MONEY health

The Cheapest Way to Achieve Your Fitness Goals

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Before dropping a fat wad of cash on a gym membership, consider these alternatives.

This time of year, gyms try hard to woo those who made losing weight their number one New Year’s resolution with promotional deals and the promise of “A New You for the New Year!”

But don’t be too quick to sign a contract. Research shows that 67% of gym memberships go unused, and at an average of $58 a month, you could be burning more money than calories in 2015.

Here are a few inexpensive gym alternatives that can provide the guidance and motivation you need as you lunge your way towards your fitness goals:

Your Digital Personal Trainer

A few sessions with a personal trainer will keep you honest, but at a price.

While it may not be quite as personal, you can get similar encouragement through technology: There are tons of free apps out there to help you come up with workout routines, track your fitness goals and monitor your progress, says Sarah Krieger, registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She suggested Johnson & Johnson’s Official 7 Minute Workout, which also made Men’s Fitness list of best fitness apps of 2014. “You can download it once and do it anywhere, even hotel rooms,” she says.

Men’s Fitness also liked apps like Six Pack Abs, CycleNav for bikers, and Strength Calc Natty Edition for weightlifters. Jessica Matthews, senior health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise, adds that calorie tracking apps like My Fitness Pal can also be great motivators, says Matthews. On that app, you can track your weight loss and body measurements, set goals for yourself, and get encouragement from friends who also use the tool.

Willing to spend a little bit of money? Wearables like FitBit ($60 to $250) and UP by Jawbone ($50 to $180) give you a more comprehensive analysis of your physical activity as well as monitoring your progress—which can really help you stick with a new regime, says Matthews.

Classes on Your Computer

Maybe you need a structured fitness program to keep you on track? You can replicate the experience of aerobics classes in your own home.

DVD series like P90X have become popular at-home workout options. However, such programs do typically require an initial investment of more than $100.

That’s cheaper than a gym, but you may be able to do even better on price: Subscription streaming services like DailyBurn, YogaGlo or SpiroFIT offer a variety of workout options for $5 to $18 a month.

Or there’s YouTube, which offers a lot of free exercise content.

Big names in the fitness world like Todd Durkin and Stacy McCarthy have their own channels, says Matthews, “and every major kind of fitness organization is putting out free content as well.”

Web-based services are especially convenient, because they offer expert instruction wherever and whenever you have time for a few lunges. “As long as you have power, you have access to any kind of exercise in video form right there in your living room,” Krieger says.

Equipment at a Discount

Who needs equipment? You have access to one of the greatest machines ever built—your body. Bodyweight exercises have actually been a trend in the fitness industry over the past few years, says Matthews.

Considered functional fitness, squats, lunges and pushups are great for beginners because they don’t require equipment and can be modified based on your fitness level, Matthews adds.

But if you know you’d be more likely to work out if you had a full free-weight set, or machinery like a treadmill or elliptical, buying used will save you some money, Krieger advises.

Much like unused gym memberships, nearly two thirds of Americans haven’t used their exercise equipment in six months or more. So at yard sales, resale stores, and sites like Craigslist and eBay, thrifty shoppers can find equipment that has been gathering dust in the neighbor’s basement for a discounted price. Looking at Craigslist in Philadelphia recently, there were many treadmill options available for $200 or less.

The one thing Krieger definitely recommends investing in? A good pair of shoes that you feel comfortable walking a mile in. That’s a good way to stay excited about getting up from your desk to burn a couple extra calories on your lunch break.

“We all are committed to our desk,” she says, “but if you really can walk the stairs in any building or pick the parking space way in the back of the lot, it really is better for your health.”

If you do decide to join a gym…

•Stay close to home. Remember that convenience is the key to a lasting change, so don’t opt for the nice big gym across town with the great promotion if it’s so far out of the way that you will never go to it.

