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 Garmin Forerunner 935 and Apple Watch Series 3, 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 Nike and Under Armour 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 includes a wide variety, from running watches like the Garmin family, Polar M430, Suunto Trainer Wrist HR to smart watches like the Apple Watch, Fitbit Ionic, and Samsung Gear S3.
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.
There's nothing that gets you running with just a bit more oomph than some good music. Spotify Running is designed to match songs to the pace of your run. The best part? It's built right into your Spotify app.
Running with music: Best smart headphones for running
All you have to do is head over to the Browse section of Spotify. Then scroll down the Genres and Moods and look for Running. From there, all you have to do is choose from one of the many running playlists on display. There are even "Running Originals", which are new music made exclusively for running.
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
In our testing, we've found that it really does give you a boost on shorter runs. We'd recommend using it for runs less than five miles. Oh, and Spotify also has a partnership with RunKeeper that lets you both use Spotify Running and track that run with RunKeeper.
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 Fitbit, 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 kilometre 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.
For those with Garmin wearables like the Vivoactive 3, the Fenix 5 and the Forerunner 935, 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.
Runtastic, like Endomondo before it, syncs with most smartwatch, including Apple Watch and Android Wear. It's also become the primary running app for Adidas, closing its own MiCoach platform to focus resources on Runtastic.
You'll get information like 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 also map your workouts, plot them on graphics and select them by type (heart rate, pace, or calorie goal).
Runtastic Premium is one of the more tempting running subscription services as well. Not only will you get the best guided running experience, but you'll get a feature called Story Runs - an attempt to make running not boring. There are also nutrition plans, a real voice coach and weekly fitness reports on your progress.
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. This is a solid option for those looking to control their routes and receive essential stats.
MapMyRun is also your best option if you're looking to do some running with your Gear wearable whether it's the Gear Sport or Fit2 Pro. Thanks to Samsung and Under Armour's partnership, you can get some standalone running done without your phone.
As you might have guessed, you can also use MapMyRun to look at your metrics from your Under Armour Hovr Smart Connected.
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.
Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon
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