Running is hard work. On cold, rainy mornings—or after a long workday—finding the inspiration to get out the door can be daunting. But I’ve found that, along with cool new shoes, there’s one major technological advancement that makes getting in shape easier these days: the iPod. Thanks to an abundance of fitness-oriented add-ons, your iPod can help make all kinds of fitness more fun.
Get fit for free
The fastest—and least expensive—way to start using your iPod as a fitness tool is to check out the Podcasts page at the iTunes Store (click on the Podcasts link in the upper left window of the store’s main page). Under Categories, choose Health, and then click on the Fitness & Nutrition link in the More Health window on the Health page. Here you’ll find podcasts on everything from running to conditioning and bodybuilding.
Yoga fans will find several podcasts, my favorite of which is Yoga Today. Every day of the week, Yoga Today publishes a new hour-long video podcast of instructors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, who lead you through strength, flexibility, and meditative exercises.
Another popular workout tool, fitPod’s
are high-energy music tracks designed to keep you moving during a workout. These mixes focus on beats-per-minute (BPM) counts. On the fitPod Web site, you’ll also find user-generated playlists and mixes, along with forums where users share tips and where fitPod staffers post the latest iPod- and fitness-related news.
For trail runners and off-road cyclists looking to tap the iPod even more, Berbie’s
(payment requested) can send maps to any iPod with a color screen. Plot your route with this Mac software by clicking on an on-screen map (pulled from the U.S. Geological Survey by default) to build point-to-point directions. You can then export routes to your iPod, where the maps will appear as photo slide shows. You can also import workouts from an iPod nano equipped with the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit (more on Nike+ iPod shortly), export data from or import it to a Garmin GPS, and export routes from or import them to Google Earth. The program even includes a diary and a calendar so you can keep track of your workouts over time.
($5 and up) are another cool option. Added to your iPhoto library as an album, each Trainer is a series of images with step-by-step instructions on yoga, Pilates, stretching, ab sculpting, and so on—you name it. Sync an album with your iPod, and you can view the images as a slide show accompanied by your favorite playlist.
Nike+ iPod Sport Kit
If you’re a runner, the reigning gold medalist of iPod fitness products is the
Nike+ iPod Sport Kit
; $29). The kit consists of two parts, a receiver and a sensor.
The receiver plugs into your iPod nano’s dock connector (it works only with the nano). After you connect the receiver, a new Nike+ iPod option appears in the iPod’s menu. Click on it, and choose the Settings option. Enter your weight (important for calculating calorie burning), choose either miles or kilometers, and pick either a male or a female voice to provide feedback. This is also where you choose a PowerSong, a sort of audible caffeine shot for your workout (see “Five Sport Kit Tips”).
You affix the sensor to a shoe, and it then tracks your speed and distance, transmitting that information to the receiver connected to your nano. Nike currently sells several shoes with a special sensor compartment in the sole and promises that all its shoes will be compatible by year’s end. You can also buy a sensor pouch such as Marware’s
; $10), but some runners say that this pouch and other solutions
impair the sensor’s performance.
When you’re ready to run, you can choose from four workout types: basic, distance, time, and calories. If you don’t have a goal in mind, choose the basic mode, which will measure your time, distance, and burned calories as you run. The other workout types let you choose a goal to work toward—set a goal of running five miles, for example, and your iPod will periodically announce how close you are to reaching it. When you set new speed and distance records, the kit even gives you positive feedback from celebrity athletes—I nearly tripped over my laces when I first heard Lance Armstrong congratulating me.
Track Your Results
When you finish your run, press the menu button and select End Workout. Your nano will display your run totals, including time, distance, pace, and burned calories. Now you’re ready to send your data to Nike’s Web site. The first time you sync your nano after using the Sport Kit, a new Nike+ iPod tab will appear in your iPod window in iTunes. The tab displays your most recent workout data, and after registering with Nike, you can choose to upload that data automatically to Nike after each run.
On the Nike+ Web site, you can check out the details of your latest run, as well as graphs that show your progress over time, your total distances, and how your pace changed over the course of a run. You can also set goals and track your progress. If you’re looking for a new route, click on the Maps tab, and you can search for runs in your area—or build and upload your own courses with a version of Google Maps that’s built into the interface. You can then share (or keep private) your favorite trails and routes.
Join the Group
The Sport Kit can also connect you to a community of runners with similar abilities, through Nike’s Web site. Log on to the Nike+ forums (forums.nike.com) to compete against other runners and see your results online. Create or accept a challenge, and as you upload your data to Nike+, it will track your progress against your competitors’.
Sport Kit: Nike’s sensor and receiver turn your iPod into a fitness tracker.Map Your Route: Nike+ iPod’s integrated version of Google Maps lets you share your favorite routes and find new ones that other runners have uploaded.
Five Sport Kit tips
I’ve been using the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit since its release in July 2006. Here are my five top tips for getting the most out of it.
1. Calibrate the Kit
I found that my Sport Kit was off by as much as 0.05 mile. If you’re a serious runner, you’ll want to bump up the accuracy. Take it to your local track, choose the Calibrate option on your iPod (Nike+iPod: Settings: Sensor), and then alternate running and walking fixed distances to hone it.
2. Use the Select Button
When you tap the iPod’s select button, your Sport Kit will offer audible feedback about your time, distance, and pace. It also records the data with each press, and will later display that data on the Web in the form of markers along your run. If you want to know how your pace changes when you run uphill, or over the course of a long run, be sure to press the select button periodically as you go.
3. Pump Up Your PowerSong
The Sport Kit lets you designate a track as a PowerSong, something to motivate you through a tough patch. To activate it, press and hold the select button. Whatever track is playing will stop, and your PowerSong will kick in.
4. Create Better Playlists
When you’re creating a workout playlist, pick some songs with a fast tempo and some with a slower tempo, and then alternate them at intervals of three or four minutes. This is great for endurance-building interval training—working out at 80 percent or so of your maximum effort, and following that by cooling-off periods where you’re only at 50 percent. For help, check out the
Nike Sport Music section of the iTunes Store.
5. Make Goals
It helps to have goals. It helps even more to constantly remind yourself of your goals. One way to do so is with the free Nike+ Goal widget, which lets you use Dashboard to stay abreast of your progress on goals you set through the Nike
Mathew Honan writes about technology for the
National Journal’s Technology Daily
. He is currently training for a triathlon.