The vast majority of us now have smart phones and tablets at our fingertips, and there are a significant number of apps and tools available for almost every aspect of sportsmanship. Whether you are just starting off, improving your fitness or looking to better your race time, there will be an app for you. So how do you select the right app for the task in hand? It depends on your chosen discipline, level of fitness and what your ultimate goals are. Here we have taken a look at some of the best sports and fitness apps available – written by a converted non sporting / heavy smoker who is now an addicted triathlete, spending over 12 hours training a week.
"...there are a significant number of apps and tools available for almost every aspect of sportsmanship"
Running - Run 5k (10k) - interval training coach + stretch program
As a beginner with a non sporting background, who has never done any serious running, it is vital to start slowly, building yourself up and not overdoing it in the beginning stages. It is near on impossible to run vast distances to start with; instead you need to build up your pace, strength and technique over weeks and even months. These first two apps are perfect for the novice runner, or indeed if you have taken a significant break to help you build up at a safe but buildable pace.
The idea of Run 5k is to begin with a combination of walking and running at set intervals, with the focus initially placed on walking. The app then helps you to progress into spending more time running, gradually increasing your running as time progresses, eventually leading to running the full 5k or 10k.
For those who, like me, prefer to follow the app properly, you may find that you are sticking to the walking intervals when you may actually be capable of running the distance, so we’d suggest you try to monitor your own fitness levels and not be shy to skip a step or two if you feel that you are up to the challenge. Just don’t push too hard.
In week 1, the app is easy to follow. The first session involves intervals such as minutes 1 to 5, walking. Minute 7, running. 8 to 11, walking, and so on. During the sessions, you will be directed via audio as to which activity you should be doing, and how much time is remaining during each interval. This can be done via the loudspeaker, or if you prefer to keep your progress private, you can use earphones. A nice touch is the ability to listen to your own music while the app is running, which pauses when instructions are given.
Lots of similar apps are available, but we particularly like this one as it includes a good stretching program which is useful for beginners who need to learn just how important that stretching is and how to do it properly. The app is available as a standalone or as part of a bundle with the Couch to 10k / 21k apps, but in my view this first version should be enough for you to build your progress enough to then continue forward without the extra coaching.
The name of this app may mislead you into thinking it is purely for runners. This is not the case, as you can use it for tracking and logging all of your cycling, walking, hiking, running and even treadmill exercises. It uses GPS and tracks various metrics including elevation; both descent and climb, plus all the normal metrics including distance, time, pace, speed and calories burned. These are transformed into really useful and quite extensive statistics to help you monitor performance closely.
I use this app to track all my workouts, whether it’s running, cycling or even walking - power walking that is! The real selling point for me is the ability to export the data to just about any other app that you may use. You can define this export of data so that after each workout is completed it automatically exports all the data to your choice of app. I export all my data to Strava, RunKeeper and GarminConnect which is really useful. This works for me, as, for example, I train with a friend who uses Strava so we can compare workouts. RunKeeper, on the other hand, has even more statistics and records personal bests – see below – and iSmoothRun works well in conjunction. GarminConnect brings all my swimming, running and cycling data together in one place for a comprehensive report on fitness levels, progress and achievement all round.
ISmoothRun also connects with most heart monitors, so that you can then set up your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. This then automatically sets up running zones 1 to 5, which means that the audio on the app will tell you when you change from one heart rate zone to another.
Finally, ISmoothRun will connect to a multitude of other accessories, such as the Pebble Smart watch and enables you to choose the metric that is displayed on your Pebble
RunKeeper is one of the most popular and well known sports tracking and logging apps available. It tracks numerous metrics, i.e., all the metrics that iSmoothRun tracks as described above.
We love this app for monitoring and checking all your sports statistics, and the email notifications sent to you as soon as you beat one of your personal bests.
There are great charts showing your speed, elevation and even heart rate where you have a heart rate monitor attached. If you are really serious and looking for even more depth from your stats, there is an option to pay for a monthly or annual upgrade to the RunKeeper Elite app. This is an improved version which offers the ability to make a comparison between every run or cycle you have done. It also gives additional charts and graphs – for basically every which way of tracking and monitoring your sports stats.
It is worth noting that you should log on regularly to the desktop RunKeeper either via your main computer or via tablet to check all your personal bests over a period, say for the week and month. RunKeeper and iSmoothRun can be used exclusively, but I use them both as iSmoothRun has very strong export ability while the statistics that RunKeeper provides are more in depth. Using both these apps in conjunction is perfect in giving you further peace of mind that all your workouts are backed up and stored in 2 separate places.
