For the majority of my life, fitness was something to be tolerated. Ten years ago, I impulsively signed myself up for a half-marathon and was surprised to discover I could actually enjoy fitness. I have since tried to maintain an active workout routine with varying degrees of success. When I start to feel selfish for spending time just focused on myself, I remember that I’m actually a much better person — both physically and mentally — when I am regularly working out.
After two years of inconsistent fitness, I have spent the past several months getting myself back in gear. I wanted to spend my workout time enjoying the fresh air, so I decided to try out some audio fitness apps. With just my phone and a beach towel for a fitness mat, I spent some energizing mornings on my back porch getting back to my best self. Here’s what I found:
If you want to achieve a fitness goal, try Aaptiv
Overview: Aaptiv promotes itself as a “top” audio fitness app and features customized programs designed to reach your specific goals, including running faster and building muscle. Audio cues are given by certified personal trainers accompanied by built-in background music. Multiple subscription options give you access to their 2,500+ guided workouts that range from $14.99/month to $99.99/year.
My experience: This app was the most thorough, and most expensive, of the ones I reviewed. It began by asking me about 10 questions related to my current fitness status and goals. I liked that it made me pick just one main goal but also encouraged a secondary goal to accompany it. Aaptiv then gave me a daily plan that would help me prioritize both.
As I worked out with Aaptiv, I really did feel like I had my own personal trainer coaching me the entire time. While audio-only apps are not ideal for learning a brand-new exercise, the detailed cues from the Aaptiv coaches did give me a chance to try. Before I began a selected workout, I could quickly scroll through short video clips of the full routine. I was pleasantly surprised that I could complete a Pilates workout — something I haven’t tried since my high school gym class. On the flip side, the coaching cues felt a little too constant during my interval run. Although the music included with the workouts isn’t customizable, I was more focused on the trainer’s voice than the songs.
Final take: This app would be perfect for someone who needs structure and clear coaching to help them feel focused and confident.
If you’ve been stuck in a work-out rut, try Gold’s Amp
Overview: Have you ever wished that your favorite DJ could spin tunes for your everyday life? If yes, this app is for you, and also for me. Gold’s Amp also utilizes personal trainers, but their highlight feature is thousands of DJ-mixed music options for your workouts. A monthly plan is $9.99/month or you can sign on for a full year at $99.99. (The app will be free to use with a promo code until the end of May 2020.)
My experience: I am always motivated by music, so this app won big points in my personal rating system. Although my first impression was not great — it felt like there were too many options and minimal filtering choices — things changed for the better when I finally just picked something. I opted for a ‘90s mix as my background music, and I actually found myself smiling as I did jumping jacks with the Barenaked Ladies.
Coaching cues were moderate. They didn’t feel excessive, but I could have used a little more instruction on proper form. If I got lost, video clips demonstrating the exercises were displayed on my phone throughout the workout. The ‘90s throwbacks were easily my favorite workout beats but I also enjoyed the other categories I sampled. I especially liked that if I wasn’t feeling a certain song, I could quickly skip it or switch genres entirely mid-workout.
Final take: This app would be an excellent tool for you to revitalize or renew your pre-existing fitness routine.
If you will only exercise if you’re tricked into it, try Zombies, Run!
Overview: Zombies, Run! features interval running based on gaming and storytelling. While the app is almost 10 years old, “Pandemic 2020” gave this zombie-focused app renewed popularity. If you’re not ready for things to get too real, there are plenty of non-zombie experiences, like a Lewis and Clark expedition. It also features weekly plans for someone wanting to increase their total distance: everything from a 5K to a marathon. The app comes with lots of freebies, but you can pay for access to full features at $5.99/month or $34.99/year.
My experience: Zombies, Run! was easy to set-up. I entered the distance I planned to run, connected my music, and sent the app my GPS location so it could track my speed. My 1.5-mile run started with voice actors narrating the fictionalized scene. According to the audio, I had entered an apocalyptic world that relies on runners to collect and deliver key supplies. I then heard three contiguous dialogues that each ended with, “There’s a zombie after you, run!” This cue was followed by zombie-like grunts and heavy breathing along with verbal updates on the zombies’ proximity (“They’re 50 feet away!” … “20 feet!”). I ran too slowly the first time so I lost one of the supplies I had “collected.” I was more prepared for the next two zombie attacks and was rewarded by a voice telling me I escaped.
While I appreciated the creativity and the fact that I was tricked into interval running, there was a little too much talking for my personal taste. I did try this app during month two of “social distance” life, so I could only laugh at the close-to-home audio cues like, “We hope you weren’t planning to travel, it’s not the safest activity these days.”
Final take: If the best thing you can do for yourself right now is get out and move, this could definitely become your exclusive training app.
If you’re looking for something free, try ClassPass
Overview: When I tried some of the top “free” fitness apps in the app store, I found myself missing a lot of the features I’d come to appreciate from the paid subscription apps: visual aids, filtering, music, plans, and clear coaching. ClassPass, however, has managed to provide 2,000 basic workouts with coaching cues and music for free.
My experience: I couldn’t find any way to filter or search the classes, so I had to look for classes with familiar sounding names. The coaching worked well for me when I completed the types of classes I have previous experience with. When I attempted something new (Pilates), I quickly became disoriented and had to shut it down.
Final take: If you’re on a budget and you’d like to bring your favorite workout routines outside, ClassPass can help you achieve.
A few closing pointers
If you want to learn some new workouts before you take them outside, YouTube is full of free options. My personal favorites are Fitness Blender and Yoga with Adrienne. When you do work out (indoors or out), make sure you have a way of checking your form: stand in front of a glass door, a portable mirror, or ask your roommate or S.O. to keep an eye on you.
Thanks to technology, we have easy access to challenging and enjoyable workouts. Go ahead and prioritize fitness on your to-do list today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.