It's not often mentioned but phones are great tools for fitness and wellness. From almost infinite access to training advice to apps to motivate you and track your progress – and share it with others – the humble smartphone is an indispensible part of any fitness regime.
The great thing about this is you don't really need any specific type of smartphone to take advantage of all the excellent fitness apps available. The key ones, other than Apple Health and Google Health, are available across both the major mobile OSes. So all you need is the best phone you can currently lay your hands on and a pair of running shoes or workout shoes. And some other clothing, obviously – you can't do it in only the shoes. You probably already knew that but we thought we'd best spell it out just in case.
Getting fit with your phone: beginners
There are so many great apps to kickstart your fitness journey, with the most celebrated still being – rightly – Couch to 5K. Millions of happy users can vouch for the fact that it delivers exactly what it says, ramping you up very gradually from being all but immobile to being able to run 5 kilometres – which is not an insignificant distance. Even if your fitness level is basically 'None', this NHS-backed app can get you moving, with motivation coming from top athletes and personal trainers as well as relatable celebrities. Whether you stop at 5K or then move on is, of course, up to you.
The NHS's other apps are also worth a look. They include programmes for reducing drinking, quitting smoking, getting active and losing weight, and they're all similarly science-backed, non-gimmicky and easy to follow.
Staying fit with your phone
So you left the couch behind some time ago, and possibly now see 5K as something a cakewalk? This is where your phone really starts coming into its own. The likes of Strava, MapMyRun and Nike Run Club let you track your activities and share how you're getting on with massive social networks.
The most important feature of most fitness apps is one of the simplest, core features of every phone: the GPS. You might feel like you need a huge mound of technology to get fit and stay fit – and certainly wearables and advanced sensors can help. However, one of the simplest and most motivating things you can ever do is to simply know how far and how fast you have walked, run or cycled and then attempt to outdo it the next time.
But what about gym goers?
Okay, so you can't easily track your movements in a gym or during a home workout using only your phone – although a limited number of gym machines are compatible with Apple GymKit. However, there are some superb workout apps for your phone. Nike Training Club is a particular standout as it is free to use, despite originally requiring a subscription. They have removed a few of the workouts that were available back when you had to pay for it, but overall with Nike Training Club you're still getting a free app with a very premium feel.
Our favourite workout apps that you have to pay for are Centr and Peloton. Contrary to popular belief the latter is not just for indoor cyclists. There's a huge range of workouts available, from yoga to weights and, of course, HIIT. The app is even better when paired with one of Peloton's bikes or treadmills but it's still very useful without one.
Centr, meanwhile, is a complete fitness programme backed by no less a workout expert than Thor. Or at any rate, his mortal alter-ego, Chris Hemsworth. This increasingly diverse and essential programme isn’t cheap but it’s an extremely impressive meshing of workouts, meal planning and mindfulness routines.
The best apps that pair with wearables
The obvious examples here are Apple Fit – a superb fitness app which is still only available to Apple Watch owners – as well as Fitbit and Garmin. For our money, Apple’s is the best overall, Garmin is better for the more hardcore fitness enthusiast and Fitbit for the more socially-minded, slightly more casual workouter or runner.
For those wanting an alternative to the Big 3, our favourites are FIIT and MyZone. The former has a massive range of home workouts, while MyZone is more gym-centric. Both brilliantly gameify the workout experience via dedicated wearables – and FIIT is also compatible with Apple Watch and selected Fitbits and Samsung watches, as well as 25 other wearables.
Again, your phone is the nerve centre with these apps, collecting movement and cardio data and tracking your progress towards extreme buffness. Once you move beyond only using your phone, the sky really is the limit but if you’re just starting out or on a tight budget, there are plenty of great fitness apps that don’t require any accessories.