My Five Essential Exercise Apps and Services

A look at the app store on any mobile platform will reveal literally thousands of apps to support you on your health and well-being journey. Whether that’s an app for your preferred fitness tracker, or an app that records data while you’re running or cycling, or an app to help to record your food intake and count calories – there are thousands to choose from. I’ve played with a lot of them and these are the ones I’ve settled on.

It’s important to understand that many apps are tied to a hardware purchase. So, in some cases, the apps I rely on may not be “the best”. But they’re the apps I use every day – my essential apps.

1. MyFitnessPal

Most of the fitness tracking apps include some sort of meal tracking. The sort of thing where you enter a meal and it computes the number of calories you’ve consumed.

myfitnesspalMyFitnessPal has been far and away the best one I’ve tried. The barcode scanning tool rarely hits a food that’s not in its database – and that includes generically branded items from Australian supermarkets.

I’ve also added a few of my own recipes so that things I prepare (like my protein shakes, and the occasional cookie recipe) can be added to my food intake with one tap rather than having to add each ingredient separately.

Items that are added by other members are labelled so you can tell that they are user-entered and there’s a count of how many people have verified the information so you can have some confidence in the data.

The exercise tracking component is not great although many other apps, such as Strava and MapMyRun, take advantage of MyFitnessPal’s ability to receive data from other sources.

Aerobic exercises are easy to enter but the strength training component is poor.

I’ve stopped using MyFitnessPal for exercise tracking but the food tracking is excellent.

2. Fitbit

Now that I’ve switched to a Fitbit Charge HR as my activity tracker, I’m using the app.

fitbit-appThe great thing about the Fitbit app is the way it gets you to engage with your friends on the health and well-being journey. As well as providing a clean, customisable interface that lets you easily see your activity, food intake (it integrates with MyFitnessPal so the calorie intake from MyFitnessPal automatically goes into Fitbit’s app), calories expenditure and heart rate, it lets you engage in and launch activity challenges with your friends.

Unlike many of the other fitness apps on the market, Fitbit has chosen to go it alone and not integrate with Apple Health (I’m an iPhone user so I don’t have anything useful to say about how it works with any services that support Android) but I’m not finding that a problem. The integration with MyFitnessPal is the secret sauce for me.

3 – Nike Running

Again, this is an app that I use because I’m using a specific piece of hardware.

nike-runningI have a Nike+ Sportwatch with the heart-rate chest strap monitor. To be honest, it’s a pretty basic running watch and doesn’t have nearly the data richness of Garmin’s Forerunner series.

The app provides a listing of runs along with a monthly summary, splits, your total mileage and details of each run. What I find annoying is how some of the data, such as the weather while running, can only be added from the website. Also, in order to sync the data from my watch I need to connect to a computer as the watch won’t communicate with my iPhone directly.

You can also engage in challenges with other Nike+ users.

When this watch dies, I’ll be jumping ship, probably to Garmin. But until then, the Nike Running app is on my list of essential apps.

4 – Strava

I’ve only recently taken up cycling to complement my running and so that I can cross-train without adding any more high impact activity to my regimen.

stravaWhen I run I don’t like to carry my iPhone but it’s handy when I’m cycling. Strava tells me how far I’ve ridden, my average speed, top speed and keeps a record of how fast I travel on segments I regularly ride and compares my performance with other riders that travel over the same areas.

In short, it’s a cycling computer in an app.

Like just about every fitness app, there’s a social element that allows you to follow friends and compete with them. In particular, I like being able to see how other people – even people I don’t know – perform on tracks and roads I ride on. It broadens the personal competition.

Strava can also be used to track running but I don’t use it that way as I prefer to not carry my phone when I run. It also works with cycling accessories such as heart rate monitors and cadence meters but for those to be used you’ll need to spring for the premium version of Strava.

5 – Fitocracy

Fitocracy is a cross between an advanced exercise logger and Facebook. It provides its members, called Fitocrats, with a pace to log and share workouts, post encouraging messages, ask for advice and generally socialise.

fitocracyI’ve written about Fitocracy before so I won’t repeat all of that.

Over the last couple of years, since I wrote that story, Fitocracy’s developers have continued to develop the app and expand their exercise database. Whenever I log a weight training session, I do it with the app in the gym (or at home which is where I train most of the time). The app is easy to use and you can save save routines, repeat previous workouts and look back through your history to see how you’re progressing.

The social element is founded on becoming a member of different interest groups. These range from different sports and exercises, to various nutrition interest groups through to singles groups. People can share photos as well with progress shots very popular.

If you’re into social media and want to share your health and well-being life then Fitocracy is a must.

And a bonus…

I also use an app called iHealth. It works with my scales and collects my weight from the scales via Bluetooth. It has a bunch of other functions but the weight goes automatically from iHealth into MyFitnessPal and then to FitBit.

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