App

These apps will get you fighting fit, but in a way that will entertain rather than demoralize

Summer’s on its way, but – horrors! – you suddenly realize you’ve spent the winter months eating huge handfuls of snack foods. It’s time to tone up and get fit, and your iPhone’s on hand to help!

The only snag is, most exercise apps are all a bit, well, po-faced, aren’t they? They seem to delight in showing you toned bodies, and clinical screens full of data. You methodically trudge along and get nothing but boring graphs back. The inference is you might – months from now – feel the benefit.

In a word: blarg.

But wait! Before you give up and bury your head in a vat of ice cream, some developers have cottoned on to the notion that exercise can be fun and friendly. Their apps are at the more accessible end of the spectrum, and are ideal if you’ll only go on on a run if being pursued by hordes of ravenous zombies, will only walk when hunting tiny cartoon creatures, and only exercise if you can level up or are being threatened by a malevolent (and extremely snarky) artificial intelligence.

Zombies, Run!

Free + IAP • v5.1.2 • 279 MB • By Six to Start

You might not know it, jogging about your usual town, but it turns out the entire world has been taken over by the undead. Eek! Well, almost the entire world – in Zombies, Run!, you get to become part of the resistance.

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The basic premise is that by using the power of your legs, you can go on vital supply runs and keep what’s left of humanity ticking along. Hear something nearby going HHRRZNNGSZZ EATTTTLZZZ BRAINZZZZ? Probably a good idea to step up the pace, before you get torn to shreds.

For free, you can delve into this entertainingly terrifying mash-up of exercise and post-apocalyptic nightmare, gradually unlocking new stories on a weekly basis. Can’t wait for the next episode? Grab a pro membership, gradually build your own in-game community, and rapidly realize why the survivors in The Walking Dead can run for miles without a second thought.

Download Zombies, Run!

Fit for Battle

Free + IAP • v1.11 • 405 MB • By Dream Well Pty Ltd

If shuffling skeletal ex-people wanting to eat your brains doesn’t do it for you from a storytelling standpoint, Fit for Battle might be more your thing. Through cohorts Keg the dwarf and Shia the elf, you sprint your way through a fantasy world.

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You start with an amusingly under-equipped character, dressed in sackcloth pants, flip-flops on his feet. His weapons: a spoon and a miffed cat tied to his arm. But work your way through in-game adventures and calories you burn are converted to gold, enabling you to level up.

Performance within runs affects outcomes. Sometimes, you’ll have to sprint to succeed, urged on by a rousing soundtrack and characters telling you to speed up. This variation in pace perhaps makes Fit for Battle best suited to running on relatively flat terrain with few interruptions. You probably don’t want to get duffed up while frustratingly stuck at a red light on a crossing.

For free, you can play through the first quest; a second is available via IAP for $0.99/99p.

Download Fit for Battle

Runtastic

Free + IAP • v7.1.7 • 154 MB • By runtastic

At its core, Runtastic is a conventional running app, much like Runkeeper. Both are impressive, but very much of the stats/maps group mentioned in this article’s intro. Runtastic, though, edges cautiously towards the territory occupied by the previous two entries in this list by way of Story Running.

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At the time of writing, 17 separate stories exist, each priced $0.99/99p, bar a single free entry, based on EA’s Mirror’s Edge games. (If you take out a premium subscription, the runs are all included.) Gamification within runs again primarily comes from shifting pace when under pressure, but Runtastic offers a fairly wide range of genres. In The Tetradome, you’re running for your life before the eyes of bloodthirsty spectators, but The City is our Gym is a rather less terrifying journey through the streets of New York City.

Download Runtastic

Spotify

Free + subscription • v8.3.0 • 129 MB • By Spotify Ltd.

You might wonder what Spotify’s doing in this list, given that it’s a subscription service for accessing something like 30 million music tracks. But tap on the Browse tab and scroll down a bit and you’ll find Spotify Running.

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The thinking behind the service is that rather than you having to run to the demands of your music’s tempo, the music attempts to adapt to you. So if you’re a keen veteran with some serious pace, Spotify will provide up-tempo tracks to keep your pace up. More of a beginner? Spotify will dial things down a bit – although only to 140bpm, which appears to be its minimum. (There’s no option for ‘doom’ music to match a trudge around a park.)

