I love interval training for its simplicity, time-efficiency and kick-in-the-butt intensity, but what I don’t like is having to time intervals with a watch – it’s a hassle to keep checking on the time and too confusing, anyway, when the work and recovery intervals aren’t the same length (e.g., when you work out hard for 30 seconds then recover for, say, 20 seconds).
I’ve ditched my watch and started using apps that are designed for timing intervals. There are dozens out there – some free and some that cost a small amount. I sized up six apps for Apple products, using some of them for my own workouts and in the fitness classes I teach. Here are my reviews.
If you’re into true Tabata training – meaning intervals of intense exercise for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of recovery, eight times total – this app is for you.
The timer provides large numbers and a background that changes colour depending on the interval type (green for “go hard” and red for “rest”). I like that this app – and its “big brother” Tabata Pro, which I review below – gives you a few seconds to prepare for each work interval so you’re not scrambling to pick up equipment or get into position on time.
You can’t adjust the number of sets (eight) or interval length (20 seconds to work and 10 seconds to rest) – but that’s Tabata, folks. And this is the “lite” version, after all. If you want more options, drop a few bucks on Tabata Pro (see below).
A pumped-up version of Tabata Lite, Tabata Pro allows you to customize so you’re not held to the brutal 20/10 Tabata intervals if you don’t want to be. Set the work/rest intervals and number of sets to whatever you want.
Like Tabata Lite, this app counts down intervals with large numbers and a colour-coded background. You can easily tell when intervals change by the colour and a beeping noise (which you can turn off). You can also select playlists right through Tabata Pro.
I use this app on my iPad and take it to the interval-based fitness classes I teach so participants can keep an eye on the countdown if they want to.
This is my favourite interval app. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the blinking screen during work intervals – that feature was literally too flashy for me. But you can turn it off.
From the creators of Workout Muse fitness music, iWorkout Muse PRO lets you create customized intervals and mix them with your favourite music. There’s also an optional audio instruction that announces when intervals are starting, halfway through and ending.
I love that you can set music volume to play louder during work intervals and quieter – or no music at all – during recovery intervals. It helps set the mood for how you should be approaching interval training.
Not sure about the $5.99 price tag? Try iWorkout Muse for $2.99 – it’s the same concept but with less features than the PRO version.
This is an app version of the Gymboss interval timer device, which is an actual interval tracker separate from your phone. I like that you can customize interval length and colour (e.g., purple, green, yellow) and name the intervals you create. Nice perk.
I found this app to be a little less intuitive than some others, but I appreciate that it includes a plain old stopwatch.
As the name implies, this app is about as simple as it gets: Plug in your preferred number of sets and how long you want to do each work and recovery interval (this app calls it “action” and “break”), then tap the “Let’s GO!” button and you’re on your way.
Sure, it’s plain (not as many bells and whistles as others in this category), but I like that it uses two “timelines” to display your progress: One timeline tracks where you are in the current interval and the other shows you how far along you’ve come for the entire workout. Handy.
Although it was designed for a weighted fitness ball called Ugi, this app can easily be used without one.
You get two options for workout length: 15 minutes or 30 minutes. By default, the intervals are set to one minute each without rest, but you can edit work/rest intervals to whatever you’d like and also drop in your own soundtrack. Because of its versatility and clean design, Ugifit is my top pick for the free apps I tested.