Sack Off The Gym With Our Top 5 Free Fitness Apps

I have a confession to make: I can’t work gyms. I’ve tried - more than once. The first time, I pressed lots of buttons on lots of different treadmills. Yes, including the ones marked ‘ON’. Nothing happened. Eventually, gathering up the tattered shreds of my dignity, I ran - right out the door. 

A few years later, the boyfriend deposited me on another treadmill to wait out his weights session (I have a feeling he may have turned it on for me). All was going swimmingly - until a well meaning trainer pointed out that my ‘unusual’ technique (the result of years spent running around on tiptoe in order to save my beloved heels from wearing out) probably wasn’t doing me any favours. Hmph.

That was the last time I stepped on a treadmill. But, severals buckets of sweat later (no blood or tears, promise) and I’ve managed to get me a four-pack (it’s a work in progress, OK) - without leaving the comfort of my own bedroom. 

Fancy joining me? Say hello to the best free workout apps around. Whether you’re a hide-at-homer, frequent flyer or reluctant runner, there’s (at least) one with your name on it. And if you do have to fiddle around with the buttons a bit, just remember - at least no one’s watching.

Best for Beginners: Official 7 Minute Workout by Johnson & Johnson

This app will hold your hand whilst introducing you to that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) business everyone seems to have been spouting off about for the last few years. If you’re a newbie to exercise, do this every day and you can look forward to a speedier metabolism and improved cardiovascular health.

Why do you need it? 

  • It’s speedy, simple and effective
  • It requires very little space, making it great for travellers
  • Clear, helpful video and audio guidance on form and technique
  • You can 'like’ and 'dislike’ exercises to make them more or less likely to show up in your future workouts

What’s the catch?

  • If you’re more experienced, this is going to feel more like a warm-up than a workout. And, whilst it is possible to customise a more advanced workout to your fitness level, I’m afraid it’s going to take you longer than 7 minutes… 
  • If you opt to play music from your iTunes library whilst the app is running, the volume fluctuations tend to get a teensy bit annoying
  • Warm-ups and cool-downs add valuable extra minutes

Available on: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Android

Equipment Required: A chair

Best for the More Experienced: Workout Trainer by Skimble

Skimble’s Workout Trainer app offers an impressive array of workouts, many of which are free. Tabata and yoga feature alongside more traditional cardio and weights-based routines. If you’re short on time and space, but fancy a bit more of a challenge than Johnson & Johnson’s 7 Minute Workout, you’ll find one to suit you. You can even take it to the gym, should you find yourself so inclined.

Why do you need it?

  • You can filter your workout search by time (5-60 minutes), target areas, equipment and difficulty level
  • Hit 'easier’ or 'harder’ to reduce or bump up your reps
  • You can download workouts for offline use

What’s the catch?

  • Not all of the workouts are free, and if you want to follow a program over a number of weeks, you’ll have to pay
  • Robotic audio and jerky visuals can grate

Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android

Equipment Required: Filter your search by none, home gym or gym

Best for a Personal Trainer Experience: FitStar

Your FitStar journey begins with a 6 minute fitness test. Once you’ve had your core, arm and shoulder, leg, back and chest strength and cardiovascular capacity assessed, you’ll be automatically assigned a series of 15-20 minute workouts to match your current fitness levels.

Why do you need it?

  • It eliminates the guesswork as to whether a workout will be appropriate to your personal fitness level
  • Clear progression pathway helps keep up motivation
  • Good guidance on form and technique

What’s the catch?

  • Once assigned, there’s little opportunity to customise your ‘plan’
  • The free plan limits you to two workouts per week

Available on: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android

Equipment Required: None

Best for Reluctant Runners: Zombies, Run!

As I see it, there are only two good reasons for running outside: (1) You need to catch a bus, or (2) You are being chased by zombies. This is why the only instance in which I have run more than 100m in one go over the past decade was occasioned by a Halloween fun run. If you feel me, then you need this app in your life. Part podcast serial, part immersive apocalypse game, it will have you completing life-saving missions and, yes, sprinting away from those pesky zombies, whilst burning away those pesky calories.

Why do you need it?

  • You’ll be so desperate to find out what happens next, you’ll want to run every day

What’s the catch?

  • If you want to run with the zombies more than once a week, you’ll have to pay

Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android

Equipment Required: None

Best All-Rounder: POPSUGAR Active

This unassuming little app packs in more than 250 free 5-30 minute videos, ranging from Beyonce-inspired dance workouts to headache-relieving yoga sequences, via Booty Barre, ‘80s-style aerobics and capoeira. Trust me - boredom is not an option.

Why do you need it?

  • New workouts are added weekly
  • You can download the videos for offline use
  • Customise your own routines by creating video playlists
  • Take part in challenges, from the 21-Day Flat-Belly Challenge to the Get Fit 2015 Challenge
  • If you really must go to the gym, it’ll also help you out on the elliptical trainer
  • Unbelievably, there are absolutely no hidden charges!

What’s the catch?

  • You can’t filter searches by difficulty level, workout time or equipment needed

Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android

Equipment Required: A set of dumbbells will come in handy, but there are plenty of bodyweight-only options, too

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