It’s not often that you can say a phone app has changed your life for the better.
19 years ago this weekend, I graduated from high school. As I walked across the stage, I vowed that I would never run again. The only exception would be if a wild beast was chasing me. Too many gym class sessions of running in circles for hours had taken their toll. I was captain of my soul, master of my fate.
Well fast forward many years, 18 to be exact, and I began to realize that fate was not being kind. Watching my mom go through some pretty major health struggles, and realizing I have a wife and three kids to be around for sobered me up. I enjoy riding my mountain bike, but wanted to add something to help with the cardio workout.
Around that time, a friend suggested C25K by Zen Labs. I thought, no way am I running. Especially not a 5k – that’s like 3 miles. However, I gave it a shot, and the rest as they say, is history. In the past year I’ve run three 5k races with my wife and kids, making healthy habits a family affair. So today, I thought I’d share with the Techaeris readers an app that has changed my life.
(Disclaimer: Techaeris is not in the business of giving health advice. Before you start any exercise regimen like running, biking, swimming, climbing Mt. Everest, please talk to your doctor. We want you around to read our articles.)
C25K stands for “couch to 5k” – a simple description of what the app does. It provides a training plan for getting you from “couch shape” to “5K shape.” A cursory search of the Google Play store or the iOS App Store will give you dozens of similar apps. My personal opinion is that this app is a cut above the rest of the c25k apps.
Opening the app brings you to a motivational quote screen, and an invitation to join the Zen Labs community. This can be turned off in the app settings. If you are the kind of person that thrives on accountability and group motivation, you may want to join the community. There you will find lots of like-minded people.
Moving past the welcome screen, you will come to the main screen. There you will find the 8 week running plan. The idea is to run approximately three times a week with rest days in between. From personal experience, I have to say this is very important. If you are a couch potato, it’s going to take time for your body to get used to the idea of moving again, and those muscles will need time to heal. Each week, the running segments get longer and longer until you’re running for a full 30 minutes.
The user interface is actually pretty simple. You have a circle in the middle showing the segment of the workout that you are currently on. The circle to the left shows time elapsed, and the circle on the right shows how much total time is left in the workout.
One of the great things about this running plan is that it doesn’t require you to run for hours on end. The workouts generally last only 30 minutes. You start with a brisk 5 minute walk to warm up, and then the app will automatically tell you to begin running. The length of your run segments will vary based on where you are at in the training program.
The voice prompts are much improved in the latest version. The prompt tells you to begin running, how many minutes/seconds you will run for, and which segment you are on (“You are on run 4 of 8”). This can be helpful when you really want to push it for those last couple of running segments.
I’ve found the mix of running and walking to be great. It keeps you from overdoing it when first starting out. Recently I had a minor calf injury and had to stop running for a bit. When I was finally cleared to begin running again, I pulled this app back out and started over. This really helped me to slowly but steadily get back into shape without re-injuring myself.
There are some cool features along the bottom of the app. From left to right you have music, settings, communities, and other Zen Labs apps.
Music will allow you to play music not only from files stored locally on your phone, but I’ve found that I can access my Google Play Music playlists as well. This is a nice improvement over earlier iterations of the app.
Settings gives you several ways to tweak the app, including the theme, alerts, turning off the welcome message, and other usual settings.
The Community button offers a quick way to jump to the Zen Labs community that I mentioned earlier. It’s not a function I use often; generally speaking I would use my web browser for that.
Finally the last button pulls up a list of other apps from Zen Labs, from push ups, sittups, um…butt tuning, even continuing on to a 10K or half marathon.
Of course, what app these days would be complete without social media sharing? When your workout finishes, the C25K app will pop up a screen with sharing links for Facebook, Twitter, MyFitnessPal, and Instagram. If having friends who encourage you and keep you accountable on your workouts helps you stay motivated, this makes it easy to update them on your progress.
A positive note about Zen Labs – they see the value in being cross platform. This app is available on the Google Play Store, iOS App Store, and Amazon Appstore for Android. Even if you’re on BlackBerry 10, you can get this through Amazon, although currently their version has yet to be updated. This app is available for free (ad supported) and the Pro version is available for $1.99. I sprang for the pro version, as I felt it was worth it to support the developer for an app that made such a difference for me.
I don’t have too many negative things to say about this app. Zen Labs has done a fine job of updating it from how it was when I first started using it. Some of the minor complaints you’ll find on the Play Store reviews is that it doesn’t talk to Google Fit, or that it doesn’t track your workout distance and time through GPS. To get around that, I’ve just always run a second app like MapMyRun or currently, FitBit in the background for logging workouts. The C25K app is not necessarily designed to be a workout tracker like MapMyRun, Endomondo, or Google Fit, so that’s something you’ll have to work around.
Overall, this app is great for getting off the couch and taking back control of your health. It starts off easy enough that you can even do it with your kids and make healthy habits a part of your family life.
What are some of your favorite workout training or exercise apps that you’d like us to take a look at? Let us know in the comments.