Portable Trainer: An MP3 Workout

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How many of your workouts go something like this: Stride purposefully into gym whistling favorite tune, hum through 10 minutes of cardio warm-up, bang out a set of chest presses, then, let's see, maybe some leg extensions, then, hmm, maybe bicep curls? Next, where were we? After 15 minutes you've lost a little steam and a lot of focus, and you're not at all sure you're getting the full benefit of your gym time.

Enter MP3 workouts, pictorial move-by-move guides that you download from the Internet to any handheld device -- MP3 player or personal digital assistant -- capable of displaying photos.

When I first heard of these, I envisioned a pricey download and workouts led by a painfully merry cheerleader, backed by thumping techno tunes.

What I got, via a program called PumpOne, was a basic, easy-to-follow full-body strength routine (PumpOne's free sample workout), with clear photos of some guy much fitter than I performing each exercise and accompanying notes on proper form. Most workouts cost $19.

For the uninitiated, these downloads are simple: Go to the vendor Web site (for example, http://www.pumpone.com ), buy a routine, then plug your MP3 player into your computer and transfer the file.

My workout opened with perfunctory safety messages (never exceed your limit, stop if you feel pain, call a doctor if you swallow a dumbbell), an explanation of sets and reps, and a five-minute warm-up. Ten strength exercises followed. I secured my iPod in its handy elastic armband and clicked through the exercises by thumb.

At first, the lack of a voice-over was a tad disappointing: Having Mr. Buff verbally explain the squat, chest press or lat pull-down, and provide a little motivational chatter, might have been nice. The company says it intentionally skipped the audio drill sergeant because most exercisers prefer to listen to their own music, which these programs allow.

I came to enjoy the simplicity of the presentation, with no pressure to race ahead to the next move before I was ready. And the frame-by-frame format allows users to rearrange workouts and combine elements from multiple routines to craft optimal exercise sessions. (Also, the firm says it is expanding its line to include sports-specific training for golf, skiing, tennis, triathlons and other pursuits.)

What's missing? I would have liked a notation stating precisely which muscles each exercise worked and perhaps another slide exposing common mistakes people make in form.

Could these workouts help provide direction for your workout? That's your call. But at least it's a practical use of gadgetry. Now if they could just launch portable, affordable pictorial help for other thorny tasks, like surviving bad hair days, arguing politics, raising children.

E-mail your questions and comments to move@washpost.com .

-- John Briley


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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