You might think of spring training as something only professional athletes go through as winter gives way to kinder days. Yet, many of us embark on a spring training program every year as the realization comes that in just a few months we’ll no longer have sweaters and jackets to hide our pale and possibly paunchy bodies. Along with this realization often comes another: “I can’t afford a gym.” Well fear not future six-pack-ab-bearers, Life’d is here to offer you another path to gladiatorial greatness — 10 completely free fitness apps for the iPhone and iPad that will help you eat better, sleep more soundly and go from flab to fab just in time for that first bare-skin-sizzling day of summer. You can send us a text from your beach blanket to thank us later.
Ab Trainer (iPhone; works on iPad in iPhone-sized window). At the um, core, of every good build are the abs. But they’re not just show- off muscles. A strong set of abs helps you execute nearly every other type of athletic movement, improves your posture and goes a long way toward eliminating lower-back pain. This app helps you chisel your rectus abdominus through over 70 different maneuvers, arranged according to bodyweight exercises, bodyweight with equipment exercises, dumbbell exercises, and resistance-band exercises. Choose an exercise and you can scroll through a series of photos that shows you how to do it in proper form, followed by a mini-animation that combines the photos into one movement. Press the “workouts” button and you can choose from nine different routines like “Look Great Naked” or “Hercules Killer Abs.” The routines vary by time and skill level, so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
Pilates Core (iPhone; works on iPad in iPhone-sized window). Like yoga, Pilates involves a series of slow controlled movements and stretches that develops strength, balance and flexibility. This app will teach you some of the basic movements through a series of five different workouts ranging from one to 45 minutes. The workouts are narrated and illustrated through a series of photographs that morph from the starting to the finishing positions. To get the full benefits of this app, you are required to purchase a $6.99 expansion pack. But the five free workouts that come with the base version are certainly enough to get you on your way to fitness and to let you evaluate Pilates to see if its the right kind of exercise for you — before spending a cent.
MyFitnessPal (iPhone; works on iPad in iPhone-sized window). You might think of your “pal” as someone to go grab a shake and fries with on boring Wednesday night. But this is a different kind of pal altogether. This one will ask you all about your age, current weight, your target weight and how fast you’d like to get there. It then allows you to track every single thing you eat. Sounds like more of a drill sergeant than a pal to us, but it is a surprisingly effective tool. Once you’ve given it all your stats, adding food to your diary is as simple as choosing the meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack) and searching the extensive database for what you’ve eaten. A search for yogurt, for example, pulled up such entries as Dannon Light & Fit, Chobani Non-Fat Black Cherry and McDonald’s fruit and yogurt parfait. Select what you’ve eaten and you get a full nutritional profile of the food. Add it to your diary and the calories are automatically deducted from your allowance for the day. If a food’s not in the database, you have the option of adding it. If those calories tick away a little too fast, you can get a credit for the physical activity you do. Simply choose the type (cardio or strength), enter the activity and duration, and the app automatically calculates your calorie burn, and therefore your credit for the day.
Eat This, Not That! The Game (iPhone; works full-sized on iPad). From the popular Men’s Health column of the same name, comes this fun app that turns making good food choices into a game. It might sound simple but it’s not all about choosing carrot sticks over cheeseburgers. For example, you might be surprised to know that it’s better to eat an A&W Coney Chili Cheese Dog than one of their Crispy Chicken Sandwiches. To use the app, you choose a category (breakfast, lunch or snacks), then select either the casual mode or speed mode, in which you get bonus points for the right answers and deductions for the wrong ones. You’re then presented the images and names of two popular food items side-by-side. As the timer runs down, you’re asked to choose the one you think is healthiest while nutritional facts (such calories and saturated fat content) slowly begin appearing on the respective sides of the screen. Oddly enough, the app is as addictive as a bag of Doritos.
Relax Melodies (iPhone; works on iPad in iPhone-sized window). Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important as running, lifting and stretching when it comes to overall fitness. This app helps you drift off into a much-deserved slumber thanks to a collection of 46 different sounds you can mix and match to create a quilt of sound that will distract you from — among other things — thinking about how you’d like to raid the refrigerator. It also works great to block out ambient sounds like traffic or your partner’s snoring. To use, all you do is scroll through the various sounds like “white noise,” “underwater,” “winds,” “flute,” and “rain.” Click on the sound you like, adjust its volume, then play with layering a few different sounds together to get the mix that works for you. The app also comes with 8 pre-made sound blends so if you’re just too tired to come up with your own, they’ve still got you covered. The paid version of this app adds even more sleep sounds, but the free version should deliver plenty of zzzz’s on its own.
