The Best Running Apps: How To Find Your Perfect Match

Female Runner Looking At Her Mobile And Smart Watch Heart Rate Monitor

Key Points

  • A running app is a game-changing supplement to your current workout routine.

  • There are many running apps on the market offering impressive features.

  • Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced marathoner, there's a perfect option out there just for you!

  • Start running in 2023 by assessing your physical readiness, gathering appropriate workout gear, and creating a personalized, achievable training plan.

Wanting to swap your Netflix marathon for an actual, on-the-ground one? If so, running apps are a fun, interactive way to get started!

If you're a newcomer to the running community or simply returning from a hiatus, running apps get you where you want to be faster than if you tackle your mission alone. 

What Are Running Apps + What Do They Do?

Designed to optimize your workout, running apps are effective tools that virtually measure and record performance metrics while you run. From distance and pace to calories burned, they provide a reliable way for you to track your progress and provide motivation to pursue growth. 

These “running accessories” easily sync with your smartphone, fitness tracker, or Apple watch and use your device’s GPS sensor to display all of your workout stats. They also encourage you to set achievable goals and offer recommended routes for outdoor runners. 

Pre-programmed and customizable, running routes are often supplemented with audio coaches that push you to conquer some pretty tough yet rewarding challenges. It’s like having a personal trainer and hype man all in one! 

Like an Apple watch or massage gun, running apps are the kind of thing you don’t think you need. However, once you use one of these apps, you won’t be able to run without it. You might even mentally kick yourself for not hopping on the bandwagon sooner!

Man manipulates running watch during workout

Benefits of Running Apps

Running is one of the best exercises for weight loss. Not only does your body burn loads of calories when you run, but it’s also flooded with endorphins both during and after. Who doesn’t want a major boost of happy chemicals to access at any time?

Studies show that running also decreases your risk of death — even if it’s just jogging for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Doing so strengthens your heart muscle and presents a myriad of additional health benefits.

Look forward to the following benefits when you download a running app:

  • Become connected with a supportive community that inspires you to pursue the heck out of your health and fitness ambitions.

  • Receive accountability from your running peers and virtual coaches.

  • Improve your stamina, strength, and running ability.

  • Feel empowered to push your limits with routine challenges offered on the app.

  • Apps offer structure and a goal-oriented focus based on your own needs.

  • Many apps let your loved ones track your live location (all you have to do is specify who under settings), bolstering your safety while running.

  • See the fruits of your hard work both on the screen and on your body which, to be honest, is gloriously gratifying.

You’ll also have a lot more fun while running! The majority of apps transform your running experience into a game. To spice things up, they also offer interactive competitions.

Playful rivalries exist between you and local communities, exclusively online groups, or yourself (beating your PRs). The best part? Every time you win a contest, you get a virtual trophy and a highly coveted title that comes with some serious bragging rights. 

2022's Best Running Apps

Whether you’re a brand new runner, a seasoned professional, or an aspiring marathoner, picking the running app that's right for you is essential. It's also challenging since there are a lot of app options. 

To make your hunt less stressful, consider these factors: the app’s features, cost, accessibility, social community, and target audience. 

Identify your fitness goals and be honest about your situation. Assess what kind of personal technology you own, how much money you’re willing to spend, and the amount of free time you plan to dedicate to running. From there, use the details below to make an informed decision.

Best Running App for Beginners

If you’ve decided to dip your toes in the running pool for the very first time, then “C25K 5K Run Trainer” (Couch to 5K) is the perfect app for you. Hailed by millions of runners and popular media outlets, this user-friendly running app helps you ease into a running routine as well as train for upcoming races or marathons. 

C25K works to gradually build your endurance, mindset, and overall enthusiasm by incorporating a strategic mix of walking and running into the program. To make running a habitual part of your life, the app invites you to jog at least three times a week. It even rewards you for your efforts with the irresistible allure of weekly badges to unlock!

Price: $4.99 per month or a $ 29.99-lifetime access fee

iPhone or Android: Both

Runner adjusts watch while kneeling on an urban running trail

Best Running App for Weight Loss

Are you lacing up to lose weight? If so, “Weight Loss Running” by Slimkit works wonders for your weight loss journey! 

