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8 Fitness Apps That Use Your Friends (for motivation)

By Kellee Bryan
Most smartphone owners use at least one (and sometimes several) health and/or fitness related app. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are sprinkled with friends' posts announcing the speed and distance of their runs. But are these apps actually effective and encouraging (or changing) the behaviors they're tracking?

A new study says yes.

Researchers at Northwestern University studied 70 overweight men, with an average age of 58. One group of the men was instructed to record their eating and physical activities with pen and paper. The second group were asked to use a mobile app developed by the researchers, and their behaviors were monitored by coaches who checked in periodically via short phone sessions. All of the participants were offered nutrition and behavior change group classes, though attendance was optional.

The group of men using the app and attending the classes lost an average of 15 pounds, and kept it off for a year. The group that used the app but didn't attend the classes lost an average of 9 pounds, while the group using pen and paper saw almost no change in their weight.

Since only the group using the app received the bi-weekly check-in phone calls, it's impossible to know how much they contributed to the difference between the app users and the pen users. But it's interesting to note that even looking just at the group receiving phone nudges, those attending the classes lost an additional 6 pounds. The researchers credit this weight loss boost to the social support offered through the classes.

There's no shortage of diet and fitness tracking apps available to smartphone owners, but many of them miss the social opportunity that – at least according to this study – could make their service more effective for their users. Others, however, are already integrating social elements in meaningful ways. 

 We put together a list of fitness tracking apps that are leading the charge on social integration. To make the list, apps have to allow users to track their diets and/or physical activities and incorporate some form of interactive social element that goes beyond simply pushing stats to Facebook and Twitter.

1. Fitocracy (free)
Track your physical activities (anything from weightlifting to jogging to power gardening) and view your progress with Fitocracy's performance graphs. Your activities will earn points that unlock badges and "level up"s. Invite your friends or join a Fitocracy group of like-minded people (like joggers, weightlifters, etc.) to build your network. Like a little friendly competition? Fitness challenges abound on Fitocracy. App is available for iPhone with an Android app in the works.

2. Nike+ GPS ($1.99)
Nike+ GPS maps your route while tracking your run's distance, pace, time, and burnt calories. Social motivation? Post the start of your run to Path or Facebook, and hear real-time cheers through your headphones whenever one of your friends likes or comments on that post. App is available for iPhone and Android.

3. RunKeeper (free, with paid "Elite" version available)
RunKeeper is often heralded as THE best app for tracking your runs. It uses your phone's GPS to track your runs, walks, bike rides, and more. Stats, progress, and coaching comes through your headphones, and you can see detailed stats to measure your performance and progress against goals. On the social side, users can add friends from their phone's address book or Facebook, and compete against each other – or "nudge" friends who haven't been active in a while. Available for iPhone and Android.

4. Teemo (free, for a limited time)
Teemo is a fitness adventure game combining expert trainers with social motivation and epic missions to keep you moving and inspired. Teemo players select from missions (like climbing Mt. Everest, for example). Up to nine Facebook friends can be invited to join, although completing a mission solo is also an option. But rather than competing against one another, the Teemo team members work together to achieve their common mission. Each team member completes short workouts, and those workouts are tracked and move the entire team closer to its goal. Available only on iPhone.

5. Yog (free)
Yog is a social running experience that connects runners from all over the world to run together in real time. You can use the app to create a run of your own or to join one that another "yogger" created. Make the event public or invite specific friends to join the run – which is defined not by location, but by start time and distance to that runners from anywhere can run "together." During the scheduled run, Yog will track your pace and calories burned. You'll also get audio and on-screen alters letting you know your progress relative to other "yoggers" on the run. Available only for iPhone.

6. Fit Friendzy (free)
The Fit Friendzy - Exercise Challenges app includes challenges suitable for people at any level of fitness – from easy to "insane," according to the app's website. Choose from challenges like walking 30 minutes a day, running a marathon, or swimming a mile. Users can invite friends to join them in the challenge, or simply play along with other Fit Friendzy users. The app tracks your exercises, time, distance, speed, calories burned, and progress against goals.

7. Endomondo (free, with paid "Pro" version available)
Endomondo tracks any distance-based activity (running, cycling, walking, etc.), logging duration, distance, speed, and calories. Interval-based training programs are included (in the pro version), along with an audio coach to keep your workouts on track. Invite friends, and when they comment on your workout in progress their message will be read out loud to you through your headphones. If you also sign up on endomodo.com, all of your data will automatically be sent to your online personal training diary and social network.

Bonus App: EveryMove (free)
EveryMove users earn points from their physical activities that can be redeemed for rewards from brands, their insurance company, and their employers. Rather than being a fitness tracking app, EveryMove aggregates all of a user's physical activity data. Yes, users can manually enter physical activities. But they can also connect other tracking devices and apps (like FitBit, BodyMedia, Nike+, RunKeeper, and more) to automatically collect that activity data and turn it into points toward rewards – making those devices and apps even more powerful. Friends and family can be invited to EveryMove, and EveryMove will reward you with points when your friends are active (and vice-versa). And periodic special campaigns (like the current Resolution Team Challenge that allows teams to work together towards a free Fitbit Zip) provide even more incentive to motivate one another.

Did we leave off an app you think should've made the list? Let us know in the comments!

Posted on December 21, 2012 05:30 PM