We all have busy lives, it comes with the times we live in, and while this does wonders for productivity, it can mean that it is increasingly difficult to find the time or energy to stay in shape. Either we’re neck deep in social obligations or we’re constantly grinding for a paycheck – either way we’re not exactly eager to set aside huge amounts of time to work out every week. However, the best fitness apps will help you stay fit, and they’ll do it without requiring a huge time commitment.
Winter is coming, and the warm summer weather is a distant memory, so everyone is going to want to spend their time indoors. While this is great for your video game backlog or Netflix queue, it’s more important than ever to stay active, especially with all of those delicious – albeit high-calorie, holiday meals. The best fitness apps are ready for this cold weather snap, and will supply you with quick High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT) routines that will fill your exercise quota in no time flat.
There are three golden ideals that all of the best fitness apps will strive to reach: convenience, affordability and sports science. These features combine to make fitness apps that can revolutionize the way you look at fitness and exercise. Plus, with the best running gadgets, you can finally say goodbye to those pricey gym memberships and personal trainers.
There is a catch, though. There are hundreds of fitness apps on iOS and Android – as with any other kind of app – which makes finding the best fitness app for your personal needs and goals a hassle. Don’t worry though, you can save your energy for those intense workouts you’re already planning, because we’ve gone ahead and created a list of the best fitness apps you can install right now.
1. Nike+ Training Club
With this very comprehensive and extremely stylish app, Nike offers 100+ workouts varying from endurance, mobility and strength with a host of both swift, 15-minute workouts and longer endurance sessions, so you can constantly change up your workout.
AirPlay and AppleTV support (along with Chromecast mirroring) will display the instructions on a larger screen or speaker system, and it even features a lot of famous athletes (including Rory McIlroy, Ellie Goulding and Serena Williams) busting a sweat with you as ‘motivation’.
An added bonus exists if you use the Nike+ Run Club app, as all your jogging efforts will be automatically synchronised to your Nike profile too, giving a complete picture of your fitness.
Freeletics offers a host of workouts that are all centered around high intensity interval training, or HIIT. This platform revolves around four free platforms – Gym, Bodyweight Workouts and Training, Nutrition and Running.
Bodyweight was the app that started it all, and really pushes you to your limit through moves (that unsurprisingly use the weight of your body) such as sprawls, jump squats, pull-ups, burpees and sprints that you must finish as quickly as possible.
There are videos for each exercise demonstrating proper form, and there is a great social aspect to the app which motivates you to stick to your plan, and push yourself to beat your personal bests.
If you opt to pay the subscription to access 'Coach', you get all the different workouts (satisfyingly named after characters from Greek mythology) and a workout plan tailored to your goals and current fitness levels.
There is a further subscription that you can pay to access Nutrition, which gives you weekly nutrition plans to complement the intense workouts.
Tell Sworkit the type of workout you’re looking for (strength, cardio, yoga, or stretching) and the amount of time you’ve got to do it (anywhere from five minutes to an hour), and the app delivers moves to follow during your sweat session.
Choose to upgrade and the app will enable you to customise your workouts by setting the number of reps and the areas of the body you want to focus on.
It’s a simple system that offers great workouts for those already armed with knowledge of the areas they want to target.
4. Adrian James Bootcamp
Adrian James proudly boasts that his bootcamp is the toughest 15-minute workout on the planet.
Yeah, it’s one of those apps, just like the Insanity DVD infomercials you’ve woken up to on the sofa (although we’ve completed that plan, and it does actually work – unlike most things that are advertised late at night).
No equipment needed, lots of how-to videos, points grading, motivation and plenty of exercises that are suitable for beginners too… but do expect to sweat and ache.
There’s also companion Six Pack and High Intensity apps for the same price, should you feel the need to punish yourself further at the end of the 'basic' Bootcamp.
5. Daily Burn
Daily Burn is like your own private YouTube fitness channel, offering 500 workout videos taught by expert trainers, lasting from 15 minutes to an hour.
Your money gives you the power to pick and choose just what’s right for your workout, and if you can ever conceive of getting bored with what's on offer, more videos are added regularly.