•Read the fine print. Many gyms require you to sign a contract. Knowing the terms of your agreement, particularly the length of the contract, what is included in your payments and how to cancel your membership, is crucial.

•Shop around. Around the New Year, many gyms waive their initiation fee, says Matthews. And if they haven’t, it’s not too brazen to ask if they’d waive it just for you. With so many fitness options available at discounted prices this season, the gym might be willing to drop the fee if it means they win your business.

•Start with a free trial. Many gyms offer guest passes that allow you to get a feel for the facilities, plus help you determine if you will keep up your end of the I’m-going-to-the-gym-four-times-a-week resolution before you shell out the big bucks for a full membership.

 

More on resolutions:

TIME health

The 10 Essential Rules of Gym Etiquette

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Treat others who are working out as you'd like to be treated

1. Contain your exercise equipment. Don’t leave your water bottle, towel, weights, and other equipment strewn all over the stretching area. That may fly in your bedroom, but others will not appreciate navigating an obstacle course on their way to work out.

2. Do not socialize. While working out with a friend is a great motivator, it’s difficult for others to focus when you’re chatting loudly on the treadmill, or worse, standing on the machine next to them but not actually using it. That heat you feel on your back is people shooting daggers with their eyes.

3. Respect others’ headphones. If you see someone you know at the gym, say hello! But don’t try to strike up a conversation with someone in the zone with headphones on. In fact, approaching someone with headphones can be dangerous. Tapping them on the shoulder could startle them enough to lose control, and we can pretty much guarantee they won’t be happy.

4. Share with others. We know it’s tempting to hoard everything you need, but there is a gym full of people who likely use some of the same equipment, so loosen your grip a little.

5. Do not peer at adjacent TV screens. You know that feeling you get when someone is looking over your shoulder and you can’t get anything done? That’s how it feels to have someone watching your channel on the elliptical television.

6. Do not loiter and text on a machine. If you need to catch up on emails or text messages, feel free to do so in the locker room. Sitting on a machine texting, unfortunately, doesn’t count as working out.

7. Arrive to group classes on time. If you’re late to a cardio class, politely set up in the back, and try not to disturb others. If you’re running late to yoga, know that you’re likely disrupting people’s practice when you enter 10 minutes after it starts.

8. Wipe down your machine. We know—you think that the next person will just wipe down the treadmill before they start their workout. You’re wrong, though.

9. Do not douse yourself with perfume. Perfume and sweat is not a great combo in an already smelly gym. But while you should skip the perfume, please don’t skip the deodorant.

10. Do not stare. No, everyone will not have a private little changing room in the locker rooms. Keep your eyes to yourself, please.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

More from Real Simple:

TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Signs You’re Not Working Out Hard Enough

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If you're not sore or tired, it might be time to up the intensity

Although any kind of physical activity is better than nothing, some workout plans are better than others in terms of overall effectiveness. While you may think you’re getting a good workout by spending an hour reading a magazine on the stationary bike, the truth is, if you’re leaving the gym with your make-up still perfectly intact, you’re probably not working hard enough.

But a fresh face isn’t the only way to tell you aren’t getting in a good gym session. If your workout isn’t working any more, one of these five reasons could be to blame.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

You’re not monitoring your heart rate

Whether you’re on a cardio machine or doing some high-intensity interval training (HIIT), your heart rate should fluctuate between 75% of your maximum when you’re just starting out, eventually building to 100%. (To roughly determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.) An easy way to track this is by using a heart-rate monitor that will let you know, in real time, where your heart is at. Some people mistake sweating to be the only indicator of working out hard enough, when in reality some people may just be more prone to sweating than others. A heart-rate monitor is simply the most effective way to gauge your intensity level. These days they’re easy to come by and definitely worth the investment. But if you don’t have one, go old school and stop to check your pulse halfway through your workout.