I used this to track my entire nutritional intake, as well as import all my sports activities in order to track my calories used per day. As a beginner runner who wanted to begin increasing speed, I needed to loose at least 11Kg, or just over a stone. By integrating RunKeeper and / or ISmoothRun with MyFitnessPal to monitor all calorific intake you can see exactly what progress you are making, with your weight, and your macro nutrient intake (protein, carbohydrate and fat in %) on a daily basis. This is an easy app to use as most barcodes on food and drink are in the database and can be scanned by your smart phone or device to give an accurate result.
I use this app specifically to check my resting heart rate. It is simple to use - you just place your finger over the lens of the camera and wait a moment or 2 for your heart rate to be recorded. If, like most of us, your iPhone or other device is pretty much always to hand, this means you can measure your heart rate at regular intervals, even in bed which is the best time to check, to get a realistic picture of your resting heart rate. I find that the app is less useful for recording your workout heart rate simply because in the time it takes to measure a reading, your rate can drop. For a fully trained athlete, you would expect to see a resting heart rate of below 60, although the elite, heavy trainers, particularly cyclists can often see a rate as low as 40 to 50.
This is another interesting app, which also uses the camera lens, but instead for measuring your blood pressure and heart rates. Honestly, it is difficult to know the accuracy of the blood pressure monitoring, so I can’t really suggest using the free version as a real test to check and monitor your blood pressure if you know you have dangerously high blood pressure. If that is the case, then please do revert to a full functional tested blood pressure monitor which is placed on your arm and pumped up or of course a medical professional.
Health (Included with the Apple IOS 8 operating system)
This was rolled out as part of the new Apple IOS 8 operating system. It brings all your health data together in one place, and you can set- up a dashboard with graphs and choose exactly which sporting metrics you want to track again over the week, month or year. This can be anything from nutritional information, heart rate to all your sporting activity metrics. Slowly but surely all the major health and fitness apps are bringing in releases that integrate with Health and most are now integrated.
This is a pedometer app that keeps track of the number of steps, either walking or running, that you take in a day. It is recommended that you make at least 5,000 steps a day if you do no other sporting activities and is quite a useful measure of daily activity. Of course this will only work if you keep the app switched on and in your pocket!
Heart Rate Monitor
There are various heart rate monitors on the market to buy for home use. These usually strap around your chest and then link back to your fitness tracking app so that your heart rate is recorded throughout your workout. This is especially useful if you are doing interval or hill training, so that you can accurately track your heart rate during strenuous running, say up a hill, and see what happens as your heart rate reduces as you jog slowly back down. For the more mature athlete, at perhaps over 40, it can be useful to keep a track of your heart rate on longer workouts of over 1 hour to ensure that your heart rate does not exceed your maximum heart rate during training.
As an aside, it is worthwhile wetting the sensors on the heart rate monitor before you put them on. It can affect initial heart rates if they are placed dry, at least until you have worked up a sweat!
Garmin Swim Watch / Garmin Connect
A really decent swim watch for an approximate RRP of £100. The batteries are great, in my experience lasting around a year. This is simple to use, and only records data in swimming pools. It can’t be used for open swimming (lakes or rivers), as it has no GPS. You connect the ANT usb stick to a computer which then automatically uploads your workouts to Garmin Connect. It can detect your stroke type and various other swimming metrics such as SWOLF and pace.
Pebble Smart Watch.
I would say this is currently the ultimate waterproof smart watch on the market, especially at the current RRP which is around £100 for the starter model. Combined with swim.com and the swim app, this watch can be used to track all your swimming pool workouts. It measures all the stats that the Garmin watch measures apart from the stroke you are using, but in my opinion this is not so important, as I’d assume you will know the stroke you are using!
The Pebble watch is multifunctional and can be used for a multitude of other sporting activities – it links in with RunKeeper and iSmoothRun. With iSmoothRun you can choose the metrics that are displayed on your watch whilst you cycle or run, including your heart rate if you have a heart rate monitor attached. Your smart watch communicates with your iPhone or android phone via Bluetooth.
The watch is rechargeable, but only requires a recharge once every 3 or 4 days.
Nike+ Fuel Band
Quite expensive at over £120 – but for the youngsters among us it may count as a fashion accessory!
When buttons are pressed it flashes up steps taken, calories burnt, fuel activity ratings. Double pressing the button displays the time. So again doubles up as a watch. The display lights up when you reach activity targets.
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