Technology is great and all, but it has an uncanny ability to turn the best of us into slovenly couch-dwellers (he says, literally writing this from a bed with a burger in one hand and beer firmly grasped in the other). However, not all tech dooms us to an eternity of bedsores and processed horse meat -- as these superb (and mostly free!) fitness apps prove.
Smartphones are truly great training tools for runners -- in one neat package, you can track your runs, listen to music, and get more stats than you'd ever want on how slow you were crawling up that last hill. Although there's dozens of different running apps on the market, Runkeeper is the best all-rounder.
The core functionality of a running app -- using GPS to track your runs -- is there in Runkeeper, but enhanced a little. One of the best features is the ability to customise the bitchy woman who comes into your headphones every few minutes to 'motivate' you. You can decide exactly what information you want, and how often you want it -- on a time interval, or every kilometre or so on.
Furthermore, once the run's done, Runkeeper does a good job of breaking down your pace, elevation, and even overlays the route on a map. If you're willing to upgrade to the subscription-based Premium version (£13.99 a year), you can get even deeper insights and data comparison, which is good if you like boring the pants off whichever poor unfortunate you manage to corner post-workout at the pub.
As a broader training tool, Runkeeper's also pretty nifty. Training plans -- both free and paid-for -- help you structure your workouts, although they're certainly geared towards a more amateur level. If you're an iPhone owner, Runkeeper now plays nice with the M7 motion processor to pull second duty as an activity tracker, passively collecting information on any walks over 15 minutes. It's a nice extra feature, although rather lacking compared to the Nike Move+ app. [iOS and Android, Free]
- MapMyRun is an equally free GPS tracking app that lacks some of the bells and whistles of Runkeeper, but as a result is faster to set up, and easier to use if all you want to do is see how far you ran, and how fast. [iOS and Android, Free]
- Nike+ Running is a super-stripped down running app that makes use of Nike's proprietary NikeFuel system of activity measurement. It's a little more running-specific than the Move+ app (featured further down), but it's really only for the most casual of joggers. Still, the app layout is pretty slick, and the build-in goals and challenges are good motivation if you're more of the stay-inside-and-count-the-empty-Ginsters-packets kind of person. [iOS and Android, Free]
- Zombies, Run is less of a fitness app and more of a game -- there's a narrative, and a lot of that narrative, unsurprisingly, involves running away from a horde of the undead. Serious training planner this is not, but if you really, really struggle with motivation (or, your 12-year-old does), this might do the trick. However, it costs real money, unlike the rest of the apps on the list. [iOS, Android, £2.49 (normally £5)]
Are you one of the lycra-clad masochists pelting down the Mall at 7am on your fixie, rather than using a warmer-and-less-homoerotic means of transport to get to work? If so, Strava is the best cycling app around. Rather than just counting how many kilometres you've been sitting on the arse-breaking saddle for, Strava tries to make things fun by turning your commute into a game.
Strava's key selling point is the segments. Basically, these little A-to-B strips of road that it's designated as "segments." Each segment gets its own leaderboard, with the fastest person to do the ride -- regardless of things like traffic lights, cars, or infant-laden strollers -- getting the top slot on the leaderboard. Apparently, it gets pretty competitive, with some people even going so far as to blame Strava for overly-competitive cyclists being injured and killed.
Aside from the leaderboards, Strava is also a pretty solid cycling app, giving a simple dashboard showing time, speed and average speed, and letting you swipe over to a map view without switching out of the app. [iOS and Android, Free, although Premium costs £3.99 a month]
- BikeMap is a good, simple tracker that's free, and also works with the often-forgotten Windows Phone. It also benefits from around a million bike routes already saved by users, if you need some inspiration to get outdoors. [iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Free]
- BikeBrain is pitched as a replacement for Garmin's high-end Edge GPS bike computers, with an all-encompassing dashboard that gives you all the data you could ever need (and then some) in one glance. The interface isn't the most intuitive around, but it's got everything you could ever need. Sadly, it's iOS only, which is a shame for those of us living outside Tim Cook's little world. [iOS, Free]
Not all fitness apps are about real-time tracking of activities, though -- some are pitched more as a replacement for personal trainers. If you spend most of your time indoors, lifting heavy things and probably grunting a lot, there are still apps for you.
