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Is It Possible to Get a Good Cardio Workout If I’m on My Phone the Whole Time?

Twitter waits for no man — or gains

Twenty years ago, you didn’t need to be eagle-eyed to spot a gym slacker from across a crowded cardio floor. Dead in the middle of all of the runners, ellipticallers and stair climbers would be that one person grinning with a phone glued to their ear, gabbing away while nonchalantly strolling along on a treadmill. If the phone was out in the open, you knew the person holding it was unfocused. It’s not like they were YouTubing fitness tips from Jeff Cavaliere, or pulling up 1980s aerobic mixes on Spotify. Based on the evidence and the era, those folks were either actively texting or audibly conversing, and either way, they weren’t putting the sort of effort into their cardio that even a junior high gym teacher would have permitted to slide.

Right, but times have changed. Can’t I get a good cardio workout if I’m on my phone?

To meaningfully answer this question, we need to delve further into the definitions of some critical terms in this question. 

Let’s start by examining what you mean by “good cardio workout.” If a good cardio workout is a training session that burns calories, then by all means you can achieve this while walking on a treadmill at a very comfortable speed. As unideal as it may be, you will eventually burn sufficient calories even if you move with the speed of a sloth clerk at the DMV. This is a simple matter of throwing enough hours at your workout that you inevitably burn sufficient calories to create a caloric deficit. A person who spends two hours walking their dog will always burn more total calories through their efforts than a person who runs for only 10 minutes, even if the person doing the running is Usain Bolt or The Flash.

This also means you will eventually burn sufficient calories to lose unwanted pounds even if you walk at a pace slow enough to make reasonable swipe-right or swipe-left assessments on Tinder, or if you decide to grace your friends with a moment-by-moment rundown of last night’s disastrous ice cream social on Facebook Live.

On the other hand, if your goal for your cardio training is to quickly work up a sweat, expand your lungs to the brink of critical failure and stretch the capillaries in your abdomen until you feel that unbearable itching in your sides and want to tear your skin off, you’re going to need to put your phone down. Of course, you needn’t put it down until you’ve cued up your running playlist that’s so uniquely tailored to your tastes that the Wu-Tang Clan and DMX are interspersed with Billy Idol and Culture Club. Operating your phone as an instrument for workout music selection is always acceptable.

Understood. So what’s the other part of the phrase that we need to evaluate?

I’m so glad that you asked. We need to talk about what it means for you to be “on your phone.”

Certain forms of cardio are going to be unquestionably off limits simply as a matter of course. Although technological advancements have now rendered the making and receiving of underwater phone calls a possibility, until someone figures out a way to bioengineer sets of disposable, stick-on gills, holding conversations with your face in the water isn’t a practical expectation. This is beside the point anyway, because if your involvement with swimming is accompanied by any amount of self-respect, you’re going to use your arms for propulsion, and you won’t torture your friends by chatting with them through the speakerphone while your iPhone rests on a kickboard.

The same holds true to a lesser extent if you’re on the rowing machine, the SkiErg, the VersaClimber or any other machine necessitating the use of two hands and a significant effort to keep the handles in motion. Just because you can converse with your associates through a Bluetooth attachment while using any of these devices, that doesn’t mean you’ll have sufficient breath to do so. Regardless, with your hands otherwise occupied, texting, tweeting and scrolling are all totally impractical.

Thus, you’re really stuck with very casual walking, hands-free ellipticalling, slow-motion cycling or low-effort stepmilling as your best options if you want to select a training apparatus solely on the basis of its compatibility with your extremely-online lifestyle. Of course, in that case, you’re not really running away from your unhealthy relationship with your iPhone — you’re running right into it.