How my iPhone personal trainer kicked my ass

I used to exercise by kayaking in the summers on the Charles River, but my toddler age kids make it difficult to find time to slip away. I only made it out twice this past season.

For many years I walked a couple of miles to work, but I have since switched jobs. Nowadays I have a half hour commute followed by a day spent sitting at my desk, sitting in meetings, and occasionally pacing while trying to puzzle out a problem. I might get 20 minutes of running around in the evening chasing the kids, but that’s about it. 

Now that I am in my mid-30’s, I really need to get more exercise. However, between kids and work, it’s hard to find something that fits with the rest of my life. About a month ago, I decided to give Nike Training Center a try. It’s a free application for the iPhone, and it is essentially a personal trainer in your pocket. I have to say, it is really an amazing program. You pick a type of exercise you are looking for (get lean, get strong, etc.), you specify your level (I’m a beginner), and then you are presented with a half dozen 30 or 45 minute workouts to choose from.

Once the workout starts, the phone runs you through a series’s of different exercises, each one lasting a minute or two. They are variety of stretches, lunges and other light exercises that work out various muscle groups As you go, a woman’s voice talks you through the exercise. She provides you helpful encouragement, marking the halfway point of each exercise or counting down those last few moments (“5…4…3…2…1!”). She even gives suggestions to avoid taking the easy way out (“keep your weight over your shoulders!”).

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The exercises themselves don’t require any special space or equipment. Each one has an optional 5-10 second video, and the screen shows you how much time you have remaining.

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I have to say, I was completely unprepared for how sore I felt after doing the beginning workout the first time. I knew I was out of shape, but I had no idea just how badly out of shape I was. In those 30 minutes, she managed to work every since muscle in my body, all without weights or equipment. It took days for my arms to stop hurting.

I had a hard time accepting that my phone kicked my ass. My wife did her best attempt to keep a straight face.

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I continued to do be sore after the first couple of times, but now my muscles have caught up. I still have a tough time doing the pushups segment, but otherwise I do okay. That probably means it’s time to switch to a harder workout. My goal has been to do two 30 minute workouts a week. I know that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is far better than doing nothing. While in the past it’s always been too easy for me to say that I don’t have time or a good activity, even I can’t say that I can’t find 30 minutes two times a week after the kids have gone to bed. So far, I have kept it up for four weeks going now.

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The app plays your music. Usually what I do is pick a song in my iTunes library and then hit the genius button to have my phone create a full playlist that matches the music. In theory, I could listen to podcasts, but the trainer cuts in every half minute or so to tell you what to do next, and she fades out the background music while she talks, which would make it difficult to follow to story.

One thing that is very clear to me is that I am not the application’s target demographic. There is the not-so-subtle hint that the pictures and videos of people demonstrating the exercises are women. But in case I had any doubt, I discovered that in the application settings that I could log in with a “Nike Women” account. C’mon, is it really necessary to be so blunt? 

Oh well, I have no shame. I need the exercise.

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