Our smartphones, we’re told, are ruining our lives. You’ve no doubt heard the news stories by now (or, more likely, scrolled past the headlines on your phone) about how they’re destroying our cognitive resources, disrupting our sleep, giving us bent backs and kinked necks, and causing us to become anxious, depressed, antisocial weaklings while we obsessively scroll through our social media feeds 100 times a day.
But it’s not the phones themselves that are the problem, so much as how we use them. In fact, a whole category of health and fitness apps are poised to help make you fitter, stronger, leaner, looser and more relaxed than ever before—to fight back, in other words, against the creeping physical and mental ills of the Information Age. Taking advantage of today’s information-rich environment, they focus on putting personalized, coach- or trainer-built workouts at your fingertips, so you can get better results faster, whether you pump iron at the gym, do bodyweight HIIT routines or push the pace on outdoor runs. And, more than crushing it every day, they stress consistency as the key to a healthy lifestyle, by holding you accountable for missed workouts and keeping you on track with a nutrition plan. At the very least, they offer variety, and a change of pace from the tired old fitness routine that saw you plateau back when the iPhone 4 was released, and there’s something to be said for that.
Additional contribution by Meg Lappe.
For the Time-Pressed: Sworkit
An overpacked schedule is the most common barrier to fitness (never mind the nightly Netflix binge), but Sworkit’s customized programs allow you to fit a solid, targeted workout into whatever time you can find, whether that’s a trainer-recommended 40 minutes or 4 minutes between episodes of Master of None. Simply choose the kind of routine you want—strength, cardio, yoga, or stretching—and enter how many minutes you have, and it outputs a video-guided, precision-timed, sports scientist-approved workout that’ll help you trim fat, pack on muscle or just loosen up, excuses be damned.
For Those Who Like to Listen: Aaptiv
This audio-only workout app is best for those who learn from hearing, as well as visual learners who want to grasp workouts exclusively through their ears. Aaptiv lets you pick (and download) on-demand workouts so you can dabble in everything stretching and yoga classes to boxing and weightlifting. New classes show up every week in the app. Pick the type of workout you want, the kind of music you like and then narrow your options down by how much time you have. Whether you’re traveling and need an exercise without any weights, or need some motivation on your next long run, Aaptiv has you covered.
For Outdoor Cardio: Nike+ Run Club
From the company hell-bent for the past two decades on reviving American distance running—and this year’s Boston Marathon is proof it’s working—comes the Nike+ Run Club, an innovative app that, in addition to tracking your runs via GPS, provides audio-guided runs for newbies and personalized coaching plans fit for hardcore racers. Each workout helps you build strength, speed and endurance, and there are motivational tools—from friendly leaderboards to weekly challenges to Spotify playlists tailored to the pace of each run—to keep you on pace for a PR. If that’s not enough, you have the option of in-ear audio from coaches and athletes for an added oomph.
For the Yoga-Curious: Asana Rebel
You know it’s good for you, but somehow you’ve still not gotten around to trying yoga. You’re either confused by all the different styles (what is the difference between Hatha, Ashtanga, and Vinyasa, anyway?!), or put off by the spirituality and om-ing gurus. Asana Rebel’s yoga-inspired fitness takes a different approach, combining traditional practices with exercises—like burpees, mountain climbers and LOTS of planks—straight out of HIIT class. Choose a category of yoga flow (like strength, fatburn, or flexibility) to match your mood and energy level, then prepare to be worked.
($38 for 3-month training program)
For Discovery: ClassPass
Group fitness popularity is skyrocketing, if for no other reason than we’ve collectively run out of ways to motivate ourselves to do the same tired old at-home routine (we’re looking at you, Shaun T). It also helps, of course, that you’re coached through a workout professionally designed for efficiency and maximum results, not to mention motivated by the group’s enthusiasm or, at the least, by a fear of looking weak and ridiculous in front of the fairer sex. But it’s still hard to commit full-time to a boutique studio, where you’ll plunk down $30 per class, sight unseen. ClassPass gives you ultimate flexibility, allowing you to sample book all sorts of classes—HIIT, barre, cycling, boxing, yoga, younameit—on the fly at studios all over your city, and at about half the normal price.
(membership starts from about $35/month, depending on where you live)
For Weightlifting: Fitbod
Using artificial intelligence, Fitbod handles the heavy lifting of workout planning, so you can focus on, well, the heavy lifting. It learns from your past workouts to develop a personalized plan that’ll push your limits based on your goals, preferences, struggles, and available gym equipment. Then, when you hit the gym, it guides you step-by-step through each exercise (telling you weight, reps and sets), and even adjusts the workout according to muscles you want to target and your recovery state. And, like a personal trainer, the more you pump iron with it, the better it gets at constructing workouts that get you the gains you want.
For Quick-Hit Workouts: Keelo
When you’re looking to knock out a quick, effective full-body workout, HIIT is hard to beat. Keelo recommends intense, fast-paced workouts—each tweaked, based on your recent history, to hit compound muscle groups that are being ignored—that last between seven and 20 minutes. There’s a mix of bodyweight and free weight workouts, so it’s can stick to a three-a-week routine at home or on the road, and get maximum results.
(Premium subscriptions from $12/month)
For Recovery: Sleep Cycle
Getting solid sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovering from your workouts and making fitness gains, so it’s worth a closer look at what goes on after you go under. Sleep Cycle uses your phone’s accelerometer to monitor and record your movement and quality of sleep. When morning approaches, it uses sleep cycle theory to wake you up during light sleep (within a user-defined window of time) rather than deep sleep, so you feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day—and workout—ahead.
For On Demand Workouts: NEOU
On-demand workouts are popping up all over the place. Peloton was one of the original live workouts on its bike, sold nationwide. They created a community of trainers and cyclists who live and breathe all things Peloton. Other studios and gyms have worked towards this, but no one has figured out the best way to go about it. NEOU is a new model that’s looking to live stream workouts and store hundreds in the app so that you never get bored. Trainers head to a state of the art facility on Fifth Avenue to film their routines. You can test out a variety of workouts from HIIT and Bootcamp to boxing and core — even mobility and dance. Follow your favorite trainer or mix it up.
For Stress Relief: Headspace
Between your hard-driving fitness goals and a busy home and work life, it’s easy to push too hard and suffer both mentally and physically. That’s why it’s so important to clear your mind regularly to keep going strong, and promote a balanced mind and body. Headspace offers structured, beginner-friendly meditation courses that range from three- to 30-minute sessions, with built-in reminders and tracking to help you stay on track. Because meditation can reduce stress, improve focus and promote better sleep, you’ll recover faster, work more efficiently and—bonus!—probably be a more patient, mindful person.
For All-Around Healthy Lifestyle: 8fit
For the person who wants to outsource all of their fitness and nutrition planning (sorry, bud, career advice not included), 8fit is up to the job. Like having a personal trainer and nutritionist wrapped in one, it creates custom exercise and meal plans based on your goals, your current stats, and—to a degree that other apps don’t—your fine-grained preferences. It asks probing questions (like how many weekly workouts you can handle, how many meals you want per day, how much variety you require in a diet, and how you prefer to meal prep) then spits out an achievable, step-by-step plan—with at-home HIIT workouts and delicious, nutritionist-created recipes—to your fittest self.
($60/year for pro edition)