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Fitness gadgets and gimmicks

I feel compelled to have a bit of a rant today…I’m sorry if I ‘knock’ something you like, don’t take it personally!!

Being a health and fitness freak and keen blogger, I am myself subscribed to many other blogs, newsletters and health or fitness related websites, so I receive LOTS of emails about health and fitness related topics. Some are great, and some are, well, crap. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you’ll know already that I try my best not to ‘name names’ as I don’t like to be negative or put anyone else down, I just don’t think there is any need. So I’m not going to name any person, company or product in this post if I can help it, I’ll be purposefully vague when it comes to names.

There’s an app for that

I read a lot, and for the last 17 years I have been professionally involved in the tech business, specifically in the mobile phone business. Over the last year or two, I have a growing nagging feeling that there are aspects of ‘the smartphone boom’ that are really starting to bother me. Increasingly, I worry that the devices in our pockets are doing so much for us, that our brains (especially the common sense part, and the ‘gumption’ part) are in danger of atrophying away to nothing. I am bothered by the ridiculous range of apps available, and the ridiculous ways they are encouraging people to become lazier, and the ridiculous ways they are filling all our time with nonsense activities. Image for infographic

In the last week, I have read of several truly ridiculous new apps. There is one that’s just been released which links a certain make of car (in the US) with a certain extremely popular make of phone. So you can buy the app, sync your phone with your car, and the app enables you to unlock the car and start the engine from a distance, as you walk towards the car and prepare to get in to it. I am forced to ask the question…WHY? Why the hell does anyone need such an app? Why would any developer/company bother to put up the development costs to make such an app? Are people really THAT lazy or in that much of a hurry?

Another new app helps people find their car, if they can’t remember where they parked it in a car park. This particular app specialises in doing this in places with no mobile signal, so it uses Bluetooth or satellite signals. Oh, however did we survive the last 50 years without such a thing?

Health related apps, a new booming growth area

The latest release of iOS (the operating system for iPhones) includes something called ‘HealthKit’, a place where all the iPhone owners health related apps can come together and hang out and share data in one place. iPhone users will have a ‘Health’ logo on screen, and they can access all their health apps and data in one place. They can connect their MFP, FitBit, Nike FuelBand and a gazillion other things in one place, all sharing data. Apparently… “For example, the Nike+ apps using NikeFuel will be able to pull in other key HealthKit metrics such as sleep and nutrition to build a custom user profile and improve athletic performance,” Apple says. Really? Last time I checked, sweating your butt off through hours of hard workouts made you “improve athletic performance”, not the arrangement of apps on your damn smartphone.

You see, all this bothers me, and I’m sorry if it’s just me, but it bothers me. I have tried a few health apps, there is just 1 I use, it’s called Strava, and it maps my runs and bike rides and shares them on Facebook and with other Strava users. It’s fun, it’s good to share, and that’s it. I can (and do) run and ride without it, and it makes no difference to my performance, but it’s fun and I like it, and it’s ‘social’ which is good. But broadly speaking, there are just way too many gadgets, gimmicks and apps that are cluttering the market with more costs that do not directly help people to be any healthier. I meet people with 15 health apps, a dozen GPS enabled gadgets, 150 quid running shoes and a 2000 quid carbon framed bike, who tell me they can’t afford to buy organic veggies because they are too expensive!

Health wearables

In the mobile phone and consumer electronics industries, “health wearables” is a massive growth market. It started a couple of decades back with pedometers and heart rate monitors, then came GPS tracking ‘watches’, and now the whole market has exploded, from FitBit (a gadget that seems to measure how many footsteps you take every day) and software that tracks every calorie you eat and tells you if you have eaten too much fat or not enough of a certain vitamin, to the new growing trend for Smart Watches and other hi-tech kit that seems to track every imaginable marker of health, fitness and nutrition.