You can hold a conversation

A leisurely stroll with a friend is a nice way to pass the time, but not if you expect that activity to help you lose weight. To put it simply, if you can hold a conversation during your workout, you’re just not working hard enough. Short phrases, perhaps, but if you’re able to belt out Taylor Swift while jogging, you need to reassess your workout plan (and maybe your level of shamelessness).

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You’re not even a little sore the next day

No pain, no gain. A good way to tell how hard you worked out is to wait 24 hours and see how you feel. When you exercise, you cause microscopic damage to your muscles. The muscles then adapt, repair themselves, and grow stronger. Basically, you should feel moderate soreness after a workout; if not, you probably didn’t stimulate your muscle enough to get results. (But not so sore that you can’t go about your regular routine.) Give yourself a day in between to rest and rebuild those sore muscle groups while you work another, alternating days so you don’t overwork one particular group.

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You work out at the same intensity all the time

Once you’ve been on a workout plan for a while and aren’t becoming as sore or tired, it might be time to up the intensity. If you want to gain lean muscle mass and definition, start adding more weight; if you’re using lighter weights to tone up, add some extra repetitions (Instead of 10-15 reps, try 25.) If you’re doing cardio, try going a little faster or start incorporating more interval training into the mix. Because your body is constantly adapting, if you do the same thing over and over again, your body won’t be challenged enough to make a change. Be mindful that the more you work out, the more effort you’ll have to expend to keep making progress.

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You’re not cross-training

Not only do you need to change the intensity of your workout, but also the variety of what you’re doing. Get creative. Fit people don’t stick to one regimen: they cross train. If you’re doing the same set of squats and bicep curls day in and day out, you’re probably creating imbalances in your body (not to mention it’s just plain boring). Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Force yourself to be uncomfortable. If you’re a runner, add some free weights. If you only lift weights, try adding some yoga or Pilates into your routine to balance out your body’s ratio of strength and flexibility. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but start by challenging your body to do something it’s not used to doing.

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You’re not seeing physical changes

That’s not to say if you don’t see results after a week you should give up. After all, how long did it take for your body to get to where it is now? But if you’ve been consistently working out and eating healthfully for more than a few months and you haven’t noticed even a slight physical change—be it a number on the scale or inches lost depending on your fitness goals—then you might need to reassess your routine. It should be a slow progression if you’re doing it the right way, but a progression nonetheless.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

7 Ways to Make Your Treadmill Runs More Effective

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You may think your legs are doing all the work, but don't ignore your upper body

I don’t think it’s any secret that I despise the treadmill. If I had the choice between banging out a five-miler on that hamster wheel or slogging through a snowy Central Park, I’d definitely pick the latter. Personal preferences aside, the treadmill can actually be a pretty useful tool (there, I said it) if used correctly.

To help make my miles more manageable, and just get a better overall workout when I do find myself on the treadmill belt, I reached out to David Siik, a running coach and creator of Equinox’s treadmill training program Precision Running. I put his tips to the test, and actually enjoyed my last treadmill session. Read on the see if they help you tread right, too.

Plan ahead

Don’t just hop on and go. First of all, you’ll be incredibly bored and more likely to stop short of your goal. Instead, have a strategy—whether it’s speed intervals, incline intervals, or a combination of both. This will not only keep you engaged (and challenged!), but help you make real fitness strides, too. What’s more: You’ll probably end up logging even more miles in less time simply by varying your tempo.

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Take your hands off the rails during inclines

You probably see people doing this all the time. Heck, you may even do it yourself, but Siik says it’s a big no no. “Holding on isn’t good for your back, and it’s not helping you get any stronger either,” he explains. Feel the need to grip for dear life? Chances are you’re going too fast for that particular incline. Siik’s suggestion: Slow your pace until you can climb without clinging on.

Step back from the display console

Running too close to the display causes you to shorten your stride and run with an unnatural posture, all of which means you aren’t running as efficiently as you could be. So inch back and give yourself some room. (Don’t worry, you probably won’t fall off the back of the treadmill, but you can always clip the emergency stop cord to your shirt for peace of mind.)

