Look around your local gym, how many people seem to have smartphones with them and how many of them are simply playing Candy Crush, I wonder? In today’s technological age we take our smartphones everywhere, small pocket computers that are more powerful than many of the desktop PCs we were using only five to 10 years ago. Each year smart phones get smarter and as the sensors get better so to do the available health and fitness apps.
For some people, their thumbs are the only things that get a workout when using a mobile phone, but a recent survey suggested 58 percent of smartphone users have downloaded a fitness or health app. Further data reveals that health and fitness app usage has grown by 330 percent in the last three years, overtaking the overall growth of total apps available. As we’ve diversified app accessibility, health and fitness apps have become an important tool in our quest to get healthy.
Why are fitness or workout apps so popular? The growth of wearable technology may be one reason, with watches available for both Apple and Android devices that can track and monitor your progress and upload it to a connected device. Another factor could be cost; a personal trainer doesn’t come cheap with a survey by the National Strength and Conditioning Association finding an average cost of $50 per hour. But can technology, and more importantly, the best workout apps offer the same level of training? Let’s take a look.
Why Choose a Workout App?
Online training is nothing new with plenty of inspiring trainers using Instagram or similar websites to show you ways to improve your workout. But when you want a more personalized fitness program, you’re more likely to need an app (or several) that can focus your workouts, help track your progress and set goals to aim for. There are apps available for yoga, running, cardiovascular workouts, high-intensity interval training and core strength exercises to name but a few of the many thousand out there.
Smartphone apps can replace a gym membership or yoga class and allow you to workout in the privacy of your own home, if insufficient time or intimidation by the body beautifuls is a problem! You probably already have your smartphone in your pocket, so why not use it to record that cycle ride or running session to achieve your goals? You can often upload the data to a larger community and partake in races or simply offer motivation for others (that’s what I call it when I boast, anyhow!).
Fitness apps can also be a coaching tool, like having your own personal trainer in your pocket. Sometimes they’ll put you in touch with a physical trainer or nutritionist who’ll check in on your progress. Keeping fit requires daily lifestyle changes which a nudge from your mobile phone every morning could make a significant difference to.
The Three Top Reasons You Should Use a Workout App
1. Workout Apps Can Help Track Your Progress
For any fitness program some sort of progress tracking is needed, otherwise how do you know how well your doing or if you’ve attained your goals? Looking in a mirror or just feeling better isn’t an accurate measurement of how you’ve performed. A set of scales and a tape measure used to be the most common form of monitoring your progress.
One of the best things for motivating your continuing workout regime is how far you’ve progressed. Fitness apps can make tracking your progress easier, quicker and inject some fun into it. Wearables like a smartwatch or digital fitness band can help measure distance through use of GPS, the number of steps you take through movement sensors and can often measure your pulse rate or heartbeat. (The latest Apple watch is even waterproof so it can measure the strokes you take when swimming!)
Workout apps also have many visual tools that show your progress like graphs or augmented reality such as a map of the world which shows how far you’ve run. Recent research has demonstrated the way data is presented influences how much notice we take with other studies reporting visual images to be far more motivating than text by itself for behavior changes. Using a fitness app your progress data will not only be easier to understand and mean more, but it’ll also motivate you more.
2. Workout Apps Can Help You Save Time and Become More Efficient
Not having enough time is one of the most common excuses used for not going to the gym. This isn’t a valid excuse when using an app, as the gym is always with you wherever you are. At home for the day and it starts raining, you can simply take out your smartphone, open your apps and find a workout you can do without changing out of your pjs. Even when on vacation or at work, you always have that gym routine sitting in your pocket.
Workout apps give you the freedom to workout whenever and wherever you want. Fitness apps show the highest loyalty rate across all app categories with 75 percent opening their workout apps at least twice a week and more than 25 percent of users accessing them over 10 times a week. The same study surprisingly found the most workout app usage occurs at around 10 p.m. compared to gymnasium peak hours of 5 to 8 p.m. This could be due to late workouts, simply checking your progress or planning the next day’s routine, a flexibility not offered by all gyms.