Let me be clear, I’m not against anyone using anything that helps them to find the motivation to exercise. Don’t reply to this post saying “Oh but my FitBit helps me know how many calories I’ve burned…” yeah I know, that’s fine, good for you, I’m OK with that – if it works for you, good, I’m happy for you, that’s all good people. But what’s bugging me is that this is all another example of how our collective good health and fitness is being hijacked and EXPLOITED by a bunch of companies trying to sell us endless more stuff that we don’t really need.

Billion dollars business

Clothing: you can exercise wearing anything, or nothing, yet today we have a HUGE multi-billion dollar “sports clothing” industry. I walk around our towns and cities and see many “sports shops” that basically sell clothes which people wear as ‘street fashion’ – it’s got nothing to do with sport. I see people who jog 3 miles on a Sunday morning and seem to think they need to wear 60 quid breathable, stretchy, knee supporting Lycra leggings…I see people who turn up to run a 10k wearing 80 quid compression tights, ankle supporting compression socks and 150 quid running shoes. These companies produce this kit that might make 1% difference to an elite athlete, and then they sell this stuff to ordinary folks as if it’s going to help us all run faster or lose weight or build more muscle. People, if you have the cash and nothing better to do with it, good for you, but I have to say, you are being ripped off. In the 21st Century, more people than EVER walk our streets wearing clothes that say “Track and field” or “Athletic Dept.” on the front and yet those same people look like they have never run on a track in their lives.

Footwear: try reading an outstanding book “Born to Run” by Christopher MacDougal – as he points out, since the running footwear industry sprang up in the 1970’s, there are more running injuries than ever. The guys in this picture are running an Olympic marathon, a century ago. No gel heels in sight.800px-1896_Olympic_marathon

The cost of running shoes is just insane. And now they have the new ‘minimalist’ running shoe movement, and we seem to have to pay more for less material! How the hell does that work?

Supplements: Everyone is taking supplements. I see people who show up at the gym, warm up on a bike for 20 minutes, do a couple of circuits round the weight machines at ’10 to 12 reps’ moderate intensity, then rush to the lockers and guzzle down a protein shake before heading home for dinner! These people seriously believe they “need” the extra protein.

Amino acids, Creatine, vitamins, mineral supplements – they, the ad men, have created a widespread believe that our world is entirely nutrient depleted and everyone needs supplements! Like a couple of whey shakes is suddenly going to turn you into Arnie!

Gadgets: turbo trainers, heart rate monitors, stretchy bands, now it’s brightly coloured special tape for knees, calves and ankles. There is a gadget or gimmick for every imaginable purpose.

Now the new “wearable band” market has grown over 700% in the last year! So you wear a watch-like thing and it measures your calories or heart rate or whatever, and people are spending billions on these things?!?!? Whatever next! Is it the same people buying a ‘wearable band’ to tell them they haven’t burned many calories….are they the same people who think they need an app to remotely start their car?!?!? Oh my Lord, stop the world I wanna get off!!!

They just want to sell you stuff. It’s about money, not health

People, I am sorry but it’s all about MONEY. These are all multi-billion dollar industries, THEY, the ad men, have made us, the people, believe that we need all this stuff, they have got everyone thinking that expensive shoes, Lycra clothing, home training equipment, fancy gadgets, apps, hi-tech gyms, personal trainers, protein powders, nutritional supplements, brightly coloured ankle tape and a million other things are ESSENTIAL in the war against fat. ONLY with these tools will you be armed to take on the obesity epidemic and the growing rates of adult-onset diabetes (only we don’t call it that any more, because our kids are getting it, so now we call it Type 2 Diabetes…I think they should call it “shitty diet diabetes” personally) and heart disease.

Someone please tell me…all these innovations, all this technology, all these gadgets, they have been invented and brought to us over the same 30 or 40 years that we have seen the population of the Western world become fatter than ever before, as rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer all sky rocket. We’re in a obesity epidemic, and metabolic syndrome, chronic fatigue, and Type 2 diabetes are at all-time highs…how exactly is all this tech, and all these gadgets, fads and gimmicks, helping anyone?