HEALTH.COM: Why Joining a Gym This Year May Be a Waste of Money

Stretch your arms and shoulders first

You may think your legs are doing all the work, but your upper body participates in your runs as well. “Your arms and shoulders play a crucial role in balancing forces created when running,” says Siik. They also help drive you forward, so make sure they’re warmed up and just as ready to work as your legs. Try this: Grab the ends of a towel with both hands, holding it taut behind your head. While maintaining tension in the towel, bend one arm, then the other, slowly moving the towel back and forth behind your neck.

Minimize arm swinging

Avoid swinging your arms across the center line of your body, advises Siik. The goal: “Keep them parallel to your legs to create a more stable running form and to work your core better.” Your hands should move up and down, not side to side.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

Relax your face and hands

Yes, running can be tough, but try not to show the strain on your face by scrunching it all up when you’re doing intervals. Keep things loose and remember to breathe. Also important: Relax your hands. This will reduce tension in the body, creating a more smooth and relaxed running form, which will allow you do to more and hurt less.

Say ‘no’ to smartphones

These days, we all seem to be tethered to our iPhones or Androids. But the treadmill and these techy gadgets just don’t mix. One misstep caused by trying to shoot off a quick text while cruising at a 7.0 could leave you sidelined. Plus, research shows that people who spent more time on their smartphones were less physically fit than their lower-use counterparts. Limit your phone use to a rockin’ playlist.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Exercises for Healthy Knees

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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MONEY health

Joining A Gym This New Year May Be A Waste Of Money

Gyms know many of the customers who get memberships because of a New Year’s sale will not continue to come to they gym past January. They actually count on the membership revenue from those who never come to keep afloat.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Fitness Trends to Try in 2015

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The next big thing? Body weight training

Curious about what’s going to be hot in the wellness sphere next year? Well, you’ve come to the right place. We put our sneakers to the ground to find out what fitness trends could be making their way into your gym in 2015. Happy sweating.

Body weight training

According to an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) survey of more than 3,000 fitness professionals worldwide, body weight training is predicted to be the next big thing. “Expect to see it continue to expand in all movement experiences including both group and personal training,” says Carol Espel, Senior Director, Group Fitness and Pilates at Equinox. “Look for the comprehensive incorporation of gymnastics, adult jungle gyms, workout spaces that are uncluttered with weight machines and open for training, greater suspension training options, primal movements, and more programming that is less focused on standard weight lifting protocols.” In other words, those tried and true exercises that don’t require equipment—like lunges, squats, push-ups, and burpees—are here to stay, so embrace them.

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High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

OK, HIIT (think P90X) did take a hit over the past year dropping from the number one spot on the 2013 ACSM survey to number two this year. But we assure you that this technique, which alternates intense bursts of exercise with short, sometimes active, recovery periods, isn’t going anywhere. The reason: It’s super effective. “People are exercising in shorter bursts and they are still seeing results,” notes Donna Cyrus, Senior Vice President of Programming at Crunch. This should be no surprise, though. After all, who wants to slave away at the gym for hours each day when you can blast fat in as little as 20 minutes? Exactly.

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Treadmill training

Boutique studios that specialize in one specific fitness genre—be it underwater cycling or trampoline workouts—will continue to rise in popularity. However, within this group fitness sector, indoor group running has been steadily gaining momentum. From big gym chains like Equinox and Crunch to smaller studios like Mile High Run Club, treadmill-based training is poised to become the new “it” workout. Yes, many view this piece of machinery as a torture device (I know I’ve called it a dreadmill on more than one occasion), but these classes are truly beneficial, helping to improve your running through speed, incline, and interval-based drills.

