Keep fitness resolutions on track with these free apps

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As we march diligently into 2013, many of us will take on the timeworn tradition of self-imposed self-improvement, aka the New Year’s resolution. Unsurprisingly, losing weight and getting fit consistently rank among the most popular New Year's resolutions year after year. Indeed, health-related goals such as drinking less, quitting smoking, managing stress, and running a marathon are chart-toppers.

The bad news is that, according to one British survey, 88 percent of all resolutions fail. The good news is that getting into shape can be easier to do when you set small, achievable goals—and you probably already have a device in your pocket that can help do just that. All you need are some appropriate apps to get the job done. To that end, we’ve rounded up six apps for you below—all free. (Just remember to protect your phone with a case before taking it on a run or to the gym.)

1. MyFitnessPal—iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone (free)

To start off, we have MyFitnessPal, a daily-log-style app that’s available for pretty much every device out there. MyFitnessPal provides a daily log designed to help you lose weight and track fitness goals. The app offers a wealth of features, including an extensive on-board library of common food info including calorie information as well as fat, protein, and carbohydrate amounts for each item.

You can input or edit your goals, enter your caloric intake (food) and expenditure (exercise) on the go, and add new food data to the library if it doesn't already exist. There's also a progress screen that lets you track your weight and view a graphical representation of how well—or poorly—you're doing. A companion website offers a variety of tools including calculators for BMR (basal metabolic rate) and BMI (body mass index), as well as blogs and forums to help keep you motivated.

Pros: Free; available for any mobile OS; easy to use.

Cons: Requires diligent daily logging of food intake and activity; the tally of calories expended won’t be 100 percent accurate for every user.

2. Lose It—Android, iOS, Nook, Kindle (free)

If you’ve tasked yourself with following a fitness or health regimen that requires counting calories, LoseIt is extremely handy. As with MyFitnessPal, LoseIt provides an extensive (and frequently updated) food database. Those who eat out a lot will appreciate the information about items at popular chain restaurants, and shoppers will find plenty of data on brand-name grocery food as well.

The app shows the nutritional makeup of each food, and, at the end of the day, you can view a percentage layout to see how much fiber, protein, sodium, or carbs you’ve consumed. Since the main focus of the app is weight loss, there is of course an activities section for tracking the calories you've burned and for charting your progress. The app can also provide calorie goals based on the amount of weight you want to lose in a given time frame. LoseIt's developers offer a premium subscription model ($40 per year) with some compelling extras, such as the ability to challenge friends and connect to other devices like Nike+ Running and wireless scales.

Pros: Extensive food and exercise database; easy to use; premium version offers connectivity to other devices and apps for a seamless experience.

Cons: Requires diligent daily logging; exercise output not always accurate with free version.

3. Workout Trainer—iOS, Android (free)

Who needs to pay for a pricey personal trainer when you can have one right in your pocket for free? Whether you’re just starting out or have been working out for a decade, Workout Trainer can help amplify your fitness routine. It offers thousands of workouts, which you can filter based on your desired intensity and the amount of time you have to exercise. You can also browse by category, such as Abs & Core, Weight Loss, Yoga, and Crossfit.

Each workout offers instructional photos as well as a digital trainer who can talk you through the steps if you prefer not to look at the screen. Even with the audio trainer engaged, you can still listen to your music—always a good motivator. Other features include the ability the create custom workouts, a forum section full of stories and tips, and a workout scheduler with reminders. There are also a variety of programs available for purchase that provide a schedule of workouts over a prescribed time period. A Pro version, accessible through the free app, unlocks more features like Pro Audio Coaching, additional videos, and workouts; it's available for a nominal subscription fee ($10 for three months, or $25 for the year).

Pros: Free; easy to use; offers a wide variety of workouts for all levels and goals.

Cons: The digital trainers sound very robotic; paid programs are somewhat pricey.

4. Runtastic—iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry (free)

Cardio fiends who like to work out outdoors will be well served by Runtastic, a free app that uses GPS tracking to map activities such as running, cycling, golfing, and even snowshoeing. As would be expected, the app measures distance, speed, and calories expended, but it also offers a host of other useful features.

The app provides a personal workout diary with metrics; performance analysis; calculation of elevation gain and loss; and charts that display altitude, pace, speed, and heart rate information. If you have the Google Earth app installed on your device, you can also view your workouts in 3D. And you can seamlessly integrate Runtastic activities into your MyFitnessPal account (as well as several other apps and services).

Pros: Plentiful features for a free app; accurate tracking via GPS; charts offer an innovative look at your activity; integration with MyFitnessPal.

Cons: We experienced some issues with crashing on older Android phones.

5. Pedometer Free—iOS (free)

For those just starting out with fitness, one of the safest and easiest ways to get the ball rolling is by walking—10,000 steps per day is a popular (though not proven) number to shoot for. No need to buy a stand-alone pedometer to keep track; iPhone users can simply download Pedometer Free and keep their device in their pocket during walks. This app lets you enter your body parameters and goals and then tracks your distance, speed, and activity time. You can also view a map of your route.

Pros: Free; simple interface; includes route-tracking.

Cons: Can suck battery life; accuracy depends on a user-measured stride length, which can be challenging to measure.

6. Accupedo Pedometer—Android (free)

For Android users looking for a simple way to track walks, there’s Accupedo. This pedometer also allows you to enter your body weight and daily goal. It keeps a history of step counts, distance traveled, calories, and walking time; and a customized widget that you place on your home screen displays steps, distance, minutes, and calories for your current trip.

Pros: Free; includes handy home screen widget; works in a pocket or bag.

Cons: Like Pedometer Free, this app is a battery hog.

This story, "Keep fitness resolutions on track with these free apps " was originally published by TechHive.

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