McGovern is a Navy veteran, national champion weightlifter and student at San Diego City College majoring in film production, and lives in Downtown San Diego.

In recent years, the ubiquity of smartphones has spilled over into every corner of our lives. From scrolling through recipes in the supermarket to the prevalence of iPhones plopped in front of toddlers in restaurants, one would be hard-pressed to find a location without at least one person slumped into their phone.

One place that’s become a battleground for cellphone decorum is, unsurprisingly, the gym. As a lifelong lifter, I’ve grown to despise their presence in the fitness space, but I do wonder if this technology can help make traditional exercise environments a better place for gym-goers, or is it undermining the very essence of a workout?

First, I’ll be lenient here. There is no denying that smartphones can enhance certain aspects of the gym experience. My smartwatch provides me goals to achieve and monitors my heart rate on longer-distance cardio workouts. I love that I can access, essentially, the entire planet’s library of workout tracks, so that I can angrily lift to whatever I want without complaints about the terrible speakers in the gym. And I also love that new gym goers can find a workout through fitness apps and frantic Google searches, and even learn how to properly operate gym equipment without feeling self-conscious about bothering other gym patrons. In some ways, the app store and the use of the internet in your pocket can help a cellphone act as a personal trainer, motivator and health analyst all in one.

Moreover, apps like MyFitnessPal and Strava provide a sense of community and friendly competition through their social nature. With the ability of users to share their achievements, provide encouragement to each other, and help users keep their friends and family accountable on their fitness goals, each person is less likely to slip up in their respective goals and make fitness a lifelong journey rather than a quick fling that ends in a swan dive into a Costco ice cream shake.

Finally (and one of the only good things I’m going to say about this feature), cellphones can allow users to record their lifts to check their form against conventional movement standards, so that they can move safer and more efficiently. While I was a resident athlete training for the sport of Olympic weightlifting at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 2013 to 2016, this became imperative in catching my mistakes, so that I could quickly learn to correct them.

There are, however, reasons to hang up your phone in the gym as well, besides the obvious that no one wants to hear your phone conversations next to the squat rack. The issue with recording your own lifts is that everyone else now has the option to record yours as well. Not everyone is experienced in lifting, and there’s no shortage of gym bros and gals out there to record your mistakes in the gym to post on TikTok or their Snapchat stories for the world to see and criticize. Not only is this a privacy issue, but it also leads to unease and self-consciousness, which is the very opposite of what a gym should foster.

To make matters worse, the usage of cellphones does not end on the gym floor but in the locker room, where gains-happy bodybuilders love to take locker room selfies regardless of the background and who is in there changing. Gyms already have rules against this, but it’s important to reiterate that recording anyone unclothed without their consent is illegal and can lead to prosecution.

Concerning these pros and cons, it’s noted that the way forward is not a ban on cellphone usage in gyms but promoting mindful usage. Healthy fitness apps can help lower the barrier to entry for those inexperienced, music can help provide much-needed motivation and recording oneself to find corrections in form can have positive impacts on one’s fitness journey.

However, members need to maintain self-awareness of their camera usage, so it’s up to them and gym staff to reinforce rules about recording in restricted spaces like the locker room or other members without consent.

So it can be said that, like your favorite co-worker says in the middle of your board meetings, “it’s all about balance.” There’s much to be gained by phones in the gym space, but it is the goal of gym establishments and patrons to navigate this new social media-obsessed world with respect to their purpose in the gym: health and fitness. With enforcement of pre-existing rules, respect for other members and cooperation, the gym can continue to meet its mission with these new tools that help make health easier for everyone.


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