Favorite (FREE) Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated

Apps make life simpler. They’re like shortcuts for daily life. While staying fit and strong always requires hard work, at least we have apps to make tracking, motivating and pushing ourselves easier. I use a handful of fitness apps regularly and I thought it would be fun to give you a peek at what I love using (and hopefully hear what apps help your fitness goals).

My Favorite Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated. Here are the apps a running coach and personal trainer uses everyday to stay fit.

My Fitness Pal

Best for: Anyone looking to watch their calorie intake; looking to lose weight or maintain weight loss.

How it helps me: I use My Fitness Pal on and off. Right now I’m in an ‘on’ stage with it, so I’ve been using it every day for the past couple of months. Keeping a food journal for a few weeks or months is a good way for me to rein in any eating habits that may have gotten out of control (for example, I used to have a daily peanut butter cup that had totally become habit rather than something I actually craved). Anytime I feel like my clothes aren’t fitting right, or I don’t feel comfortable in my skin, I just start tracking my food and activity on MFP and make sure it’s within a reasonable range of what the app tells me should be my caloric goal for the day.

Pros: You can sync this app to a number of different activity tracking devices and I had no idea that my iPhone tracked steps until it linked up to this app. Step tracking is motivating for me – if I notice my steps are lower than usual for the day, I’ll go out for a walk, or do a quick at-home workout to increase my activity. 

I also like that you can check out the macronutrient breakdown for each day of your food journal. This is helpful for me to make sure I’m getting enough protein, especially on days when I run or work out. It has also meant some surprises – my normal diet is nowhere near as carb heavy as I would have guessed prior to keeping track via this app.

While I don’t often check out the MFP blog (which you can access either online or through the app itself), when I do I know the information will be reasonable, smart and evidence-based. The RD who heads up the nutrition department of the blog is Elle Penner (I used to read her old blog Nutritionella and now she writes at According to Elle).

Cons: Keeping a food journal can become addictive behavior for some. While I try also to listen to my body and eat a little more or less day to day, depending on my appetite and what I feel like eating, seeing the calories add up definitely can give me pause. That’s why I use this on and off. Once I get to a point where I feel like I’m at my happy weight range and I have healthy eating habits and regular meals in my routine, I usually set it aside. 

Get My Fitness Pal here on iPhone

Get My Fitness Pal here on Android

My Favorite Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated. Here are the apps a running coach and personal trainer uses everyday to stay fit.

RunKeeper

Best for: Runners without GPS!

How it helps me: Anytime I’ve been without a GPS watch, RunKeeper has come to the rescue by tracking my mileage, pace and elevation. I discovered this app when I was using the Timex Ironman ONE GPS+ watch, which automatically synced data to RunKeeper (or your choice of several online fitness tracking apps). Since then, I’ve often used this app when I’ve wanted to run ‘naked’ – without keeping track of pace or mileage – but still wanted to check data afterward. Since it’s on my phone, I usually use it by hitting the ‘start running’ button, then slip it in a pocket and don’t look at it again until I finish my run. I’ve set it up to stay silent during my workout, but you can also have it announce each split time and pace if you’re not into naked running.

Pros: Great for an easy, free way to keep track of weekly and monthly mileage. You can also use it to keep track of which shoes you wear for each run, so you have a running count of how many miles you’ve put on a particular pair of shoes, and know when it’s time to replace them. I also like that at the end of your run, the app tells you where it fell in your history of runs of a similar distance – for example, if I run 4 miles, it might tell me, “That was your 6th fastest run at a 4 – 6 mile distance.”

Cons: You have to have your phone on you for your run. Although, this is not really a con since I always have my phone with me when I’m out running for safety reasons. I run alone and it’s a security blanket to have it if I should get injured, lost, or find myself in an unsafe situation. 

There are some great features that are only available for the paid version of the site. In particular, there’s a ‘compare workouts’ feature I always seem to click on, forgetting every time that I don’t have the paid version. 😉 Basically, it’s a way of comparing your pace, elevation and calorie burn between similar runs. When I ran with a Garmin, Garmin Connect had that feature, so you could see improvements either via stats or by visual aids like charts and it was really motivating to see the progress. (If I end up running with a Garmin again, I will definitely use the Garmin Connect app, because it was insanely helpful.)

Get RunKeeper here on iPhone

Get RunKeeper here on Android

My Favorite Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated. Here are the apps a running coach and personal trainer uses everyday to stay fit.

Charity Miles

Best for: If you run, walk, hike or bike, all you have to do is download the Charity Miles app and your workout automatically raises money for your charity of choice from a list of over 40. It works just like any step tracker or pedometer. Corporate sponsors contribute money for your activity by pledging 25¢ per mile (for running and walking) and 10¢ per mile (for biking) to your selected charity. That’s it!

How it helps me: This is just a no-brainer for me. It doesn’t cost anything, but every time I’m out running, walking or hiking, I just click this app on and I raise money for charity (I chose St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital). If you’re running 30 miles a week, you’re raising $7.50 a week, or $390 a year. It’s a small impact, but it all adds up.

Pros: It’s a super simple app – once you’ve chosen your charity, when you open the app, you swipe to select your activity and then just tap the screen to start. Once you’re done, hit stop and you’ve automatically made a difference. The simple menu also makes it easy to change your charity, or set reminders for yourself to get moving.

You also have the option to share your activity via the app, on Facebook or Twitter. You can opt to share a photo of the activity, and personalize your message. Either way, it’s free advertising for Charity Miles, since the included link you’re sharing clicks directly through to their app, so hopefully you’re leading other active people to download the app and start raising money too.

Cons: There are really no cons to this app. It’s not a traditional fitness app, in that it’s not a way for you to track activity or progress, but that’s not its purpose. I can’t recommend using this enough.