“There is a trend in fitness to return to simplicity, and running is the oldest form of exercise,” explains Andia Winslow, a fitness expert and coach at Mile High Running Club. “With indoor treadmill training, participants are in a controlled and yet challenging environment where they can, regardless of fitness level, keep up with class while running on industry elite commercial equipment. With less strain on bones, joints and tendons, runners can focus instead on form, specialized and programmed intensity and being wholly engaged with their runs.” Even better: You will never have to worry about it being too cold or raining too hard to log those miles.

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Recovery efforts

Don’t you just love a super intense workout? The way it pushes you to your limits, leaving behind a reminder (read: sore muscles) of all the hard work you put in. Here’s the deal, though, too much intense training can throw your body out of whack, leaving it open for potential injuries, which is why recovery is essential. “A balanced body is key, which means all of your muscles are working correctly, not just some of them,” says David Reavy, PT, owner of React Physical Therapy and creator of the Reavy Method. “Weak muscles will fatigue quickly, and you over train muscles that are already strong. The compensation and overuse of muscles and not the work brings the need for recovery.” This is why “we will continue to see the rapid expansion of group formats that include self-care protocols for self myofascial release (SMR), such as foam rolling and therapy balls, core strengthening and dynamic stretching, full recovery days and clear focus on sleep as an integral part of one’s fitness regimen,” says Espel. “And of course restorative yoga formats will continue to become a much more prevalent part of programming.”

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Digital engagement

In our tech-obsessed world, this one seems like a no-brainer. Just take Nike, for example: I learned at their Women’s Summit last month that 9 million women have downloaded the Nike Running app and 16 million women have downloaded the Nike Training (NTC) app. And that’s just one company—think about all of the other fitness apps and cool trackers out there that put a wealth of health info at our fingertips. The reason we’re still obsessed with these modalities is because “they provide inspiration, guidance and coaching,” explained Stefan Olander, VP of Digital Sport for Nike at the summit. Not to mention the social factor. Adds Espel: “We will continue so see an even greater level of engagement of the use of multiple devices to track and log movement, nutrition, sleep and all aspects of activity,” she says. “The challenge for all will be determining what data is pertinent and then how providers and health care experts take the most relevant information and make it continually meaningful to users.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Ways to Make Yourself Work Out When You Don’t Want To

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Schedule a weekly class, run, walk, hike, or tennis match with your friend, partner, or family member

As the days start to get shorter and the temperatures drop, you may be tempted to slack off on your workout routine. After all, it’s also no longer swimsuit season and we can hide under cozy layers! But it’s so important to keep moving and find something you not only love to do but also can do all year round.

For instance, during the spring and summer, I love to run, bike, swim, play tennis, chase my little guy all over the playground and hike with him in his baby carrier. But as winter approaches, I can fall back on my yoga practice, Pilates workouts, bundled walks, strength training, and skiing. Though, there are still some mornings when I would much rather snuggle in bed.

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Here are some motivational tricks to help you break a sweat because you’ll definitely feel better after working out—and have the body to show for it winter, spring, summer, and fall.

1. Drink a cup of joe

Coffee is an ergogenic aid and can stimulate you to work out and help you last longer during your workout. Also, if you tell yourself, ‘I’m going to have a cup of coffee then lift weights’ you’ll have something set in your head. Try to keep this trick for you AM or midday workouts not later in the evening, though.

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2. Plan your reward

Promise yourself you can only view the latest episode of “Scandal” or “New Girl” after you log a workout. Or if you’re not a TV watcher, give yourself some sort of reward for working out. I tell myself once I do my yoga practice, then I can surf the web for cute clothes for my baby boy.

3. Make a date

Schedule a weekly class, run, walk, hike, or tennis match with your friend, partner, or family member. I’m part of an Upper West Side Moms stroller walk and talk meet-up group in New York City. I get so much out of meeting other moms and spending an hour working out with them while still being with my son. Find something you can do—even if it’s joining a bowling league—that meets weekly and gets you excited to move.

