Downloading one of the best running apps is a great way for beginners to ease into the activity. With classics like Couch to 5k and Nike Run Club on our list alongside newer platforms, you’re sure to find everything you need to get started.
Despite what many people think, running isn’t one of those activities you can just dive into as a beginner. Every time our feet strike the ground running, we produce a force equivalent to double our bodyweight, so while there’s no need to invest in expensive kit from the beginning, you do need a gentle start – and a good pair of trainers. Otherwise, you could risk getting injured before you’ve even got started.
Running apps are some of the best workout apps out there for building up your fitness and endurance as a runner as they offer visual and audio workouts, coaching, fitness tracking, and so much more. So whether you’re looking to run your first 5k or just want to get moving in your pick of the best running shoes, they’re worth trying out. To find the best ones, I tried and tested a big selection and whittled the list down to a few favorites.
The best running apps
If you’re only going to download one app for running this year, Nike Run Club needs to be it. It’s totally free to download and use, with no extra secret subscription payments down the line and offers all you could need to start running as a beginner or progress with your speed or distance goals. There are expert-led training plans and audio-guided runs to keep you moving, GPS run tracking so you can leave your fitness tracker at home, distance and pace stats round up, challenges to take part in within the community, and so much more.
I’m training for a half-marathon at the moment, so I’ve signed up for the Nike Run Club Half-Marathon Training Plan. Based on the criteria I filled in on sign-up, the app provided me with a 14-week training plan with several variations of runs every week, including long runs and speed training. I have each week of my training plan pre-programmed ahead of time but it’s fully flexible, so if I was a little further along in my fitness than I originally thought, I could skip a couple of weeks. The guided runs in these programs are the best part of the app, with each run coached by n authentic and motivational running trainer – such as Chris Bennett, head coach at Nike.
While this app truly covers all the bases, it is only suitable for running. If you’re looking to incorporate a bit of cross-training in your workout plan then another app, such as WithU, could be a better option as there’s a larger variety of audio-led workouts available.
There’s no real guidebook on how to start running as everyone begins at different fitness levels. However, Couch to 5k is about as close as you can get and is one of the best running apps on our list. The app, which was developed by Public Health England and backed by the NHS, takes total beginners from nothing (aka the couch) to running for 30 minutes (about 5km) in as little as nine weeks.
I used this app when I first started running a couple of years ago and found it to be easily the best beginner’s running app on the market. You can choose your trainer from a mix of expert running coaches and celebrities, including comedian Sarah Millican, to give you audio prompts and motivation while you move. What I love about the Couch to 5k app is that it does start you from the beginning, building up from mixing up running and walking intervals to running non-stop for half an hour.
Sure, Couch to 5k is limited by the very thing that makes it so great (it’s only really for beginners) but it’s a free program and perfectly set up to keep you going over the weeks with the option to chop and change your program if you’re progressing quicker than expected – much like Nike Run Club.
Whether you want to build up your running distance from a 5k to 10k or start fresh with the 6.2 mile distance, Zen Labs’ 10k training app is designed to help you do it. The 14-week training plan is laid out day by day for you, much like Nike Run Club and Couch to 5k, so you can see what you’ve got in store for the week.
Unlike many of the other apps on our list that focus on distance, Zen Lab’s app doesn’t require you to have a starter time for a 5k to work out your training plan. Instead, it just offers the daily workout for you to follow every day, broken up into timed intervals for speed training for example, so you can decide on your own pace and how hard you want to push yourself. For the longer runs, you’ll hear an automated voice telling you start and stop – and that’s about it. The app then calibrates and delivers the essential stats from your workout.
I really enjoyed using the Zen Labs 10k running app as the workouts are minimally guided, meaning you can listen to music without being interrupted by a trainer’s voice, but you can still plug in and go without having to constantly check your phone to see what you’re supposed to be doing.
Got a goal in mind but not quite ready for a running coach yet? Runna is easily the next best thing to in-person coaching. On sign-up, you choose your training plan based on your goal – whether that be Couch to 5k, building your general fitness, improving a 5k time, training for a 10k race, or even half-marathon and marathon training – and various admin factors such as how many days and which days of the week you can run on. The app then creates a perfect workout plan for you. There are also coaching tips available at the start of the week and for every run, you’re set to complete from coaches Ben Parker, an England Athletics Coach, and British Olympian Steph Davis.
Importantly, this app is super simple to use with a colorful interface and self-explanatory tabs. While you might find yourself lost occasionally in apps like INCUS and Strava, I found Runna so easy to navigate. Plus, you can sign up for workout reminders to keep you on track without even having to think about it.
This is one of the best running apps for those looking to improve and receive personalized training plans with excellent in-app coaching, but it’s not suitable for total beginners. You need to have already run at least 5k once before you can get the most out of this app as the technology uses your 5k personal best to create a suitable training schedule for you. It’s also most effective for those who can run multiple days a week.
While the Nike Run Club app can offer excellent audio-led runs, they are confined to running as noted. If you want one audio-based app for all your training needs, WithU is ideal. Cross training, aka including some other forms of activity in your training plans such as strength training and yoga, is essential for new runners to avoid injury. With cardio, balance, strength, mindfulness, and specialty workouts, there’s so much to do using this one platform.
