Can you get in shape with iPhone fitness apps?

My first attempt with RunKeeper involved several 'wow' moments. The app got a GPS fix in seconds and I scooted off towards the local park. Along the way, the app periodically barked my time and pace, and I could at any point see via the well-designed display how I was doing.

RunKeeper map

On returning home, the run was sent to the RunKeeper website, and on logging in, it was possible to see my route within a Google Maps box, how elevation affected my speed, and how many calories I'd used. I could also add my wife – a long-time RunKeeper user – to my 'street team'. For the first time in a year, things were looking up for my sagging paunch.

The following day with GymFu wasn't so smooth, however. I'd tested CrunchFu before, but not the other apps, and it was a while before I figured out how to best hold the iPhone so the apps wouldn't keep barking "HALF!" at me for incomplete reps.

In the end, having the iPhone in my pocket for SquatFu worked well, and holding my iPhone at a slight angle on my thumbs during crunches worked better than having it at my chest.

Over the following week, my routine continued – with the occasional slip – and it was during this time that RunKeeper's one failing became apparent. Although it provides weekly and monthly totals (activities, distance, time, calories), it's not obvious how you're progressing if you do the same route and distance every day.

By comparison, after a few days GymFu's apps graph your reps from training and 'battles', which come via Twitter from the GymFu 'Fubot' and, very sporadically, real humans across the globe. (You can challenge others by score or max reps, but I found in practice few battle requests were answered.) Having a graph detailing progress was really encouraging and definitely spurred me on.

GymFu graph

RunKeeper fell further by the wayside as the weather dramatically deteriorated, but this simply demonstrated to me the importance of having a set of apps that enable inside and outside exercise. And my effort in GymFu increased, even if my overall exercise level dropped.

Work in progress

A few weeks have passed since I started my experiment, and Weightbot stubbornly refuses to say I'm at my target weight – in fact, it doesn't think I've lost more than a rounding error.

But before this experiment is chalked up as a failure and I start eating too many Jaffa Cakes again, it should be noted that I'm exercising regularly for the first time in nearly a year – and that's mostly down to the iPhone apps.

Admittedly, I'm a sucker for graphs and games, and seeing a downward trend in GymFu or an upward trend in Weightbot gets me doubly motivated to reverse them. Surprisingly, GymFu's Twitter challenges also helps, since my brain doesn't seem to realise that they're (mostly) automated.

I've noticed changes in my basic fitness too. GymFu's founders reckon that 40% of people "double their reps", and I can already comfortably do twice as many push-ups and squats as when I first started. Granted, hitting the final GymFu targets is a long way off, but now I'm confident I'll eventually get there.


And although RunKeeper isn't in the mix as much as I'd like (due to ongoing 'wuss out of running because of the rain' syndrome), I now use it to track dog walks rather than just runs, and challenge myself to beat my walking times – much to my dog's annoyance, it seems.

So while I'm not going to be running the London Marathon any time soon or joining an athletics team, I have, for a cost that's less than a week's membership at my local gym, got started on the path to better fitness.

And what's more, I still have the princely sum of £1.05 left over to spend on a Mars Bar. Er, protein bar. To spend on a protein bar…