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10 best fitness apps for every workout, from yoga to running

Whether you’re an expert or beginner, there’s a platform for everyone in our tried and tested run-down

Liz Dodd
Thursday 29 April 2021 15:45
<p>There are dozens of apps on the market to help you start – or continue – working out at home</p>

There are dozens of apps on the market to help you start – or continue – working out at home

With more of us working from home than ever, we’re finding more time in our days to dedicate to fitness. To meet this growing demand for exercise sessions without the expensive gym fees, the at-home workout revolution has produced a wealth of apps designed to amp up or inspire your routine.

From yoga to running, kettlebells to spin, and even WWF-style “bro’ga”, there’s an app here to suit every style of workout. We tested a variety of apps to get down to this shortlist, using reviewers of all fitness levels and ages – from workout gurus with home gyms to mid-morning power walkers.

As well as variety, excellent instruction and safety, we looked for apps that offered something significantly better than what you can get for free online. Because most of these apps have a subscription cost, we looked for measurable added value: plenty of subscriber-only content, bespoke personal-trainer style programmes, and online communities.

The apps broke down into two groups: workout libraries, great if you have some experience in a gym and want to manage your own fitness, and programme-led apps that curate classes for you. This last type – epitomised by Chris Hemsworth’s CENTR app – are more like a personal trainer in your pocket, include nutrition guidelines, and tend to be more expensive.

The other apps we tested tended either to be sport specific – we looked for a good range across running, yoga and cycling – or, like the Nike and Peloton apps, offer a little bit of everything.

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One issue we ran into while testing was the level of knowledge and ability that some apps assumed, even at the beginner level. If jumping, squatting or swinging a kettlebell is out of the question for you, or if running or yoga feels intimidating, there are still plenty of options. We’ve deliberately included apps here for absolute fitness beginners – Couch to 5k, for example, as well as programs targeted at people with injuries or limited mobility – DDP Yoga and Sworkit are excellent for this.

Finally, we wanted to include something for exhausted parents and carers: a number of these apps have child-friendly offerings, like Sworkit. But Cosmic Kids Yoga is a real gem: at the very least, you’ll get to lie down for a couple of minutes at the end.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best fitness apps in 2021

Peloton App: £12.99 per month

Best: Overall

Download now for iOS

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Of all the live gym-turned-livestream workouts we’ve tried, Peloton remains our favourite. Its spin workouts, which is what it’s famous for, will transform your home or gym bike sessions. Obviously designed to fill the gap that your lunchtime or after work workout used to occupy, instructors are heavy on the positive affirmations and high intensity bursts.

If your routine is feeling a little dull, one of the app’s music themed rides (think classic rock or the Eighties) will shake you out of your rut. But the bike is just the tip of what this app offers: from yoga to bootcamp, there are an incredible number of workouts and series included in your membership, as well as multiple live daily classes.

We loved the outdoor series, coached workouts for runners and walkers off the treadmill. The app is incredibly sleek and adept at personal-trainer style psychology: it measures your streaks and active days, and keeps you accountable with push notifications.  

FWFG (Find What Feels Good): £7.99 per month

Best: For meditation

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

It’s true that Adriene Mishler, of Yoga with Adriene, is everywhere now. Patron saint of at-home yogis, our reviewer has been following her since 2012, and is still challenged and comforted by her lovely classes. The jump from relying on the free content released on her YouTube channel to her app is an easy one, and ideal if you want to step up your yoga. Classes are searchable by level, length, focus and intensity, and there’s plenty of extra content.

During testing we loved using the “path” bundles, of longer practices curated around a theme like pregnancy or creativity. If you’ve tried YWA and liked it, this is the natural next step – her annual 30 Days of Yoga challenge is a good starting point, particularly if you’re new to the practice.

One You Couch to 5k: Free

Best: For beginners

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

Whether you’re coming back to running after a few years off or you’ve never run for a bus, this cult app is basically guaranteed to get you from walking to jogging for at least half an hour in around two months. 

When it first launched as a series of podcasts, the Couch to 5k programme took our reviewer from zero miles to half marathons in less than a year. It’s had a refresh since then, and now you can pipe in your own music instead of listening to the (oddly enjoyable) instrumentals the podcast version played, as well as choosing from a handful of celebrity trainers – Jo Whiley and Sarah Millican among them. Crucially, you can still run with Laura, the much-loved voice of the original programme: even if you loathe running, her gentle encouragement will see you through the nine-week programme.

DDP Yoga: £21.57 per 3 months

Best: Quick workouts

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

If a former pro-wrestler coaching you through a blend of amped up yoga and pilates to a heavy metal soundtrack with insatiable enthusiasm isn’t your thing, move on. But if you lift (when gyms are open), suffer from injuries, or find mainstream yoga unbearable, this app will change your life. 

DDP Yoga, the fitness system Diamond Dallas Page developed with his personal trainers to help him recover from a career-threatening injury, is a challenging, life-affirming workout, with an unapologetic focus on strength and resilience. Because you use dynamic resistance (tensing muscles) to introduce an element of cardio into the workout, you need a heart rate monitor to get the most out of them: a chest strap is best, and the app paired with ours perfectly. There’s an element of cheese (“warrior pose” is “road warrior”, for example), but it’s glorious.