There are also 20 different programs – from high-intensity cardio to yoga – and each workout can be streamed to Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod, laptop or desktop…so you’ll have no excuses for not being able to access the right session at the right time.
It does seem a little expensive, but with the range of options and ways to stream the content it’s perfect for those committed to getting in shape.
6. Daily Yoga
Fitness isn’t just about squat-thrusts and burpees, and this app explores alternative ways to stay fit by packing in high definition video as an ideal introduction to the ways of the Yogis.
All the routines are under 30 minutes and there are 50 classes available – the Yoga for Runners is particularly recommended if you’re a jogger and getting worryingly stiff – and each session is categorised according to the body part you want to focus on.
Treating fitness like a classic (but basic) video game, Seven sets you the challenge of working out for seven minutes a day for seven months using no more than a chair, wall and your own body weight.
You start with three lives but missing one day will lose one of them (shown as a heart, rather menacingly) and missing three in a month will reset your progress to zero.
If you stick to it you’ll see results, but it’s worth paying the extra per month for the premium workouts to avoid the monotony of the free routines.
8. Workout Trainer
With a dizzying selection of over 1000 intense workouts ranging in length from five to 15 minutes, each with step-by-step audio and video instructions, if there’s nothing in Workout Trainer to tempt you from the sofa you’re in serious trouble.
As well as the standard workouts, you can build your own custom routines and share them online, as well as trying out some of the community-created routines yourself.
A Pro subscription gives a big upgrade in features, such as advert-free HD workout videos and even more routines to torture your screaming muscles with.
9. Fitivity Pilates Exercise Workouts
Pilates is all about strengthening the core – specifically the back, abdomen and hips. Ask any fitness pro and no matter what level of fitness you are, they’ll harp on endlessly about the importance of this area for back strength, balance, posture, strength and flexibility.
While not offering everything you could want – few Pilates apps are perfect, we've found – Fitivity offers all the instructions you need to start training your core, with simple-to-follow routines.
Do it for the three free weeks and, if you want more, the pro version will give you unfettered access when you pay up.
Tried all the above but still can’t seem to find 15 minutes to work up a tiny sweat? Does money motivate you more than the idea of a healthy heart and a six-pack?
If so, you need Pact, the first app that encourages you to gamble on your ability to get fit.
Wager how many days you reckon you can work out, put some money where your mouth is and get running.
It pairs with your phone’s GPS as well as with RunKeeper, Fitbit, Jawbone Up and MapMyRun and the more you stick to your programme the more cash you can win from competing lazy members.
11. Runtastic Training series
There are loads of apps by Runtastic – confusingly, a lot of them seem to do similar things but look completely different – but we're really into Sit Ups, Squats, Press Ups and Pull Ups at the moment, as they're just so friggin' simple.
Simply start the app, it'll tell you where to hold your phone, and how many reps to do. You'll get rest targets (which the more hardcore of you can skip) and the progression every couple of days feels manageable. You can even save your workout progress to the cloud and use other devices when needed.
The free version only gets you to level one, but by the end of that you'll be fully into how much stronger you're getting and the upgrade cost to Pro is fully worth it. If you've been an Adidas MiCoach user in the past, you'll get free access to the Pro apps automatically too (thanks to Adidas buying Runtastic fairly recently).
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been gaining in popularity recently, and for good reason – a workout that promises big results from short workouts is going to sound pretty appealing to people who are short on time. Apple has even announced that the Apple Watch will soon have an HIIT function.
Here we will explain a little bit about what HIIT is, and a few apps that you can use to for this new workout method, which is exhausting but has the potential to super-charge your results.
There are three different energy systems used by your body during exercise, one aerobic system that uses oxygen as fuel, and two that are anaerobic, using lactic acid and phosphates as their fuel. Long-duration cardio training (running, swimming, cycling) is dependant on the first of these energy systems, as it's the only energy system that can continue to feed muscles for long periods of time.
The problem with this is that low-intensity training burns a relatively small amount of calories, so in order to achieve a caloric deficit for weight loss, a large amount of this exercise needs to be done.
High-intensity exercise, on the other hand, burns a large amount of calories, but you’re unable to sustain it for long enough that it makes a significant difference to overall fitness.
HIIT bridges the gap between the two training disciplines by interspersing short periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity, to help you recover while still burning calories.