The better workout apps will advise you on form and technique using animated images or diagrams so you don’t waste time doing inefficient exercises or risk injuring yourself. The wide range of exercises offered by an app can prevent you from becoming bored with the same workout week after week and suggest further workouts relevant to your current space or lack of equipment. Home workouts that may feature in your app normally require no equipment or maybe just the support of a piece of furniture like a chair or solid table. No extra time is wasted looking for pieces of equipment or larger spaces.
3. Workout Apps As a Motivational Tool
Motivation can be essential when trying to make healthier changes to your life and this is where workout and fitness apps can really come into their own. Virtual challenges and online communities are used by many apps to boost motivation. Working out can be a lonely business sometimes, but not when a device in your pocket connects you to similar minded people all over the world, many of whom share the same goals.
When you join a gym you can have a trainer that checks in on your progress on a regular basis and offers words of encouragement, but this comes at a financial cost. With workout apps, potentially the whole world is there to check in on you and maybe even team up to complete challenges. Online communities will share their experiences and you can get valuable advice from people who are more experienced than you.
Sharing your achievements can be a great motivational boost. Certain apps give you badges or cups when you complete a difficult challenge which you can then post to your profile or social media page. Sharing your achievement and getting ‘likes’ on Facebook or Twitter gives you something you can be proud of and social approval can significantly affect how we feel about our own achievements. In other words, it makes it all worthwhile.
Do Mobile Workout Apps Work?
Apps, wearables and other latest fitness technology trends are still relatively new with very few long-term studies to back up whether they work or not. One study by the University of Florida looked at 30 of the most popular free fitness apps for the iPhone and found that only one of the apps met over 50 percent of the guidelines laid down by the American College of Sports Medicine for physical exercise.
More recent research has been a lot more positive as workout apps have got more advanced. The Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study in 2015 where 75 percent of current app users were found to be more active compared to less than half of the non-app users and former users. People who used a workout app were more likely to exercise during their leisure time on any given day and they also found previous obstacles to exercise like lack of motivation or procrastination were easier for app users to overcome.
Even more positive was research on fitness apps that are personalized to the user by featuring things like training goals, specialized nutrition plans or contact with physical real life professional trainers. An assistant professor at Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences joined up with an unnamed fitness app to make changes like setting goals and personalized feedback to the user and then looked at the effects on the exercise levels of the app users. The study saw the group who didn’t use the new improved app make no changes in their daily routines while those who used the improved app exercised more.
Five of the Best Workout Apps
The hardest thing about using a workout app can be choosing which one to use, with over 165,000 mobile fitness apps reported to be available in both the Apple iTunes store and Android Play store by the Institute for Healthcare Informatics. There are more than 90,000 in just the Apple store alone.
Whether you’re a wannabe gym rat, an at-home exercise enthusiast or training for a marathon or similar sports event, there’s an app out there just waiting for you to download it. From yoga to strength training, weight loss to marathon training, we’ve looked at some of the best apps out there to help you choose the one right for you and most importantly, apps you’re more likely to stick with.
Most of the apps we’ve looked at come with different pricing policies (some are even free) so we’ve looked at how easy the app is to use and how customizable or how many features it offers for the value of the app rather than a financial cost.
#5 – Couch to 5K
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5
Features: 4 out of 5
Our Rating: 4 out of 5
As the name suggests the idea behind this app is quite simple, to get you from zero activity (a couch potato) to a 5K runner in eight weeks (hence the acronym c25K). It’s one of the highest rated health and fitness apps in both the iTunes store and Google Play store. Although there’s a free trial version available, if you’ve spent $100 on a pair of new running shoes, the modest $4.99 fee to go pro shouldn’t stretch your finances too much more.
This app is designed to help non runners build up their cardio endurance and develop muscular strength through a modest program that alternates walking and running. The basic workouts get more challenging as you progress with the app aiming to have you running 5K in just eight weeks with three 20 to 30 minutes workouts per week. The free trial only covers the first four runs then you can choose to purchase an eight week subscription or a lifetime pro membership.
C25K uses GPS to map your runs although it can be used without and on a treadmill if you prefer. Virtual coaches give voice notifications while you listen to your own tunes. Statistics can give you an estimated calories burned and projected 5K running time from your workout activities, which you can then share through social media.
- Designed to ease you in gently, even for the non athletic type.
- Easy to use, just select a virtual trainer and press start.
