There are all kinds of runners. You’ve got the professional athletes, of course, but also the people who run their socks ragged when they head out to “clear their head,” people who run marathons just so they can wrap themselves up like a Chipotle burrito when they’re done, and folks who haven’t laced up their shoes yet but wonder what it’s like to run a 5K, or heck, a mile. And in these days of ubiquitous fitness tech, any of these runners may wonder: what’s the best running app to track the miles you log?
To find out, we spoke with a running coach and American Council of Exercise (ACE)-certified personal trainer extraordinaire and ran more than 20 miles to test five different apps. Runkeeper is our top pick for its all-around usefulness, easy customization, and pre-programmed runs. But it’s not the only one worth loading on your phone.
Here’s the TL;DR on how the best running fitness apps stacked up:
- Runkeeper (Top Pick)
- MapMyRun (Best for Beginners)
- Strava (Best for Social Sharing)
- Nike Run Club (Best for Audio Coaching)
Are Running Apps Worth It?
A running app is software that, at the very least, tracks your distance and time spent running. Of course, you can go on a run wherever you want, whenever you want, and nothing bad will happen if you don’t hit the “record” button. But running apps “can be pretty useful,” says Nicole Thompson, M.A., an ACE-certified personal trainer and running coach of ten years.
The best running apps offer all kinds of neat tricks that can keep people motivated, like social sharing, gamification, and the ability to see a history of how you’ve progressed over time. Some even claim to track nuances like how you slept, how much you ate, and how hydrated you were during your run.
But because running apps aren’t sentient beings (yet), they’re not able to take your personal history and ability into account the way a coach can, Thompson says. The app’s more generalized approach could miss previous or current injury, medical conditions, and how your body is responding to training. When people are running on their own, or following the guidance of an app, it can be easy for people to increase their mileage too quickly and end up injured. (For context, runners should aim to increase weekly volume, in time or distance, by no more than 10% a week.)
One key piece of advice from Thompson: Don’t run through pain (even if your app says you’re supposed to hit a new milestone that day). She describes this kind of pain as a sharp or stabbing sensation, not general soreness that appears a few days after a workout. It may also be a good idea to incorporate occasional non-tracked or measured runs into your routine, which can help you prevent feeling like you’re bound to your robot overlord-slash-run tracker.
What Are The Benefits of Using Running Apps?
As far as the science of fitness apps, they seem to British Journal of Sports Medicine “Do smartphone applications and activity trackers increase physical activity in adults? Systematic review, meta-analysis and metaregression ” View Source , according to one meta-analysis. This is great, because exercise is good for you. Still, another smaller study found that some people might be primarily motivated by Information Technology & People “How the social dimension of fitness apps can enhance and undermine wellbeing: A dual model of passion perspective” View Source , rather than passion for the activity itself, which may not be as sustainable. Other experts note that running apps seem to encourage people to tie their self-worth to their running accomplishments, a recipe for heartache. In short: Running apps can be fun, but don’t let your running stats override your mental and physical health.
Running Apps We Love
- Free or $9.99 per month for premium
- Available on iOS and Android
- All basic tracking necessities available for free
- Free audio guided runs
- Quick and intuitive to use
- Training plans only available for premium members
Runkeeper easily took our “best overall” category. It’s the simplest to use and has the most functionality for its free features. These include robust tracking of time, distance, pace, elevation gain, as well as the ability to customize running type—for example, distance or time intervals, slow run, or tempo (steady) run—before you head out. It has some pre-built custom workouts, too, such as run/walk/run intervals. I downloaded it to my iPhone, and it prompted me to log in using Facebook, Apple, Google, or email. Then I was off to the races.
One key feature of any running app is how it displays your running history. If you’re training for a race—or even just measuring your progress over time—you’ll want an accurate measure of how many miles you’ve churned out in the last week and month. Most runners measure their training load by miles per week, though cumulative duration (or time) is also a useful metric.
