How to Put Down Your iPhone During Workouts: 4 Simple Tactics

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D.

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., writes about theology, mental health, marketing, and fitness. Paul has been writing on for over a decade.

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We are hypnotized by our iPhones. When you reach for your iPhone, check for notifications, browse endlessly through memes, and twitter away your time staring at a piece of glass, realize that this isn’t an act of free will.

These actions are products of highly sophisticated algorithms intended for the single purpose of compelling you to pick up your phone and scroll. Social engineers in California have become rich because most people are happy to trade whatever it is they have to pay to be on the cutting edge of information.

The iPhone and its applications — the Podcast app, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Imgur, all of it — consumes for most people an average of 6 hours per day.

What does that really cost us?

What does it cost us to be connected all the time?

And what are we really getting from it?

It’s costing us, I think, our souls—and worse (maybe?), our workouts.

We are angrier, and more offended, on our iPhones. We’re less disciplined. We’re less aware when we’re hypnotized by the glass. We’re literally addicts. How often do you find yourself lingering in your car, in your apartment, with your family, just staring at this little piece of technology?

“One of the most common things I see in the gym is some guy who’s out of shape, sitting on a piece of workout equipment, literally just scrolling through his phone. It’s a tragedy.”

This applies to working out as well. One of the most common things I see in the gym is some guy who’s out of shape, sitting on a piece of workout equipment, literally just scrolling through his phone. It’s a tragedy. Women, I find, don’t do this as often, because they more often use interval programs that require very short breaks between sets, for which they use their iPhone timer — I think that’s fine. But there is this zombie population in the gym who literally might as well be at Starbucks. In fact, you’d probably get more health benefits by going for a 30 minute walk with a cup of coffee while scrolling through your phone than “Going to the gym” and looking at your phone for such ridiculous durations of time that you end up doing 5 or 6 sets and then going home.

Depending on who you are and what your habits are, the iPhone might be the #1 reason you’re not in shape, even though you’ve been “working out” for several months. Yes, the real reason is probably your diet. But if you find yourself using social media during your workout at all, I would guess you will only get 25% of the benefit from that workout you could get if you had your full focus on performing your routine. Not only will you be able to fit a higher volume into your workout, but you’ll have more intensity and focus during each set, pushing yourself harder, getting more benefit from each rep.

So, what’s the solution? There is only one solution: Go analogue. This doesn’t mean you should never use your iPhone. Sometimes it can be really helpful. For instance, again, if you’re using your iPhone to guide you through your workout such that it is timed so that you are unable to leisurely browse through your phone, then that’s fine. The problem with phone use is that it punctuates your workout with distractions that poke holes in your discipline, weaken your drive, and sap you of focus. This iPhone issue has been a real problem for me this past year. So, I did a couple things to fix it, and my workouts have significantly improved. Here’s what I did:

1. Get the Freedom App.

I love this app. It requires you to delete your social media apps from your phone in order to work, but what it does is — it blocks a selected list of websites that you choose for a duration of time that you choose. So you download the Freedom App to your phone, click “Start 1 Hour Session,” for example, and then you won’t be able to access the sites you choose for 1 hour. If you feel like you can’t give up your phone during your workout, this is a great first step. And if you click the link here (click here), it gives you a discount with the code FREEDOM30 so that it only costs $20 for the year.

2. Find another way to listen to audio.

I dug up my old iPod Nano. It took me a few hours to set it up again, and to figure out how to sync podcasts with iTunes, and all that stuff. But it was 100% worth it. Now, when I leave my house to go to the gym, my iPhone actually stays either at home or in my workout bag. If you need to listen to music or podcasts during your workout, you can get an MP3 Player or iPod from Amazon for very little money. One tip: Don’t get an iPod touch. Then you’re creating the same problem for yourself. Get an MP3 player that has no wifi access like an iPod Nano or even an iPod Classic. But most people have an old one lying around. I found an old 8gb Nano from about 10 years ago, and it works great.

3. Use an analog alarm clock.

Don’t let your phone wake you up. Get some autonomy. Don’t initiate your consciousness into reality by jacking into the matrix that saps you of strength and willpower. Get up with an old school, beeping clock. I use my $13 Skmei wrist watch, which works very well for me.

4. Use a paper notebook.

I suggest the MoleSkine Professional Notebook or the (printable) PDF tracker I created especially for diet and fitness tracking:

Don’t be dependent on self-quantification apps. I know that I recommended them at one point, but they are only helpful for those who have enough willpower not to look at their phone.

Again, there’s no moral requirement to ditch your iPhone during your workout. But if you ever find yourself mindlessly scrolling between sets, you shouldn’t be wondering why you’re not seeing results in the gym. That’s why. It compromises the amount of sets and reps you’re able to perform in your limited time at the gym, and it drastically reduces the intensity you’re able to bring to the table — thereby compromising your results.

I’d like to end this podcasts with a challenge for you. Try this for one week: Only use your iPhone at times you’ve pre-scheduled for 7 days. In other words, if you haven’t made a previous appointment with your iPhone, it is on airplane mode in a basket in your closet.

Try it. You might think that’s impractical—that people need to get ahold of you. But, if you use iMessage on your mac, you can get most of your texts, and if you schedule two 15-minute appointments for your iPhone in your day, then you can call back any unexpected calls you’ve missed in that time. That’s the challenge.

“If you’re depressed, anxious, distracted, full of mental fog, don’t download the Headspace app — put the iPhone away, and face yourself.”

Try having an appointment-based relationship with your iPhone for 7 days, and take note of several things. Take note of how strong your desires are to go get your phone out of its hibernated state and check for notifications, and then ask yourself: “When in my life do I feel compulsions this strong for other things?”

For most of us, the only times we feel such strong urges are when we are harmfully addicted to something. And then ask yourself: “Why can’t I just be present in this moment, doing what I’m doing? Why do I have to go check on insignificant notifications that only make me depressed?” Frequent iPhone use is increasingly correlated with mental illness. Do yourself a favor and complete this challenge.

7 days — only using the iPhone when you’ve made appointments. See if you can, and how you unfold spiritually as a person in that time. Or, if you try and fail, don’t judge yourself — take it as an opportunity to seriously reflect on your relationship with your iPhone: “What am I using it for? If I only have so many years on this earth, how many of them do I want to spend like a rat in a cocaine experiment?”

If you’re depressed, anxious, distracted, full of mental fog, don’t download the Headspace app — put the iPhone away, and face yourself. It’s possible what you find in an hour of iPhoneless existence is something you haven’t encountered in years. I certainly did. And it has drastically increased my focus, output, and intensity in my workouts. It has also made it much easier to be strict with my diet.

Try it. iPhone used during appointments only. Let me know what you think in the TheoFit group.

If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, check out this book by kinesiologist Andy Galpin: Unplugged: Evolve from Technology to Upgrade Your Fitness, Performance, & Consciousness.

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