- Great for weight loss.
- Compatible with Apple watch and smartwatches for more progress tracking on the go.
- Only a running trainer, doesn’t feature any other strength-building exercises.
- Social media community on Facebook is great but no personal feedback.
- GPS can run down the battery life of phone, even when the app isn’t active.
- Subscription is automatically renewed and can be found difficult to cancel.
Ease of Use: 3 out of 5
Features: 5 out of 5
Our Rating: 4 out of 5
Look at the app stores and you will see many 7-minute workout apps featured but only this one from Johnson & Johnson is designed by Chris Jordan, the mastermind behind the original 7-minute workout. In the fitness world the 7-minute workout is a big thing with this app focused on improving your fitness in as short a time as possible per day. The app has moved on a bit now, and features 72 exercises with 22 additional workouts that you can customize or modify to over one thousand variations.
The 7-minute workout is great because you can do it almost anywhere and at anytime. No specialized equipment is required with a chair being the only prop you may sometimes use. For the full benefits a couple of 7-minute workouts a day are recommended although there’s no need to do them consecutively, just find time whenever you can.
This app uses short workouts to get your heart pumping and is ideal for those who don’t have the time or money to go to the gym. Although the interface is quite easy to use, sometimes the exercises are not explained clearly enough for beginners and those seven minutes can be hard work. A smart workout feature works as a personal trainer and gauges your fitness levels while you can also create your own custom workout routines.
The only drawback is that the high-intensity workouts may not be suitable or safe for individuals who are obese or overweight, untrained, dealing with bone or joint injuries or the elderly. People who’ve had, or still have, heart and blood pressure issues should check with a doctor before embarking on any high-intensity circuit training.
- It’s free; available on both Apple and Android devices with Apple watch compatibility.
- Only needs your body, a wall and a chair for a complete body workout.
- Chris Jordan guides you through technique of each exercise.
- Social media integration with Facebook and Twitter creates healthy competition or motivational partnerships.
- Ideal for those with a busy lifestyle looking for a quick high-intensity hit.
- Can even be taken with you when you travel.
- The high-intensity nature may not be suitable for all users.
- Potential for injury; the workouts can be hard with muscle and joint soreness or injury prone to happen.
- Sometimes less experienced users found the tutorial videos to clear enough in their instruction.
#3 – Nike+ Training Club
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5
Features: 4 out of 5
Our Rating: 4 out of 5
The Nike+ Training Club app features workouts designed by professional athletes and celebrities too. (My favorites are the Serena Williams and Ellie Goulding workouts but there are many you can choose from, there’s even a workout from Michael Jordan!) The workouts offer three levels of difficulty and focus on your strength, endurance or mobility. Easy to follow videos can be streamed to a larger screen with Apple Airplay, Chromecast or the old fashioned method of a HDMI cable although audio cues can let you focus more on the workout than the screen.
Nike+ Training Club offers over a hundred workouts with both quick 15-minute sessions and longer endurance sessions so you can vary your workout routine. When you’ve finished your workout you can upload stats like the number of workouts, calories burned per minute, total calorie burn or how much NikeFuel you’ve used to share with the large global community. A nice feature is just how much this app is integrated with the Nike ecosystem and apps like the Nike+ Run Club automatically syncs to your profile.
The Nike+ community is where this app excels. You can unlock rewards, track your progress and socially interact with many other Nike+ users to help motivate or compete with each other.
- Very professional and uncluttered interface is easy to use.
- Choice of professional Nike trainers or workouts created or inspired by sports stars and celebrities.
- Syncs with other apps and can use wearable tech including the Nike+ Apple watch or Nike+ GPS sensors.
- Facility to stream to bigger screen is handy when at home or in the gym.
- One of the largest fitness communities on the web.
- It’s free!
- Time-based workouts have 10-second intervals between exercises to allow you to pick up equipment or change pose which personally I feel is too long for effective circuit training.
- Some of the videos require you to tap screen between moves, again breaking up the circuit.
- You have to complete all exercises before moving on to the next.
- Users have complained of app freezing and having to start a routine again in order to unlock the next routine.
