Cheap and free smartphone apps to help you stay fit

I used to get my exercise (and save a lot of money) by biking everywhere. But then I got an injury that made sitting on a bike saddle painful, so I had to look for other ways to be active. And that was a challenge, because I get easily distracted and there’s almost always something more interesting to do than workout.

I tried joining a gym, thinking I would feel compelled to get my money’s worth by going as often as possible. But that didn’t work, because apparently I hate gyms more than I hate losing money.

Then a friend told me about a gaming app she was obsessed with called Zombies, Run! The premise of Zombies Run! is that the zombie apocalypse has befallen us. The player has to do things like get survival supplies and rescue people from zombies. But rather than playing by tapping your fingers on the screen, you play by going out for a run. When you hear the zombies coming or you need to go rescue someone, you run faster.

Since starting Zombies, Run!, my friend was running regularly for the first time in her life. Even if she otherwise wouldn’t have felt like going for a run, she’d go because she wanted to know what would come next in the story (there’s a big cast of characters and some interesting rivalries between different survivor factions).

And then I found out another friend was so into the story she started writing fanfiction about it. If that’s not a recommendation, I’m not sure what is.

I hadn’t run in a long time, so I bought Zombies, Run! 5k Training for $1.99 as a present to myself. It’s a slower-paced story, but it (along with the workout structure) was interesting enough that I was soon running every other day. I hadn’t gotten that regular of aerobic exercise in at least a year. So it was well worth the $1.99 price tag – and a lot cheaper than a gym membership.

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The home screen (above) on Zombies, Run! 5k Training lists workouts (story episodes) you’ve completed and workouts you haven’t done yet.You get a virtual prize for completing each workout. If you want, you can repeat a previous workout – but unfortunately there’s no extra booty for doing so.

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When you click on a workout/episode, you get a preview of how long it is and what it will entail.

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The audio for each episode isn’t continuous. The story is told in 1-4 minute segments that alternate with silence. So you have the option of importing a playlist to mix in with the workout (“Play Music” option above). Unfortunately, the app doesn’t pause your playlist during the segments. The playlist continues in the background, and sometimes that is really annoying because it’s hard to hear the story. Also, if I accidentally pick the wrong playlist, there is no way to switch once I start a workout. I have to quit the workout and choose the correct playlist, then restart the workout. So now I don’t play audio through the app. Rather, I operate my music player in the background, and when the Zombies Run! 5K Training  comes on, I pause or lower the volume on my music player.

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You can also track your speed and distance, map your runs, and share them with other people online, but I’m paranoid about that stuff, so I don’t.

The past few days it’s been cold enough outside to freeze the snot in your nose, so I downloaded a bunch of free apps for indoor workouts. The most useful one so far is 7 Minute Workout. It’s straightforward, easy-to-use, and doesn’t require any special equipment. Plus, it’s only seven minutes, so really there’s no excuse not to do it. And once I do one, I’m usually in the mood for another – except for those weird push-up-side-plank things, which are way too advanced for me.

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When you  start to work out, a voice comes on to guide you through each set of exercises. It tells you when to  start, when to take a break, and when to switch to a new exercise.

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There’s a countdown clock  that tells you how long you have left in each exercise.

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If you want to change the length of your workout, you can go to the settings and increase the number of times you repeat a circuit, set a different number of seconds for each exercise, or increase/decrease the break time between exercises.

For mellower workouts, I also downloaded Daily Yoga. The app itself is free; from within it, you can choose among a list of free or paid workouts.

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Workouts with the green or blue square in the lower left corner are free; ones with the orange “Pro” square are only available with a paid subscription.

I did the yoga for runners. The instructions were clear, the New Agey background was annoying (thank goodness there was an option for turning it off), and I felt better afterward. But I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it. I am very much not flexible, so it takes several weeks of doing it before I approach any emotion nearing “enjoyment” toward yoga. That said, I’ll probably keep doing these workouts because tight muscles aren’t that fun to live with, either.

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