Does it work?
One of the most popular forms of HIIT is something called Tabata training, which is eight rounds of 20 seconds maximum intensity and 10 seconds low intensity. If you’re doing the math and thinking that only works out at four minutes of exercise, you’d be right – but done right it will be one of the worst four minutes of your life.
Tabata training was developed as a method of training by Japanese scientist Dr Izumi Tabata, as a method for improving the sprint times of Olympic ice skaters.
He discovered that by doing these short bursts of maximal effort interspersed with periods of low effort, not only did the athletes get similar aerobic gains to a group doing a much longer more traditional workout, but they exhibited anaerobic gains that the control group didn’t show.
To oversimplify this, it basically means that if you work smarter, you can get the same – or even better – results as from slogging away for ages on the treadmill. Plus, as a little bonus, you get the benefits of an effect called EPOC, which stands for excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption, which basically means that as your body works to address the oxygen deficit in your system you keep burning calories long after you've finished exercising.
As this is a very intense form of exercise, it puts strain (good strain, but strain none the less) on your heart, lungs and muscles. You should consult a doctor before starting any exercise regime, especially one as intense as HIIT.
Enough science! How do I do it?
You basically need three things for HIIT: an exercise of your choice, will power, and a timer.
The exercise needs to be something you can do for extended periods of time. Static bike is perfect, because it’s easy to shift quickly between low and high intensity. Running machines can work, but they need to be set up to alternate between the intensities, and, depending on your level of intensity, it can get risky having sudden changes of speed that are happening out of your control.
Rowing machines and elliptical machines both work well too. The elliptical machine is actually one of the best in terms of getting a full-body workout, but for some reason has a stigma attached to it.
A lot of people do burpees as a HIIT exercise, which seems to make sense because it’s a full-body exercise, but the fundamental problem with these is that you're likely to reach muscular fatigue, which will inhibit your ability to push yourself to your desired level of cardiovascularly.
If you don’t have access to a gym, or would just prefer to do your exercise using body weight, then skipping, star jumps, and even jogging on the spot can all be employed.
Timers. You mentioned timers…
This is where the tech comes in. Obviously you could use a stopwatch to set your periods, but frankly who has time for that? Luckily there are a number of apps on the market specifically designed to help you plan and carry out your HIIT session.
There are so many to choose from that the selection process can be pretty daunting. To help you out, we've chosen our favourites…
Seconds is an app for creating your own exercise timers. It has templates for circuit training, Tabata, HIIT, and custom timers. You can adjust the length of the high- and low-intensity periods, you can adjust the number of sets you’re going to be doing, and you can name the exercises – so if you’re doing a circuit it’ll tell you you’re on the kettlebells next.
During your workout it gives clear audio signals for starting and stopping, and the screen has a massive countdown on it, so even when sweat is streaming into your eyes you should still be able to see how long you have to go before you can rest.
Seconds is free to download and use, but gives you the option to upgrade to Seconds Pro, which allows you to save timers; very useful if you're going to be doing the same workout four times a week.
Runtastic Timer & Intervals
Runtastic, as the name might suggest, is from a running company, but don't let that put you off. A timer is a timer, and this is a good timer, and the app is easily the most aesthetically pleasing of your options.
It's very easy to customize, and can either give you beep prompts or voice feedback.
Like Seconds, it's free to download, but if you want to unlock the full range of timers and get rid of the ads you can pay a small in-app fee.
Tabata Timer Interval Timer
Tabata Timer has a very simple interface, but it does everything you need of it. When you open up the app it gives you the option to change your prep time, work time, rest time, and number of cycles. Once you’ve put your desired specifications in, you just hit Start and away you go.
Tabata Timer works in the background, so if you want to move over to your music app mid-workout you’re not going to stop the timer, which is surprisingly useful. Also, Tabata Timer works with Google Fit, so if you use that app it’ll transfer over your data from your workout.
Tabata Timer is free to download, with the option to upgrade to the premium version (with a number of different affordable plans) if you want to save more than two workouts.
What about the willpower?
That's up to you. Sorry.
- If that all sounds a bit intense and you'd rather just start running, check out: The tech you’ll need to start running