Of all the places a person keeps their phone strapped to them — in the car, the bathroom, on their desk at work — using your phone at the gym seems to make sense. Your epic gym playlist is on your phone; the calculator function lets you sort out percentages in a wink, and you can record your form.
But quickly changing your playlist can turn into a five-minute-long Instagram scroll, and just like that, your phone went from helping your workout to hampering it. And aside from being a distraction, your smartphone may hinder your training by reducing workout intensity and literally throwing you off balance. (Because yes, texting while working out is a potentially dangerous thing.)
That said, ditching your phone may not be feasible. If you’re a parent or caretaker for anyone, you might have to have your phone on you wherever you are. By figuring out how your smartphone impacts your workouts, you can make smarter decisions about when to use it and when to keep the darn thing in your gym locker.
Potential Life Impacts of Smartphones
More than likely, you hate leaving home without your smartphone. You use it for everything from checking your fitness tracker stats to giving your mom a call on your ride home from the gym. But if you find yourself picking up your smartphone constantly — even when it hasn’t buzzed with a notification — you might be prone to experiencing some less-than-optimal side effects.
That said, there are also some immense potential benefits that smartphone use offers — in addition to the ways it can help you more conveniently navigate your daily life. So, it really depends how you use them.
Increased Connection to Community
Especially for lifters from marginalized backgrounds, smartphones may be able to help folks find and connect with athletes with similar experiences. For people who lack access to robust social networks in person, research suggests that smartphones and social media can increase a person’s sense of community. (1)
This connection can lead to increased social support and overall well-being. (1) Athletes of color, athletes with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ lifters can use their smartphones to access networks that help them feel connected to other athletes.
You Might Get to the Gym Less
Even outside of the gym, smartphones can cause issues for your overall health. In turn, these issues can turn around and bite you in the glutes next time you’re trying to max out your squat. Using your smartphone too much can lead to physical problems like poor sleep and eating habits, migraines, and reduced cognitive control. (2)
You might also find yourself more prone to experiencing depression, anxiety, problematic alcohol use, social media addiction, and lower self-esteem. (2) All of these factors can make it much harder to get yourself to the gym — which, especially if you love lifting, can benefit your mental health.
You Might Be Less Active Overall
Using your smartphone a lot can result in some built-up hand and wrist pain. (3) That can easily impact your motivation and ability to lift heavy. If even sliding weight plates off the rack is going to cause you pain, it’s understandable that you’d want to skip the whole process.
You might also get outside for a walk less often if you tend to be on your phone all the time. (3)(4) People with greater smartphone usage may take 4,000 fewer steps per day — and have less lean muscle mass — compared to folks who don’t really use their smartphones. (4)
Drawbacks of Smartphones in the Gym
There’s a time and a place where smartphones can be beneficial — but the gym may not be one of them.
Impaired Balance and Stability
Running on the treadmill or performing Olympic lifts require a fair amount of balance and stability. Without it, you can risk a failed lift or an embarrassing tumble off the treadmill. On the one hand, we’ve all been there. On the other hand, nobody likes to be there too often.
Using your smartphone a lot can slow down your overall reaction time. (5) If you’re spending your rest time on your phone, you might be less coordinated when you go for a heavy clean & jerk. In that case, keeping your smartphone close may be doing more harm than good.
This is especially the case if you’re texting while exercising — yes, it’s a big enough issue that researchers have studied it. If you find yourself texting or talking on the phone while exercising, studies suggest that your posture may become more unstable, which can worsen your balance and stability by up to 45 percent. (6) Whether you’re walking on the treadmill or walking outside, you can increase your risk of falling while talking or texting on your phone.
Lower Intensity Workouts
There’s nothing wrong with a low-intensity workout (i.e. a deload day or week), but if all of your training sessions are starting to feel a bit easy, there may be a problem.
Texting your buddy about the latest friend-group gossip can make it tough to maintain your focus through an intense workout. Yes, you want to take some rest even during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — but taking too long can transform your HIIT workout into a regular lifting session.
Using your smartphone during your workout can increase the time spent at a low intensity, whereas not using your smartphone can increase the time you spend at a high intensity. (7) This is especially important to keep in mind if your time in the gym is limited. One of the advantages of HIIT is that it’s supposed to let you do more work in less time. But if more of that time is spent on your phone than on the gym floor, it can affect your progress.
Reduced Cardiorespiratory Fitness
If you’re a lifter, you may struggle to program adequate conditioning work into your strength training. To keep the intensity of their cardio work low but effective, strength athletes may choose to maintain cardiovascular health through taking walks. If that’s been your goal, smartphones might get in your way.
Frequent smartphone users are more likely to choose sedentary activities related to their phone — scrolling through social media, perhaps — than performing physical activity, which can negatively affect cardiorespiratory fitness. (8) Seemingly related, excessive cell phone use has been linked to higher blood pressure. (8) So shutting off your phone might be helpful for locking in your cardio health.