For starters, 86,000 users rated the app an impressive 4.6 out of five stars. Many claimed that when adequately followed, “Weight Loss Running” really does deliver on its “slim down in 28 days” promise. 

This is likely because the app relies heavily on interval training, which kickstarts your metabolism and expedites the fat-burning process. Studies also show that consistent interval training helps you shed between two to five pounds per week! 

Using this app, expect to run three miles a day while being aurally guided by an inspirational coach. You’ll also be granted a variety of nutritious recipes and meal plans to add to your cooking repertoire.

Price: $9.99 per month (or free with in-app purchases)

iPhone or Android: iPhone and other Apple devices only

Best Running App for Apple Watch

For those of you who are lovingly obsessed with your Apple watch, you have to try the “Nike+ Run Club” app! Not only is it the best option out there to pair with your treasured device, but it’s also the best free running app. 

Further, “Nike+ Run Club” has all the cool features: goal-setting, training plans for every fitness level, and in-app challenges for runners who thrive in a competitive atmosphere (plus a leaderboard that makes you feel like you’re playing in a live tournament). It also offers tips for physical recovery, nutritional guidance, and a mental health segment.

It doesn’t stop there. Sync your favorite Spotify playlists to the instructor-led workout, and jam it out while you run it out. 

Bonus feature: Celebrity athletes give you congratulatory cheers after every run. Isn’t that awesome?

Price: Free

iPhone or Android: Both, but only connects to Apple Watch devices 

Viewing Apple fitness metrics on watch and phone

Best Running App for Accuracy

What is the most accurate app for running? This is a tricky question because it depends on the quality and precision of your smartphone’s internal GPS. As long as you set your device to automatically update, then you should be covered in that department.

However, it’s important to note that running apps aren’t responsible for calculating your metrics. Instead, they’re simply gathering the GPS data directly from your phone or smartwatch. 

If you have a reliable GPS sensor, then you’ll get reliable data. Regardless of which running app you choose, your smart device calls the shots. 

Take steps to avoid inaccurate results by selecting flat and open outdoor routes (this prevents sketchy satellite or cellular interference), dodging sharp turns as you jog, and completing longer distance runs. 

Strava: Why Is It So Addictive?

From an outsider’s perspective, it makes sense to wonder why a vast majority of runners are seemingly obsessed with Strava. What makes it so special? Why is Strava so addictive?

The answer is simple: Strava is modeled after social media! It’s like a fitness version of Instagram. When you reflect on the (slightly concerning) influence that social platforms have on society, it becomes quite easy to understand why Strava is no different.

As part of the human race, you possess a deep need — and an even stronger desire — to share the highlights of your life with the world. It’s not a bad thing; you simply want to make others a part of your happiest moments. 

Receiving a “like” on Instagram is the same as getting a “kudos” on Strava. When your phone pings in response to one of these virtual acknowledgment notifications, you’re immediately blasted with a dopamine hit that feels like a burst of intense happiness! 

Further, Strava is addictive for three main reasons:

  1. Strava allows runners to flatter themselves (humans desire status, recognition, and affirmation from people they respect).

  2. Strava lets users control certain elements within the app that make them appear more successful to their online friends (altering what groups they compete in for a better shot at winning titles and only posting their “best” runs).

  3. Strava encourages constant self-improvement, which fosters compulsive usage over time.

Strava app icon on phone home screen

Strava Disadvantages

While the glorified app has a wide range of advantages, here are some disadvantages to examine:

  • There are addictive elements — like the amount of rage you feel toward your rival, who is someone on your phone screen you've never met. These feelings negatively infiltrate health and relationships if not kept in check.

  • It's too competitive for some runners and very intimidating for beginners. 

  • Premium membership is required to access most of the cool features that make the app worth having.

  • Due to its social media nature, many runners only post their “highlight reels” on Strava. Not seeing the whole story (bad days, failures, and weaknesses) discourage users, causing them to fall into a destructive comparison trap. 

