Choosing a good
running app is still one of the cheapest and best ways to help you get fit and in better shape. While dedicated running watches are still the best for hardcore runners, smartwatches with built-in run tracking, like the Moto 360 Sport, Polar M600 and, of course, the Apple Watch Series 2 mean that running apps are making a bit of a comeback.
There's never been so much choice when picking a running app, with most big-name brands such as Adidas, Nike, Under Armour and Puma all sporting their own apps. There's also some pretty stiff competition from the likes of Runkeeper, Runtastic, Strava and the ever-present Endomondo, as well.
Essential reading: How to use your running watch
Whether you're training for an ultra marathon or just like going for a jog around the park, there's a running app that'll turn your phone or smartwatch into a fully-fledged fitness tracker. It can give you feedback and encouragement, map your run using your phone's GPS and provide stats like distance travelled and calories burned.
We've rounded up the best, including those that give you training regimes, ones that analyse your stride, and ones that are brimming with running tips. The only thing they can't do is put in the hard work for you.
Well-loved by cyclists, Strava is pretty hot on running as well and a favourite in the Wareable office. Using your phone to track your run via GPS, it will record all of your vital jogging stats including pace, distance and time.
The company has joined forces with Fitbit, so workouts you do with a Fitbit Charge HR, Fitbit Surge and the Fitbit Blaze will appear in your history of logged workouts. Plus, if you do work out with Strava, those workouts will count towards your daily Fitbit goals.
The list of compatible wearables also includes the Sony SmartWatch 3, Garmin Vivoactive HR, Pebble Time, Moov Now and Microsoft Band 2. Polar recently announced that you can integrate data from watches like the Polar M400 into the Strava service as well.
Another one with Strava smarts is the Apple Watch, with a standalone version of the app recently dropping onto wrists. After finding the initial iteration pretty buggy, we decided to stick with our previous Strava setup.
However, it continues to work on improvements – a complication is now available for watch faces, while audio announcements and general syncing issues are hopefully being cleared up, too. What isn't available, though, is the handy live segment notifications.
And for those wanting to get the most out of Strava, going premium will give you additional features like custom heart rate zones, workout/race analysis and customised training plans.
Taking a more social approach to running, Sports Tracker has recently had a big revamp, adding a host of features and a cleaner layout.
For runners, it's now easy to follow friends and share workout photos that appear in your news feed. There's a host of analytics on offer, too, with support for heart rate monitors adding in another potential layer of workout data.
You can compare data from your favourite routes to see if you're really making progress, set weekly goals and use the diary mode to help you keep track of sessions, whether that's digging into training hours, heart rate or speed.
It's compatible with Android and iOS devices, plus there's now an Apple Watch app to view data from your wrist.
One of the most open and user friendly sports apps on the market, RunKeeper (now owned by Asics) tracks a host of sports outside of jogging. It's well laid out and easy to use, has excellent apps for most wearable devices, and is the only one of the mainstream apps to work with the Sony SmartWatch 3 for phone-free tracking.
Essential reading: Runkeeper tips and tricks
Latest additions include integrated Spotify support, Runkeeper DJ to build custom playlists and a native Apple Watch app where you can view heart rate and use Force Touch to pause your running session. There's now also the option to create running groups to set challenges against group members and view their progress to see how you measure up, all sitting alongside a slightly refreshed look to the activity list.
You can pair a range of heart rate sensors, from Mio bands to Garmin's running watches along with traditional chest straps. Just make sure they support Bluetooth Low Energy and ANT+.
A basic version of the app is free, but to make sure you're taking advantage of all the insights and workout options, you'll have to shell out.
Like Polar Flow, Polar Beat requires investing in one of its own heart rate monitor chest straps to get the best out of it. If you've already got one though, you can get more from your heart rate based running training, as well as track runs using your phone's GPS.
Read this: Become a better runner with Polar Flow
Along with a sleek new UI there's also a new Fitness Test to help determine users' aerobic fitness and a new Running Index that aims to offer insights into running performance.
Other features include a Benefit Target option to set targets, guidance to achieve goals and an Energy Pointer that shows fat-burning in real time.
If you're a Polar Flow user then data from Beat can be synced across, letting you add training data to your activity and sleep tracking data too.
This app isn't concerned with tracking your distance, it's designed to help you run in time with the beat, helping you to economically burn your energy and train at maximum efficiency.
