These apps put a personal trainer in your pocket

It was an Instagram post that did it. A friend posted a picture of herself with damp hair plastered to her forehead, flushed cheeks and a triumphant smile. "I've escaped the zombies!" she wrote. No, my friend hadn't inadvertently wandered into a dystopian nightmare, but had downloaded Zombies, Run! – an immersive fitness app where you get fit and have fun running away from (needless to say, imaginary) zombies.

With one million players, the app is part of a growing trend of people turning to their phones, rather than personal trainers, to get fit. In 2018, more than four million Australians used fitness and nutrition apps.

App “features are appealing as they can lead to some measurable results, giving you little wins along your fitness journey and more confidence to keep going.”Credit:Stocksy

Research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2015 suggests that such apps may increase levels of physical activity and health outcomes by making it easier for users to overcome barriers to exercise.

"The main attraction is that fitness apps make exercise accessible and measurable," says osteopath Dr Sami Karam. "Many exercise apps come with preloaded regimens that people can do at home. They can track things like heart rate, steps and kilojoules burned. All of these features are appealing as they can lead to some measurable results, giving you little wins along your fitness journey and more confidence to keep going."

While apps can help kick-start a healthier lifestyle, one of the most common reasons for failing to achieve fitness goals is because their programs don't address the user's specific needs. "Doing generic training can lead to injury or aggravation of old injuries," says Karam. "Ideally, you want to find qualified fitness professionals who use fitness apps to track your progress."

As I clicked "like" on my friend's post, it got me thinking. While the idea of being chased by the undead is enough in itself to raise my heart rate, I wondered what other apps might get me exercising regularly.

Couch to 5K

I was encouraged by the claim that this app could get just about anyone from the couch to running five kilometres, or for 30 minutes, in nine weeks. I liked that it only took a commitment of half an hour three times a week. At the start, running for 30 minutes without stopping seemed like an impossible task, but each week built on the one before, and by week nine I managed to run (albeit slowly) for a full half-hour.


Without music or an encouraging voice in your ear, exercise can be hard work. That's where Aaptiv comes in. Once you set your fitness goal and fitness level, you can choose from 3000 classes in categories such as outdoor running, strength training, stretching, yoga or stair climbing. I loved picking my preferred trainer and running along to their choice of tunes.


Leaner. Fitter. Stronger. That's the promise behind Sworkit, an app that specialises in short and sharp workouts where you choose your goal and receive a six-week program with weekly targets. From five-minute abs to a full-body workout, the difficulty, impact and intensity of exercises can be customised – but be warned, the "rump roaster" workout does exactly what it says.

Starting Strength by Shabu

If you're someone who lugs a pen and piece of paper around with you to record your reps at the gym, you'll love this app. Starting Strength is based on powerlifter and coach Mark Rippetoe's popular book, which helps build strength through core barbell exercises. The app is simple to use with easy to understand instructions and diagrams.


Using Keelo is fast and furious. Set aside 20 minutes three times a week for bodyweight workouts or workouts with equipment that will see you doing jumping jacks, squats and push-ups. It's a high-intensity app, best for busy people who don't mind a little pain with their gain.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale March 3.

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