I remember when I first got a pedometer… it counted the number of steps you took during the day by measuring the movement of your body. The problem was that you could fool it by standing still and bobbing up and down too! Assuming you were being honest, though, you knew at the end of the day how many steps you’d taken and, if you measured your average stride, how far you had travelled.
Surely there had to be a better way? What about using the GPS receivers that are built-in to many smartphones? Well, that’s what RunKeeper does on the iPhone – tracks you via GPS and logs your exercise on a handy web-based dashboard.
There are two versions of RunKeeper in the iTunes app store, RunKeeper Free and RunKeeper Pro. While RunKeeper Free is a capable fitness tracking app many of the features I’ll be looking at are in the Pro version. If you think RunKeeper looks good why not get the free version and try it out? You can always upgrade to the Pro version afterwards if you like.
Tracking an activity is very simple – just start the app and wait for it to get a GPS lock on you. Then tell it what kind of exercise you’re doing (walking, running, snowboarding, or a load of other options) and hit start. You can opt to have audio cues as you proceed, telling you when you hit each mile, or giving you your average pace, but I have these turned off as I found they got in the way of listening to my music. Incidentally, you can also choose a playlist from the app’s start screen so that you get just the music you want while you’re on the move.
Where am I?
If you want to know where you are while you’re exercising there’s a constantly updating map that will show your path and current location. I tend to find this useful for seeing how closely my path is being tracked and, assuming a good GPS signal, it’s very good.
If you don’t want to see the map you can switch the display to show your current pace and distance, or a split pace divided by each mile you’ve gone.
Ooh, that looks interesting
One of the main reasons I upgraded from the free version to the pro was the ability to take pictures without leaving RunKeeper. I just found there was always something I wanted to snap while I was out, and it was a pain to pause the activity, take the photo, restart the app, and then restart the activity. What’s really nice, though, is that any pictures you take will be uploaded to your RunKeeper dashboard and will appear on your activity map where you took them. I love being able to see that kind of information when I’m going over my activities afterwards.
Let’s get together
Right, all this talk of exercise is very good, but if you know me personally you’ll know I’m not exactly the sporty type. I walk… not run. If I were to go out for a jog with friends it wouldn’t be long before I was lying in a crumpled heap in an underpass while they vanished into the distance. RunKeeper does have a nice feature, though, that lets you team up with other users in a “street team”. You can see your team members’ stats, supposedly as an encouragement to try and outdo them :)
This is really great if you, say, have a goal you want to meet and want your friend to keep you honest. Or perhaps you do want to have a competition with a friend but either live too far away or can’t get times when you can both go out together. Just add them to your Street Team and let the website keep track of it for you instead.
And the rest?
These are Pro features that I haven’t used, but I want to tell you about them anyway in case they tickle your fancy. The first is training programmes. RunKeeper comes with a 20 minute workout, 2.5 mile workout, or 2 miles with a rest built in, but you can create your own workouts or just set a target pace to achieve. The other feature is an additional subscription on the RunKeeper website that analyses your data and produces fitness reports. As I say, I haven’t used either of these, but it’s worth telling you about them!
There are a few downsides I’ve experienced when using RunKeeper. If you receive a phone call your activity gets paused – so if you keep moving during the call you’ll be missing a bit of data. Secondly, if you don’t have a solid GPS lock your position can jump as the iPhone tries to locate you using cell towers. This doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does I suddenly end up doing several miles more than I really did, and somehow running at 80 miles per hour! You can edit your track on the website afterwards, but it’s still annoying.
Taking those into account, though, I still think RunKeeper is a fantastic piece of software and it has a permanent home on my iPhone. RunKeeper Free and RunKeeper Pro are both available from the iTunes app store. Check them out and start tracking your exercise today.
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