In testing, we found Spotify sometimes had problems figuring out the tempo we were running at. However, there are also manual controls and pre-defined playlists designed for specific kinds of runs. And if you want stats and data when your run’s done, Spotify optionally integrates with Runkeeper.

Download Spotify

Run An Empire

Free • v1.12 • 49.8 MB • By Location Games Limited

The majority of ‘gamified’ running apps are essentially semi-interactive audiobooks, but Run An Empire tries something different. It records where you run, and translates that to territory claims on a virtual map. In other words, it’s a simplified land-grab game superimposed on a real-world map, with your success driven entirely by your physical efforts.

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The way in which the game works is clever for a number of reasons. First, it potentially rewards people who walk as well as run, given that the app only cares where you go, not how fast. Secondly, it also encourages you to strategize and try new places to run, if you want to carve out the largest possible slices of territory.

The downside right now is that it’s limited to the UK and New Zealand, and also has relatively few users compared to industry giants. Still, get some local friends suitably addicted, and Run An Empire can quickly turn into a compelling and entertaining battle that also happens to help you get fitter.

Download Run An Empire

Pokémon GO

Free + IAP • v1.31.0 • 289 MB • By Niantic, Inc.

You might be thinking: hang on, this is an actual game, right? And, yes, you are absolutely correct. Pokémon GO isn’t so much an exercise app with a smattering of game as the reverse. However, given that the entire thing is geolocation-based, it’s entirely suitable for this round-up.

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The game tasks you with exploring local streets, hunting down elusive Pokémon. When you find one, you lob a Poké Ball its way to capture it. Different environments may contain different virtual prey, and the game adds further nuance by way of hatching eggs based on distance travelled, and capturing local landmarks that it turns out are Pokémon Gyms in the videogame world.

Although Pokémon GO’s star has faded somewhat since the highs it enjoyed shortly after release, it’s bound to become popular again as the summer arrives. And of the titles in this list, it’s perhaps the most social and family-friendly, even if it does mean walks around local beauty spots might have people glued more to their screens than the local scenery.

Download Pokémon GO

Streaks Workout

$2.99/£2.99 • v2.0.3 • 41.5 MB • By Crunchy Bagel

If your idea of exercise is that it’s all perfectly good when it stays inside and is confined to a short space of time, Streaks Workout is an essential download. It’s more conventional in nature than the bulk of entries in this list, but its friendly nature makes it an ideal exercise companion for pretty much anyone.

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The app contains a number of basic exercises you can select from. Don’t fancy rocking the floor with jumping jacks and squat jumps? Turn those off. Lacking space? Get rid of the exercises that have you lie on the floor.

When you’re done, you can choose from workouts ranging from six to 30 minutes in length, during which the app randomly chooses from your exercise selection. On finishing, your efforts are recorded in the app’s calendar, and you get a score to outline your recent and best streaks, along with how often you’ve exercised over the past seven and 30 days. This simple level of gamification and lack of data overload makes for an encouraging kind of app you’ll stick with for the long term.

Download Streaks Workout

Carrot Fit

$3.99/£3.99 • v4.0 • 31.5 MB • By Grailr LLC

Our final choice is almost the evil twin of Streaks Workout. Carrot Fit is based around the 7-Minute Workout philosophy, but merrily updates this to 7-Minutes in Hell Workout, by handing everything over to a malevolent AI. This dispassionate intelligence sits at the heart of all Carrot apps and keeps claiming it will take over the world, but mostly seems to want people to suffer.

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In Carrot Fit, that means loops of 30 seconds of exercise followed by ten seconds of rest, “in case you need to hydrate, catch your breath, or vomit into a bucket”. The app’s snark comes thick and fast throughout, from its amusing illustrations of the exercises you’re supposed to be performing, to their very descriptions.

In Kowtows to Cthulhu, you must return an inter-dimensional being to slumber by showing respect in a manner “suspiciously similar to a human push-up”. And in the Dragon Mating Dance, you perform push-ups and then raise one arm high up, which is apparently a “flamboyant move that shows your impressive wing span”. The weirdness may pall eventually, but in the short term, Carrot’s a silly, entertaining way to work up a sweat.

Just make sure no amorous dragons are nearby before you begin.

Download Carrot Fit