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4. Listen to your playlist

It’s like Pavlov’s dog: if you have a great playlist to work out to, once you play it, chances are you’ll get in the mood to break a sweat. Any upbeat music can get you in the mood to move your body. Just turn on Pandora or your favorite artist and dance around your living room or put on your headphones and go outside or to the gym to run.

5. Buy yourself new workout clothes

When I get a new yoga tank or an awesome pair of workout pants, I want to use them! I update my wardrobe each season with clothes that work for the whether. Invest in some fun long sleeve workout tops, get a long pair of running pants that will block the wind, find layers you love, and dress for success. I loved back-to-school shopping as s little girl and couldn’t wait to wear each outfit every day. I channel that same enthusiasm and excitement in to my workout wardrobe and plan some fun, new workout classes to take.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME health

4 Ways Health Tracking Apps Can Change Your Life

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Yagi Studio—Getty Images Digital tablet and Variety of icons

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Virtually every kind of digital program or app we use is modeled on an analog predecessor. Spreadsheets are the digital iteration of accountant logs, and word processing software is modeled off the good-ol’ sheet of paper. We’re human after all, and we’ve always used record-keeping to help deal with uncertainty and the unknown. Now, throw clever entrepreneurial activity into the mix, and you’ve got some of the most helpful, beefed-up quantified self tools on the market. Being able to track exact data in the ways that apps have enabled us to is one of the most modern ways of curtailing the worries that come with personal data guestimation. Tracking our lives may not be a new concept, but it’s certainly shinier. Here’s how our quest to conquer our own data has evolved on a variety of fronts.

Fertility

Before: bare bones calendars, pee sticks, or the pull-out method that seventh grade sex-ed rightfully taught us to avoid (personal shout out to my teacher who made us all think that a foreskin looked like the sleeve of her chenille sweater).

Now: Apps like Clue track important signs of fertility cycles like discharge consistency, fertility windows, menstrual regularity, and of course, attempts at fertilization. On a calendar interface, handy color-coordinated graphics display those quantifiable elements in a cohesive, easily digestible visual. In a world divided over the necessity of women’s health initiatives, it feels empowering to be in tune with cycles — a knowledge that provides transparency in regard to the way our reproductive systems function in our daily lives. Tracking the minutiae that apps allow takes this empowerment and the decision-making to a greater level of security and certainty in the things our bodies are doing.

(MORE: 5 Period Tracking Apps)

Exercise

Before: the Casio stopwatch whose memory will live on in the minds of all who consumed electronics in the ’80s and ’90s. If you don’t remember them, we suggest you watch WarGames to see what kind of technology impressed us then.

Now: Anything we do with our bodies is better when customized, and exercise is no exception. We may suck at some sports, and be incredible at others. This is why the vast array of exercise apps are so exciting. Are you sedentary, and feeling lost on where to start? Apps like Couch-to-5K teach you techniques from square one, keeping track of progress and goals. Are you a seasoned pro who wants to streamline outings? Other apps like RunKeeper serve as simultaneous timekeepers and route-mappers. Tracking the very personal activity that is exercise provides a level of support that could be equated to that of a coach. Literally — many apps have pre-programmed motivational comments that are set to play at various intervals in a workout.

Food

Before: a dog-eared, Weight Watchers-inspired logbook with only the most basic functions of food tracking in the layout. Oh, and a separate book was needed with a list of foods and their proprietary nutrition information.

Now: The most central function is the same across the board. A list of food and meals are entered into their respective breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack slots, and their calories, fats, and proteins, and other important nutrients are tracked. But, instead of shuffling through pages of small guidebooks, a food item’s nutritional information can be sourced through vast databases of restaurant and grocery store goods, as well as preset listings for favorite meals. There’s even barcode scanners for the elusive few items that aren’t listed. These features are standard in apps like MyPlate and LoseIt — and are great even if you’re not trying to lose weight. Tracking food means that we can keep an eye on some of the details about ingredients or sustainability that both greatly affect our health, yet often manage to slip through the cracks.

