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Best fitness apps: Best apps for running, cycling, calorie counting and more

Edward Munn
28 Feb 2018
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If you need to shed a few pounds or get a bit more exercise, your smartphone can help you track your progress and reach your goals

In this list, we’ve included the best apps for all levels of fitness. Whether you want to simply build more walking into your daily routine with Google Fit, or compare your running and cycling times to the fastest people in your area with Strava, you’ll find an app that suits you on this list.

We know not everyone is super enthusiastic about exercising all of the time, so we’ve also included excellent motivational apps such as Zombies, Run! and One You Couch to 5k to help when the going gets tough.

READ NEXT: Best fitness trackers

What you’re eating can be just as important to your fitness as what you’re doing in the park or the gym – if not more so – so we’ve also included our favourite app for tracking your meals and how many calories you’ve consumed. Armed with all the best fitness apps available, there’s really no excuse for not becoming a fitter and healthier version of you.

Best fitness apps

1. Google Fit: Best for automatic tracking

Google Fit has come on leaps and bounds since it was released in 2014. It’s well suited to casual users and fitness enthusiasts alike, thanks to its automatic step-counting and activity tracking and the ability to get direct feedback on your activities using live tracking.

When you first launch the app, you’re asked to enter basic information including your gender, height and weight. The app also requests permission to use your location data. Then, as you go about your everyday activities, Google Fit will run silently in the background, automatically tracking your steps using your device’s motion sensors.

Providing you’ve enabled “Activity detection” and “High-accuracy location” in the app’s settings, it can also detect when you start running or cycling, and will activate your phone’s location services to gather more detailed information such as your speed, distance and elevation. The fact you don’t need to press a single button to record any of your activity is what separates Google Fit from its competitors.

By default, the app sets a target of moving 5km a day, but you can change this to any figure you like, and you’ll be notified as soon as you reach your goal. If you don’t always have your phone with you when you exercise, you can log activities manually, and the app can also be connected to apps such as Strava and Runkeeper to help it build a more detailed picture of your overall activity levels.

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2. Strava: Best for runners and cyclists

If you’re really into running or cycling, Strava is probably the best free fitness-tracking app you’ll find. You can use your phone’s location services to track your workouts, or log them on your GPS watch or trip computer and sync the data to Strava later.

Where Strava excels is in the heaps of data it lets you sink your teeth into, allowing you to monitor progress and compare your performances to the rest of its enormous community. Its standout feature is that it automatically breaks your workouts into segments. This means you can see how fast you completed particular sections of a course compared to your previous efforts, and indeed compared to members of your cycling or running club and the wider community. If you wear a heart-rate monitor, you can also see how your pulse has changed during the course of both activity and individual segments.

Just because you’re not running a 20-minute 5k, that doesn’t mean Strava isn’t for you. You can use it to record walking and hiking as well as running, and even the most casual users will be fascinated by its detailed insights and encouraged by watching their times improve with their fitness. You never know, it might even bring out your competitive streak.

It might lack the step-counting leaderboards of some popular fitness apps, but Strava isn’t lacking in social features. It encourages you to follow your friends and give “kudos” for challenging workouts, and you can also take part in challenges and win badges when you’re successful.

3. One You Couch to 5k: Best for first-time runners

Aimed at the first-time runner, Public Health England’s nine-week plan involves 30 minutes a day, three days a week, and can transform anyone from couch potato to 5k finisher. For the first week, you’ll alternate between 60-second stints of running and 90 seconds of walking, and it will gradually build up from there.

The app has a really simple interface, and you can run to whatever music you like. It may not offer the same insights as some running apps, but you can choose from four different trainers including Jo Whiley and Michael Johnson, who will provide you with plenty of motivation to keep on moving when the going gets tough. If you want to log your runs, there’s nothing to stop you from using an app like Strava at the same time.

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4. MyFitnessPal: Best for calorie counting

If you’re trying to shift few pounds, it’s pretty important to know how many calories you’re consuming. MyFitnessPal has long been hailed as the king of calorie-counting apps thanks to its extensive database of foods, which makes logging your meals quick and easy.

When you first use the app, it’ll ask you to enter your current weight and goal weight, along with your weekly weight-loss goal. Based on your typical activity levels, it will then set you a daily calorie goal. After you’ve logged all your meals and exercise – you can connect it to Garmin Connect, Fitbit Tracker, MapMyFitness, Strava and other apps, so it does this automatically – you’ll be able to clearly see whether you’ve met your goal.

5. Zombies, Run!: Most entertaining

The ultimate in running gamification, Zombies, Run! launches you into a world where the undead run amok and you are the key to humanity’s survival. Each run is one of 200 missions where you attempt to gather supplies for your base in a bid to rebuild civilisation. The app’s been updated to let you choose your own music playlists – so the story unfolds between tracks – and it now also includes GPS so you get detailed stats at the end of every run. There are four missions available in the free version, plus a new free mission each week. If you can’t wait that long, the premium subscription unlocks everything and costs £2.29 monthly or £14.99 annually.

6. MapMyFitness Workout Trainer: Best for varied workouts

UnderArmour’s MapMyFitness is an excellent iOS and Android app for tracking and logging all manner of activities, from running and cycling to rock climbing, meditation and snowboarding. After setting up an account, you can start recording your exercise sessions right away by tapping Start Workout: the app will use your device’s GPS sensor to record your route and track time, distance and calories burned. If you’re not sure which direction to head, the app offers inspiration in the form of its “nearby routes” feature, or you can plot your own by accessing the website (www.mapmyfitness.com) from your PC. If you forget to take your phone with you, MapMyFitness lets you manually log up to 600 different types of activity. As mentioned above, the app will sync to MyFitnessPal so you can factor in all your exercise when calculating your net calorie count.

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