In the 21st Century, the bulk of the population are less active than ever before, eat more processed food than ever before and are generally fatter than ever before – is all this tech actually helping anyone?

How it all comes together

So I won’t name anyone, but let’s just say there is one blog that I am subscribed to which seems to be quite popular, written by some “pretty young thing” who is all slim and tanned and ‘pearly-white-smile’ perfect looking. This blogger has several thousand followers and she often blogs about how you need to eat this, and lift that, and anyone can do it…etc. It all seems OK, but then I received her latest post not so long ago, and once I read it, I then un-followed her blog and removed myself from her mailing list, as I just know that I have nothing to learn from this person.

Her post was basically a shoppers guide to “get fit essentials” – it listed about 15 or 16 things you MUST have, and the blog suggested “there are so many cool things out there, here’s my guide for you beginners, to help you cut through it all and just get the gym essentials you need to get started on your road to weight loss and better health.”

In no particular order, she listed:

Protein bars (she names a certain brand) – she lists that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is her favourite flavour. Oh yeah, I can see that’s helpful healthy lifestyle advice for people who want to lose weight. #1 tip, go out and eat chocolate flavoured highly processed protein bars. FFS, this just does my head in! Here is a picture of that exact protein bar… Quest choc chip cookie dough
I checked the ingredients – same as all the others: why protein blend, some kind of malto-saccharide processed gunk, some nuts and some water, plus salt, sweetener, chocolate, etc. Jeez…this is a real “health essential.”

Expensive 100 quid sports shoes.

A fancy brightly coloured gym bag. What, like people need advice on “you will need a bag to carry your stuff”? Really? Last time I went to a gym, I don’t remember taking a bag.

Pre-Workout!!!! Yes, this, ahem, “trusted expert” (a qualified personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutritional advisor, in the US I might add) recommends “C4 Extreme” pre-workout. Seriously, this processed crap contains caffeine, sucralose, acesulfame, some vitamins, artificial flavours and colours and a ‘proprietary energy blend’ – these kind of products are known for making people feel buzzed, jacked, hyper and dizzy, they are like Red Bull on steroids, how is this an ‘essential’…I despair!

Heart rate monitor. Really? For beginners? For average folks doing a gym workout? When all the cardio machines measure heart rate anyway? HRMs should be the preserve of the serious athlete under coached supervision. In my opinion, if you need one, your coach or trainer will tell you, supply it and teach you how to use it.

Hair ties and a head band. Yes, for real, this lady recommends these “fitness essentials” because obviously, no one with long hair has ever tried to run and discovered for themselves that their hair gets in their face…she goes on to talk about non-slip rubber grips in head bands…I am losing the will to live…apparently this is health advice…zzzzzz

Whey protein – she names the brand and says her favourite flavour is…you guessed it, Double Rich Chocolate!! And she posts a lovely big choclately picture of it, because those chocolate pictures will really help you think about good health, weight loss and clean living! Give. Me. Strength.

Blender bottle – listed as essential and she actually says it’s so that she can mix that whey shake and get the protein to her muscles as soon as she has finished working out – no time to waste! Oh dear…this lady truly believes all the adverts from those supplements companies…a trained PT should know better, IMO.

Deodorant – she lists this as a health essential, because she says it’s poor etiquette to be stinky in the gym. Well, personally I am healthy inside, so I don’t need deodorant and I don’t stink when I exercise. I think this lady needs to eat less junk supplements, clean up her diet, get with the MND way and she won’t need to run that chemical crap under her arms for the next 50 years. Read more: https://mothernaturesdiet.me/2014/02/02/im-not-smelly-but-what-about-you/

Water bottle – OK, sure water is important, though I’m sure most people can figure this one out for themselves. Any bottle will do, and most gyms have water fountains/coolers available.

iPhone (or iPod) armband – listed as a fitness essential. Well, got to keep all those apps somewhere, right?

