (treadmill, stair climber, elliptical, stationary bike, etc) can distract you from the activity and could result in injury. Remember, it’s difficult to achieve maximum effort when your attention is focused on your smartphone.

If you’re in the gym, you’re there to workout – extended phone conversations, chat sessions and web browsing will not only disrupt the flow of your workout, but could impact others if you’re tying up equipment that they could be using.

The Bottom Line

Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives and provide access to a wide range of tools and information that can assist us in our fitness journey. Choose your tools and Apps wisely to get the most benefit for your specific goals. Remember to take time and look up from your phone, while it is an amazing device, life is happening all around you. Find a healthy balance with the technology and don’t become a slave to it.


Note 1International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:79 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-79; The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:; Andrew Lepp, PhD, College of Education, Health and Human Services, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242-000, USA