Runkeeper doesn’t have the most intuitive history page I’ve seen. Still, it gets the job done by laying out activities and distance for this week/last week, this month/last month, and for the year. You can also view an activity feed that highlights each run you’ve gone on individually and dig into more exact stats about pace, splits (your pace for each mile or section of the run), how a run compares to another run, and calories burned. As with all running apps, the calorie burn part should be taken as an estimate and nothing more—these reports are often inaccurate, even on Stanford Medicine News Center “Fitness trackers accurately measure heart rate but not calories burned” View Source .
Runkeeper offers two plans: Its free version, which offers all of the in-depth tracking discussed above, and its paid version, Runkeeper Go ($9.99 a month) which offers live tracking (so family and friends can see where you are while you’re running) and comparisons to previous workouts, in addition to a 5K training plan. I tried Runkeeper go’s 5K plan, which starts off with three runs a week (around 25 minutes each) and audio coaching from one of the program’s coaches, which is a nice feature. Runkeeper Go also offers customized plans based on your running needs—say, if you’re just running for exercise rather than amping up to a certain mile or speed number.
In short, Runkeeper did everything I needed for basic runs. But it was also set up to grow with me if I wanted to do more tailored workouts, like speed or tempo runs. It felt like a solid runner’s companion, with the most focus on the stuff that mattered and less on the bells and whistles that don’t. It was easy to listen to both podcasts and music while running, and Runkeeper is compatible with Apple Watch (for iPhone users only), Garmin, Fitbit, and TomTom MySports.
Best for Beginners
- Free or $5.99 per month for premium
- Available on iOS and Android
- Easy interface
- Active social community
- Tailored running programs
- Overly focused on calorie burn
- Long audio recaps of runs
MapMyRun has a super easy interface, an active social community, and one of the best training programs I tested. Overall, it’s a solid method to introduce yourself to running. On the downside, it uses calorie burn as its main motivating factor by making it the foremost stat during runs. This is a huge drawback in my eyes—in addition to the fact that these numbers probably aren’t accurate, focusing too much on calories can just be exhausting.
The app offers the ability to do different types of workouts, like intervals, sprints, trail runs, etc. You can customize audio prompts to notify you of time intervals, heart rate zones, pace, speed, distance, duration, or calories burned. Workouts live in several places, including a social-type feed and a training dashboard. The free version of MapMyRun provides all the basic details like time run, distance, pace, elevation gain, calories burned, splits, average cadence, and even aggregates weather details for your area.
The MVP plan ($5.99 a month) has cool upgrades, like live tracking so people can follow you in real time and extra details on your performance. But its best feature, in my experience, is its tailored training programs. For example, the 5K program asked if I was training for distance or pace. That’s a great question, because someone learning to run 3.1 miles for the first time (or the first time in a long time) will likely be worried about covering the distance, not how fast it happens.
The app also asked how many miles I ran per week and had me choose a run I’d logged to represent an average pace for me. Even after all that, it still offered me two options: a super easy plan, and a moderately easy plan. I chose the easiest beginner option, and it started me off with a 37-minute walk. The only drawback is that it only offers audio prompts that say your time and distance, not audio coaching like some of the others on this list, so there’s no words of encouragement as you move.
Another perk of this app is its active and easy-to-access community. It features a feed-style community where you can look at public posts from strangers, toggle to just see people you’re “friends” with, or just your own feed.
That said, more than other apps, MapMyRun seems geared toward weight loss and dieting. The default running display exclusively lists how many calories you’ve burned—not pace or distance, which you have to swipe to see. You can customize this out in the app’s settings, but calories are a pretty useless metric during a run, so I was perplexed about why the app focuses on it by default. (And a little less perplexed when I realized that one of the first training plan options is a “lose weight” running program.) This focus on calories and weight loss could be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your goals and history, but it was a bummer for me.
Lastly, it has automated audio prompts that play during runs, which I found to be long-winded. By default, the prompts announce how long you’ve been running, how far you’ve gone, and your splits. This is way too much info when I’m just trying to jam to Beyoncé, but this can be changed in the settings, too. MapMyRun is compatible with Samsung Health, Apple Watch, FitBit, Garmin, Suunto, Misfit, and Withings.
