You already take your smartphone with you everywhere—you might as well use it to power your workout routine and glean precious data from your bike ride. This is the year you stick to your fitness routine for good. And with smartphone computers and sensors getting better and better, health and fitness apps have finally turned the corner from clunky to crucial.
There’s only one problem: How the hell is a prospective gym-rat-in-training supposed to choose from the myriad apps floating around online? (Hell, there are at least half a dozen apps promising a 7-Minute Workout, let alone ab workouts.)
So we combed through rankings, user feedback, and reviews to find a fitness app for every guy—whether you want a full suite of detailed full-gym workout generators, a quick bodyweight shakedown, or a music app that will match rhythm with your footsteps. We also broke them down by category: comprehensive trainers, which offer a full suite of exercises for various goals; quick-hit apps, which focus on shorter workouts for maximum impact; "get out of the gym" apps, for runners and cyclists who hit the dusty trail; "just get off the couch" apps, designed to help people go from zero to, well, okay; "de-stressing" apps, designed to help your mind recover; and music apps, which are designed with your workouts in mind.
A note about methodology: When ranking these apps, we took into account a 2015 study from health researchers at the University of Florida, which compared free (and only free) fitness apps against exercise recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine. We also considered the ARC health and fitness app rankings from Applause, an app analytics company that crawls ratings and reviews in the App Store. We skipped over apps designed to pair with fitness trackers, since they’re dependent on hardware besides a smartphone. (The FitBit app, though great for FitBit users, won’t do much good for a Jawbone user, for example.) When looking at music apps, we stuck to fitness-focused apps, although popular streaming services like Spotify and Pandora also have countless workout playlists.
*The New 21-Day Shred
Best Comprehensive Trainers: The (New and Improved) 21-Day Shred
Veteran gym rats and newbie lifters alike can all take advantage of our newly updated 21-Day Shred app. Outfitted with a more intuitive interface and a revamped user experience, the 21-Day Shred combines three weeks’ worth of progressively tougher workouts designed to burn fat and get your muscles to pop. Unlike other fitness apps that randomly generate routines, the 21-Day Shred explains the field-tested rationale for each workout plan—and backs it up with a comprehensive diet routine to make sure you’re eating the right fuel for the body you want.
Best Comprehensive Trainers: Sworkit (sworkit.com)
Lite (free) and Pro ($4.99); Android and iOS; compatible with Apple Watch
Sworkit—a portmanteau of “Simply WORK IT”—takes a holistic approach to strength workouts without any equipment, and includes a custom workout builder designed for veteran athletes and fitness professionals to create and share custom routines (appropriately nicknamed “playlists”) from the app’s library of 170 exercises.
The “Pro” edition has a few notable features, including the ability to save custom workouts, access your complete workout history, and eliminate ads. That said, the “Lite” version is inarguably the most robust of the free fitness apps—in fact, University of Florida health researchers said it was the only one on the market that met most of the exercise guideline standards set out by the American College of Sports Medicine. It’s also enormously popular, topping ARC’s rankings of all-around fitness apps.
Best Comprehensive Trainers: Jefit (jefit.com)
Free, Pro ($4.99), and Elite ($4.99/mo., $19.99/yr.); Android and iOS
Jefit creates personalized workout routines by tracking and analyzing your workout progress and diligently recording weight, reps, and time. Its data-heavy approach will appeal to stat nerds and workout obsessives alike. Jefit also packs the most robust library of exercises and maneuvers (including how-to videos), with over 1,300 exercises making up some 60 native workouts and over 2,000 community-created routines.
The free version is somewhat limited, with just some bare-bones workout routines and basic activity logs. Pro ($4.99) is ad-free, and unlocks more analytics like cardio charts and 1-rep max charts. You can also spring for Elite subscription ($4.99/mo., $19.99/yr.), which includes stat-heavy features like progress reports and comparison charts, plus “premium workout routines” and insights on your performance.
*FitStar Personal Trainer
Best Quick-Hit Apps: FitStar Personal Trainer (fitstar.com)
Basic (free) or Premium ($7.99/month or $39.99/year); Android and iOS
Now owned by FitBit, FitStar’s Personal Trainer app emphasizes workouts you can do quickly and without a ton of expensive fitness gear. The app breaks down training into four color-coded workout styles: “get lean,” which emphasize cardio; “get strong,” a balance of bodyweight strength-training moves; 10–15-minute “daily dose” workouts; and “freestyle.”
At the core of the app is a patented algorithm that customizes a user’s workouts, so an athlete can move at his own pace and advance as he gets stronger. Rather than solicit a trainer’s opinion, the app adjusts each routine depending on how difficult each exercise is according to how users rate it, from “too easy” to “way more brutal” than expected.
