There's no doubt that the invention of the mobile app has made runners' lives a whole lot simpler and easier. Now there is a huge selection of running and fitness apps, that can do everything from run tracking – staying on top of the distance and pace of your runs – route planning, strength and yoga workouts, to offering customised training plans and coaching tips. There's even apps to help you unwind with meditation. There's something for everyone, including apps for beginners that can take a lot of the stress out of taking your first steps in the sport.
But with such a huge variety available, it can be difficult to dig out the best running apps worth the memory space on your mobile. Well, you don't have to – we've been downloading and using some of the most popular fitness apps on the market to bring you these tried and tested recommendations. Whether you’re just starting out as a runner or you’re a seasoned pro, this list will help you find the tools you need to get the most out of your miles.
The free Couch to 5K plan has been a gateway for millions of people to start running, and this running app for beginners makes taking your first steps super simple and welcoming. A partnership between the NHS and the BBC, it offers a flexible nine-week training plan that builds up from run/walks, or can take longer if desired, while clever in-run features like a half-time bell and a countdown timer help keep pushing you forward. There are tips, progress awards and a selection of trainers to guide you on your runs, such as comedian Sarah Millican and presenter Jo Whiley, and you can also connect to Couch to 5K online communities for more support.
The Nike Run Club app has lots of features and tools for all levels of runner, from beginner to serial racer – it's one of the best free running apps you can get. On top of the common run tracking features – distance, pace, heart rate, cadence etc – the Nike running app offers training plans for a variety of goals and distances, while audio-guided runs will help you during everything from getting started to speed sessions and long runs. In addition, there are guided mindful runs led by Headspace experts. The app also has a strong social aspect, with regular challenges and rewards. NRC integrates with Spotify and Apple Music, and is compatible with Apple Watch, TomTom and Garmin devices.
The saying goes: if it's not on Strava, it didn't happen. Which gives you some idea of how popular with cyclists and runners this app is. It’s partly an activity-based social media platform and partly an analytical tool. The free version offers sharable tracking across a variety of sports, routes and monthly challenges, as well as Beacon, a safety feature that allows three designated contacts to monitor your location while you’re running. Subscription (£5.99 per month) opens up customisable training plans, deeper analytics and segment leaderboards, which shows how you stack up against other runners on the same route.
The tech giant’s own fitness service offers an impressive range of trainer-led classes in a variety of activities – core, HIIT, strength, Pilates, yoga, cycling, dance, treadmill running and rowing. The regularly updated classes are of varying intensities and length and suitable for all abilities, and most require only minimal kit like dumbbells. There are guided meditation sessions, walks and runs, in which trainers (including RW columnist Cory Wharton-Malcolm) accompany you through global cities with coaching tips, playlists and photos. The app integrates with other Apple products – you follow the workout on your iPhone or iPad, while an Apple Watch transmits your heart rate to the screen and places you on a live leaderboard. Even the most obsessive users will be hard pushed to get through everything here.
£9.99 per month, iOS
Garmin’s free fitness and tracking app offers a wealth of features to those using the brand’s GPS watches or fitness bands, to which it syncs seamlessly. It’ll keep track of all your run and activity data – and there’s enough here for the most committed stat-head, with metrics like like blood oxygen, stress, sleep, heart rate, hydration, respiration and more, as well as trend graphs and charts for a deeper understanding of your health. The Garmin Coach feature offers dynamic training plans that adapt according to your goals and performance, with the workouts syncing with your watch. You can also share workouts, connect to friends, earn badges and create challenges, so there’s plenty to keep you going on the motivation side.
No more rooting around trying to find music on your playlist that will sync with your running cadence. Finding music to match your stride is made much simpler with Weav Run, which remixes songs to match your pace. You can either set a desired cadence on the app before your run, if you know you’re going to be aiming for a specific pace, or you can simply hit play and start running, and the app’s canny technology adapts the song in real time without compressing it or drawing it out so that the voices are horribly (or comically) distorted.
A useful app for anyone who enjoys getting off the beaten track for long trail runs or hikes, a subscription to the Ordnance Survey Maps app allows you to access OS maps for the whole country. You can also search for thousands of routes as rated by other outdoorsy types, as well as plot your own. You can download areas to view offline in case of loss of phone signal, and export routes to your GPX-file compatible device. You can preview routes in 3D to check the steepness of the terrain, while a clever augmented reality feature allows you to scan your surroundings for features like transport and settlements.
