Runkeeper: this app will keeping you moving!

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I’m not a natural runner. In high school, I slogged along, huffing and puffing, watching my friends in track sprint past me, getting through the long runs with a positive attitude, and happily discuss the “runner’s high.” Blech! I know running is an effective way to burn calories, and I can remember when it was a joy when I was a little kid. But as an adult, the enthusiasm I can muster is, “well, this sucks slightly less than it did 10 minutes ago.” On the other hand, I need to stay fit, and I have limited time, so running is a really efficient way to do so.

I’ve run with several apps, but Runkeeper (www.runkeeper.com) is my favorite so far. I’ve run with it on and off for about a year, but more seriously over the last few months. One way of sticking with running, I read, is to sign up for a race in the future, and pay for it. I did this, but then I needed to decide how to prepare for that race. Since I already had Runkeeper, and liked it, I decided to stick with it. I’ve recently compared running apps in a different blog, which you can find HERE. Today, I want to write more in depth about Runkeeper, and how it has been a game changer for me.

Runkeeper is free for the basic functions, but for the coaching and advanced functions, the cost is $9.99/mo or $39.99 per year. If you might use the app for more than four months, it is a better deal to sign up for a year at a time. I think it is worth it. This is the longest I have stuck with running, and have noticed that my running times have significantly improved, just by getting out there three times a week.

Runkeeper can map your run, showing you where you were, how long it took, and what speed and average speed you were running. If you have the newer GPS version Apple Watch, you can leave your phone at home, and Runkeeper can manage your run from your watch. If you do not have the newest Apple Watch, you can still leave the phone at home, but it won’t be able to map your run. Allegedly it can still measure your distance- I imagine the way a FitBit does, which is perhaps a little less accurate in distance (which is what studies generally show about the Fitbit: better for steps, less so for distance). I always bring my phone, so I haven’t tested this out yet.

Runkeeper, like many other running apps, can also play music via the app- either the music from your iPhone, or Spotify, which is very nicely integrated into the app. Spotify and Runkeeper work together to measure your speed, and play music that matches your pace to encourage you. However, I have not been able to use this where I am running, because there is no cell service. Instead, I have been listening to podcasts (the Tim Ferris show!) which are NOT integrated into the app. To listen to podcasts, you download the podcast (unless you have sufficient cell service), then start the podcast, then start Runkeeper. Runkeeper doesn’t control the podcast, but it is easy enough to adjust the volume separately. I would love it if Runkeeper could integrate this into the app rather than having to use this hack to get it to work, but for now, it works fine my way.

I have been using the 5K coach plan- the plan is written by Jeff Galloway, a very well respected runner and running teacher. The plan starts off with walking and running two days a week, with a slightly longer weekend run. After each interval, a voice through my headphones instructs me what I should be doing -“One minute- walk!” The intervals are progressively getting longer for running and shorter for walking, until the end, when I assume I will be running the whole thing. The intervals started off easy enough that I wasn’t huffing and puffing, and they have moved towards running slowly enough that I feel like I can keep up. On the other hand, my running times have improved, and each step feels challenging as well. The app reminds me the night before when I have a run coming up the next day. For the first time in a REALLY long time, I am enjoying running. I like the chance to get out and run, burn off some calories, and catch up on podcasts. I can click on each run and see what my approximate speed was at any given time, how many calories I burned, etc. I have not used all the data that it gives me, but maybe when I get more advanced at running! Allegedly the app also works for biking, but I have not tried it.

I can also cheer on friends -live, if you have the paid version. After each run, it gives me the opportunity to comment on the run, and can post it to social media (though I don’t), and let my friends also on Runkeeper know that I have gone for a run. This has been a little bit like hearing a tree fall in the woods -does it make a noise- because no one I know is running right now!

A few other nice aspects of the app are that it integrates with many calorie trackers, as well as Apple’s own Health Data. There is an Apple Watch app, which mainly does everything that you might need while you are out running- tells you splits, how long you have been running, lets you pause the app, etc. I use the Apple Watch app every time. You can join challenges (I’ve signed up to do the “I am a Runner Challenge” and the “January 5K” challenges, which completing means I am entered into a drawing for free UnderArmour Gear. When I hit a new milestone, I’ve received an email congratulations, and a coupon for 20% off running gear, which is pretty fun.

I am planning to keep using this app. I’m really happy with my progress, and with the coaching plan. Is anyone else using Runkeeper?

FitStar by FitBit: worth the cost?

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I use the FitStar app on my iPhone to get a daily work out in, five days a week in the morning, and run three days a week in the evening. I was therefore, surprised when I started up FitStar one morning this week, and found an entirely new app.  A lot has changed in the app, both good and bad, in my opinion. It seems like FitBit has purchased the app, because it is now “FitStar by FitBit” and Fitbit is in the icon.

The most superficial part is that the icon has changed, from the red star on white background, to a black and blue icon.  The previous app guided you through workouts, based on your goals, age, and the results of your fitness test, with reassuring voiceovers by Tony Gonzales. Where is Tony Gonzalez now? I liked him. Anyway, with the new app, you choose one of two coaches, Lea or Adrian. I can’t tell if it makes much difference which coach you choose. My instinct was to choose the female coach, so I stretched my limits and picked the male coach.

