Getting Fit Online: Your Guide To Web Workouts

Has watching nonstop Olympics coverage left you flabby, but eager to get fit? A variety of online workout sites, gaming systems like Nintendo's Wii Fitness -- even Apple's iPhone -- can motivate and whip you into shape.

Ivan Schneider, Contributor

August 18, 2008

11 Min Read

Olympic athletes can be great motivators for couch spuds who want to get into shape.

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As IT professionals, we all know that sitting in front of the computer all day dealing with the stress of the modern world makes us flabby and weak. And we all know what we have to do to compensate for our sedentary workplace -- diet and exercise.

A plethora of Internet sites, computer programs, devices, DVDs, and videogames purports to put you on the path to perfect fitness. In this article, we examine some of the tools that can make you ripped, cut, and fit -- or at least sweaty and tired.

Get Motivated

First things first: Before you go surfing around the fitness-themed Internet, make sure you're in an accepting state of mind regarding your own physical condition. You're going to see countless images of fit, toned, and healthy-looking individuals who may look nothing like the person in the mirror, and this can be a disturbing experience.

Marketers will play upon your body consciousness and self-image gaps to convince you to do a set of reps with your credit card. If you're not careful, you can end up in worse shape, under a heavier debt load, and inhaling comfort foods to compensate for lost time. So don't beat yourself up about not being in perfect physical condition, and start your fitness journey with a visit to for brief articles about weight neutrality, "health at every size," and body intelligence. Also, check with your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program.

The recent round-the-clock Olympics coverage from NBC (for U.S.-based viewers), featuring live Olympic video (powered by Microsoft Silverlight), athletes' blogs, and mobile content, may have given you extra motivation to get in shape. While cheering on your country's athletic champions in your favorite events from archery to wrestling, perhaps you've been inspired to say, "Hey, I can do that!" It doesn't matter if you can do something at an Olympic level -- it's the act of getting out there and doing something physical that counts. Get The Body Of A Gamer

Wii Fit provides immediate feedback.

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Nintendo has a tremendous hit with the Wii Fit, likely to remain in short supply through the Christmas shopping season. According to reviews (my local store has been out of stock for weeks), the Wii Fit ranks high in aesthetics and fun, as well as technological innovation with the Wii balance board.

Wii Fit provides instant feedback on your workouts, telling you if you're doing your push-ups correctly -- as if you didn't know you were cheating. But it's not the end-all of fitness machines, as the need to use the Wiimote to switch between exercises makes it a bit lacking in "flow" relative to a continuous jog, spin class, or yoga session.

If you want to get a workout while playing any console game, whether it's the sports-themed FIFA '08 or just your average first-person-shooter, try Gamercize. While you're pedaling the miniature cycle or using the step machine, game play proceeds normally. But as soon as your activity level dips above or below designated thresholds, your controller shuts off until you start exercising again. Units are available in the GZ Sport ($139) and GZ Sport-Pro ($239) models, for PlayStation3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii; and PC-Sport for your PC or laptop if you dare to extend the concept to your office.

Fitness For Apple Fanboys

Apple wants you to look good in a black turtleneck; reports indicate they've got a comprehensive fitness system in the works. In the meantime, here are some fitness options for your iPod.

Nike+iPod will collect data on every step you take during a run. The Nike+iPod Sport Kit ($29) includes a sensor that fits under the insole of a pair of Nike+ shoes (or if you're the hacker type, you can also figure out how to "mod" an ordinary pair of sneakers).

An "accelerometer" in the sensor can send data to a Nike+ SportBand, which displays time, distance, pace, and calories, or to a wireless receiver connected to your iPod Nano, which then syncs the workout data with iTunes and Also at the site, you can set challenges for yourself, program training goals, map your runs, or join the community (whose favorite PowerSong for workouts, incidentally, is Eye of the Tiger). The site also tracks your workouts at Nike+iPod-compatible cardio machines.

Use your iPhone to log your gym, home, cycling, running, or hiking activities with Whagaa! GoLearn Fitness.

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You can also use new iPhone applications to track your workouts. Whagaa! GoLearn Fitness ($19.99 for the full set, or $9.99 each for gym, home, cycling, running, and hiking editions) offers 102 video clips for your iPhone and iPod Touch, with demonstrations of gym equipment and proper form for exercises, motivational messages, and nutrition tips. You can also select products specifically for cycling, running, and hiking, and software also allows you to enter the details of your workouts to track your progress.

The iTunes Store offers more choices for iPod users. Absolute Fitness ($14.99) tracks your diet and exercise, with an extensive food database containing detailed nutritional information. Similar programs include Fit from Black Pixel Luminence ($14.99) and iShape from Sillens ($9.99). GymGoal Lite ($4.99) contains a database of over 200 illustrated exercises as a handy iPhone reference.

