Smartwatches are increasingly becoming all about fitness, but a lot of the time the apps on board that deliver those features are not all that great. That's why we've been testing the best fitness apps out there to help power-up your smartwatch into a great workout companion.
Whether you've got a top fitness tracker, smartwatch such as the Apple Watch Series 3 or proper fitness watch strapped to your wrist, there are mountains of apps are out there to help you build on the device's core skills and up your activity tracking, fitness-boosting game.
Essential reading: Strava tips and tricks to take training to the next level
But which should see you hit the download icon and which are better left alone? Well, whether you're looking to lose weight, get toned or simply cut the carb count, these are the best fitness apps for your wearable.
Whether you're pounding the pavement or jumping on your bike, Strava is one of the most comprehensive fitness apps in the game, and it's stepped away from your smartphone to play nice with wearable gadgets, too. Using GPS for accurate tracking, it brings all the usual heart rate, distance and calorie metrics to the fore.
Read this: Essential Strava tips and tricks
The unique addition here is Route, a clever feature that allows you to save your current route for a later date or download a new one that another app user has already posted.
Adding a competitive element to your fitness sessions, Strava also lets you set records on your regular routes. If you cycle the same way to and from work every day, it will break down your route into a range of blocks. Now that half-mile section between two sets of traffic lights is your race track for a new PB.
There are now standalone Strava apps for the Apple Watch, Wear watches and the Fitbit Ionic, taking advantage of the GPS. It's by no means perfect, but it's certainly an experience that offers more than the stock apps.
Like Strava, Runkeeper has brought its wearable app into the Wear OS/watchOS 4 era, adding support for untethered GPS on both platforms.
As well as now having the option to download the app straight to your Wear watch, you can sign up to the service direct from your wrist too. It's built to be a fully untethered experience.
For Apple users, you'll still need to do the initial download via your phone, but you'll then be able to take it out for a run and make use of the smartwatch's built-in GPS. So long as you're using a Series 2 or Series 3, of course.
Google Fit has been getting better over time, with the biggest evolution coming in February 2017 and allowing it to work away from the phone.
We dive into a little more of the nitty gritty in our Google Fit v Apple Health comparison, but as a quick overview, you can now start a much wider range of activities from your smartwatch, and, depending on the hardware inside your device, track GPS and heart rate.
If you have your data spread across a lot of different places, Fit can pull in your data from apps like Strava, Lifesum, Nokia Health Mate and Runkeeper, too.
Free, Wear OS
Runtastic has really impressed with its ability to support a multitude of wearables, with the app now supporting everything from the Apple Watch to Wear OS and Samsung's Gear series.
Not content to just offer the usual fitness metric suspects and customisable activity screens, Apple Watch and Wear users can quickly start a run though Siri and 'OK Google' voice commands. You can also keep track of your stats during an activity and pause directly from the watch screen, saving you from getting your phone out on a run.
Getting fit doesn't have to be a chore. If you struggle staying motivated, the right wearable app can help you gamify your exercise sessions. The king of the fun fitness apps is Zombies, Run! Like training for a 10K fun run in the setting of The Walking Dead, it transforms the tedium of running and switches it out for compulsive, and sometimes terrifying storytelling.
Throwing you into the middle of a zombie apocalypse, the app transports you through a story that essentially forces you to run and collect supplies that help your base. You can choose your own custom playlists as the story unfolds in between your tracks through a series of dynamic radio messages and voice recordings.
And if the sound of zombies hunting you down doesn't make you run like the wind, you obviously need to watch a few more cliched horror movies.
Endomondo was quick out of the blocks when it came to wearable app support, initially just providing you with simple metrics like run duration, pace and average heart rate.
As things have progressed, though, voice command support has been included, plus a customisable screen that'll show you whatever stats are most important to your current activity – be that running, cycling or a casual stroll with the dog.
Nike+ Run Club
The Nike+ FuelBand may have been one of the original fitness-focused wearables, but Nike's primary effort nowadays is to get you off the couch using its software instead.
Although coming pre-installed on the Apple Watch Nike+ model, all Apple Watch users can make use of its fitness tracking stills with the free app. You can map your run with customisable screens to show data which is relevant to you, with this built around Nike's coaching platform.
With guided workouts, leaderboards, personal awards, and reminders of when your next session is due, there's enough to keep you motivated, too. You can even send fellow runners a virtual cheer, if you're into the whole community thing.
Seven – 7 Minute Workout Training Challenge
Sure, you could head down to the local gym and risk being completely beasted by a personal trainer, but your self-esteem will thank you for ditching that idea and strapping a training regime to your wrist instead.
Following the popular seven-minute workout plan, this app offers wrist-based access to your training plan. Offering visual reminders of what exercise is next, Seven will also count down your remaining reps to ensure you're not tempted to cheat your way through.
Once your quick-hit workout is complete, the app will relay your training results, with your average heart rate map helping show how your fitness levels are improving week to week. It's as easy as that.
Fitness isn't just about running, cycling or the occasional gym session – that's only half the equation. What you put in your body is just as important to your overall fitness as what you do to burn off that fuel. That's where Lifesum comes in. As well as providing you with your day's calorie burn and active time, it'll let you keep tabs on your food and drink intake, too.