Chapstick/lip salve/lip balm – apparently, you can’t possibly get fit and healthy without it!

Next up she lists wrist wraps. The post is meant to be a guide to beginners, but she says she likes to lift weights, and you should too, but she says she has really weak wrists, so she uses wrist wraps to help her lifting. I would suggest working on wrist strength and proper lifting technique, rather than relying on wraps for every training session. Just save the wraps for competition days if that’s your thing, but don’t learn to rely on them, but that’s just my advice. I don’t think average folks need wrist wraps for regular gym sessions.

Jump rope/skipping rope. A skipping rope is a great piece of kit. Her article suggests doing double unders, which I think are way beyond the ability of anyone who is not already very fit and in great condition, but I don’t deny that a jump rope is a good piece of kit to have. Most gym’s will have some. I find a length of old climbing rope is better than any skipping rope I have ever bought…though of course, I’m a climber, so I have old ropes lying around, most people don’t. Try buying an old climbing rope on Ebay and cutting it to 5 meter lengths…for ten quid you’ll get 4 skipping ropes, not one.

Chewing gum. OMG, yes, she lists this as a health/fitness essential. I am lost for words.

And finally, my favourite – she lists Ibuprofen. Yes, in her beginners guide to health and fitness essentials, she lists artificial drugs. She seems to be suggesting that you will push yourself, hurt yourself, suffer aches, pains and muscle soreness, and for this you can take anti-inflammatory drugs. Genius. Obviously a health guru!

So what’s my point, at the end of all this?

Well, a few things:

1: Beware of qualified ‘experts’ and professionals – a lot of them are full of shit, a lot of them know nothing, a lot of them are daft and they have fallen for all the marketing crap out there.

2: Don’t fall for it all yourself. Clothing, footwear, apps, supplements, equipment, gadgets – while specialist gear has a place in specialist sports, the vast majority of all that stuff is just a huge waste of money. I once knew a guy who blew 750 quid on a pair of light weight wheels for his 4000 pound carbon bike…to make it 115 grams lighter. 750 quid to save 115 grams!!! I suggested he quit beer, bread and pasta for 6 months and he lost about 26 pounds – for free. Keep the gimmicks in perspective folks.

3: My list of essentials is short –
You
Motivation
Your own body
Fresh air, sunshine, outside

4: You really don’t need any of that crap. Go walk, go run, go for a swim, do push-ups, crunches, find a tree/branch, bar, door frame and do chins or pull-ups, do free squats, star jumps, bear crawls, use your own bodyweight, walk/run/sprint up and down hills. Just get outside and move, whatever the weather.

5: Save your money and buy organic fruits and vegetables, buy free range eggs, buy organic, free range, pasture raised meat – instead of aiding the profits of companies who make stretchy tights and whey powders, use your money to end cruel farming practices, support organic farming, support pole-and-line fishing, opt for improved animal welfare in farming. Vote for a better world with every pound/dollar or Euro you spend.

Follow MotherNaturesDiet
It’s the common sense way, it’s ‘big picture’ thinking, it’s about you, our planet, our food system, our future, our children.
Wise up, use your brain, you don’t need an app for that.

Karl

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love this! Couldn’t agree more. Loved the comment about ‘crap diet’ diabetes. X

    August 23, 2014
  2. Agree although I do love my fitness tech as I like to get earn Vitality points for my activity which in turn give me other rewards (cheaper health insurance etc.)

    I also used fitness tech for measuring exertion when training for a marathon, the result was that I was able to not exhaust myself and hence did a reasonable 3.41 time without hitting the wall.

    My wife loves to run without any tech and teases me when we run together as she sets off and I am still calibrating, trying to get GPS, getting a 10 second count down, wondering why my bluetooth heart rate is not talking to all the other gadgets etc. Yeah, I know!

    August 25, 2014

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