Are you big on running? Or just looking to be a bit fitter? Our very own Alexandra Ioannou takes us on a tour through the best fitness apps available...

Are you big on running? Or just looking to be a bit fitter? Alexandra Ioannou, one of our 2014 Vodafone UK Discover Graduates, has recently discovered the benefits of finding the right combinations of fitness apps and services to help her smash her goals and shatter her PBs.

But how do you find the fitness app that best suits you? Join Alexandra as she finds out that there’s no one-size fits all, but that with huge choice comes huge potential…

Alexandra Ioannou | Discover Graduate, Vodafone UK

alex ioannou

Running has become fashionable for all the right reasons in the past few years, but when I first started running I was a very unfashionable 14 year-old. Back in school I managed to secure a respectable 3rd place in the 1500m, and – having always been a natural sprinter – I found it incredibly difficult at first to pace myself for longer distances.

During those early years I was reliant on my athletics team coach to track my progress, time my runs and measure improvements, but today I’m totally app-dependent. I’m now able to track my training progress and time my runs, along with measuring my running distance, calculating calories burned and noting my sleeping pattern too.

I’m currently training for a 10k run and I’ve been using my Nike+ Running app to track my distance, but with the latest app update I’m also able to create a training programme tailored to me through the ‘Coach’ function.

“I’m able to create a training programme tailored to me through the ‘Coach’ function.”

I typed in the date of my 10k run, added some information about me including my age, height and weight and away the app went, creating a personalised training programme for me, with the 10k run as the ultimate goal. I get daily notifications reminding me of my next challenge, not forgetting those all-important rest days.

Since upgrading to the iPhone 6 I’ve also been hooked on the ‘Health’ app, and have committed to reaching 10,000 steps daily, aided by the fact I can link my Nike running app to it to create a separate dashboard for my running training.

Nike+ Running
Download the app for iOS and Android

So, that’s my setup, but there are plenty of other choices out there for mobile fitness fans…

Fitbits, Jawbones, and apps…

One of my running team mates has also recently committed to the recommended number of daily steps but chooses to use a Fitbit to track her progress. The Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Charge, wearable fitness bands for the fashion conscious, not only track your health but also notify you when you have a phone call and displays who’s calling. At the minute, making sure her 10,000 steps add up to at least 6km is my team mate’s main focus, but her recently awarded ‘Lighthouse Badge’ – for reaching 50 flights of stairs in one day – was definitely a welcome addition to her fitness tracking.

Fitbit
Download the app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone

“That’s the other great thing about apps – we can be motivated and encouraged to exercise regularly without the watchful eye of a personal trainer.”

And that’s the other great thing about apps – we can be motivated and encouraged to exercise regularly without the watchful eye of a personal trainer, which can be costly. Now it’s your phone telling you to train harder! Not only that, but apps reward us for our hard work and even just for trying. I don’t always reach my daily distance target but I still get a ‘thumbs up’ encouraging notification from Nike Running to say ‘Great job – you got out there today!’ That’s what it’s all about with running; it’s not about running 10k once and then never running again; the more often you run and the more you build it into your routine, the better.

There’s a budding running community amongst the graduate intake of 2014/15 at Vodafone UK, so I’ve been quizzing some of my fellow grads about the different apps and tech they use to track their health and fitness.

Laura, for instance, has been using the free Nuffield HealthScore app over the past few months because, as she says, ‘it’s more than just a running tracker.’ Much like the way I use the Nike running app to link to my Health iPhone app, Laura also uses the Nuffield HealthScore app to link with the health assessments at Nuffield gyms and the scores these generate.

Nuffield HealthScore
Download the app for iOS and Android

You can enter the information gained from your health assessment and use this as a baseline for your score. The app can be used to track your exercise activity, nutrition habits, sleep and stress levels, as well as emotional well-being. All the factors combine to give you a Health Score (the better the score the better your overall health and wellbeing). The nutrition coach asks you questions about your eating habits, suggests areas to improve on (e.g. drinking more water) and checks in with you to see how you’re progressing by asking a daily question.

For Laura, that’s a powerful motivator, especially when you can see your score decreasing due to inactivity. It promotes regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle, which is exactly what we desk-workers really need.

Two is better than one

If you’re sensing a pattern so far, it’s that there’s no one solution that works better than any other: it’s all about finding the right apps and products that work for you.

The great thing about there being so many apps today is their ability to link to one another, generate and analyse lots of really useful information for us and then present it a user-friendly way. Sergio is also a keen runner, using Runtastic Pro to track his progress. Pro costs £3.99 and gives you voice feedback in a variety of languages; live tracking; routes and routes search, meaning you can find routes that other users have mapped nearby; pulse reading and heart rate zones (when a compatible heart rate monitor is added); as well as an integrated music player. Runtastic also has a free version of the app to track your fitness and it’s definitely worth checking this out first.

Runtastic Pro
Download the app for iOS and Android

JustTextGiving logo squareHelp Alexandra raise funds for Mind
If you want to support Alexandra in her fundraising efforts for Mind later this month, you can donate via JustTextGiving by sending “NEWB55” followed by the amount you wish to donate to 70070 or visit her Just Giving page.

 

So Runtastic tracks your distance, speed, pace and calories burned, which Sergio then inputs straight into MyFitnessPal, another free app that acts as a calories counter and diet tracker, which he uses to combine his fitness tracking and results. With his overall goal being to improve his fitness, tone up and keep on top of his calorie intake, Sergio lets the apps take all the credit.

And he’s planning to take his fitness tracking one step further, with some new Nike football boots that have an in-built chip to track how far you’ve run and how many calories you’ve burned whilst playing football. He’ll combine this with the Jawbone UP3 – a wearable much like the Fitbits that lets you track your nutrition, sleep and log your activity – to help understand what achievements you’re making by training. Because let’s face it, it’s not easy and it can be painful.

It’s amazing how much mobile phones, mobile apps, fitness watches and even techy football boots can help to keep us on the beaten trail – the straight and narrow. It could be hailing or snowing, but the fact these tech helpers send us encouraging notifications and reminders, and the fact that they are so accurate in their tracking, drives us to keep going. If you find the right combination for you, it’ll really help you to compete with yourself, to get out there and do one better each time. That’s what I’ve learned, and if writing this convinces you to give it a go too, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Hit the ground running… Got a favourite running app we didn’t mention? Let us know your favourite fitness apps in the comments section below!