The best Apple Watch running apps: tried and tested

From pace and distance to heart-rate tracking, we take these apps out on the road
Best Apple Watch apps for runners
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The Apple Watch is now a seriously good running partner. Of all the smartwatches with run tracking, it's the one that stands out for the right reasons.

With the arrival of the Series 6, Apple has made improvements to make sure GPS serves up more accurate distance tracking for outdoor runs, while its heart rate monitor is one of the most reliable ways to track heart rate from the wrist from our testing.

Bookmark this: The best Apple Watch apps to download

If you're tracking your runs, you'll likely turn to Apple's Workout app first. If over time you feel like that app doesn't quite cut it, there's plenty of other Apple Watch running apps lurking inside of the Apple App Store that serve you better.

We've tested most of them across using the Apple Watch Series 6, the Watch SE, the Series 3 and other older Apple Watch models. These are the apps that have stood out for the right reasons.

Nike Run Club

Nike Run Club

Recently rebranded as Nike Run Club as opposed to Nike+ Run Club, it's no surprise to find that this Apple Watch app looks very slick. There's a reason why an Apple Watch Nike edition exists. The two brands working together just makes sense.

Read this: Ultimate guide to Nike Run Club

Getting into the app, the essence of how things work is that you can view most recent runs, tracking runs (without your phone) and follow one of the many audio guided workouts from Nike coaches and athletes.

It'll also track indoors runs and offers settings like enabling/disabling auto pause, deciding on the frequency of performance updates and a new Twilight mode that will change the display to more neon colors if the ambient light sensor detects that lighting conditions are dim.

It's quick to load, easy to navigate and runs are simple to start. You can add a Nike+ Run Club complication to your Apple Watch face that launches straight into the app where you get to choose from Quick start, 'Match Your Last Run' or a choice of distance, duration and speed runs, although the latter requires your phone.

Things have improved when using the app and the big, bold screen metrics are really easy to read – and you can swap between data screens by scrolling the Digital Crown. You also get heart rate, duration and distance.

There's an indoor mode for tracking treadmill runs, too, but you have to remember to flick between indoor and outdoor settings manually, which is a little frustrating. In our tests, we also found the distance to be a long way off what the treadmill told us we'd run, though that isn't too uncommon with wrist-based platforms.

There are other nice touches, like complications support and the ability to set a reminder for 'When are we running' next, but this is limited to time slots from the current day. It doesn't recognise if you've already run and it would be nice to be able to set a reminder a little further into the future.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch from home screen: Yes

Free | Download

WorkOutDoors

WorkOutDoors

Over the last few years, WorkOutDoors has emerged as one of the standout Apple Watch apps for runners. Particularly if you're big into your stats and having control over how those stats are displayed on your Watch too.

It's the combination of the vector maps and the ability to fully customise data screens with up to 300 real-time metrics at your disposal that gives it real appeal for other Apple Watch running apps. That mapping approach makes it much easier to interact with them on the watch screen and makes surveying surrounding running terrain a more pleasurable experience.

You can go full screen with those maps and make use of real-time breadcrumb trail navigation, letting use the Watch crown to zoom into areas. The color coding to help you point out hilly and flat parts of your location are also handy too.

You can create workouts, store maps for offline use and then head to the iPhone app to dig deeper into your data. It's here where you can upload GPX route files to fire over to the Apple Watch.

It also has dedicated modes for other activities including cycling and hiking. If you're runner though, this is one that's well worth paying for.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch app from home screen: Yes

£5.99 | Download

Strava: Run & Ride Training

Strava: Run & Ride Training

If you're a runner, there's a strong chance you've heard of Strava. If you haven't, you probably know a fair few people that won't track a long Sunday run without soaking up the kudos on the popular app.

The good news is that there is a Strava Apple Watch app and it's one that since its launch has evolved into one of the strong options to consider having packed onto your smartwatch.

It's also one that can work without relying on your iPhone, letting you see real-time data straight from the Watch screen. We're big fans, and we've found that the Strava app tends to be more accurate than the built in Workouts app when you bring your iPhone along with you.

In terms of what it will let you do, you can track both outdoor and indoor runs offering staple running stats and will make use of Apple's heart rate monitor to let you know how hard you're working. You'll also get audio cues to hear pace and distance updates.

If you're willing to pay up for Strava subscription too, you can make use of the series of training plans and workouts to mix up your running sessions. Strava has since enabled users to import sessions from the Workout app – but these need to be paired manually, so we're sticking with the Strava standalone app for now.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch app from home screen: Yes

Free | Download

Watch to 5K

Watch to 5K

There's a lot of Couch to 5k apps on the App Store, but the one that stands out for the Apple Watch is this one that works independently from your phone.

The concept is to get running beginners up to 5k distance within two months and three runs a week. This one is well optimised for key Watch letting you listen to music and will drop the volume to let you hear the audio cues telling you what you need to do and how you're performing.

