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Use RunKeeper for Social Fitness

Last year, I wrote a post–the first of two–in which I asked ProfHacker readers to share their favorite hardware or software tools for tracking their health in various ways. Readers responded with a wide variety of suggestions, which I shared in a follow-up reader response roundup post.

I tried out a few of the mobile apps and online services, but the one that stuck with me is called RunKeeper, and I’ve been using it for a few months now. It’s an online service–coupled with a free “Pro” mobile app available for the iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone 7 operating system–that acts as a kind of social network for people to track and share their fitness activities.

Don’t let the name fool you; RunKeeper allows you to track you much any kind of physical activity, and I’ve been using it mostly to track my bike rides this summer. During each ride (or walk, or run, or…), the mobile app tracks distance, duration, average pace (broken down per mile), average speed, elevation climbed, and calories burned. You can adjust the settings on the app to announce (or not) your progress audibly so you can tell how you’re doing without looking at the screen. At the conclusion of your activity, you can save your data and automatically sync it to the RunKeeper web site.

The social component comes in when you connect to friends who also use the service: whenever you log in, you see a feed of your friends most recent activities, and if you complete an activity with those friends, you can record that fact in your RunKeeper account in much the same way that you can “check in” somewhere with Gowalla (see Julie’s post here), Facebook Places, Foursquare, or the like. Another social feature is that you can link your RunKeeper account to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, if you like, and automatically post your workouts when you’ve synced your data from your mobile device. (I chose not to enable this function as I didn’t want to drive my online friends crazy with that information; I post enough stuff on Twitter and Facebook as it is.)

All of what I describe above is free, but you can register for fitness classes (all of which are focused on running, ranging from getting yourself in shape for a 5k to training for a marathon) that cost between $10 and $25 depending on your ultimate goal. Additionally, for $5 a month or $20 a year, you can sign up for an “Elite” account, which gets you a 50% discount on the classes, allows you to broadcast real-time progress over a social network during a workout, and gives you access to more advanced data about your workout.

(And if you’re really geeky, you’ll be interested in knowing that in June of this year, RunKeeper introduced the “Health Graph and Health Graph API“; and then earlier this month announced that dozens of apps and devices are on track to integrate with that API, meaning that you can connect the information recorded by those apps and devices to your RunKeeper account.)

How about you? Do you use RunKeeper? Do you use something else to track your fitness progress? What are your thoughts? Let’s hear from you in the comments!

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