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The 5 best workout apps: Top apps for runners, lifters, and beginners

What is the best workout app? ZDNet's expert pick is Map My Fitness by Under Armour for its variety of workouts, robust community, and affordable subscription plans. Workout apps are a great way to track your progress and stick to a routine. We researched and compared them by pricing, exercise focus, and whether they offered meal tracking to determine our No. 1 choice and four others.
taylor-clemons
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

A workout app can be an invaluable tool for both beginners and seasoned athletes alike. For beginners, an app can provide guidance and tutorials for unfamiliar exercises as well as incentives for building healthy habits and sticking to routines. For experienced athletes, an app can provide more variety in your workouts if you feel like you've hit a plateau in your progress. Many workout apps are "freemium," meaning that while they do have features you can access and use for free, the more premium features like personalized workouts, coaching, and progress tracking are locked behind subscription paywalls. 

Fortunately, there are many workout apps out there with very affordable monthly and yearly subscription plans so you don't feel like you're wasting money by committing to an app you don't like because of high costs. And no matter what kind of workout you're looking to get into, whether it's yoga, HIIT circuits, or powerlifting, there's an app out there to help you get started. To help you decide which is the right fit for you, I've created a list of the five best workout apps available. I've broken down their features, subscription prices, and connectivity options to help you choose the best option for your goals and budget.

Also: The 13 best home gym equipment machines: For all budgets

Wide shot of two men and a woman running side by side near a field of wheat.
Under Armour

If you're looking for a workout app that doesn't charge an arm and a leg to access different workouts, Map My Fitness by Under Armour is the best choice. It's a "freemium" app, which means that some features are free to access and use while others require a monthly subscription. Thankfully, if you don't want to worry about paying for anything, you can access over 800 different exercises to build custom routines as well as join the huge social community to find accountability buddies and other fitness enthusiasts. 

You can also integrate other apps like Apple Health to track steps and heart rate or even connect Under Armour smart shoes to sync jogging distances and times in order to see your progress. If you want access to premium features like audio coaching and live location tracking, you can either pay $5.99 per month or $29.99 per year. A subscription also allows you to create personalized fitness plans to reach your weight and exercise goals and stay motivated.

Pros:

  • Lots of free features
  • Affordable subscription
  • Apple Health and smart shoe integration
  • 800+ exercises

Cons:

  • No nutrition or meal tracking
A collage of 20 challenge medals on a black background.
The Conqueror

Whether you regularly run marathons or are just looking for a way to make your morning jog a bit more fun, The Conqueror Virtual Challenge is a great workout app for runners. I came across this app in 2020 when I was looking for a way to stay safely active when my regular gym closed down for COVID, and while I was skeptical at first, I quickly came around. There are 37 different virtual races to choose from which are based on real-world locations, ranging from the 20-mile (32km) Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the 2485-mile (4000km) Pacific Crest Trail through the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges in the United States. There is also a dedicated challenge for runners who want to set custom distance goals for the entire year. 

The cool part of using The Conqueror for running is that for every checkpoint you reach during your "race," you get virtual postcards that show points of interest along your route. The Conqueror also will plant a tree and prevent plastic bottles from reaching the ocean for every 20 percent of your challenge that you complete, so you can get fit and help the environment at the same time. For location-based challenges, you can set time limits for completing the race in order to suit your level of fitness; which is perfect for folks just starting out with jogging or race training, since it allows you to work up to bigger chunks of the trail. You can even set up teams for each challenge, and each person takes a leg of the journey, making the heftier challenges like the Appalachian Trail or St. Francis Way much easier to complete. 

Each challenge costs $29.95 for entry and to cover the cost of the fancy medal they send your way when you've completed the race; and if you want a shirt as well as a medal, each race will cost $59.95 to enter. You can enter as many challenges as you like at once, and each activity you log will count towards the completion of all of them.