Best for Social Sharing
- Free or $7.99 per month
- Available on iOS and Android
- Track other sports along with running
- Solid social sharing
- No real training plans
- Historical data could be better displayed
The best feature of Strava is its social element. It is the best running app to download if you have active (and/or artsy) friend, and want to see their adventures or cheer them on as they crush their training. Giving your friend “kudos” is the Strava equivalent of giving your friend’s post a “like,” and you can upload photos and comment on posts. It’s also a nice catch-all for activities if you use other apps or a smartwatch, as many of them can send data to Strava automatically. It was easy to set up using Facebook, Google, Apple, or email.
Strava’s free version is totally adequate for sharing with friends and logging your runs, but its premium version has benefits like seeing how you stack up against other runners on the same course, live tracking, and the ability to create routes for your run. Strava’s default homepage isn’t your stats or a “start workout” page, but a feed where you can see the activities your friends have been up to. It’s best known among outdoorsy folks, particularly runners, hikers, and cyclists. It can also track sports like swimming, skiing, and even weight lifting, with varying degrees of usefulness (the weight lifting, for example, is essentially a timer for how long you spent in the gym with no other details.)
If you use the app for more than one activity, be careful to make sure you have the right one selected. I was toggling through different activities while testing and accidentally left it on “weight lifting” before a run, and only realized a mile in that I was in the wrong mode. Once you’ve started recording in one activity, you can’t switch it to another—so that portion of the run (where I’m sure I was flyyyying) was lost to me.
Competitive folks can compete on a leaderboard for route “segments”—like the fastest up a steep hill in the neighborhood, or the person who’s run that hill the most times. This isn’t the kind of app where you can create workouts for interval prompts or other custom runs. With the premium version ($7.99 a month) you can, however, look at your own saved routes and other popular routes in your area.
You can add other kinds of goals for yourself, like the number of sports you want to play and time goals you want to hit. But Strava doesn’t really offer training plans. Or I guess I should say: In theory, training plans exist on Strava’s website, and they are half-integrated into the app. But I didn’t find them easy to access or use. Other users have said they found the plans inflexible, too, considering how much data Strava probably has about your performance.
My favorite way to use Strava in the past has been sending data to the app from my smartwatch or another more activity-specific app so I could share it with my friends. Strava is directly compatible with Apple Watch, Android Wear, Motorola 360, and Samsung Gear. The phone-based software for many more watches can transfer their data—like Garmin, Casio, and Fitbit. There’s a full list here. MapMyRun and Runkeeper can also send data to Strava.
Best for Audio Coaching
Nike Run Club
- Available on iOS and Android
- Engaging audio coaching
- Everything is free
- Minimal ability to customize runs
- Activity feed history is difficult to navigate
Confession: I’ve used Nike Run Club extensively in the past and loved it, so it was nice to return to a old friend. The app’s best feature, in my opinion, is its cheerful and mindful coaches who coach you through audio guides. These come in many styles, from 15-to-30 minute runs, “I Don’t Wanna Run” runs, to collaborations with the meditation app Headspace for mindful runs. There’s an audio guide for nearly every kind of running flavor. Everything on the app is free, too, so you never have to worry that you’re missing out on premium features.
I signed up for the “Beginner” training plan, a four-week plan with two runs a week (and one short bonus run if you feel like it) which starts you off with 20-minute runs. On the one hand, the plan doesn’t seem to endorse walk breaks (which can be crucial for beginners); on the other hand, the audio coach encourages you to run “easy” and fully explains what that means. This is useful guidance for beginners and even regular runners who tend to make the mistake of trying run faster every time they step out their door.
When you’re doing your own, non-guided run, it’s not especially customizable. You can set a distance, time, or speed goal for a run, but you can’t plot out intervals. There’s a less-than-intuitive activity page where you can view your most recent runs on a graph and as a feed. Basic stats are available (distance, pace, total time) and you can click into a specific run for more, like elevation gain, calories, and cadence. In general, Nike Run Club seems more interested in showcasing your “achievements” than stats on this page, which are mini trophies for different things like running a certain distance on a weekend. (“Just Do it, Sunday 1k” was one I got.)
You can connect with other runners on the app. However, this feature isn’t integrated well. I only saw had one contact on the app, even though I know of others who use it.