Get Charity Miles here on iPhone

Get Charity Miles here on Android

My Favorite Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated. Here are the apps a running coach and personal trainer uses everyday to stay fit.

TimerPro

Best for: Setting up your own AMRAP (as many reps as possible) or timed workout routine. Great for anyone working out at home, or following a workout plan that requires timed intervals.

How it helps me: I work out at home a lot, otherwise I would never get much strength training done. Most of the time I use a sets/reps scheme, but sometimes when I’m doing endurance strength training (lighter weights and higher reps), I like to do an AMRAP workout to keep it interesting. The TimerPro is a simple app that you set up your own custom intervals and it alerts you at the end of each work and rest segment.

Pros: It’s easy to set up a custom timer, either a Tabata or Rounds timer. You can customize the Tabata timer to include your preparation time (helpful when you need 10 seconds or so to get equipment in place between exercises), your work interval, rest interval, number of rounds (one round is work + rest), number of cycles (one cycle is 2 rounds) and rest time between cycles. If that’s too complicated, you can also just use their rounds workout timer, where you’re just customizing the preparation time, round time, and number of rounds. You can also use the TimerPro app as a regular stopwatch, which is great for timing planks or wall sits.

The settings area of the app lets you change the sound for the interval alert, reduce volume of your music when an alert happens, add vibration to your alert, and either lock your screen in place or allow it to rotate when your phone does. 

Cons: The Tabata timer scheme required a little trial and error for me – when I first started using this app there were a couple of times I messed up somehow and ended up flipping the work/rest intervals halfway through the workout! (That may just be a me problem…). You can always do a trial run to make sure you understand the timing of each section, though. 

Get TimerPro here on iPhone

Get TimerPro here on Android

My Favorite Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated. Here are the apps a running coach and personal trainer uses everyday to stay fit.

YouTube

Best for: YouTube is a great place to find free workouts of any type. Most fitness trainers have their own YouTube channel with workouts, or you can just use the search for ‘yoga flow’ or ’20 minute tabata,’ for example. 

How it helps me: It’s free! I use it a lot for doing at-home yoga. I love the idea of doing my own yoga practice at home without having to carve out time for a class at a studio, but I’m not experienced enough to confidently flow through a practice without thinking, “Crap! What should I do next? Why have I forgotten every yoga pose I’ve ever done?” at some point during. 

I’ve also used YouTube to check form on particular exercises, or to get ideas for progressing certain bodyweight exercises. It’s also super handy for pointing online clients in the direction of a good explanation of how to do an exercise in their program (meaning I don’t have to make a video tutorial whenever my written explanation isn’t clear enough).

Pros: It’s free, it’s easy (YouTube has been around a long time, so you’d be hard-pressed finding someone not familiar with it) and there are so many videos there’s little chance of you not finding what you’re looking for.

Cons: Unless you have a few channels or videos saved, you can waste some time searching for what you’re looking for. Also, it’s important to double check the credentials and background of instructors for the videos you’re using, to make sure you know you’re working out safely.

Get YouTube here on iPhone

Get YouTube here on Android

My Favorite Fitness Apps to Stay On Track and Motivated. Here are the apps a running coach and personal trainer uses everyday to stay fit.

Facebook and Instagram (and other social media)

Best for: Connecting with people who share the same fitness goals and interests as you, either through Facebook groups, or being active and commenting and interacting with friends and other users’ fitness posts.

How it helps me: Social media apps may seem a little too broad to be useful specifically for fitness goals, but since they’re so interactive, you can really use them for whatever purpose you like. As well as giving heart eyes to all my friends’ adorable babies and children and using friends’ vacations as a form of tourist brochure for future trips, I love the fitness-centric aspect of my social feeds.

Through health and fitness blogging friends and following Instagram users based on similar interests, anytime I need a little motivation to get out for a run, or go work out, a quick scroll through my FB or IG feeds shows me what my kick-ass fit friends have been up to that day. Since most social apps use algorithms to show and hide people and stories based on your interaction history, the more you connect with your fitness connections, the more your feed will show of workouts, healthy meals and snacks, and run reports.

Facebook is also great for the groups setting. I’m in a couple of groups specifically to keep track of workouts and fitness intentions for the week, as well as groups for healthy living bloggers. This gives me not only a source of accountability for what I plan versus what I get done every week, but also places to ask crowdsourcing questions about running or working out that my non-running, non-working out friends on Facebook are not going to weigh in on.

I’m also in a Facebook group of trail and ultra-runners – while I feel like I don’t really belong in it right now, I’ve been getting more into trail running and I’ll never say never about the possibility of an ultra somewhere down the track. That group is an invaluable source for learning from people going through their first or their 50th 100 mile race – mistakes made, what gear works best, how to deal with a DNF, etc. It’s like prolonged early research for me.

Pros: You’re most likely already using at least one social media app already – it’s easy to streamline it so you’re utilizing it for inspiration, accountability, or just because you love your workout of choice and want to see and read more about it.

Cons: It’s easy (especially with Facebook) to get sucked into half an hour of a black hole when you start clicking on links and getting distracted, or just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling…

It’s also important to remember when you’re a part of FB groups where the members are not all people actually connected to you, that you’re going to come across conflicting viewpoints or opinions that may not be in line with yours. If you’re someone who can’t bite their tongue when you disagree with someone, you could find yourself in an uncomfortable position sooner or later. 

So those are my favorite fitness apps (and all free fitness apps, too!). They keep me motivated, healthy and on track for whatever I’m focusing on, whether it’s training for a race, getting stronger, losing weight or just moving more.

I’m always curious to hear what others use and check out more apps. What do you swear by for your fitness goals?  

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