Pros:

  • The Conqueror plants trees and clears ocean-bound plastic for race progress
  • Custom challenges and time limits
  • Virtual postcards
  • Team-based challenges

Cons:

  • Pricey if you want to do more than one challenge at once
  • No nutrition tracking
An iPhone against a splash page of motivational text which says "be your best." The phone screen shows part of a lifting tutorial
TrainHeroic

As a former bodybuilder/physique competitor and current Olympic/powerlifter, TrainHeroic is the absolute best workout app I've come across for weightlifting. It's another freemium app where free users can build their own routines and track overall progress while subscription users get access to things like readiness tracking (which tracks your energy levels, sleep quality, and overall soreness), exercise leaderboards, and individual coaching. 

If you prefer coaching, you can either choose a set program (which is a one-time purchase) that you can add to your in-app calendar whenever you want or an ongoing program (with a matching monthly payment). Each exercise has a video tutorial or text description attached so you can safely follow along with your workout and do movements that you may not be familiar with. And if you don't want to get super bulky, you can find programs that are more focused on toning and weight maintenance. You can even find specific programs, like Body by Daddy, for creating a more masculine or feminine silhouette if you're trans masculine/feminine, or non-binary.

TrainHeroic automatically calculates your one-rep and working max percentages based on your inputs, eliminating the frustration of trying to do math on-the-fly. If you choose a coaching program, you'll also get access to that program's community so you can compare techniques, ask questions, and hype each other up. The subscription price varies by program, but most ongoing coaching sessions are around $30/month while one-time programs are often even cheaper. The app also has a timer function so you can track how long your workouts take as well as ensure that you properly rest between heavy sets. 

Pros:

  • Automatic working and one-rep max calculations
  • Video and text tutorials
  • Robust community
  • Built-in timer

Cons:

  • Free version is somewhat limited
  • No meal/nutrition tracking
A man being coached through yoga poses by a woman. An in-app screenshot showing the specific program is superimposed on the right.
Nike

When Nike launched their Training Club app in 2009, it cost $14.99 per month (or $119.99 per year). But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Nike made the app completely free to help folks stay healthy and on track as gyms and training centers closed. The app remains completely free at the time of writing. With almost 500 different workout classes ranging from 5 to 30 minutes long along with live Q & A sessions with Nike trainers, workout livestreams, and celebrity workouts like Hottie Bootcamp with Megan Thee Stallion, there are lots of ways the app helps you get and stay motivated. 

You can add workouts to your in-app calendar as often as you like, creating a fitness routine that fits your schedule and abilities. And the Nike Training Camp app will give you expert tips on mindfulness, how to de-stress, and even nutrition and meal prep for ways to keep your mind focused and your body healthy. You can connect the app to your Apple Watch, the Apple Health app, and even Apple Music for more ways to track your progress and for listening to your workout playlist while training videos play. You can also screen mirror your workouts to your TV or computer if you need a bigger screen to better follow along with instructions. 

Pros:

  • Completely free
  • Mindfulness and nutrition tips
  • Live and on-demand workouts
  • Live Q & A sessions with Nike Trainers

Cons:

  • All workouts are in video form
  • Some exercises/plans were removed in the shift to a free app
  • Subscription may restart in the future
Four screenshots showing different workouts and tutorials from the Seven app.
Seven

Seven is a workout app that's perfect for anyone who doesn't have a lot of gym equipment at home as well as folks who are just starting out on their fitness journey. It uses a combination of achievements and daily streak tallies to help you build healthy habits and stick to a routine. The best part is that you don't need any gym equipment to perform the over 200 exercises available within the app (though a yoga mat wouldn't hurt for some of the floor routines). 

By focusing on bodyweight exercises, beginners and seasoned athletes alike can train almost anywhere. And each workout only takes 7 minutes, so even if you have a packed schedule between work, kids, and errands, you can still squeeze in some exercise. It even has a few "silent" workouts which are tailored to folks who live in apartments where typical exercises could bother neighbors. 

You can create custom workouts or follow along with one of 12 different training styles to tone muscle, build strength, or manage your weight. The Seven app has a large community of users, so you can find accountability buddies or compete on public leaderboards for the top spot in your particular workout. In addition to Seven, the developers over at Perigee also created Cycles for tracking menstrual cycles and Halo for mindfulness and meditation; you can use any of the three apps in tandem for a full body and mind health overhaul.

