Is Your Phone Helping or Hurting Your Workout?

Brittany Risher
by Brittany Risher
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Is Your Phone Helping or Hurting Your Workout?

Have you checked your phone lately?

Trick question, because we all know the answer is yes. But if you want data to back this up: The average American checks their phone 47 times per day, according to Deloitte, and spends almost 3 hours on their phone daily, according to Comscore.

If you work out, chances are you’ve had your phone with you during at least one run, class or lifting session. After all, if you don’t Instagram it, it didn’t happen, right?

But sweaty selfies aside, you may want to reconsider exercising with your phone. While there are some benefits, there are also some drawbacks.


First, the good, starting with using your phone to cue your playlist. Studies have repeatedly found listening to music during a workout can boost your performance and make you enjoy the work more.

“Music may be a strategy that can enhance people’s performance and enjoyment of sprint-interval training, which has the potential to translate into more positive attitudes and motivations to engage in this exercise in the future,” says researcher Matthew Stork, PhD, a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow.

But it’s not only sprints; self-selected music has been found to have the same benefits on other types of workouts, too.

Having your phone is also essential if you are doing virtual training over FaceTime or Skype or simply need to text your coach for advice.


But, just as taking your phone into work meetings can cause you to check Facebook when your boss’ voice starts sounding like the teacher from “Peanuts,” oftentimes our phones can distract us during a workout.

In a series of studies using college students, Michael Rebold, PhD, certified strength and conditioning specialist, integrative exercise science program director at Hiram College, looked at how using a cell phone impacts treadmill workouts. He found talking or texting may reduce speed and texting may decrease heart rate and reduce the amount of vigorous exercise and increase the amount of low-intensity exercise we do in a session.

In another study, he found postural stability — our ability to maintain balance — may be worse when we are texting and talking compared to when we’re just listening to music on our phone or not using it at all. This can increase the risk of falls and injuries.

“Using your cell phone for texting or talking purposes causes a dual-tasking effect. Exercise and the cell phone are in competition with each other, and our performance in both of these tasks at the same time are sacrificed,” explains Rebold, adding that he believes this would happen in any kind of workout, not just activity on a treadmill.


Both Rebold and Stork say the cons of combining your phone and your workout outweigh the pros.

“As of now, humans have not demonstrated to be effective multi-taskers with their cell phones while engaging in exercise-related activities,” Rebold says. “Leave your cell phone in the gym locker and wipe the dust off of that old iPod.”

You can also use Bluetooth headphones or, if your phone is your only way to listen to the music you like, make a playlist you know you’ll listen to without skipping any songs. Then put your phone on airplane mode so you cannot receive texts or calls, turn off any notifications from email or social media and do not look at it.

You know if your phone is a help or a hindrance, so be honest with yourself.

“One quote I’ve always liked is, ‘Are you here for something to do or to do something,’” says Stork, who’s worked as a strength and conditioning coach for varsity student athletes and elite-level athletes. “Many people spend a great deal of time at the gym socializing, on their phones or taking pictures. I personally find leaving my phone behind [in the locker] means I’m ready to get a good workout in!”

That may be the case for you, too. Don’t worry: Those likes, texts and FaceTimes will be there when you’re all showered.

About the Author

Brittany Risher
Brittany Risher

Brittany is a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. She loves experimenting with new vegan recipes and believes hummus is a food group. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on TwitterInstagram, and Google+.


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