Looking for a local run route that will be less crowded? Choose from one of more than 70 million routes on Map My Run, Under Armour’s comprehensive tracker that records distance, pace, elevation, calories burned and more. You can also create your own routes on the map function and save them for other members to take advantage of (if you feel like sharing). It integrates with a variety of major wearable trackers, as well as the MyFitnessPal app, so you can sync your diet and exercise info to get a clearer picture of your health. Paid Premium features (£5.49 per month, £27.99 per year) include live location tracking for safety, heart rate zone analysis and audio coaching.
Runkeeper allows you to track and plan your runs – or any workout – as you go. As well as tracking your runs, the app also lets you set your own goals and helps you stick to them. The app also has a series of challenges, virtual running groups and rewards to stoke your motivation. Regular users get the usual run tracking metrics (eg time, distance, mileage), while paying Runkeeper GO subscribers get personalised training plans, in-depth analysis and training insights. The app offers guided workouts with Asics coaches to help you on your running journey. Compatible with Garmin, Fitbit and Apple Watch.
A pioneer in remote training for riders and runners alike, Zwift brings an element of gamification by transforming tedious turbo rides and treadmill slogs into challenging, social sessions. Pair any Bluetooth-enabled treadmill or static bike with the app (use a tablet rather than your phone if you have one) and power your avatar around the roads of six virtual worlds, including a futuristic New York. There are more than 1,000 workouts to choose from, plus around 300 group races each day, giving you the chance to dish the dirt as they eat your (pixel) dust. It's free to use the run platform, £12.99 a month for cycling.
If lacing up for a run sounds daunting, try adding a frisson of (extremely motivating) threat to your workout with Zombies, Run! The app puts you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse by providing a series of stories and missions for you to listen to as you run, mixed in with your own music. Follow the prompts to collect supplies, fortify your zombie-proof base, and save humanity – what’s better for increasing your pace than that?
Beginners: use this app to get yourself into a regular running routine. Pacer is centred on step-counting, but it’s a great launching point from which to develop a running habit, too. Pacer works quietly in the background, logging your steps as you move around during the day to give you a picture of your activity level. You can also track runs with GPS and join group challenges, and if you opt for a Premium subscription (£9.99 per month or £39.99 per year), you can access training plans with video workouts, which will be helpful as you become fitter.
One of the first nutrition-focused apps on the market. This won’t tell you what to eat but it will tell you how you’re eating. Simply plug in your weight-loss target and desired time frame, and it’ll give you your daily macro (fats/carbs/protein) and calorie targets to hit. You can then enter what you eat (manually or by using the barcode scan) for each meal and the chances are the app’s vast database of branded foods will have the nutritional information on them to give you the developing picture throughout the day. Enhanced analysis features can be unlocked via a Premium subscription (£7.99 per month).
The app formerly known as Runtastic has over 170 million global users. The free version covers most of the bases you’ll need to keep track of your training – it will log time, distance, calories and HR data for a range of activities. To keep you motivated, there are regular virtual races and challenges, and you can connect to followers and keep track of their activities via your newsfeed. It’s compatible with the Apple Watch and other popular apps like Zwift and Garmin Connect. Upgrading to paid membership buys you access to personalised training plans for weight-loss, 5K, 10K half and full marathon.
We'll assume that, by now, you know the many benefits of meditation and mindfulness. But scheduling quiet time between conference calls, homeschooling and workouts will test anyone’s patience. With more than 100 guided sessions for stress-busting, anxiety management and enhancing focus, Calm is your co-pilot to the land of chill – and it can also help you get to sleep. Specially selected bedtime tales narrated by the likes of Matthew McConaughey (really) and national treasure Stephen Fry will coax you into a higher state of subconsciousness.
£36 a year, iOS and Android
This app turns your Apple Watch into an advanced GPS monitor. It offers all the functionality even the most ardent data fan could want – including 26 activity types, multiple and customisable data screens, the ability to configure interval workouts and import GPX routes, and vector maps with a visual ‘breadcrumb’ trail to show your route. After your run, the data is uploaded to the companion iPhone app, where you can analyse various metrics. And don’t worry about keeping your Strava feed ticking over, the data can be directly uploaded to it, too.