Pros:

  • No equipment needed
  • Affordable subscription
  • 7-minute workouts
  • Achievements and leaderboards

Cons:

  • No meal/nutrition tracking
  • Limited exercise tutorials

What is the best workout app?

My pick for the best workout app is Map My Fitness by Under Armour. It has both free and paid user options as well as over 800 different exercises and training plans to help you on your fitness journey. It also has a robust user community for sharing progress, finding accountability buddies, and encouraging each other to stick with routines. You can even connect the app to a pair of Under Armour smart shoes to track steps and run or walk distances.

Workout app

Price

Exercise focus

Meal tracking

Under Armour MapMyFitness

$5.99/month

Cross training/Running

No 

The Conqueror Virtual Challenge

$29.95 per race

Running

No

TrainHeroic

Varies by program

CrossFit/Weightlifting/Bodybuilding

No

Nike Training Club

Free

Cross training/Running

Yes

Seven

$4.99/month

Cross training

No

Which is the right workout app for you?

What workout app feels right for you is going to depend on what your goals are. If you want quick workouts you can squeeze in on your lunch break, choose an app like Seven or the Nike Training Club which offer 5 to 30-minute workouts that don't need a lot of equipment. For runners, you'll want an app that logs your distances, maps your routes, and helps you build endurance for long races. Weightlifters should choose an app that can help track working and one-rep maxes for measuring progress as well as offering coaching options for those who need some extra encouragement. 

An app that also helps track nutrition information and meals can help you stay mindful of your calorie intake so you can balance your activity with what you eat, but be aware that calorie goals will differ depending on your exercise level and your personal bodily needs. Remember that food is fuel for your body and not something you should attach morality to; if you don't eat enough, exercising becomes very dangerous. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any sort of exercise or diet program so any issues can be addressed immediately.

Choose this workout app…

If you need…

Map My Fitness

A workout app with a wide variety of exercises and training plans

The Conqueror Virtual Challenge

An app to train for marathons and get more active outdoors

TrainHeroic

An app with lots of bodybuilding/powerlifting programs

Nike Training Club

A free workout app with a variety of exercises

Seven

An affordable workout app for folks who don't have a lot of time

How did we choose these workout apps?

I chose a list of workout apps that focus on different training styles. I chose a few cross-training apps for folks just starting out or who want to focus on whole-body workouts as well as apps specifically for runners and weightlifters. I also chose apps that had free options or at least very affordable subscription plans so no one has to feel committed to an app they don't like because of high costs. I deliberately left MyFitnessPal off of this list because, while it does allow you to create exercise routines, its main focus is nutrition and meal tracking.

Are workout apps worth it?

They absolutely can be! A workout app can be a great tool for both beginners and seasoned athletes by helping build healthy habits and get used to sticking to a routine. They're also great for adding variety to your routines if you feel like you're stuck in a rut or have hit a plateau in your progress. For beginners, workout apps often have video or text tutorials for exercises so you can follow along more easily as well as perform exercises safely. Apps that offer coaching options can help beginners as well by letting you try out different workout styles to see what your body responds to the best.

Can I connect my workout app to my smartwatch?

Usually! Most workout apps now have support for smartwatches so you don't have to worry about keeping your phone nearby to time your sessions or track reps and steps. Make sure you read up on whatever app you're considering to see if it has support for smartwatches before downloading.

Are there free workout apps without subscriptions?

Unfortunately, there aren't many workout apps that are completely free, like the Nike Training Club. But many apps are "freemium," meaning that they have features that are completely free to use as well as paid options for users who want a bit more flexibility.

Are there alternative workout apps worth considering?

There are about as many workout apps out there as there are people looking to get and stay active. If you're looking to get into yoga, start a HIIT workout, or build strength, there's a workout app to fit your needs. Here's a short list of alternative options that I thought were great:

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