(MORE: 10 Fitness Apps That Get Results)

Medical Conditions

Before: regular, often-expensive trips to the doctor’s office or crossing your fingers and hoping that apple a day actually contains immune-boosting properties.

Now: Medical tracking — which has been around since the days Bayer enabled diabetics to measure their own glucose levels — goes beyond the level of personal empowerment seen on other fronts to a place that’s vital to our very existence. Having real-time data about the state of our physical existence is a way to catch health hiccups before they become emergencies; this helps to maintain a top quality of life. With fewer guestimations and more exact data, we know when to act and when to relax. Of course, if something really seems off, seeing a professional is still your best bet. But, having the ability to keep tabs on things like sleep cycle measurements or medicine dosages puts more control in the hands of the patient herself, which means less time spent on some of the more menial medical checkups. Even the original diabetes tracking methods have seen a spiffy new user interface on mobile apps.

(MORE: These Apps Just Might Be the Future of Beauty)

TIME Exercise

4 Exercise Swaps That Burn More Calories

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Isolating muscles is so last year. Unless you’re rehabbing from an injury or working to strengthen a weaker part of your body, the rule of thumb should be to work as many muscles as possible with each exercise (while of course maintaining good form). The more muscles you can incorporate into each set, the more effective and efficient your workout will be.

You don’t need more time to work out; you just need more intensity. By swapping these five simple exercises you can maximize your effort and calorie burn while minimizing your time spent at the gym.

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Squats instead of leg press machine

While a leg press is good for isolating your quads, it leaves something to be desired as a total-body exercise. The truth is you have to add so much more weight on a leg press machine to get the same effect that squatting vertically would have. And whereas the leg press includes little to no stabilizer muscle involvement (because the machine gives you total upper body support), squatting forces you to recruit those stabilizer muscles groups in order to complete each rep. That is, your hip adductors (inner thighs) to keep your knees spaced shoulder width apart, as well as your ab muscles to hold your torso in place as the knees bend. Talk about a full body exercise. Don’t forget to keep the knees right on top of the heels as you squat down—less pressure on the joints and you’ll really feel those hamstrings and glutes fire.

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Plank on a BOSU ball instead of crunches

In terms of overall total body effectiveness, we all know that the plank is superior to the crunch. By holding your entire body in an isometric contraction you’re strengthening everything from your abs and glutes, to your legs, back, and chest. But we’re cranking it up a little further. Adding some sort of balancing factor to your plank—in this case a BOSU ball—will have your whole body, especially your core, feeling the burn in no time. Simply place your forearms on the rounded side while you do your plank. You can also try them with your arms on the flat side. Once you master holding your BOSU ball plank for at least 30 seconds, start adding in some variations—slow mountain climbers and then adding a twist to the opposite side as you bring the knee into the chest are just a few to get your mind working. Any variation after that is fair game. Get creative!

VersaClimber instead of the bike

If you’re one of those people who loves to sit on the bike and occupy your upper body with a book or magazine while your lower body does all the work, listen up. Cardio success is not about the number of calories burned during your 45-minute session. It’s about elevating your heart rate enough for a prolonged period of time (about 20 minutes at 80% or higher) to achieve the “afterburn” effect, boosting your metabolism so you continue to burn additional calories throughout that day and the next. The VersaClimber is a great option because it incorporates upper and lower body movements at the same time, which not only keeps you engaged in the workout but also means you can cut your time spent on the machine in half. So, give it a try. In addition to preventing boredom, switching up your cardio routine will keep your body guessing and you on track to achieving your fitness goals.

HEALTH.COM: 24 Fat-Burning Ab Exercises (No Crunches!)