I’ve been using this app over the last few weeks to try a couple of the running workouts, which are very similar to the Nike Run Club and Runna apps, but recently I’ve been focusing my attention on the others available. Each of the workouts is audio-led, so you won’t need to be on your phone while doing them, something I found to be a very unique feature when compared to many of the other fitness apps out there. My favorites included the kettlebell and dumbbell workouts, stretching and Pilates, yoga, and rowing.
However, it is worth noting that the app is missing a couple of features that some of our other top picks, particularly Runna and Strava, have. As WithU is an audio-led workout app, you can’t plan your own route or record your own run and you can’t see your interval timings or log other useful insights such as perceived effort or terrain, and the roundup of stats post-run isn’t as insightful as other apps. It’s still an excellent all-rounder though – and well worth the subscription cost if you think you’ll use it often.
We all weigh up running on a treadmill vs outside at one time or another, so it’s important to have an app specifically designed for this in your back pocket. Much like Runna and Zen Labs 10k, there are multiple plans on offer but these are all designed for the treadmill. This means you have notes on miles per hour or kilometers per hour (depending on your preference) and an indicator for incline as well.
I found the range of workouts on offer to be really inclusive for beginners while also offering something slightly harder for anyone looking to push themselves on a treadmill run. My favorites were the workouts for building fitness, going from zero to 5k, 5k endurance runs, and running for weight loss sessions as they kept things interesting with intervals.
The app is super simple to use and follow along but there are no audio features or interactive workout plans unless you sign up for Premium. As you’re on a treadmill rather than outside this isn’t the end of the world as you’ll have easier access to your phone to view the workout – just remember to be safe if you’re moving while looking at your phone. If you’re looking for audio inclusivity, try Nike Run Club or WithU.
If you’re looking to track the distance, pace, and timing of your runs then Strava is one of the best. Although it offers many features similar to some of the other running apps on our list, importantly, you can also sync the app with your fitness tracker for more accurate insights. It’s not only you that can track your runs though, Strava Beacon allows access to chosen others so they can see where you’re running for safety purposes.
I’ve used Strava to track my runs for the past couple of weeks now. The tracking insights are invaluable, even if you don’t own one of the best fitness trackers, as you can view your run splits, and even elevation and cadence. If you have a heart rate monitor linked up, you can also track your heart rate over your run.
Strava also acts as a habit tracker app, holding you accountable thanks to the huge social element. The community part of the app allows you to follow your friends and view their activity, just like on Facebook or Instagram, and give them ‘kudos’ for the activities they complete. You can also set up group challenges within your family or friend group, which are ideal for sustaining workout motivation.
While many essential elements of Strava’s fitness tracking are free, you will need to subscribe to get access to even deeper insights and training plans, which can help you improve your progress in your chosen distance.
Map My Run was developed by sports brand Under Armour but rather than being a workout-focused app, it’s designed to help you map your runs in advance and when you’re on the move using the GPS and other sensors on your phone. As you run, the app offers statistics like your distance and pace in real-time and totals at the end of each session.
I’ve been using the Map My Run app for the last couple of weeks to plot my route in advance. To do this, you do need to log onto the platform via a laptop or desktop computer – but this makes it easier. You can then send the route to your phone for viewing on the go. I did find tracking a run spontaneously to be the easiest way to use the app, as you can just press ‘Start Workout’ on the primary screen and the GPS tracking kicks in.
When it comes to mapping your runs, everything you need for this is available on the free version. However, voice coaching and location sharing with others are two useful features that are available on the subscription if you only want to use one app for your running this year.
How to choose the best running app for you
- Look out for apps that record your time and distance: These are two of the most important metrics when it comes to running, so your pick of the best running apps should help you track them. “This helps you monitor your progress and compare each run,” says Omar Mansour (opens in new tab), a UKA running coach and fitness trainer for audio-led fitness app WithU, one of the top picks on our list. “You will hopefully slowly see your results tackling the same distance, with a shorter time each week.”
- Audio assistance: Many of the running apps on our list, including Nike Run Club and WithU, offer some kind of audio coaching and stat monitoring. “This will prevent you from checking your phone or smartwatch to see how far you’ve run. You’ll have someone in your headphones telling you how much distance you’ve run or how long you have left to go to reach your goal.”
- App and running program in one: “As a beginner, it’s really useful to start on a running program built into an app such as Couch to 5k. This will help you gradually build up each run with a mix of walking and running at different times, to reach the goal of a full 5K run without stopping.”
- Form tips and tricks: This is a must for beginners, Mansour says. “Without this, it’s hard to know how to keep good form while running. With added form checks and tips, this will help you improve your technique.”
How many times per week should beginners run?
If you’re asking yourself ‘should I run every day?’, this is your sign to stop. Two to three times a week is best for those new to running, Mansour says. “This allows for you to break your runs up evenly throughout the week, leaving at least one day of rest in between each run,” he explains. “Any more than this may be too much strain on your body, which can lead to injuries. A good rule, if you want to progress with your running, is to add a maximum of 10% mileage each week.”