Only one of 30 popular free fitness apps for iPhones meets the majority of recommended guidelines for physical activity, a new study shows.
When compared to the guidelines for aerobic exercise, strength or resistance, and flexibility, the top-scoring app was the Sworkit Lite Personal Workout Trainer App with 9.01 out of a possible 14 points.
Each app was scored across those three categories, examining to what extent they adhered to the specific guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, including parameters for safety, warm-ups, cool-downs, stretching, intensity, frequency, and progression.
While more than half the apps included some of the recommendations for aerobic exercise and 90 percent met at least one criterion for strength and resistance, two-thirds of the apps did not meet any of the flexibility criteria.
Users at Risk for Injury
“While apps have great potential to give more people access to workouts that could help them achieve a healthy weight and fitness level, we found that the vast majority of apps are not as safe as they could be and do not give users the type of well-rounded workouts known to be most effective,” says François Modave, associate professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida.
Ultimately, only Sworkit Lite Personal Workout Trainer met more than half of the criteria. Three apps met more than half the criteria in the aerobic category: Sworkit Lite Personal Workout Trainer, C25K—5K Trainer Free, and Running for Weight Loss.
Four apps earned half the possible points in the strength or resistance category: Sworkit Lite Personal Workout Trainer, Ultimate Fitness Free, JEFIT Workout, and StrongLifts 5X5. No app scored above 50 percent in the flexibility category.
“Several of the apps contained high-quality content in one of the three categories, but almost none of them had high-quality content in all of them, especially flexibility,” says Heather Vincent, assistant professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation. “This is a problem because flexibility is important for good exercise form, relaxation, and cool-down.”
No Training Plan
In addition to not meeting the specific criterion for each category, 23 out of 30 apps did not provide an actual training plan, explain how to choose a workout, or explain how to organize the workouts through the week. That makes it difficult, especially for beginners, to follow a safe and physiologically sound progression in their exercise regimen.
“The issues with these apps place users at risk for injury because the apps fail to prepare them to take on the exercises, use proper techniques, and address safety issues surrounding different types of exercise,” Modave says.
“Our hope is that this study, which is the first to explore what extent fitness apps are adhering to the ACSM Guidelines, starts a conversation about how to harness apps to give people high-quality, safe and effective workouts.”
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
*Image of “phone” via Health Gauge/Flickr/CC BY 2.0