Dumbbell bench instead of traditional bench press

Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is not the best move for the upper body. While it may do a good job of isolating a few specific muscles, using two dumbbells instead of the traditional bar will increase your range of motion and recruit more muscles in the shoulders and back as well. Not only that, but you can add some core work into the equation by alternating arms one at a time to challenge your balance and force those abs to join the party. If you really want to kick it up a notch, try switching out the bench for a Swiss Ball and get some more stabilizers involved!

HEALTH.COM: 9 Low-Fat Foods You Shouldn’t Eat

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME health

How to Get Over Your Fear of the Gym

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Gym + Intimidation = Gymtimidation, and I’ve had a bad case of it for years. As a big girl, gym culture can be intimidating for a variety of reasons. I know I need to lift weights and build strength, but that testosterone-filled section of the gym doesn’t always feel fat-girl friendly, especially when I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing.

But, it’s not just the free-weight room that gives me anxiety. I’m a strong swimmer, but when I head to my gym’s pool, I’ve had lifeguards ask if I’m looking for the slow lane — before I even get in the water. I’ve noticed that the women who look fit are offered free personal-training sessions, while instructors size me up and simply dismiss me because I’m bigger.

I’m on a plus-size fitness journey, though, which means I need to get comfortable at the gym. In order for me to do this right, I need to work out often and try new things. If I only stick to the exercise classes and workouts I’ve always done, my body’s going to get used to those exercises, essentially making them less effective. And, I intend to meet my fitness goals — not shy away from them.

(MORE: Why Body Confidence is Complicated, No Matter Your Size)

Because of my tendency to get nervous at the gym (and practically run out before I start sweating), there have been many times when I’ve had to give myself a pep talk: “CeCe, get over it!” Lately, when I head to the gym, I have to take a quick minute to remind myself that it’s ok to ask for help. That I must get over my fear of the guys in the weight room. I’m also working on getting more comfortable with getting undressed in the main locker-room area, which is a heck of a lot easier than doing it behind the doors of a cramped stall.

Getting over my gymtimidation is an ongoing process. Every time I think I’ve shed my fears and anxieties, there’s something new I have to conquer: a new machine, a new instructor, or even my desire to try new classes, like Spinning.

When I first braved a Spinning class, I didn’t know anyone in it, so I made sure to arrive 30 seconds before class started to stay as anonymous as possible. I jumped on a bike in the back corner of the room and watched the regulars exchange hugs and kisses before the lights dimmed and class began.

(MORE: Why I Dated a Guy Who Hated My Body)

The next 45 minutes were awful. My shoes got stuck in the pedal straps, I kept turning knobs on my bike without knowing what they did, and, perhaps worst of all, my butt really hurt. When the class ended, I ran out of there as fast as I could and didn’t return.

But, the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to attend another Spinning class meant only one thing to me: I was letting gymtimidation rob me of a good workout. So, last week, I got back on that bike. I arrived early this time, chose a bike in the front row, and when the instructor walked in and asked if I was new, I admitted that I was and asked for help. He taught me how the bike worked and how to set up my seat and handles. The class was definitely intense, but every step of the way, the instructor gave me the attention I needed to keep up. He even instructed me to sit back on the seat a bit, because, as he said, my butt was probably hurting. How did he know?

Forty-five minutes later, I walked out of the studio feeling sweaty, motivated, and, above all, proud of myself. I had finally gotten out of my own way and unlocked a new workout option for myself. Who knew what other workouts I’d try next? As I headed to the locker room, the instructor called out after me: “Great job today! I’m glad you mentioned that you were new; most people don’t do that.” I guess I’m not the only one with gymtimidation!

(MORE: Please Stop Calling Yourself a Fat Girl in Front of Me)

On her blog, Plus Size Princess, CeCe Olisa has detailed everything from what it’s like to be the only big black girl in a yoga class (fine, thanks!), to her adventures in plus-size dating in the Big Apple. Now, the New York City transplant is lending her poignant, often-hilarious voice to R29.

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