  • Safety concerns: After a user shares a run on their profile, the map route utilized is displayed for all to see. From there it’s easy to pinpoint someone’s home address — even after a user updates their privacy settings.

Strava Versus Runkeeper

Which app is better: Strava or Runkeeper? It's a close call that ultimately depends on your personality and preferences. According to a multitude of everyday runners, Strava and Runkeeper have been neck and neck for a while.  

Both apps document your health and performance data, provide insights into your growth, and help you form a consistent schedule. What you value most in your running journey is the ultimate determinant.

If you’re seeking a strong social element, creative adventures, healthy competition, and the ability to choose an outdoor path instantly from your mobile device, then Strava is your best bet. However, users have complained about billing issues with customer support, so be mindful of the subscription terms and adjust them in your settings.

Want to focus more on your training, ambitions, and progress and don’t care about the social aspect of running? Runkeeper is for you! Beware that you have to create a running path on the website rather than immediately selecting one from your phone. Runners also reported glitches with the GPS function on Runkeeper (if accurate data is a dealbreaker for you, Strava is a better option). 

Runner ties their shoes, wearing running watch

The best running app overall, however, and Reddit's top pick is Runkeeper. With a comprehensive set of features and a much more winsome appeal to users, this app has everything you could need. 

Runkeeper is a runner’s favorite because it lets you integrate both Spotify and Apple Music playlists while you exercise and design your training plan. It also offers both in-person and virtual running groups; it also hosts gamified competitions to bring out your ambitious side.

On top of these praiseworthy elements, Runkeeper has a built-in weather feature and gives regular reminders to keep you accountable. It provides a monthly display of your running distance, average pace, calories burned, and more!

The Runkeeper app is suitable for all levels and pairs with the Apple watch. Do you recall how annoying and bothersome it feels having to hold your phone while you run? Well, no more of that! “Runkeeper” lets you leave your phone at home and still listen to all the songs that set your soul — and your legs– on fire.

In short, Strava is curated for influencers and Runkeeper satisfies introverts who prefer to privately pursue their fitness goals. If you’re still on the fence, runners suggest trying out both to aid your final decision. 

Strava Versus Nike Run Club

Is Strava better than Nike+ Run Club? Again, that’s contingent upon the criteria you deem most valuable. 

Nike+ Run Club is sleek and simple, great for beginners, and free. Most people aren’t fans of those sneaky, “gotcha at the last moment” fees and purchases. Thankfully, you won’t find them anywhere on this app. 

One negative for the Nike app is that it only pairs with Apple watches and tech support is still working through some kinks in the glitch arena. 

On the flip side, Strava is more advanced, highly competitive, and charges a monthly subscription fee. The app is compatible with most smartphones and watches, which makes it the better choice for runners who don’t have an Apple watch.

Man running down a desert road

How Do You Start Running in 2023?

Janet Hamilton, a running coach and exercise physiologist, advises newcomers to “start where you are, not where you think you should be.” 

Before taking your first stride, assess your physical readiness and consult with a medical professional if necessary. From there, purchase supportive running shoes and comfortable workout clothes

Next, download a running app that best suits your needs and intentions. This step motivates you to begin and allows you to create a training plan that provides safe running routes to follow. 

To make each run enjoyable and successful, curate a playlist that gets your adrenaline pumping, or tune into a podcast to shift your attention from the struggle and toward thoughtful reflection. 

Throughout your journey, it’s important to be consistent, practice good posture, enlist a quality support system, and occasionally reward yourself. You should also eat healthy food, hydrate with water and electrolytes, give yourself grace, and rest when you need to (you know your body, so listen to its cues above anyone else’s). 

Set realistic goals, start slow, strive for gradual improvement, and don’t forget to breathe. Most importantly, always stretch your limbs before and after a run to prevent injury.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Run!

Achieving a “runner’s high” isn’t as hard as you might think. All you need is a little discipline and a trusty running app to get you there! 

No matter which app you decide to go with, you’ll encounter a breathtaking endorphin rush every time you lace up. For many, that alone makes the struggle worthwhile. 

The hardest part is showing up, but once you do, the rewards arrive in beautiful waves of strength, self-discovery, and a revived passion for life.

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