Web Workouts

Workout videos and DVDs haven't changed all that much since Sweatin' to the Oldies -- it's still a business where you purchase content in a physical medium, put it into a player, and follow along with the on-screen instructor. But now, the endless maw of the long-tail, broadband Internet has made it technically feasible for you to never have to repeat the same workout twice. While this promise has yet to be realized, there's still a flowering of role models for your fitness needs.

Fit to Apply provides a training regimen and downloadable exercise tutorials showing you the form you'll need to survive boot camp with the United Kingdom's Royal Marines.

Demand Fitness offers a library of over 250 online fitness videos (access from $4.99 per week to $99.99 per year).

The iTunes Store also offers a wide range of exercise and fitness materials. In the podcast section, you can find friendly fitness advice from Motivation to Move, workout music from fitMusic, and specialized mixes for strength training, cardio, kickboxing, and yoga across a range of beats per minute from Exercise World. Popular video podcasts include Pilates on Fifth, Swiss ball workouts with Ridgeline Fitness, and how-to demonstrations from Workout on the Web. Track Your Workouts

introPLAY tracks happiness, cigarettes, and alcoholic drinks along with other metrics.

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Several online communities allow you to track your progress along with others using online databases. Sites vary in the depth of their database-driven features, fields available, quality of the user interface, reporting options, and pricing plans. Take a close look before you sign on. It takes a significant commitment to work out, and an even greater commitment to record every calorie and push up.

ActiveBody (free) offers a solid relational database for cycling, running, swimming, walking, and gym workouts, including customizable fitness routines. You can build your own reference tables for items such as "swim stroke type," "pool type," and "swimsuit," allowing you to discern whether the Speedo LZR Racer actually makes you faster. Similar reference tables are available for the other supported activities. The site supports individuals and teams and provides reports on body metrics, distance/time completed, and other useful reports.

introPLAY (free) tracks your hours sleeping, working, and training; your happiness, stress, energy, and soreness; weight, resting heart rate, body fat, number of cigarettes, and alcoholic drinks; and other vitals that you care to enter. Log your exercises into the database to compare with others and receive "trophies" for reaching various milestones.

OnlineFitnessLog (free) tracks exercise sessions, fitness goals, nutritional intake, and daily metrics such as basal metabolic rate and metabolic equivalents, in case you're keeping score.

ActiveTrainer has a free online training log plus a calendar for planning upcoming workouts. For runners, the site offers integration with Google Maps to track your favorite routes and mileage on your running shoes. The ActiveTrainer PLUS pay site offers Web videos and workout plans (from $9.99 to $24.99), and personal coaching for endurance runners ($75 per month for one 30-minute phone call and 3 e-mails per week; $125 unlimited phone/e-mail).

FitnessJournal ($7.95 per month, $18.95 per 3 months, $39.95 per year) tracks workouts in up to 72 different activities, with a food journal, calorie counter, weight loss goal tracker, and more, all powered by a comprehensive database.

Fitscape ($9.95 per month) provides detailed tutorials and 3-D animation to demonstrate proper workout technique, plus a diet and nutrition tracker, workout log, and other tools. Get Help

Don't lose sight of why you're working out.

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When you sign up for the gym, you're usually given an initial session with a trainer, but then you're on your own. For the price of an hour of additional hands-on training, you can get the online equivalent for sustained support and advice.

Changing Shape matches you with a personal trainer who'll give you weekly assignments and a personalized nutrition plan via e-mail (12 weeks for $29.95, 1 year for $59.95). The site itself includes nutrition plans, a meal planner, weight charts, and an exercise and nutrition journal.

PlusOne Active ($39.00) will connect you with a personal trainer for a customized exercise plan for the gym or home, including online exercise demonstrations and workout tracking.

GetFit Fitness offers a workout calendar, interactive workout programs, an "exercise explorer" to help you build a workout program ($10 per month), and access to an online personal trainer ($49 per month) for chat and e-mail.

Fitness Publishers

Men's Fitness has an extensive article archive.

Shape provides women with calculators for ideal body weight and body mass index, and several other resources and programs.

Men's Health also has articles, a Gym Finder, and the Men's Health Personal Trainer (free 30-day trial, $45.50 for first three months, $16.95 each additional month), which includes downloadable iPod workouts, videos, meal plans, and a workout plan that adjusts based on your progress.

Runner's World has great training tips, buyer's information for shoes and gear, and a wealth of articles. has an extensive workout database, searchable by days per week and training goals. Exercise Guides show you the correct form for each exercise, and the article collection covers everything from motivation to picking up gym bunnies.

Fitness To Fantasy

Finally, if you like to mix fantasy with your exertions, try the Eowyn Challenge. By taking the challenge, you commit to walking 458 miles, which corresponds to the estimated distance from Hobbiton to Rivendell as described in The Lord of the Rings. It's a great way to get in shape for a geek vacation!

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