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Most Free Fitness Apps Don't Meet Physical Activity Guidelines—Except One

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There may be an app—or 10—to help you become a better cook, morning exerciser, even more in tune with your fertility cycle. But it turns out, the one part of your healthy lifestyle the app store may not be able to help you with very well is working out. Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) tested 30 of the most popular free fitness apps and found that all except for one failed to measure up to the physical activity guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the world's largest sports medicine and exercise science organization. Yikes!

Each of the apps reviewed received a score based on aerobic activity, strength and resistance, and flexibility, and only one—Sworkit Lite—received a score above 50 percent. That's right, 29 out of 30 of the apps developed to help us become faster, stronger, and more fit couldn't even meet half of the standards set for physical activity guidelines.

So what makes Sworkit Lite so good? The relatively unknown app is essentially a library of strength, Pilates, yoga, and stretching workouts ranging from five to 60 minutes long. Users simply choose one of the four categories, the desired length of the workout, and then follow the narrator and accompanying video. Each completed workout converts to mPoints which can later be cashed in for clothes or gift cards. Some extra motivation, perhaps?

But here's the real innovation that Sworkit Lite brings: You can customize your own workouts. Have a few favorite exercises from Pilates class or love a new routine from, say Shape's workout library? On the app, you can actually program in each movement using a catalog of 171 exercises, from squat jacks to hip raises to scissor kicks.

As for the other apps? Researchers found the main problem was that most didn't provide high-quality content in all three categories. The most common missing element: flexibility. Only one-third met any of the flexibility guidelines. (It is, after all, one of 3 Things You Need to Do Immediately After a Workout.)

"This is a problem because flexibility is important for good exercise form, relaxation, and cool-down," said Heather Vincent, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of orthopedics and rehabilitation in the UF College of Medicine.

The other main concern this study brought to light: The apps don't offer proper education. Yes, most provide a pool of videos to jumpstart routines, but most also fail to explain proper technique as well as how to build an injury-free routine through rest and moderation. (We've got you covered. Learn How to Properly Rest from Your Workout.) Check out the rankings below.

It's also important to note, though, that not all of these apps were developed to be a comprehensive training guide. Strava, for example, may not meet all the ACSM criteria, but it's still a great app for tracking your run and ride.

But we all know those minutes you devote to working out are precious, so don't waste them on the subpar fitness apps out there!

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