Zombies Run: £14.99 per year

Best: For fun

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

We can’t promise this will happen to you, but our reviewer ran her first ten mile-r using the original incarnation of this app – and didn’t even notice. Over a decade on, Zombies Run has a cult following, and it’s extremely well deserved: it gamifies running, with each run corresponding to an episode of the series. 

The plot is great, the voice acting fantastic, and the clever interweaving of interval training (sprinting when the zombies are behind you) is transformative. There’s a world of bonus content to explore – training programmes for 5 and 10k races, community competitions, and base-building, but the 400+ missions themselves will keep you occupied for quite a while. 

The game is very immersive, so if you’re running on roads or at night make sure you can still hear the traffic and you’re visible.

Glo: £12.95 per month

Best: For yoga

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

This is the best online yoga studio we’ve tried. A glossy app, it has an incredible number of teachers – like Amy Ippoliti and Jason Crandell – and every style of yoga you can think of. The quality of teaching is really, really good: teachers take obvious pride in their online classes, with the same level of thoughtful sequencing, verbal cues and adaptations you’d get in a studio class. While you can filter searches by length, style, teacher etc, we loved the keyword search – fatigue, stress and PMS all bring up a wealth of crafted classes and meditations for whatever’s bringing you down. 

Bookmarking classes adds them to your library, and helps the app recommend content to you in future. The app also has an outstanding range of “extra-curricular” content, including programmes and lectures on the theory and philosophy of yoga, meditation and even kirtan (devotional chant). All body-types are represented among its teachers and models, which more yoga studios should do.

Nike Training Club: Free

Best: Free fitness app

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

It’s hard to believe this amazing app, a personal trainer in your pocket, is free. Its focus is short HIIT workouts, and videos are beautifully produced, trainers are first class, and even the lifestyle coaching films are helpful. The trainer-led programmes are the highlight of this app: multiple-week courses for all ability levels, they include carefully paced workouts as well as nutrition and cool-down advice.

Some require access to a full gym, but most are suitable for a home workout, and rely on little to no equipment – anything you do need you can buy, of course, from Nike, whose online store is hovering in the main menu. Nike has also done a great job of ensuring there’s a diversity of trainers on offer.

CENTR App: £22.99 per month (cheaper if you buy multiple months)

Best: Trainer in your pocket

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

If you’ve prepared to completely overhaul your lifestyle or need a radical reset – and, to be honest, what else is there left to do in lockdown – this is the app for you. Created by actor Chris Hemsworth and his personal training team, it’s the kind of programme a very invested personal trainer would devise for you. The problem is psychology: the program – of daily workouts, meals, snacks and meditations – demands a lot of commitment, and Chris isn’t going to show up and give you a pep talk when pizza and The Crown seems better than kettlebell reps and a smoothie. 

That said, we tested a beginner’s programme for a week, and found it very manageable – daily workouts maxed out at 40 minutes, one meal was usually leftovers from the previous day, and the daily meditation was short and helpful. It becomes more demanding as you progress or at higher ability levels, but if you’re looking for the kind of holistic guidance a trainer would provide at a fraction of the cost, this is a good place to start. 

Cosmic Kids Yoga: £7.78 per month

Best: For kids

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

Recommended by every carer and parent we spoke to, there may come a point in your homeschooling career when you would happily pay ten times this subscription fee for access to Cosmic Kids’ wealth of brightly-coloured, child-friendly yoga classes. The same high-energy, story-led classes Cosmic Kids offers on YouTube are available, but so is a wealth of app-only content, and add-ons to the YouTube classes (like printable adventure maps, a truly essential part of the monthly yoga quest). 

The teachers are extraordinary, bringing a level of pep that's appropriate for pre-school and early years, but grounded in the complexities of growing up. As well as dance-slash-yoga stories, there’s yoga for bedtime and nightmares, short blasts of “brain break” yoga for the school day, and mindfulness classes that our adult reviewers found just as blissful as the kids did.

Sworkit: £49.99 per year

Best: For HIIT training

Download now for iOS

Download now for Android

If HIIT training and bodyweight workouts are a mystery to you and you wouldn’t know what to do with a kettlebell if it fell on you, this is the app for you. Plug in a few basic details – ability, weight and goal – and the app will come up with a manageable programme of workouts and stretching. Once you’re in, you can deviate off-course thanks to its extensive workout library – including, yes, kettlebells and resistance bands. 

This is the most inclusive app we tried, and assumes no prior knowledge – unless you dive in at the most experienced end. There are programmes for pregnant people and older adults, physiotherapy exercises and foam rolling tutorials. Many of the apps we tested plunged even beginners into quite vigorous plyometrics and high range of motion moves: this is an app we’d recommend to anyone, particularly during lockdown.

The verdict: Fitness apps

Peloton’s luxe spin bike is still way out of our price range, but its app is a brilliant substitute, with a good variety of workouts that will challenge even experienced lifters and spinners. If you want to try something new and fun, give DDP Yoga a shot – its classes range from stretches you can do in bed to strength-based yoga that left our toughest reviewer aching for days.

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If you’re looking for the kit to match, read our review of the best women’s running leggings and the best sports bras

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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