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Fitness hacks for geeks

On the assumption that geeks like tech gadgets, there's never been a better time for geeks to get fit (or stay fit... an ongoing battle). And given that the healthier and fitter your body, the better your brain works, the best thing you can do for your head is work the rest of you.

Here are my favorite fitness/gadget hacks:

1) Use an iPod. Ipodboxshot07192004
Lots of people use music during exercise, but the time you really need it is to get the energy up in the first place! Make a list of the music that you absolutely cannot sit still for. The stuff that gets you off your ass and dancing (or at least tapping your feet). No matter how tired you are, if you're not sick, the right music can charge you up. Only you know what works for you. If I need motivation to get past the I-just-want-to-stay-here-at-my-computer thing, I drink something with a lot of caffeine and listen to the right music.

But here's another way to use an iPod--to listen to your personal trainer, thanks to the mp3 gym. I haven't tried it (I'm pretty picky about how I do my workouts) but it's an interesting idea.

2) Use a heart rate monitor. They just keep getting better and better over the years, so if you tried one many years ago and it sucked, you might want to try again. Although people can learn to accurately self-monitor their overall exertion, a heart rate monitor can tell you when you've got a little more to give or, even better, when you can slow down a little.

I think Polar makes the best ones. And if you're a runner, you probably already have a watch for monitoring your splits. But here are some cool ones from Nike.

3) Use an accelerometer. If your goal is weight loss along with getting or staying in shape, this is the single best gadget you can get. In the very late 80's/early 90's I was the training director at one of the foofiest health-club-to-the-rich-and-famous gyms in Los Angeles, Sports Club/LA, and the expensive personal trainers all considered this a secret weapon they gave their clients. They're very VERY difficult to find in stores, even today, but you can get them online:


And a really interesting one (I haven't tried) that even lets you upload and monitor your own social/exercise group on the web, so you can compare (or compete) with your friends and family. It's the Sportbrain.

If you don't know what an accelerometer is, think pedometer on steroids. It uses the accelerometer to measure motion so that you're not tied to just calibrating (and then walking) steps. At the end of the day, you'll know whether you sat on your butt or were up and down and doing things, so it's also a great way to see whether you've burned calories. Most of them will display how many calories you've burned, but you really have to see it more as an arbitrary point system rather than an actual picture of the true calories you've burned. In other words, get a baseline and then each day try to exceed that number... consider it an "activity score" (which some have) rather than real calories.

4) Log it and blog it. Just be accountable to something or someone, even if it's just a spreadsheet. Have a place to post what you did at the end of the day, so that you can feel a little guilty if you didn't get your numbers up that day (or for the week). The SportBrain gives you an easy way to do that, since you just dock it and it uploads and tracks your data.

But you can also use a variety of exercise tracking software for your computer or PDA. (Here's a Google search on exercise tracking.

And now my personal new favorite:

5) Dance Dance Revolution on Playstation 2 or xbox.
Imagine what would happen if you were as addicted to a workout as people are to a video game? This is a workout that IS a video game! The newer versions of the game now include a workout mode that makes it much easier to just keep going. Even if you don't have a game console, you can pick up the whole system--console, game, and dance pad controller for under $200. Certainly a lot less than a decent treadmill, and a LOT more fun.

The lowest level is easy enough for anyone to learn, and the game includes easy-to-follow lessons.

My favorite DDR system for Playstation 2 is:
DDR Max 2 and the Ignition Pad.

It's dead simple to setup use, at least on the lower levels or workout mode.

Have an active and fun 2005!

Posted by Kathy on January 1, 2005 | Permalink


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Creating Passionate Users has a great post on fitness hacks for geeks. The bullet points are: 1) Use an iPod. 2) Use a heart rate monitor. 3) Use an accelerometer. 4) Log it and blog it. 5) Dance Dance Revolution on Playstation 2 or xbox. This simple ... [Read More]

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Guess we're going to have to add the new iPod Shuffle to the list of Fitness hacks. This new iPod is all RAM based - no disk - so it should be great for running! It smaller and lighter, and you can get an arm band to strap it to your arm. Add it to my wish list.

Posted by: Elisabeth Freeman | Jan 11, 2005 7:31:26 PM

Once you have your PS2 'fitness equipment', go get an Eye Toy camera. We play the Eye Toy Sega Superstars game pack and get a better workout than the treadmill could hope to provide. The camera puts you in the game, after which you battle ninjas, fight Virtua Fighters, or compete in a Samba dance-off.

There's also a new all-dance game (I haven't used this one yet) for the PS2 Eye Toy called 'Groove'. Sounds a lot like DDR, but with the camera and Elvis instead of the pad and Britney.

Posted by: David Mayhew | Feb 26, 2005 6:46:30 AM

Great ideas. Here's another. Search and subscribe to some fitness blogs. Using the web / RSS to regularly connect with new fitness inspiration, motivation and innovation might be the ultimate fitness hack...