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5
Features: 5 out of 5
Our Rating: 4 out of 5
For anyone who wants the benefits of working with a personal trainer without the cost, this is the app for you! Jenny Abouobaia is a personal trainer who has developed a range of online training programs for both men and women that can be used through the app anytime, anywhere. The main benefit of this app above all others is the personal touch of feeling like you’re working with a traditional trainer.
The app itself is free to download, although you have to purchase one of the workout programs through its website first. The difference with these programs is that they have each been specifically designed by a certified personal trainer to help you reach specific goals, plus you get one-to-one support the entire time from Jenny Abouobaia via the instant messenger in the app—to check in with workouts and discuss your progress. It’s no wonder it’s marketed as ‘the personal trainer in your pocket’.
There are a number of programs available that can be used either in the gym for those looking to get super ripped or at home without any equipment. The app itself gives you a personalized schedule for the program you’ve chosen, with push notifications to let you know when it’s time to complete your workout. The workouts are easy to follow, with each exercise giving you the amount of time or reps for each set. Plus, every exercise comes with a detailed breakdown and demonstration video to ensure you know exactly what you’re doing.
There’s also guided nutrition, with set macros for your goals and example meal plans with shopping lists. You’re also able to monitor your nutrition similarly to MyFitnessPal by logging your food daily, scanning barcodes and counting calories to keep track of everything.
Each program also includes a number of files that come in downloadable pdf form such as a full program guide and free bonus ebooks. You’re instructed when to update your progress photos and measurements so both you and your trainer can monitor your progress throughout your entire fitness journey.
Furthermore, there’s a big community feeling with this app. Not only are you in contact with a dedicated personal trainer, but there’s a support group on facebook for everyone following a program where you can communicate and share tips and advice. Plus, it’s very active across social media, sharing the progress and success of participants to an audience of over 10 thousand followers across all platforms.
For me, this is a great option for anyone who needs that extra push and to feel accountable to someone. It really does have all the benefits of working with a one-to-one trainer at a fraction of the cost.
- Simple app that’s easily followed.
- Personalized workout plans designed by a certified personal trainer.
- Instant messenger function for ongoing support from your own dedicated trainer.
- Easy to follow workouts with full breakdown and demonstration video.
- Guided nutrition.
- Push notifications to remind you to workout and update your progress.
- Large online community for support and motivation.
- Programs can’t be purchased directly through the app, you have to visit the website first.
- Music and timing can’t be integrated with the app.
#1 – Sworkit
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5
Features: 5 out of 5
Our Rating: 5 out of 5
Sworkit, which comes from an amalgamation of the words ‘simply work it’ was the only app found to have met most of the American College of Sports Medicine exercise guidelines by the earlier mentioned study at the University of Florida. Over 25 million people have signed up to Sworkit for the varied workouts that don’t require any equipment. A custom workout builder has been added for veteran athletes or fitness professionals to add their own playlists using the app’s library of 170 exercises.
A lite version is available, which is one of the most complete workout apps that’s free, but signing up for a Pro membership removes the often annoying ads and lets you save custom workouts and access your entire history of workouts. With Sworkit you start by choosing the type of workout you’re looking for and how much time you have available. The app then creates your workout using 30-second chunks of activity.
This app, and how much you can customize it, makes it ideal for the modern working man or woman who may sometimes only be looking for a quick five-minute workout, or sometimes a longer endurance session. Although training plans can be added by professional athletes, there’s still no method of dynamic adjustment based on your progress or ability. That’s where you miss the one-to-one benefit of a personal trainer.
- Backed by scientific research to meet exercise guidelines of American College of Sports Medicine.
- Can build custom workouts.
- Wide range of exercises with premade workouts.
- An added bonus is the Spotify integration which allows you to download music playlists to compliment your workout.
- Can be used on iOS devices, Android, Apple TV and even has a web app.
- One account can be used across all devices.
- No feedback to monitor progress and adjust workouts.
- Lacks reward system and motivation factors of many other apps.
Choosing the best workout app can be a difficult task with so many free options to download and try first on both the iTunes and Android stores. Some of the free apps may be too basic for your needs or may feature pop up ads which can quickly become annoying. In our opinion, the best workout app which offers a full comprehensive training program is the app, Sworkit, which was even voted the number one app in the American College of Sports Medicines study on instructional exercise standards.