Running with music: Best smart headphones for running
The idea is a simple one; you select a genre of music you fancy listening to and, using your iPhone or Android smartphone's sensors, you'll get a track or playlist that matches your cadence. The idea is you stay in time with the beat and train at your desired pace.
Running with wearables
- The essential guide to heart training zonesHow to use your heart rate monitor or running watch to supercharge your training
- How to stay injury free with wearable techOur pick of the best wearable tech to prevent those knocks and strains
- How to use your running watch for interval trainingGetting the most from your GPS wearable for high intensity interval training
It's a shame you can't pick your own tunes, but in our testing we've found it really does give you a boost on shorter runs – we'd recommend using it for anything less than five miles.
As an alternative, you should also consider RockMyRun (iOS and Android), which uses its MyBeat tech to match music with your heart rate and pace. PaceDJ (iOS and Android) also uses your own music to match your run tempo.
Snapped up by Under Armour for a cool $2bn, Endomondo is now stablemates with MyFitnessPal, which means it's integrated with the Under Armour Record app. That also means it's compatible with the new Under Armour Band and HealthBox platform.
It's pretty big on wearables already though and boasts Pebble, Android Wear and Apple Watch integration, so you can get live data from your workout on the wrist – provided you take your smartphone out with you.
For every mile or kilometer you run, your smartwatch will vibrate, keeping you informed and motivated. Plus it can show distance, heart rate, and workout duration, so you don't have to whip out your phone every time you want an update on your progress.
Endomondo also syncs with Fitbit, too.
For those with Garmin wearables like the Vivosmart HR+, the Forerunner 630 and the Forerunner 235, Garmin Connect is the obvious choice. But even if you haven't taken the plunge with one of its devices, the app is still superb.
It's free to sign up, and ignoring all the Garmin specific tracking stuff, there are tools for building running routes, creating training plans for a host of different events, making a training calendar and even tracking your weight and goals – all without setting foot out of the door.
If you're dead set against getting a Garmin running watch then you can use iSmoothRun to track your workouts and then have that data pushed up to Garmin Connect.
Have a read of our Garmin Connect review to see exactly what we make of it.
Endomondo isn't the only app to play nice with your smart wristwear – Runtastic syncs with most smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, Android Wear watches and its very own Runtastic Moment. This gives you info like workout duration, distance covered and calories burned all right on your wrist, which is perfect for at-a-glance viewing while you're on the go.
You can map your workouts, plot them on graphs, select them by type (heart rate, pace, or calorie goal), and even have a voice coach give you feedback.
With the premium version you'll get additional fitness reports and a three-day weather forecast, though you can also get involved with the option between free and premium, Runtastic Pro, which is simply a one-off app purchase.
Ghostracer connects to Strava, and is a run and cycling tracker that lets you run against pre-determined segments in real time. The app not only displays stats such as distance, pace and time, but also brings in data from Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitors.
It was one of the first Android Wear apps to make use of the new always-on feature, meaning the app will fade to black during long sessions, saving your battery.
With MyTracks now offline, it's one of the best dedicated Android Wear running apps on the Google Play Store.
Free, Google Play
Nike+ Run Club
Nike's running app has been renamed and in the process added a host of new features to help keep you motivated. You now get coaching that adapts based on miles clocked in and a new leaderboard feature to compete against other Nike+ runners.
Read this: Apple Watch Series 2 Nike+ edition review
That's along with tracking the basics like distance, routes and pace, plus training programs and the ability to share runs, set up Nike+ Challenges against friends and add photos during your most scenic routes.
And let's not forget about picking out a power song when you need some help breaking through that wall.
Another app under the Under Armour banner, MapMyRun does pretty much exactly what you would expect from the name, using your device's GPS to track the route you've taken, distance, time and elevation.
Feedback is also provided after every mile, with workouts saved inside the app to allow you to look back on the route. But while this is a solid option for those looking to control their routes and receive essential stats, MapMyRun isn't the strongest when it comes to its integration.
You can make use of the compatibility the app has with the Apple Watch, Fitbit devices and those under the Android Wear umbrella, but no standalone support is currently available to let you leave the phone behind.
As you might have guessed, though, Under Armour's range of connected SpeedForm shoes are able to automatically track your activity and sync to MapMyRun.
Couch to 5k
If you're looking to get started with running, this is the app for you. Our very own Sophie even used it to kick off her 5k objectives.
There are lots of versions of the Couch to 5k programmes for iOS and for Android, but this is the one we'd recommend. It provides pre-planned schedules with all of the walks, walk/runs and runs you need to do to turn yourself into a 5km runner.