Posted by: Curt Conrad | Mar 6, 2005 8:20:25 AM

Couldn't resist mentioning my favorite fitness-geek toy: The Garmin Forerunner 301. It's part GPS, part heart-rate monitor. Strap it on your bike (or wrist), put the HRM strap around your chest, and head out into the world. When you get back, plug it in, upload your data to motionbased.com (free!) and view graphs of your performance, maps (even satellitle photos) of your route, etc. It's soooo cool! You can even play back your ride as a simulation that shows you as a little ball moving along the map with an elevation graph next to it.

Check it out:


(sadly, the map player doesn't work in FireFox)

Posted by: Dave Wood | Apr 29, 2005 7:22:26 AM

My big question is: what kinds of earphones/earbuds work for exercising? The little white earbuds that came with my iPod fall out when I'm using my rowing machine. I bought Apple's in-ear phones as a replacement, but those pop out almost as quickly. I need something that's going to stay in/over my ears during an intense workout...any suggestions?

Posted by: Brad | May 5, 2005 10:27:39 AM

I've always worried about DDR that I'm making a bad trade-off; I gain cardio exercise at the expense of destroying my knees. Is there anything to that, or am I worried about nothing?

Posted by: Glenn Willen | May 16, 2005 6:49:08 PM

Glenn - I don't think you're likely to destroy your knees doing DDR - any more than if you go for regular walks or dance the night away clubbing. If your knees are suffering, maybe you're dancing funny?

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 17, 2005 4:02:46 AM

Matt - Thanks for the reply. It's not that they're bothering me, it just seems like slamming my feet repeatedly into a huge chunk of metal (the arcade version) is probably not good for my feet/legs/knees. Maybe I should try a lower level. Or get a Playstation. :-)

Posted by: Glenn Willen | May 17, 2005 10:15:13 PM

Yeah, I hadn't thought about the metal dancemats... Is there no springiness to them?

I'm just thinking about the old dancehalls of the '40's and '50's - one thing many halls advertised was that their floors were properly sprung; a trip to the London Astoria for a rock concert will confirm this; if you stand still while everyone else is jumping up and down, you get bounced all over the place from the floor bouncing.

Maybe dance mats need a little shock-absorbancy; if we're not supposed to dance in trainers or socks, there *could* be the ill-effects you're worried about... (IANAD etc)

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 18, 2005 8:00:36 AM

bang and olufsen make a set of fully adjustable in-ear headphones with clips, that sound like their speakers and stay on your head in utter comfort, through pretty much anything.. they even work for people with mutant ears.

Posted by: Ross Ellman | May 24, 2005 3:19:33 AM

This is the ULTIMATE geek fitness gadget -> http://www.fitbug.co.uk An interactive pedometer that connects to you PC via USB and uploads your activity to the website. You are sent weekly, personalised activity targets and nutrition plans via email which are based on your performance.

Posted by: Anthony Hunt | Jun 16, 2005 9:24:41 AM

The blessings of science have brought many health related gadgets. These health-related tools are very effective and give positive results. I use to have a running-desk at my home. It not only saves my time but also provides with me the facility of having a look on my computer screen.

Posted by: Mathew | Aug 16, 2005 8:59:07 AM

I just started excercising and the iPod (well, small flash based mp3 player) trick is right on. But after about 15 minutes I usually swtch over to an audio book or podcast.

That way I get involved into what I'm listening too that I forget that I'm riding the bike and winf d up covering a greater distance.

Posted by: Chris McMahon | Apr 14, 2006 6:16:25 PM

Use this site with your iPod workout Playlist.

Posted by: Ctrainer | May 14, 2006 10:34:32 PM

There are more and more gadgets being created each year for fitness training. I guess the goal is to motivate people to exercise. Take, for instance, all the new digital displays providing exercise feedback on cardio machines.

We seem to be in the multi-task generation. People are always looking to do three things at once. I can see the day when you ride your exercise bike, and have the opportunity to surf the internet, all at the same time.

It all comes down to getting people to exercise. The more people who exercise, the better chance we have of controlling obesity, and medical health care costs.

In my online multimedia health fitness newsletter I reveal how to intelligently increase your exercise adherence.

Posted by: Jim O'Connor | Feb 13, 2007 11:50:13 PM

I've taken number 4 to heart - and started a blog about geek fitness. :)

I would add to number 5 as well - the Wii seems to be (to me at least) a good alternative to dancing round the lounge like a loon to DDR!

Posted by: Dave Child | May 5, 2007 8:34:00 AM

I never go fitness without my iPod.I can't live wuthout music and I train better when I listen to music.

Posted by: Cara Fletcher | Jul 21, 2007 10:09:32 AM

Training has become an exacting science. Recognizing this, a slew of new online tools aim to help your inner geek coach your inner jock. I'm buying ipod purely for the tiny firewire hd by Geek In Training. Figured I’d come up with a way to easily attach my iPod to my exercise bike. weight training exercise

Posted by: weight training | Aug 8, 2007 1:45:53 AM

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