If you sign up to Nike+ there’s a good chance you will very quickly become obsessed with the acquisition of ‘Fuel’ – a notional currency devised by Nike that you accumulate based on the completion of challenges, training sessions and by generally being active. The more fuel you earn, the more features and rewards you unlock. This up-front gaming-style approach to fitness has proved massively popular – Nike+ now has 38.4 million members worldwide.
Session-tracking data is focused on distance, pace and time, with motivation and reward more important than in-depth statistical analysis. The ‘Friends’ section contains a leader board that offers detailed individual and group records, and user achievements, so you can assess your progress against your buddies and indulge in a spot of well-targeted and stat-supported trash talk. On a more practical level there’s also an excellent ‘Coach’ section that offers personalised training plans, tips and advice, as well as videos of workouts from Nike-sponsored athletes such as four-time Olympic sprint champion Allyson Felix. The app works with Garmin and TomTom devices too, with more affiliations planned.
Best for: Motivation and social competition
Free, in-app purchases available
With RunKeeper, an unfussy service with 25 million users, the focus is very much on personal gain. Post-run summaries provide stats you can sync to your social media feed, allowing you to show off. Distance, pace, calories and heart rate can be tracked, but you can also make personal notes about your run, add a photo, say who you were with and then share the activity.
RunKeeper also has numerous handy training plans, but what really makes it stand out is the level of connectivity to tracking devices and other apps. It supports Garmin, Withings and Fitbit products, and RunKeeper’s service also syncs from Fitocracy, Zombies Run and Jawbone Up apps, among others. The Elite plan allows you to compare your sessions with other users and create goals for yourself.
Best for: Improvement and tracker support
Accessible, intuitive and undemanding, Endomondo is focused on tracking your runs in as much (or as little) depth as you desire, using clean design and easily navigable menus. Logging a run is simple, and as soon as you finish you get lots of data, including how far and fast you’ve run, calories burnt, how high you’ve climbed and even weather info. There’s an impressive array of features to support casual or dedicated users, but Endomondo never feels bewildering or off-putting. The app caters to newcomers while also providing detailed content and options for experienced runners. Among the most impressive features are the training programmes. Offering step-by-step advice, they’re an assuring blend of information and support and we’re not the only ones who think so: Endomondo has over 20 million registered users.
Best for: Dipping your toe in the world of data
Free, in-app purchases available
Runtastic is worth exploring if you’re prepared to pay a monthly subscription for the premium, or ‘gold’, membership. The free version is basic, but if you upgrade you’re given access to a wealth of functions, such as detailed fitness reports, in-activity audio and live cheering.
Your emailed weekly fitness report includes training data and statistics indicating any improvement or decline. Also useful is ‘Coloured Traces’, a feature that overlays your map route, highlighting changes of pace, speed, elevation and grade. Other users tracking you can send cheers and audio clips for a boost to your morale mid-session. Most impressive for us was the ‘Story Runs’ feature – a library of 40-minute stories featuring music whose BPM (beats per minute) reflects the growing or diminishing tension in the narrative.
Best for: Those needing mid-run motivation
This works best with Garmin’s tracking devices; it’s compatible with other devices but you have to convert your data files. The app is less sophisticated than the dashboard on the full Garmin Connect website but it does an excellent job of offering an overview of session information, with concisely presented statistics and data. It also gives you access to features such as live run tracking, so friends and family can track you to ensure you’re safe or when you’re racing; analysis of heart-rate zones so you can understand more about how your body reacts to different types of exertion; and segment creation, which allows you to create a course of any distance and set a fastest time; other users can then try to beat you. Guided training plans are a notable absence so you’ll have to source these from elsewhere, but in all other respects Garmin Connect is excellent.
Best for: Beginners and data nuts alike
Map my Run
This is much more than just a run tracker: it logs your lifestyle. Featuring a compact and concise screen, your sessions are tracked with a live map and the statistics you’d expect, such as pace, distance, duration and calories burnt. You can also document your food and water intake; follow a calorie-consumption budget based on your profile weight and height versus levels of activity; and much more. There’s even a Gear Tracker feature, which tells you how many kilometres your running shoes have left before you need to replace them. Premium membership costs £3.99 per month and offers features such as Live Tracking (friends and family can follow you online), advanced heart-rate stats and our favourite feature – the excellent Route Genius, which devises a route given only a specified distance and a location to work from.
Best for: Micromanaging your fitness life
Let’s get the major flaw out of the way: this is only compatible with an Adidas smartwatch, but if you have one, miCoach is well worth investigating for its stylish, engaging design and impressively detailed functionality. We especially liked the zone-based cardio training, with real-time voice prompts to tell you when to speed up or slow down, and the library of over 400 strength and flexibility exercises. It also logs all the usual training metrics – speed, time, distance, calories etc. One of the most impressive features is the 12-minute ‘Assessment Workout’, which tests your base fitness and uses that info to personalise the training prompts it gives you. The tests involves running at different speeds while miCoach tracks your ‘perceived effort’ based on the response (your speed) to an audio request to work harder.
Best for: Brand fans and self-starters
Free, premium £3.99 per month
Strava is a unique training app, responsible for inspiring – and actively encouraging – intense competition across communities of users worldwide, whether that’s over a whole course or a segment. It means that when you travel you can take on the locals and see if you can beat their time. The app is a potent mix of GPS and personal bests, catering for those preferring to climb leader boards and attempt to be the best. You can also pit yourself against others in a half marathon, for example – there are often tens of thousands involved. Those who complete challenges receive a digital finisher’s badge in their ‘trophy case’.
This in an app that is heavily focused on rivalry. With instant reports of the achievements of others, we found it invigorating to try to beat records. This type of setup makes the app an excellent motivational tool.
Strava attracts around 100,000 new users around the world each week, so there’s plenty of healthy – and serious – competition out there. But if that thought doesn’t get you fired up, you still get a huge amount of data metrics to analyse and compare your runs, as well as excellent multisport functionality and an intuitive interface.
Best for: Competitive animals