Another quirk is that the app pauses if you stop moving. It seems to be based on the physical movement of your phone rather than GPS—so if you’re jogging in place, it still counts your effort. Whether that’s good or not is runner’s preference—it’d mess with your mile pace if you jog in place at a stoplight, for example, because you wouldn’t be moving forward. You can change this in settings, but be aware that this is the default.
Spotify and podcasts work fine with the app, although it’s a little difficult to use during an audio-guided run with a coach chiming in on and off. Nike Run Club is compatible with Apple Watch, Garmin, TomTom, Wahoo, and Polar.
Running Apps You Can Skip
- Free or $9.99 a month
- Available on iOS and Android
- App is simple to figure
- Based on great running program
- App feels dated
- Intense ads
- Not worth the price to upgrade
The C25K (or “couch to 5K”) app is what got me into running in the first place, so I was excited to return to it. But I’m not sure if it changed, or I did. The free version of the app, which offers basic tracking as you complete the full 5K training program, felt packed with advertisements. So I was happy to upgrade for $9.99 per month, which removes ads. It also supposedly provides access to a music library “scientifically proven to increase motivation.”
But the music? Never worked. I tried it on three different runs and it would never play. Overall, the app felt clunky, and the free version provided an ungenerously limited amount of data (distance and calories only.) Personally, I would try to find another 5K training program on another app. But if you’re just after the titular Couch to 5K functionality, this app technically fulfills that need.
How We Got Here
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I’m Colleen Stinchcombe. In addition to being a freelance writer and editor for places like SELF and Health.com, I’ve run a 5K, trained for several half marathons, and last year built up to 22-mile trail runs in the Washington mountains. I know what it’s like to be a beginner runner, and I also know what data was useful when I used a training program.
Our Testing Process
I tested five running apps for three runs each, totaling over 20 miles. I used both the free and premium version of apps and tried out their quick-record functionality as well as training plans, how well they played with podcast and music apps, how they displayed metrics, and whether they could still perform in airplane mode. Throughout it all, I performed a general “vibe check:” Did I like using the app? Did it have annoying ads? Did it make want to keep running?
For more on how we found the best running apps, read the tests notes here.
The Buying Guide Section
Who should download a running app?
In-person coaching is the gold standard for runners of all levels—especially new runners. A one-size-fits all training plan may not work for everyone, even if it purports to be gentle. But personalized coaching isn’t accessible for most of us. With that in mind, anyone who wants guidance on getting started, motivation to keep going, a basic training plan to accomplish a goal, or a way to track or celebrate accomplishments could benefit from a running app.
Which features matter most when downloading a running app?
- Easy-to-use, no-fuss tracking of each run: No one wants to toggle with their phone to check their pace or mileage while they run—besides being annoying, it could be dangerous. We tested for easily-accessible metrics during runs, and looked into whether or not the app offered more detailed stats after the run.
- Compatibility with smartwatches: If you have a Garmin, Apple Watch, Fitbit, or something of the sort, you likely want the “credit” for each run to show up on both platforms. A good app will make the integration seamless.
- Training plans that adjust based on your actual miles, pace, and experience: Personalization—or something that feels like it—is key. A great running app will not only offer the ability to start a training plan for certain goals, it should be able to take your current running ability, goals, and desired timeline (within reason) into account.
- A social interface or ability to send workouts to other social platforms: Some people want to keep their runs to themselves. Others think the world—or, at the very least, their closest 5-to-5,000 friends—should know what happened on it. If you count yourself among the latter group, you’ll want an app that allows you to create a community around your jogs, whether you’re physically running together or not.
- Nicole Thompson, ACE-certified personal trainer, interviewed 12/2/2021
- Fitness apps can effectively increase movement: Do smartphone applications and activity trackers increase physical activity in adults? Systematic review, meta-analysis and metaregression (British Journal of Sports Medicine, December 2020)
- Fitness apps may reduce passion for healthy movement: How the social dimension of fitness apps can enhance and undermine wellbeing: A dual model of passion perspective (Information Technology & People, January 2020)
- Calorie burn reports aren’t accurate, even on fitness trackers: Fitness trackers accurately measure heart rate but not calories burned (Stanford Medicine News Center, May 2017)