Networked Fitness and the Quantified Self

By Brenda Bethman

Recently, Owen Thomas at ReadWriteWeb embarked on a four-month experiment in networked fitness and the quantified self. Using a treadmill desk, fitness gadgets and apps, he’s tracking his data to see if he can meet his fitness goals and blogging about the results (see here for the posts to date). Coincidentally, I also started a new fitness program on the same date (August 1) as Thomas’ first post appeared — and being a good geek girl, I am also using an array of gadgets and apps to track my progress (and of course also blogging about it — if you have any interest, you can follow my posts here).

Thomas points out that one of the frustrating aspects related to the #quantifiedself movement is the lack of a monopoly — with so many apps, gadgets, websites, etc. — none of which track the same items — it can be overwhelming to try to figure out which tools are the best for you. In this post, I thought I’d share my setup in the hopes that it’s useful. It’s a tad complicated and probably not for everyone, but individual apps and gadgets can also be useful.IMG_1275

Here’s the list of what I use and what’s connected to what:

  • Fitbit One: The Fitbit is the gadget/app/website I use the most — it’s on me 24/7 unless I’m in water. The Fitbit tracks steps, calories burned, distance, active minutes, floors, and your sleep. It will also track non step-based activity (you have to add it manually or sync from another service) and food (although many Fitbit users track their food elsewhere as their database is lacking in areas). One of the things I like about it is that it gives you a good idea of just how active (or sedentary as the case may be) you are — combine that the game aspect of earning badges and suddenly I am talking an extra spin around the block to meet my steps goal for the day. I’ve found it motivates me to keep me active throughout the day instead of just while at the gym. I use the website and the iPhone app for syncing with the One — and have the Fitbit set up to sync with both MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper accounts (although the latter is only one way syncing with the Fitbit data flowing to Runkeeper but not vice versa).
  • MyFitnessPal: MFP is a calorie-tracking website with companion apps. It has a huge number of users and just raised a ton of funding. There’s also a very active user community that shares fitness (and, alas, dieting) tips in forums. I use MFP to track what I eat (roughly anyway — I’m not too obsessive about it) and any non step-based exercise (like strength training, elliptical, etc.). That data is then fit to the Fitbit and the Fitbit data also flows back to MFP. Using them together, I’m able to gain a pretty good picture of what went in and out on a given day. MFP’s food database is HUGE (higher ed folks, they even have Sodexho stuff in there), and tracks nutrients as well as calories, which to me is the more important part.
  • RunKeeper: After a couple of years of using the Nike running app, I recently switched to RunKeeper because it also tracks walking (in theory it tracks strength training also if you sync with one of their partner apps, but I have yet to find a strength training app that I like, so I just enter that data into MFP). RunKeeper will map your walk and track your pace, distance, calories burned, etc. It works for both runners and walkers, and can track other exercises as well. The free version does some minimal reporting and the paid version will get you more detailed reports. I use RunKeeper to keep track of walking distances. While the Fitbit theoretically does that, I prefer RunKeeper.
  • GymPact: GymPact is a motivational app that pays you money for meeting your weekly workout goals and penalizes you by charging you money if you fail to meet them. The nice thing about GymPact is that you don’t have to be in a gym for it to count — you can use their “GymPact Anywhere” (currently iPhone only) or sync with RunKeeper to have outdoor or at home workouts count towards your Pact (this is handy if you have a weekend like the one we just had — it was far too beautiful to exercise inside). I decided to give it a go since I’m committed to training sessions and a class for the foreseeable future. Since I know I’ll be at the gym, I may as well make money from it.
  • EarndIt: Speaking of rewards, EarndIt is another motivational site (no apps yet) that allows you to earn rewards that can be redeemed for goods or to benefit charities. So that run you just took can help bring clean water to Haiti or health to Guatemala. Again, if you’re working out anyway, why not help someone else at the same time? I’ve set up my Fitbit to sync to EarndIt and my Foursquare gym checkins also earn me points.

Reading that, I think “damn, that’s a complicated system!” and it is true that it took me some time to get things set up to work in a way that I like — and that, because of the fragmentation Thomas writes about, I am forced to rely on a system of syncing several apps in order to get a full picture. So far, however, it’s working for me and I definitely recommend any of these apps/gadgets/sites if you’re looking for ways to track your fitness efforts.

What other recommendations for apps/websites/gadgets do you have? Which (if any) do you use?

Networked Fitness and the Quantified Self

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