trail crew

Must-Have Android Health Apps, Part II

It should come as no surprise that many of the free apps in the Android market are ineptly named -- after all, these are programmers doing their thing, not marketeers. Expecting a programmer to come up with a sexy title is a little bit like having a chiropractic doctor create a drug name. "Sideffecta" is the first one that comes to my mind, which is probably why SmithKlineBeechamKilla hasn't come around knocking on my door with money in hand.

Which is all a backdoor way to introduce the Center for Alternative Medicine's second winner in the Next-Year-It-Will-Be-Annual Health App Awards: Jefit

I don't know where the name comes from (somebody's android dog, maybe?) but just ignore that. This is the best app a gym rat could ask for.

Maybe a little background is in order. Back in the stone ages, I spent my summers working for the AMC Trail Crew, in the high peaks of the White Mountains. It was intense physical labor, consisting of cutting trees with axes, rolling multi-ton rocks up and down jagged slopes, and carrying ridiculously heavy loads of tools, supplies and food up steep mountain trails. And if you spent your winters as a student of the liberal and hard sciences, as I did, that first week of summer could be a real bear. So I took it upon myself to start keeping in shape during the off season.

Now this was long before gyms became the cheery, chic places they are now. At the university I attended, the weight room was in the corner of the basement of the fieldhouse, and was occupied by two groups -- the football team, and the body-builders. It smelled like stale sweat socks, or worse if somebody's lunch got the better of them in the middle of some squats, had one Nautilus machine and a bevy of free weights, bars and benches. No juice bars, no stereo, no carpeting, just a fan to blow around the stale air.

I knew little about lifting. All I knew is that I needed to be stronger than I ever had been before by the time spring rolled around. While the football squad was less than welcoming, the bodybuilders, who worked out in the odd times that I had available, were a pretty friendly crowd. They took me under their wing, and taught me a lot about lifting, in that time-honored personal transmission of tradecraft that occurred before the internet. And though some of them were assuredly juicing, I was never part of that inner circle in which the "true knowledge" was imparted.

So I learned -- the good techniques as well as the bad -- and gradually developed an addiction to the art of being strong, an addiction which has never really left me. One of the techniques that I learned was that you couldn't evaluate your progress unless you wrote it down. And as you altered your routines to combat your weaknesses, as a general might alter his troop strategy, you were lost unless you had a map of where you had been. After a while, I began keeping a small spiral-bound notebook in my gym bag in which I charted my progress. I still have a few of those notebooks tucked away up in the attic. Last time I looked at one, I could see where the ink had run from my sweat dripping on them, and the thing still smelled like that poorly-ventilated room with a wall of mirrors.

Fast-forward to the next century. I have a dedicated workout room in my house, equipped with weights, which sees heavy use in the winter as my long cycling trips become warm-weather memories. In the corner sits a stool with a 3-ring notebook, pages full of workout information -- weight, sets, reps, rest times -- the unrefined data documenting what is no longer my preparation for a season's high-altitude adventures, but is instead my fight against age and encroaching debility (not to mention my number one prevention strategy against infection, cancer and heart disease).

Until a couple of months ago, when I stumbled onto Jefit in the Android Marketplace (you were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get around to actually reviewing the application, weren't you?). After looking over many of the purported apps for tracking exercise, none of them come close to doing as good a job as Jefit.

The opening screen allows you to define multiple routines, and assign them to particular days. You can set up a profile with measurements from weight to bicipital circumference. There are a wealth of pre-defined exercises, with visual triggers, and even animated demonstrations. You can also define your own, for those of us who have found, err, novel ways of exercising, or who employ some of the Naked Warrior training techniques which have gained popularity with the rise of the UFC.

You can also add your one rep max data, which will be tracked automatically. After setting up your routines, use is simple. You do the exercise, then use the drop down values on the screen to input weight and rep. Hit the "Save and Time" button, and your data will be logged and the timer set for your next exercise. The input fields default to your last used value, on the assumption (in my case, all-too-frequently correct) that you haven't thrown another plate on for this set. If you are proceeding to another exercise, the timer screen will tell you what it is and how much you lifted last time, so you can set up your equipment during the rest period.

When you've finished your routine, the app tells you "Congratulations" -- always a nice thing to hear, even if it is coming from your smartphone -- and gives you the option of reviewing your log or exiting.

And that's it. Jefit offers a clean, simple interface that doesn't take too much thought when your brain is awash in that pecular combination of enkephalins and Substance P that are the hallmark of a good weight-training session, and your hand is trembling too much to accomplish fine coordination skills. The app will soon have a website to which you can upload your data and track it more thoroughly, in much the same way that my previous winner, Endomondo does.

In any event, it is the perfect next-generation replacement for my old spiral-bound notebooks, and keeps my workouts incredibly productive. What more could an aging gym rat ask for?