Even if your smartphone isn’t directly in your hand, you may be hearing the ping of a text message or seeing a notification light up your screen. If you’ve ever waited for your ex to text you back, you know that your screen lighting up can be just as distracting as actually checking your phone.
These seemingly harmless interruptions might actually reduce your movement and range of motion in your elbow and shoulder flexion and extension. (9) This can lead to a less efficient workout overall, which isn’t optimal for maximizing your gains.
Benefits of Smartphones in the Gym
You may be ready to toss your smartphone out onto the freeway — but don’t roll down your window just yet. You might still want to take your trusty communicator with you to the gym.
Music to Motivate
If your entire vibe has ever descended into hopeless rage upon forgetting your headphones at home, you know that having a great gym playlist can make or break a workout. Listening to your favorite song during a long run or strenuous leg day can help push you through the workout. It may also do more than just motivate you. Using your phone to listen to music while working out can increase your running speed and intensity, help you have more fun while exercising, and even bring up your max lift numbers. (10)(11)
It’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need a phone to listen to music. iPods are still a thing (yes, for real). That said, it’s safe to assume most people’s music is tied to their smartphone. If blasting jams while you lift is the main reason you bring your phone to the gym, there are alternatives.
Accessible Workout Plan
Walking into the gym without a workout plan can lead to more wandering around than actual exercising. Writing out your exercises and reps can help keep you on track. But even if you’re a big analog person, carrying around a notebook can be annoying and inconvenient.
Keeping your workout plan on your smartphone is often a much more convenient and accessible option. You’re likely to have your phone on you anyway. Plus, you won’t have to worry about flipping back through all those pages to figure out what you did during your last squat session and what you’re supposed to do today.
Recording Videos of Yourself
Even if you’re not a social media influencer, you may still want to record videos of yourself to post or to check your own form. Bringing your smartphone to the gym allows you to easily do so. If you’re prone to being easily distracted, make sure you’re checking the camera angle during your prescribed rest period and try to ignore your phone the rest of the time.
No matter what kind of smartphone you have, there’s likely an app that keeps track of your steps, calories burned, sleep, and nutrition. Especially if you’re a data-oriented person, having this info at your fingertips can act as a motivator to get moving. You may even have notifications on your phone or watch that remind you to stand up or get a workout in. Being able to track your physical activity may help you stay on task in the gym.
To Phone or Not to Phone
At the start of your training day, it’s up to you whether your smartphone will be more of a help or a hindrance to your workout. If the occasional check-in with friends during your workout helps keep you focused and motivated, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with keeping your phone on you.
On the other hand, if you feel your smartphone is a constant distraction, try leaving it in the gym locker next session and see how your workout without it compares. The bottom line is that a smart relationship with your smartphone can be beneficial to your health — just make sure you’re practicing moderation and staying focused on pumping that iron when you need to be.
- Berger MN, Taba M, Marino JL, Lim MSC, Cooper SC, Lewis L, Albury K, Chung KSK, Bateson D, Skinner SR. Social media’s role in support networks among LGBTQ adolescents: a qualitative study. Sex Health. 2021 Nov;18(5):421-431.
- Wacks, Yehuda, Weinstein, Aviv M. Excessive Smartphone Use Is Associated With Health Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2021.
- Parasuraman, Subramani, Thamby Sam, Aaseer, & Wong Kah Yee, Stephanie. Smartphone usage and increased risk of mobile phone addiction: A concurrent study. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Investigation. 2017; 7(3).
- Kim, Sung-Eun, Kim, Jin-Woo, Jee, Yong-Seok. Relationship between smartphone addiction and physical activity in Chinese international students in Korea. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 2015; 4(3).
- Naeem, Zahid. Health risks associated with mobile phones use. International Journal of Health Sciences. 2014; 8(4).
- Rebold, Michael J., Croall, Cody A., & Cumberledge, Emily A. The impact of different cell phone functions and their effects on postural stability. ScienceDirect. 2017; 5(3).
- Rebold, Michael J., Sheehan, Timothy, & Dirlam, Matthew. The impact of cell phone texting on the amount of time spent exercising at different intensities. ScienceDirect. 2016; 55.
- Lepp, Andrew, Barkley, Jacob E., & Sanders, Gabriel J. The relationship between cell phone use, physical and sedentary activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness in a sample of U.S. college students. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013.
- Beach, Tyson A.C., Coke, Stephanie K., Callaghan, Jack P. Upper body kinematic and low-back kinetic responses to precision placement challenges and cognitive distractions during repetitive lifting. ScienceDirect. 2006; 36(7).
- Rebold, Michael J., Lepp, Andrew, & Sanders, Gabriel J. The Impact of Cell Phone Use on the Intensity and Liking of a Bout of Treadmill Exercise. PLOSOne. 2015; 10(5).
- Silva NRDS, Rizardi FG, Fujita RA, Villalba MM, Gomes MM. Preferred Music Genre Benefits During Strength Tests: Increased Maximal Strength and Strength-Endurance and Reduced Perceived Exertion. Percept Mot Skills. 2021 Feb;128(1):324-337.
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