How Your Smartphone is Killing Your Gains


The ubiquity of the smartphone is an unprecedented phenomenon in human history. We live in an era where the entire knowledge and collective information of mankind can be accessed with a touch of a button.

With this power, comes great responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong, smartphones have given humans access and convenience that has enhanced and progressed our lives at unparalleled speeds. It has facilitated the growth of commerce, made distance a barrier to communication a thing of the past and consolidated all the necessities in life in one user-friendly device (music, camera, news).

Nevertheless, this speed as come at a significant cost.

The era dominated by the smartphone has ushered in a period of constant and enticing distraction. This has severely impeded our ability to work unencumbered by the perpetual threat of social media notifications, text messages or phone calls.

However, the growing influence of the multiple purpose smartphones has extended beyond just distracting us when we work. The smartphone’s allure has permeated through every activity we participate in.

The growing trend of using smartphones at the gym can have its positive and negative effects. Used wisely, the smartphone can provide motivation through music, act as a timer between sets and reps, and a device that can capture instant feedback through video camera recording.

Used unwisely, the smartphone can hinder gym intensity through being distracted by social media newsfeeds, getting carried away with a text conversation or taking a phone call during the entire workout (It was a shock to me, but yes I see it far more than I should).

There exists however, a VERY fine line between using a smartphone wisely or unwisely.

It is important to understand that the distraction of the smartphone doesn’t end when you put your phone away. Even without visibility, the smartphone poses a threat.

The smartphone doesn’t affect us that much, does it?

A recent paper from researchers at Florida State University have found that smartphones are even distracting even when you’re not looking at them.

The researchers theorized that even when you’re not picking up the phone, you certainly notice it when it vibrates or pings. After receiving that trigger, you start thinking about what it might be, and planning a theoretical response, all of which takes up valuable attention, memory, and overall cognitive bandwidth.

Put simply, the brain has a limited to capacity focus. When it receives a stimulus from a notification, it starts to automatically and subconsciously plan a response. This breaks concentration from the task at hand and negatively impacts on your ability to refocus.

Similarly, volunteers were also asked to take part in a mock tasks involving research tasks, with some volunteers being text/called and some being left to focus solely on the research at hand.

It found that even when they didn’t check their phones, the group that was texted or called preformed significantly worse on the task than the control group.

The study clearly illustrates that mobile notifications can wreak havoc on your concentration, focus and attention even if you don’t physical respond to them.

They were about three times more likely to make mistakes, and were substantially more likely to respond extremely quickly, which tends to indicate that someone is distracted and responding reflexivity.

Even more worryingly, this study only focused on partial distraction from notifications. So you can start to imagine the significant impact that being fully distracted by your smartphone can pose to your concentration and focus.

Although this research wasn’t specifically targeted at measuring levels of distraction whilst performing physical activity, the findings and results are very much translatable and applicable to training.

I’ve personally always found that being mentally distracted during training often leads to decreased physical output. I’m a firmer believer that without adequate mental preparation, there can be no physical execution.

Put it this way, If your mind is doing one thing, it isn’t doing another.

But I’m no saint. The only reason that I’ve only learnt what I’ve said above is because I’ve committed these training sins.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve taken personal calls during training, sought out entertainment on my social media newsfeeds to distract my mind from those tiresome training sessions.

Ironically, even whilst writing this article I’m receiving Facebook notifications (but of course, trying not to respond that I am in fact not available to go out to dinner. Although, I think I already have subconsciously responded to them according to that Florida State study but I digress – See how distraction works now?).

Understanding the implications of smartphone  use on concentration and focus (both virtues needed during training) is the first step forwards to break this cycle of constant distraction.

So whilst you’re thumbing away at your smartphone or trying to capture Pokemon at your local gym (excuse the pun), just remember the impact that augmented reality is having on your real training gains.

To say to completely shut off using your smartphone during training may cause anxiety levels to rise among some people, I would recommend slowly but heavily scale back on smartphone use during training.

Just remember that if you use it wisely and you’ll conquer the best of both worlds but if you use it unwisely, and you’ll see stagnation and a drop in gym-productivity levels.