It'll track key stats like distance, average pace, calories burned and heart rate in real-time. It'll let you view workouts in Apple's Fitness app and it's compatible with Apple Health too.

The UI looks great, and it's generally a really easy app to get to grips with, which is ideal if you're delving into running for the first time. If you want a Couch to 5k Apple Watch app, this is the one we think you should be downloading.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch app from home screen: No

£2.99 | Download

Runkeeper

Runkeeper

Unlike some options on this list, Runkeeper was early on the standalone app train. And just like Nike Run Club, it will also guesstimate your distance if you're hitting the treadmill.

When it comes to the watch app, though, there's not much to play with in terms of personalisation. Before you set out you can set a target pace and a maximum heart rate but that's all.

One thing we loved about Runkeeper was the ability to create and follow set workouts. There are three pre-set options that include 20 Minute Easy Workout, 2.25 Mile or 2 Miles with Rest, or you can build custom workouts in the phone app and they'll sync automatically to the list in the Apple Watch app.

This immediately turns Runkeeper into a more serious training tool, opening up all kinds of options for speed and interval sessions. Setting up a workout takes just a few minutes and the only real criticism we have is that the distance increments are too big (the smallest you can set is 0.25km, making it impossible to add 200m recovery sections into any speed work), and you can't set intervals based on a distance and a time target. It's either or.

In run mode, the screen is split into three areas with the top segment fixed to show duration and GPS signal strength. You can tap the middle segment to switch between distance and current pace, while tapping the bottom segment flicks between showing current and average pace, current pace and heart rate. You can also swipe left to see splits. There's also audio cues here along with integration for Spotify and Apple Music

As with most Apple Watch running apps, there's no run history shown in the app – you need to fire up the phone to delve deeper into your data. If you pay up for Runkeeper Go, you'll get access to training plans. Without that spend, you'll still get a solid Apple Watch running experience that will let you leave your iPhone behind too.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch from home screen: Yes

Free | Download

Apple Workout

Apple Workout

Workout has improved as the Apple Watch has become more focused towards fitness. In the latest watchOS software update, it's also made it a more powerful tool for runners.

You can start a host of workouts from the Workout app, and there's modes for Indoor and Outdoor run. And you get plenty of data displayed on the watch itself, as well – which can be edited in the Apple Watch companion app.

You can use your iPhone to choose to display distance, current pace, heart rate, duration, average pace, active calories or total calories. You can dictate the order in which they're displayed, and also select between a single and multiple metric view.

Over time, Apple has added features like Automatic exercise detection, cadence tracking and things like rolling pace, which offers analysis of your speed in the last km/mile, in addition to average pace.

You're given one screen showcasing your stats, while a swipe to the left makes it easy to switch your tunes up and a quick right swipe can pause or end proceedings.

The post run stats screen is fairly comprehensive with distance, time, active calories, overall calories, average pace, average heart rate. You can view outdoor routes back on your iPhone, pair up a Bluetooth heart rate monitor chest strap if you don't trust the Watch data and also offers a power saving mode to help make sure the battery goes the distance when you do.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch app from home screen: Yes

RunGo

RunGo

A free Apple Watch app that lets you build your own offline routes or select from 400,000 pre-installed ones, RunGo's specialty is its ability to cater for the visually impaired through voice assistance.

These supported routes include race courses, run tours and will chat to you about local landmarks and interesting stories about the area like your very own run tour. It's now added a virtual run support for when you can't get to those locations, but you can still learn about the history and get a trivia fix running closer to home or on a treadmill.

It can also give you the basics from the wrist, such as pace, distance, splits and elevation, while you can import GPX format routes to send over to the Watch and get turn-by-turn directions. Premium features include live tracking for friends and family to follow along, plus interval training.

While owners of the Series 2 and above can take advantage of workouts without the phone, RunGo has also jumped on to ARKit and developed a feature that allows to people to view routes and directions with the help of AR. Expect this solid Apple Watch contender to branch out to Apple's purported smartglasses when the time comes, but for now it's limited to phones.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch from home: Yes

Free | Download

SIT (Simple Interval Timer)

SIT (Simple Interval Timer)

This isn't the best looking app you'll ever download, nor is it a bonanza of run-coaching features. What it is, however, is a fantastically uncomplicated tool that has everything you need to set up interval sessions in a flash, direct from your Apple Watch. That's right, SIT gives you the kind of control most of the apps on this list would benefit from.

All you have to do is choose the number of sets, the duration of your efforts and then the time you want to rest. Hit Go and you're presented with a screen that shows which set you're on out of the total number, a countdown of how long is left to go in this set or this rest period and your current heart rate.

There are many improvements we'd make to this app: for example, there's no audio or vibration alert to tell you when you're moving between work and rest. We'd also love to see a variety of interval types, such as distance and even heart rate-based efforts, but this isn't a bad start.

Works without phone: Yes

Complications to launch from homescreen: No

Free | Download