The best of the bunch is Fitness Buddy, which combines an exercise diary and a personal trainer into one. With 1,700 exercises and 1,000 videos, all sorted by muscle group (or even just 'which bit of your body', if you spent GCSE Biology laughing at the rude bits of the textbook), it can help you find the right exercises. Especially handy is the ability to sort by the available equipment, so if you're working out in your pathetic excuse for a 'home gym', you won't get constantly frustrated by your lack of eight grand's worth of equipment.
The second part of the app is the ability to track workouts, and log them in a diary to remind you how much you really should get to the gym this afternoon. Basic stuff, but well-executed, with a pretty slick interface. [iOS, Android, £1.49]
Stand-alone fitness trackers like the FitBit Force and Nike FuelBand are all the rage these days, but a lot of their function can, in theory be replicated by your smartphone -- after all, they've both got the same sensors, and both are generally surgically attached to their owners' cold, clammy hands. As such, a few apps are seeking to replicate fitness tracker utility with just one little app.
Nike+ Move is a brand-new entrant into the category, but is hands-down the best, with one little caveat: you have to have an iPhone 5S to make use of it. That's because the Move+ app uses the M7 motion coprocessor in the 5S to do all the data-gathering, and as such can't really be ported to other devices.
For those of you familiar with the Nike Fuelband, the Move app will be like a warm, fuzzy duvet (albeit a duvet that kicks you into doing exercise occasionally rather than snuggling up with Friends reruns and Ben & Jerrys). The Move app tracks your movements during the day (assuming, of course, that your phone stays firmly ensconced in your jeans pockets). You get a breakdown of how many 'Nikefuel' you've burnt, what sort of activities you've done to achieve all that burning, a day-by-day comparison of how fat you're getting, and even a map that tells you you really should try leaving your house sometime.
In other words, it works just like an activity tracker. And, it actually works! The app is fairly accurate at working out what's just fast walking and what's running, and seems to keep pace with the normal Fuelband in terms of recording activity. (Actually, it's a little on the low side, as it doesn't record stuff like eating hamburgers, which is probably for the best.)
In fact, with the Move app, there's little need to have a Fuelband at all. There's no uploading to be done, the geographical tracker is actually kind of neat, and the interface seems to be a little slicker. Plus, one less thing to worry about charging!
The only real criticism -- apart from the obvious fact that if you don't have oodles of spare cash (and thus an iPhone 5S) you can't get the Move app -- is the slight lack of data. If you're into dozens of graphs tracking your every movement, dream, and rapid wrist motion, this isn't the tracker for you. [iOS, Free]
- Moves is an iOS and Android activity tracker that, just like Move, uses the accelerometer and GPS to measure walking and running activity. On the plus side, it's free, and it's also deadly simple -- data on walking, running and steps taken is presented in little bubbles on the app's sole screen. That's it -- no graphs, no social sharing, which sucks if you're the slightly smug sort who loves rubbing their activeness in other people's faces. However, Moves has one other real problem -- battery life. Testing on an Android phone, running Moves in the background chugged through an extra 20 per cent of the battery, leaving me high and dry by four in the afternoon -- not exactly ideal. [iOS, Android, Free]
- S Health is a Samsung
bloatware app that Samsung inflicts on all S4 owners comes preinstalled on the flagship Galaxy S4. Although it's pre-installed Sammy bloatware -- something that normally has us running for the underground bunkers and puke bags -- S Health is actually a decent activity tracker. Using the S4's built-in pedometer, it tracks your walking, running and climbing steps, and sets you a goal based on them. Moreover, through manually inputting your calories eaten during the day, you can use the S4 as a personal trainer slash dietician -- albeit an overly simplistic one. In particular, the 'target weight' calculated for you is entirely BMI-dependent, and not something that's a great training target unless you expressly know that you're a bit chubby and you need to lose flab. Of course, there's also the other obvious flaw, that if you don't have an S4, Samsung has exactly zero love for you.
While the Samsung S4 comes with the S Health app we spoke of above, you might be wanting some more tips for your new phone. Check out this video brought to you in association with O2 Guru TV, below.