*The Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout
Best Quick-Hit Apps: The Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout (7minuteworkout.jnj.com)
Free; Android and iOS, compatible with Apple Watch
There are lots of 7-minute workout imitators floating around cyberspace, but only Johnson & Johnson’s is crafted by Chris Jordan, C.S.C.S., the mind behind the original 7-Minute Workout. (We talked to Jordan about his theory behind getting maximum results in minimum time.) The app’s “Smart Workout” feature is designed to gauge your fitness level and help throttle the intensity according to your ability, while the uncomplicated interface is designed to help you get through the bodyweight routine as simply as possible.
Best "Get Off the Couch" Apps: Simple Steps (simplestepsapp.com)
Free; Android and iOS
Rather than bombard you with workouts from the get-go, Simple Steps drops you hints to make little changes designed to grow into healthy habits. “People actually learned to eat healthier consistently when they built habits around small changes in their life over time,” app creator Salman Rajput told Men’s Fitness. “Scientific research supports this approach.” The app regularly reminds you to drink a glass of water, for example, instead of simply assigning you a goal of drinking eight glasses of water a day.
Best "Get Off the Couch" Apps: C25K (c25kfree.com)
Free or Pro ($2.99); Android and iOS
The premise behind C25K is simple: Go from a couch potato to a 5K runner in 8 weeks (hence the name, an acronym for Couch ‘2’ 5K). One of the highest-rated health and fitness apps, the 8-week program is designed help non-runners develop basic cardio endurance and muscular strength by alternating walking and running through a modest, realistic workout schedule. If you’ve already committed to running by plunking down $150 for top-of-the-line trainers, then the extra $2.99 for this app is a no-brainer. It’s also compatible with GPS apps and Healthkit.
Best "Get Off the Couch" Apps: RunSocial (runsocial.com)
Free with in-app purchases ($2.99–$9.99); iOS only
Nothing spells the end of a dedicated cardio routine like solitary confinement on the same old treadmill at your gym. Solution? RunSocial, a specialized iOS app (it's best on an iPad) that displays routes from around the world and syncs your position on the route according to how far you've run on the treadmill. The HD graphics are terrific, and pairing the app with RunSocial's TreadTracker speed sensor ($129.99) via Bluetooth will ensure an accurate portrayal of your progress on the routes. The app is free, but you'll have to pay to access specialized routes like Tuscany, Tibet, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, and even the Digital Virgin Money London Marathon.
Best Apps for De-Stressing: Calm (calm.com)
Free; Android and iOS
As an app, it’s fairly straightforward: a selection of soothing natural sounds like mountain lakes, babbling brooks, and crashing waves. (You can control whether the sounds play in the background from settings, although there’s no way to pause them.) There’s also a suite of guided meditations, if you’re into that sort of thing. But Calm really shines in its desktop iteration. The next time you need a mental and aural break from your office cubicle farm, punch up Calm.com—research says even a 40-second nature break can improve your focus and accuracy during tedious, repetitive work.
Best Apps for De-Stressing: Relax Melodies (ipnossoft.com)
Free; Android, iOS, and Windows Phone
By far the most popular and highly-rated of the stress-release apps on the market, Relax Melodies boasts an array of white noise-inspired loops, which you can then mix with other loops or pair with songs on your device.
Best Apps for De-Stressing: White Noise (whitenoisemarket.com)
Free or paid ($1.99); Android and iOS
This popular app includes 40+ looped sounds, from the natural (“Meadow River”) to the industrial (“Gas Leak”) to the, ahem, exotic (“Didgeridoo,” “Spooky Sounds,” “Vacuum of Space”). You can set them to fade in and out according to an alarm or mix the tracks, in case you prefer your space vacuums punctuated by the soothing wheeze of a didgeridoo. (You’ll need to upgrade to the paid version to go ad-free and play the sounds in the background.)
Best Music Apps for Working Out: RockMyRun (rockmyrun.com)
Free or “Rockstar” (from $2.99 per month); Android and iOS
RockMyRun is solid choice for streaming upbeat music to accompany your workout, with mixes from celebrity DJs and artists like Zedd, Afrojack, and David Guetta. But what really sets this app apart is the paid (and ad-free) “Rockstar” membership, which unlocks the myBeat syncing technology. myBeat pairs your playlist to your pace by selecting songs that consistently match a set number of beats per minute, whether you assign the BPM manually or—if you’re on iOS—let your phone automatically pair BPM with your steps (via your phone’s accelerometer) or heart rate (through an external Bluetooth monitor). RockMyRun is a streaming service, though, so you’ll need a fairly robust data plan or Wi-Fi access to keep the music coming.
Best Music Apps for Working Out: Spring Moves (springmoves.com)
iOS only; compatible with Apple Watch
The elevator pitch: “Pandora meets Fitbit.” Billed as “a rhythm-fueled music service and exercise tracker,” Spring Moves creates a library of playlists designed to match the music you love with your workout. By tracking your performance via GPS, it then keeps track of the songs that put a little extra pep in your step, and personalizes a playlist from your greatest hits.