Get out of an exercise slump with these fun apps that help you stay motivated.

Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
December 29, 2020
woman using fitness tracker
Credit: Getty Images/Westend61

I’m probably not alone in saying that it was tough to find motivation for a lot of things this year, including regular exercise. With gyms, yoga studios and more being closed, there was the additional challenge of finding ways to work out with what you have at home. Activities like running, biking and walking were some of the only things left on the table. As a former college endurance athlete, it was hard for me to get back into the sports I used to compete in without a specific goal or challenge. All of that changed when I started using the app Strava. I could share my activities with friends, see what they were doing and even sign up for challenges for inspiration. Basically, now I can’t wait for my workouts. 

My experience is not an anomaly: There is scientific evidence that using a fitness tracker and sharing fitness data can have some health benefits. A recent study out of Drexel University took a look at how sharing fitness data impacted people's success in a weight-loss program. Participants wore a Fitbit exercise tracker, weighed themselves and tracked their food intake on a smartphone. Half of the participants shared all of their data weekly with a coach during the 12-week weight-loss period and for the remainder of the year of follow-up. The other half did not share data with a coach. Though weight loss was similar between the groups, researchers found that participants were more likely to keep the weight off if they shared their information with their coach. That extra accountability and motivation could translate to sharing data with friends, as well. 

If you don’t have the flexibility to spend money on an expensive tracker (though we have some options for more affordable fitness trackers here), there are plenty of free apps that can be downloaded right to your smartphone. My personal favorite so far is Strava. This app works best for those who do endurance activities, like running, cycling and swimming. It tracks time, distance, elevation gain and “achievements,” showing you how you rank compared to others who have done the same routes. All activities are posted to a feed so your followers can see what you do, and you can curate your feed based on those who follow you. Think of it as exercise social media. 

Other popular apps include Nike Training Club, MyFitnessPal and Fitbit. Nike Training Club provides workout inspiration, recipes and nutrition tips as well as holistic wellness guides. It is less interactive with other people than Strava, but has options for virtual trainers and push notifications to keep you accountable. MyFitnessPal is a tracking app where you can input food, exercise and hydration. You can easily create groups in the app to share your information with your friends, a coach or even others in the MyFitnessPal community. The Fitbit app can be used on a smartphone or computer even if you don’t have the watch to match. It can track exercise, steps, heart rate, sleep and more to help you stay on track with your goals. You can also connect with others on this app and even share challenges. 

Regardless of your fitness goals, tracking your fitness data and sharing it with friends is a great way to stay motivated and accountable. Personally, I have looked forward to workouts since I started using Strava. I love seeing what my friends are up to and sharing my accomplishments. There are several free apps for smartphones as well as smartwatches available to help you track your improvements this new year.