The exercises are different now- I haven’t seen any of the “star skaters- it’s almost like an extreme version of the curtsy”  (you’ll laugh if you had been doing FitStar before the update!) but there are a lot of really challenging exercises. They are mostly well explained, though the design of the app has some kind of overlay on top of of the video that makes it occasionally hard to see. The exercises start immediately after the demonstration, mostly so fast that if you are new to the exercise, it is hard to get in position before they start. I usually miss the first exercise of the set, I’ve noticed, but I anticipate that this will improve as I become more familiar with the exercises.

I like that you can choose a more efficient or more challenging routine that day depending on your time and motivation- before, if you were in a program- “get lean” or “get strong” for instance, you were stuck doing exactly what the next routine in the series was. Some days, I feel like doing more, or have less time. I think this results in doing the routines more often, because if I have less time, I can do a shorter routine instead of skipping it altogether because I don’t have time for what the plan had intended for me.

The increased integration with FitBit now allows the app to adjust your workout depending on what you did with the Fitbit the day before- if it knows you pushed it on a long run, it might suggest something easier the next day. I don’t think this works if you’re not using a FitBit-I use an Apple Watch, for instance.

Speaking of Apple Watch, it has also dropped the apple watch app. Truth be told, I didn’t use the app that often, since it had limited functionality, but I did like how it could tell you how many of each exercise were supposed to be in the set. To make up for this, there’s a new option to add a “ticking” sound to each rep, so I just keep up with the sounds to get the right number of reps. This has the effect of making the routine more challenging as well, as I am doing the reps slower and using more muscle power on the negative, which is good.

I think the subscription cost has stayed the same- $7.99 per month. I think it’s a good value, especially right now, while I’m away from home for an extended period of time. When I get back home, where I can go to the gym before work, I’ll quit the subscription.

Overall, I think this has been a good change. It would be nice if it could give you the workout adjustment aspect if you’re not using a FitBit. It would also be nice if the Apple Watch app was reintroduced with more functionality, perhaps using it’s ability to measure heart rate. And give us Tony Gonzalez back!

Resolution #2: Run more often!

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Since we talked about weight loss apps in the last blog of the series, it makes sense to review apps from another common, related resolution: running. Some might try simply to start running, while others want to run more often, or a specific distance.

There are good reasons to run for exercise. A recent study suggested that running may help your brain make connections possibly because running requires more than putting one foot in front of the other, but rather, planning the terrain, pace, etc. Running is helpful for mental health, and losing weight. Running helps build toughness and resilience. If you join a running group, running can help you make social connections- I’ve found that runners tend to be a friendly group of people!

Apps are especially nice for running, because they can help you track distance, time, route, but also suggest running programs. There are different apps for different types of runners as well.

One I’ve always liked is the Nike + Run Club app (free, www.nike.com), because it adds a competitive component to my running, but also has nice integration with music, and had the ability for friends to cheer you on with “likes” during your run. It was also one of the few I found that measured treadmill running accurately. However, the new version of this may not be as accurate, based on the recent reviews. If you have the new Nike + apple watch, it might be a no-brainer anyway, but I would consider a different app until the reviews improve. Also, it does not integrate with some of the most popular calorie counters, like myfitnesspal, which is why I stopped using it.

Another running tracker is Endomondo (www.endomondo.com, basic app free, premium app costs extra). This one is very popular, and I guarantee you at least one friend is on this app. In order to set a specific goal, you have to have a premium app. I used this one for some time, and was unhappy with the accuracy. It integrates with most calorie trackers, though, and has an apple watch app. It also tracks a lot of different activities, not just running.

Do you have trouble getting started? Maybe you can make running more fun by “gamifying” it. The concept is that you combine the points and achievements of a game with a habit- something that I’ve been seeing more often. The most popular of these is Zombies, Run! (free app, more for premium version, www.zombiesrungame.com). I’ve tried these, and thought they were fun, but I’m a little wimpy and afraid of Zombies, anyway- no “the Walking Dead” for me! They are worth a try if you’re a gamer, and having trouble getting out, or need some extra fun and incentive.

If you’re running a 5k, there are several apps that will help you track “couch to 5k.” The classic one is “ Couch to 5K running app” -catchy, eh? It costs $1.99 (www.active.com) but is part of the active.com website, where you can also look for and sign up for your 5K race, and use their extensive fitness calculators.

Many of the running apps have running programs, including 5K, marathons and everything in between, built into the program. My favorite running app, and the one I use now, is Runkeeper (free, but extra for premium plans, www.runkeeper.com). I’ve been quite happy with it, and here’s why:

  • It’s very accurate, even in the out of the way, rural place that I am writing this from, with little to no cell phone reception.
  • It has an Apple Watch app, and integrates with my calorie tracker.
  • The running plans are designed by famous running coaches, like Jeff Galloway
  • It is easy to use.
  • As I run, I earn bonuses- I just got a 20% off coupon running gear!

There are so many running apps- which one do you use?