Fitness apps - six of the best

cardio runner running listening ...

There was a time when the height of technology in most people's workouts was the stopwatch function on their Casio watch. Then came GPS gizmos, heat rate monitors, and pedometers – so that you could end up feeling like Robocop when you went for a run.

The modern smartphone, essentially a computer in your pocket, has dispensed with the need for individual gadgets and made fitness technology more accessible than ever. Here are six of the best fitness apps to try...

Strava – Android and iOS
The gold standard app for cyclists and also popular with runners, Strava's USP is the combination of GPS tracking with "segments" - turning every ride or run into a virtual race with yourself and others over a series of user-defined distances. Leaderboards are then compiled for the app – with the fastest runners and riders winning the "course record" or "king/queen of the mountain". The free version of the app is very comprehensive but a monthly subscription of around £4 adds further depth – and is especially useful if you are using a heart rate monitor or power meter. It also has social media functionality – so you can follow other users and see when and where they are riding or running – which creates a bit of motivation and/or friendly competition.

Jawbone UP - iOS
Originally devised as an accompaniment to Jawbone's own fitness wristband, the motion sensing capabilities of recent iPhones have made it a good option as a standalone app too. The free app draws step-tracking data from Apple Health and allows you to input your dietary intake and sleep data – and pays you back with a wealth of interesting information. Where it wins over some similar apps is the seamless way it begins to prompt you when you're getting behind your targets. Instead of nagging, it makes useful and achievable suggestions based on your age, weight and abilities.

FitStar – Android and iOS
FitStar has a more focused aim than some of the other fitness apps on the market, because it wants to be your virtual personal trainer. Based mostly on bodyweight exercises, it builds users a custom workout from a selection of routines – with the intensity tailored for each user. The app splits its attention across different sections of the body like "core" or "legs" - and gives users the opportunity to focus on their desired area. There are videos to demonstrate the exercises – which include lunges, planks and squat jumps among other moves. There are free and paid versions of the app.

MyFitnessPal – Android and iOS
The title of this one might be a little misleading, because although MFP (as it's known to its friends) does have exercise tracking functionality – the big draw is its calorie counting abilities. Boasting the "world's largest nutrition and calorie database", the free app allows you to select from a dizzying five million foods as you input your meals and snacks. The act of logging all that eating is enough to help keep a lot of users on the straight and narrow, diet-wise – and it can also sync with a number of more fitness-based apps.

C25K – Android and iOS
Aimed at real beginners, this app is intended to help get aspiring runners off the couch and running for 5km – hence the name. Costing about £1.20, the app guides users through a nine-week programme aimed at gradually increasing their stamina – hopefully without picking up the kind of injuries that are common for new runners. Most of the sessions last 30 to 40 minutes and things start off really gently with intervals of 60 seconds running, 90 seconds walking – gradually increasing week-by-week. The app uses sound commands to tell you when to go and when to stop, so you don't have to keep looking at the screen.

Zombies, Run!
This is a bit of a novelty one, but might be of use to horror movie fans or those with terminally short attention spans. Combining a zombie survival plotline with running workouts, the £1.59 "game" actually has the same aim as C25K – to get you running 5km over the course of about two months. It lets users pick from a series of workout "stories" - then a series of audio prompts warns you when the flesh-eating members of the undead are getting close so you need to run.

Have you found a great fitness app? Share your recommendations below...

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