If you resolved on New Year’s Eve to get more exercise, you are not alone. Other areas of health advice may vacillate wildly (even antioxidants are bad for you now), but exercise is almost always a good idea if you want to feel better than you did last year. In this, the year of “there’s an app for that,” a plethora of fitness apps promise to help you honor that resolution.
We narrowed the field by focusing on Android (we’ll look at the iPhone exercise apps at some point too, so feel free to send suggestions). Then we filtered the list by music and social features because studies have shown music to be a great motivator of exercise and peer pressure to influence behavior.
These exercise apps for Android smartphones offer powerful music integration, social networking motivators and other features beyond simple a timer or pedometer:
WorkSmart Labs’s well-rounded app for fitness and workouts was designed to track walks and runs, but it can also monitor some of your progress with yoga or other forms of exercise. Tap one button to indicate that you’re starting your workout and another to stop it. In between, CardioTrainer (free or with added features for $10) displays your location and the number of calories you’ve burned, lets you see how your time compares to the top athletes who use the app should you dare to wonder about that, and plays computer-voiced indications of your distance, pace and calories, while letting you control playback of the music stored on your phone’s memory from within the app. CardioTrainer can also update Facebook friends or Google contacts on your progress, keeping you motivated or ashamed.
Music-wise, CardioTrainer does not err on the side of including a too-cumbersome music player — basically, it just starts and stops music along with your workout sessions. For the best results, import your own playlists (perhaps hand-crafted workout mixes) into the app. CardioTrainer can randomize your songs to keep things fresh, or, if you’re biking in or running around traffic, it can silence the tunes altogether.
Running app Rhythm Runner (free and ad-supported or $4 without ads) tracks time spent and calories burnt on your runs over time while configurable voice notifications announce speed, distance, and expended calories at programmable intervals — all helpful features, if basic.
Rhythm Runner’s star feature is its ability to measure your pace with your smartphone’s accelerometer and play songs whose BPMs (beats per minute) match that pace. The app scans the existing music on your device, determining each song’s BPM using an API from The Echo Nest (transparency: The Echo Nest publishes Evolver.fm), then looks for songs whose BPMs match your running or walking pace. Start running at whatever pace feels natural, and the app starts queuing up songs that match your stride.
Rhythm Runner won’t record your workout unless you let the music play, but that’s fine, since the whole idea is to listen to music while you jog anyway. In our testing, the app kept the flow of the run going without dealing with playlists or skipping tracks that were too slow.
Which is a better motivator: the carrot or the stick? Keep Running employs both approaches in its quest to keep you in motion. If you drop below a certain walking or running speed, the app simply kills the tunes. Your only option, aside from throwing in the towel or switching to another app, is to attain and maintain your specified minimum pace, as determined by your choice of GPS or accelerometer (the latter multiplies the rate of your steps by the length of your stride).
This app is clever to use your own music against you. If you can’t keep up with your target speed, you run in silence. While it’s an interesting idea, perfect for runners dead set on maintaining a certain speed, Keep Running could use some more robust functionality on the fitness side. We’ll be gentle though because it’s still in beta.