Interval Timer – Seconds by Runloop (iPhone; works full-sized on iPad). This is a great app for anyone who’s interested in putting together their own workout routine. It’s a relatively basic app that lets you set up a series of timed intervals and arrange them into a continuous flow. So if you’re interested say, in creating a treadmill workout, you could use this app to create a series of sprints and recovery periods. You are able to have each interval draw music from a different playlist in iTunes, so it’s possible to have high-energy hits pumping during the more vigorous intervals and more mellow tunes flowing during the recovery phases. You are also able to program rest periods between each interval if you’d like. The free app is full featured, but if you’d like to save any intervals you create, you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version ($4.99).
Podrunner (iPhone; works on iPad in iPhone-sized window). When it comes to exercise, few things are as motivating as music. And when it comes to exercise music, the undisputed app champ is Podrunner. This app provides a series of music mixes created by professional DJ, Steve Boyett. But there’s a twist: Each mix is created according to a particular beats-per-minute rhythm pattern. All you need to do is select the BPM mix that suits your fitness level and then just move your feet to the beat. So, to start slow, you might want to go with the “Soloist” mix at 131 BPM. For a full-blast workout, “Racers Edge” at 181 BPM should do the trick. There are also a variety of mixes that move from lower BPMs to higher ones. There are over 100 different mixes all lasting, on average, an hour each. And, unbelievably, they’re all free.
Unstuck. (iPad only). Fitness isn’t only about washboard abs and python-like arms. It’s about being healthy both mentally and physically. This slick, cleverly illustrated app is like having your own shrink to work with at those moments in your life when you feel stuck — you know, like when you’re trying to stay on a diet or start a new fitness routine? After you boot it up, you’re instantly asked about your “stuck” moment. You’re first asked how you’re feeling and can then choose your answer from a series of tiles like “conflicted,” “unmotivated,” or “tired.” Choose a tile and you get a description of the emotion along with a chance to rank how intensely you feel it. You then choose whether your “type of stuck” is personal or professional (or both) and describe the thing you’re stuck on in a few words. This is followed by the chance to sort a deck of cards describing various thoughts like “I can’t get others to understand my idea” into two piles: So Me or Not Me. Finally, you’re asked to choose from a variety of actions you’re taking in the moment like: “I’m doing everything at once.” After all of this data is loaded in, your “stuck” analysis is produced which categorizes the type of stuck you are, like “Fuzzy Forecaster.” There’s a full description of your “type,” a list of other famous folks who fit the same category, a helpful quote, a comparison to others using the Unstuck app through social media and a series of tips for getting out of your rut. Perhaps most helpfully, there’s a customized tool that can walk you through concrete steps for getting past the hurdle keeping you from forward motion.
Men’s Fitness Complete Sport Training Guide (iPad). This small app is like getting a free issue of Men’s Fitness filled with lots of great interactive tips. As you swipe through the issue, you get the chance to push buttons and watch videos on a variety of topics including: how to up your endurance and speed; a primer on your daily fluid needs; specific excercises to do for specific sports (like the dead lift for soccer); useful at-home training equipment (like medicine balls) and instructions on how to use them; a workout music playlist; and a lot more. One of the most fun features in the e-mag is the page that lists a variety of food items in a series of tiles from zero to 60 calories. Tap each one to find out more about the nutritional values of various foods from the humble radish at one calorie to the mighty artichoke with 60.
Universal Breathing – Pranayama (iPhone; works full-sized on iPad). An oft-neglected component of fitness is the breath, but without it, we wouldn’t last very long on a treadmill or weight bench. The great yogis of the world have long known about the significance of proper breathing and even codified it through the practice of pramayana, a style of deep, deliberate breath work designed to integrate and enhance a yoga practice. But even if you’re not into twisting yourself into bows, downward dogs and camels, pramayana can still be a valuable tool. It helps to increase lung capacity and, as a meditative practice, it lowers blood pressure and stress while delivering an overall sense of well-being. It also teaches yo to break out of the shallow pattern of breath in which most people engage and breathe more deeply. Many of us have hard time just sitting still and focussing on nothing but the breath though, and that’s where this app comes in. You simply choose the number of breathes per minute you’d like to execute (7.06 is at the easy end, while 3.75 is more advanced) and then press the start button. A pie shaped timer shows you how long your inhale and exhale should take and a transparent 3-D computer illustration of a meditator demonstrates how to properly draw the air into your lungs using your diaphragm. You simply follow along. A chanted sound accompanies both the in and out breathes, adding to the meditative quality of the practice. The free version of this app features only the beginner level with limited music customization. The full app ($4.99) lets you progress to the intermediate and advanced levels with a range of different background music and breathing sounds.