As well as counting how many glasses of water you've drunk to ensure you're staying hydrated, the app lets you manually add your food intake. By knowing what's going in and what you're working off, Lifesum can then relay your current energy status direct to your wrist, letting you know when you need to get off the couch or get on the snacks. Food tracking itself is a complicated and time-consuming beast, but the rewards are worth it if you can pull it off.
Apple Watch Activity
The more basic of the two fitness apps preloaded on all Apple Watches, Activity is still definitely worth your time. It makes exercise and activity levels understandable and easy to follow with its simple, three-ring user interface. Combined with the straightforward 'Move', 'Exercise' and 'Stand' labels, plus three easy distinct, bold colours, it gives you a glanceable overview of your daily actions.
Essential reading: Apple Workout and Activity explained
With all the data being synced back to the Activity app on your iPhone, Activity's fitness skills run deeper, too. Tap any of the rings and you get a more in-depth view of that day's efforts, with run times, steps counts and when through the day you burnt the most calories. A perfect entry for anyone looking for basic insight into how their days are stacking up against each other.
Apple Watch Workout
Apple's other Watch staple, the Workout app, is designed for those who want to get more detailed stats, rather than just a casual summary. There are specific modes for running, walking, cycling and swimming, while it'll also show you real time information as you work out, ranging from elapsed time to calories and pace.
One handy feature is the auto-pause, which avoids your data being sabotaged because of interruptions like busy roads, traffic lights and tripping over those pesky shoelaces. With the arrival of watchOS 4, we now also have more advanced heart rate metrics displayed after your workout, improved swim tracking features and a dedicated HIIT mode.
- Best Apple Watch appsOur list of free and paid-for apps for your shiny new Apple smartwatch
- Best apps for Wear OSSupercharge your wrist with this selection of must-have apps
- Best Samsung Gear S3 appsOur favourite apps to get downloaded to your Samsung smartwatch first
- Best Fitbit Ionic appsDeezer, New York Times, Philips Hue and more
Workouts don't have to be measured by a wild heart rate and sweat, sometimes they can be relaxing, too. FitStar Yoga guides you through a more mindful, body-contorting exercise session. Your watch screen will count down times to hold each position and even give you a visual guide on what you need to do.
At the end of your calm workout, you'll be given details on your calorie burn and can let the app know whether you found the workout too easy, too hard or just right. Your answers will help better tailor the next session to your needs.
When you head to the gym, you may completely bypass the treadmills and ellipticals and instead sweat it out in the weights section. If that sounds like you, Strong is one of the, erm, strongest options for you to consider as your partner.
It can't spot you on the bench, but what it can do is help you plan your workouts and keep a tab on your lifting trends over time. Once you've synced over the exercises and amount of sets you're looking to perform, you'll be able to input the weight and number of reps you managed on the go, with pre-set resting periods in between sets.
Tested: Working out with Strong
And since Apple is yet to harness the Watch's on-board sensors to automatically count your reps and detect your exercises, this is among the most capable apps in helping you smarten up your training. As for Wear OS users, while the app has a smartphone version, this unfortunately hasn't yet made its way over to the wrist.
It's worth noting that there is a subscription option for those looking to add more sessions and access graphs, but most will find the free version is up to the task.
This is another seven-minute workout based app, with a bit of a difference. Instead of providing a comforting voice to guide you through an exercise regime, CARROT Fit's integrated AI is a bit of sadistic joker, transforming traditional exercises into more exciting sounding alternatives.
Each seven-minute session will take you through 12 hilarious exercises, with 30 seconds spent on each and 10 seconds of rest between. Importantly, though, despite making you gurn and grimace, it will have you exercising with a smile on your face.
Runtastic Six Pack Abs Workout
When you don't fancy heading out in the cold for a run, there are plenty of wearable fitness apps that'll help you keep fit in the great indoors. And for those looking to tighten up their stomach muscles, Runtastic's Six Pack Abs Workout is one of our favourite options.
Keeping your phone out of the inevitably sweaty splash zone, all exercises, graphics and rep counts are moved to your smartwatch, guiding you through everything from crunches to twists. Custom training plans let you decide how regularly you want to work out and let you graph your progress from flabby to fit.
Fitness apps aren't just for fanatics who are already well versed in the ways of exercise. They can be great at getting beginners off the sofa and working towards a set goal, too. For those looking to improve their fitness sessions, Run 5K will help you maintain enthusiasm as you work towards your new fitness target.
Instead of simply telling you to run, the app will relay helpful and encouraging training tips to your arm. Guiding you through sessions that mix up jogging and walking to get you started, over a timeframe of your choosing, the app will build up your levels and slowly increase the amount of effort you need to exert.
Instead of having an app that monitors you, Aaptiv aims to be a personal trainer, offering north of 2,500 audio-based fitness classes for you to pick from.
That means you don't necessarily have to be on the gym floor, either, with many designed to let you work out from home or on the road. Programmes are also on the watch ready for you to start, whether you're a beginner looking to get running or conquer the weights section or a seasoned runner trying to nail your half-marathon training.
The key, as we say, is the trainers in your ear pushing you. But thankfully, if you're not enjoying the sound of one, there's a few more to pick from, and workouts can also be based on intensity or even what music you want to listen to instead.
In order to leave your phone behind and make this a complete wrist experience, though, make sure to invest in a solid pair of Bluetooth headphones.
Free ($14.99 per month/$99 per year subscription), watchOS
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