"I just can't be bothered to go to the gym to exercise," you complain at the end of a long day. But can you be bothered to pick up your phone?
While smartphones are sometimes cast as health-wrecking evils — disrupting sleep, tearing apart relationships — they can just as easily be used to boost health.
There's an almost overwhelming number of workout apps for your phone, so I sifted through them all to pull out my go-tos. FYI, I tested all of these on my iPhone — but they're all available for Android unless otherwise stated.
Nike Training Club
Nike is a big company, and it's poured its considerable resources into the excellent Nike Training Club app (a companion to the ever-popular Nike Run Club). Fire up the free app and you're presented with one-off workouts you can knock off in as little as 10 minutes with no equipment, to fitness plans you can follow for several weeks in the gym. The workouts themselves are simple to follow with video and audio instructions of each exercise, and can sync to an Apple Watch to keep your timing on track.
The classic seven-minute workout is based on a protocol developed by the American College of Sports Medicine, and includes 12 foundational strength and cardio movements — classics such as squats, push-ups and planks. If you have time and energy to spare, you can chain these into workouts lasting 14 minutes, 21 minutes, and so on.
These apps are terrific for travel or to kickstart your fitness if you're a beginner, and there are more advanced workouts to try as you progress.
It's not just for cat videos. Much like you can learn to make a rainbow unicorn cake or replaster your bathroom via YouTube, you can also learn to get fit.
YouTube is a stealth workout app with something for basically any fitness goal, from five-minute yoga to hotel room workouts to hour-long aerobics classes. There are near-limitless lessons hosted by a range of switched-on fitness influencers, and it's all free (and available on your tablet, laptop or TV, too).
Some keywords to try searching: HIIT (for high-intensity workouts), bodyweight (for exercises you can do without needing to buy equipment) and low impact (great for beginners who don't want to jump or have to get up and down off the ground).
Celebrity fitness apps
There's an overwhelming list of paid fitness apps on the App Store, many of them fronted by familiar faces who are passionate about health. The forerunners include Sam Wood's 28 by Sam Wood; Michelle Bridges' 12-Week Body Transformation; Instagram icon Kayla Itsines' Sweat; and Centr, the app launched by Chris Hemsworth in February (and the only one you can't yet access with an Android phone).
Having sampled several of these apps, I don't believe any one is better than the others — they're all slickly made, with a varying selection of workout, nutrition, goal-setting and motivation features. Which one is best for you depends on a couple of factors:
- Which celebrity do you like best? Can't pretend that doesn't make a difference. But ultimately, you should pick an app you think you'll actually use, not one that just lets you pretend you have a famous workout buddy.
- What's your health goal? These celebrity apps usually go beyond straight-up workouts, with many also focusing on nutrition and mindset coaching. Most of the celebs are joined by specialists who also bring their individual expertise to subjects such as boxing, Pilates, and meal prep.
- What's your budget? You'll generally pay around $20-$60 per month for a subscription to these apps, which is good value if you make full use of their features (and a waste of money if you don't — just like a real gym membership).
Most of these celebrity-backed apps offer a week's free trial so you can test which one you like best — if you don't sign up, remember to cancel the trial so you don't get charged for the full month.