How to build muscle: Three free apps to help you get ripped

Centr App
(Image credit: Centr)

The muscle-building process sounds simple enough: you eat the right things, lift heavy weights, and after a while, you’ll become more muscular than you used to be. And while it’s true that you’ll see results quickly after starting weightlifting – often called “newbie gains” – you’ll need to modify and elaborate on your lifting plan as time goes by in order to keep progressing. 

While runners can rely on the best fitness trackers or best running watch to understand more about their runs and improve performance, it's more difficult to find tech that can analyze and help you along your muscle-building journey. No watch can beat a pen and pencil or an excel spreadsheet when it comes to tracking sets and reps. 

However, there are free resources and apps out there that can help you in your quest to get stronger, bigger, or more toned. But first, a few reasons why everyone should be building muscle, even if you don't think it's for you.

The (not-so-obvious) benefits of muscle building

The muscle building we’ll talk about here is what’s often called resistance training; you might have heard about it. Doing resistance training frequently will not only help you expend more calories (and, therefore, help you lose weight sustainably), but it can also increase your quality of life, especially if you’re older. A lot of research investigated the benefits of resistance training, with a 2004 study saying that “resistance training in older adults… increases power, reduces the difficulty of performing daily tasks, enhances energy expenditure and body composition, and promotes participation in spontaneous physical activity.”

A systematic review (summary of available primary research papers) from 2009 looked at the effects of resistance training on the metabolic health of people with type 2 diabetes. It concluded by stating that “two randomized controlled trials reported that resistance training was as effective or more effective than aerobic training in reducing glycosylated hemoglobin (glucose (sugar) in your body).”

Building muscle isn't just for bodybuilders: it's for anyone who wants to reduce their body's blood sugar levels, increase their metabolism, and live a longer life. Perhaps you don’t want to look as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman in their heyday, but the good news is that you won’t, even if you want to. Bodybuilding is an entirely different ballgame from ‘standard’ muscle building, and it’s unnecessary for most people to pursue that type of physique, as it comes with a lot of sacrifices for often not much gain (pun intended).

With that in mind, it’s time to look at some apps that can help you get started in your muscle-building journey, from diet apps that manage calorie intake and expenditure to workout apps that lend some structure to your sessions. Finally, here are a few apps that aren’t necessary but are nice to know about.


(Image credit: Future)

1. MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular diet apps among bodybuilders and everyday people alike, making hitting specific calorie and macronutrient goals much easier. It has free and paid versions, and even the free version is feature-rich enough to track food intake. It’s recommended to use MyFitnessPal, even if you aren’t into muscle building, so you know how many calories are in foods and how much fat/carbohydrates/protein you eat daily.

The app has an ever-expanding list of food items updated by the user base. You can scan the barcode of almost any food you buy in the shops, and MyFitnessPal will give you the breakdown of macro and often micronutrients, along with the calorie content. From there, you can build meal plans for yourself using foods you’ve already tried.

Other apps, such as LifeSum, offer a more structured approach to meal planning that often comes in handy for losing weight. However, most apps have a monthly subscription fee, albeit not exorbitantly expensive. They are worth checking out if you need more guidance on planning.

Man performing a barbell squat

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Stronglifts

There are many workout apps available online.  Centr offers a comprehensive approach to muscle building that involves workout plans, meal plans, and even mindfulness exercises to help you grow muscle sustainably. Most importantly, it’s endorsed by God of Thunder Chris Hemsworth and his team of fitness experts! The subscription fee isn’t cheap, but there are often discounts available.

If you’re more into workout class-like exercise, Beachbody on Demand is another excellent option. It offers structured programmes from famous instructors, although not all are designed for muscle building. It even provides nutritional advice.

However, for pure weight-lifting magic, check out Stronglifts. Used by many beginners lifters to help them add structure to their workouts, Stronglift focuses on gym-style exercises such as the deadlift, squat, bench press, overhead press and barbell row. It offers simple, practical tips to lift more weight and get stronger. 

The full basic training program in the free version includes automatic weight progression, automatic rest timer notifications, history, calendar, progress graphs and videos/instructions for the five main lifts. It's the perfect muscle-building companion for beginners and serious lifters alike.

Alo Moves app

(Image credit: Alo Moves)

3. Alo Moves

One of the less talked about qualities of bodybuilders is that they’re very often quite flexible. People who lift professionally understand the importance of stretching in building muscle, as it allows for an increased range of motion – essential for packing on weight. 

Stretching also lengthens muscle, fighting against age-related muscular atrophy, and improves circulation. Everyone, not just fitness fans, should be limbering up and stretching for a few minutes a day, but surprisingly few people know how to go about putting together a decent stretching routine. 

One of the many apps that can help you stretch more efficiently is Alo Moves. It has many workout videos and well-known instructors, such as the ever-so-wonderful Harley Pasternak. Grab your best yoga mat and get started.

Bonus: Athlo

Athlo is a new offering and describes itself as the “Airbnb for Health & Wellness.” Through Athlo, gym-goers can ‘rent out’ their memberships for cash when they’re not using them. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept; however, not an awful lot of gyms are involved at the moment. One of the big-ticket gyms that use the app is F45 – more to follow, apparently.

Matt Kollat

Matt is a prolific fitness writer who covers everything from running shoes and watches to home weights and multi-gyms, You can often find him eating some sort of rice dish straight out of a plastic container, staring at an empty word document. When he isn’t writing fitness news, reviews and features for T3, TechRadar or Fit&Well, he’s probably out testing running shoes (wearing four fitness trackers simultaneously) or doing home workouts in his tiny flat.