Imagine having a personal trainer or coach to guide you through a fitness program aimed to reach a goal like running a faster (or first) 5K or getting in shape for a summer hike. Now imagine that service could be found for free rather than paying thousands of dollars. Online programs and apps are loaded with expert advice to help reach those goals, and many are available for free or just a few dollars.

 

Don't give up on those resolutions! Get help from these virtual coaches instead.

Get off the couch

Couch to 5K (C25K) is a popular nine-week program that has gained followers around the world because of its simplicity and gradual guidance to help couch potatoes train to run a 5K (3.1 miles) within 30 minutes. Because of the program's immense popularity there are hundreds of websites that follow Couch to 5K. Get the basic training plan for free on Cool Running. The site also lists other resources for beginning runners, including a free running log, nutrition information, injury prevention tips, and training advice.

Mix some humor into the training program through the Active.com app (iPhone or Android for $1.99). Choose from several different virtual trainers, including a drill sergeant, a fluffy poodle, and a zombie.

When taking on a new challenge, it's impossible to get too much advice or support, right? The site Couch to 5K claims to list every site and program related to this phenomenon: there's a training program for diehard treadmill users, a C25K for people who want to do the program with their dogs, links to free C25K apps, and links to inspiring stories from people who have successfully completed the program.

Keep it real

There's nothing like seeing a workout on paper (or on a screen) to keep accountability in check. RunKeeper (free for iPhone and Android) lets users track workouts, set goals, watch progress, and even share workouts with friends through Facebook and Twitter. Don't be fooled by the name: RunKeeper can be used for hiking, walking, and biking, too. The app shows pace, distance, time, and calories burned. Techie types will love the graphs and charts and enjoy using the app to control the music they hear during workouts. A virtual coach can even be used for added support.

Trainers often say that nutrition is one of the biggest keys to better fitness. NutriMirror is a free online program that helps users visualize healthier eating. It works like a food journal, but healthy choices appear in green, while poor choices are displayed in red. The program allows users to track daily nutrition and exercise, create recipes and meal plans, and tap into an online community for support.

Hit the gym with a virtual trainer

Ever go to the gym only to stand in the weight room and wonder, "Now what?" Never wonder again with the help of apps designed to act as a virtual trainer.

Vitogo is an app that never seems to run out of ideas on how to get in a good workout. Based on the user's goals, Vitogo sets up a personal training program and even schedules rest days. Each exercise includes videos or other images to teach proper form, making it safer than going it alone in the gym. $0.99 for iPhones.

Gym Pocket Guide is a free Windows Phone app designed by Bodybuilding.com with more than 90 exercises and stretches to build strength, endurance and flexibility. Use the images that accompany many moves to ensure proper form and prevent injury. In addition, Gym Pocket Guide also has specialized programs for fat loss or muscle building, and can also be customized for women or men.

Yoga

Catching a yoga class can come with some hurdles: Intimidation for beginners who don't want to fall (or wear tights) in front of strangers; costly classes that don't fit into a frugal budget; class schedules that never seem to work for busy gals on the go. Here are a couple free yoga Windows Phone apps that allow users to do a downward dog in the comfort and privacy of their own homes without an audience:

Beginner Yoga explains basic poses, offers tips and helpful suggestions to modify poses that are too challenging.

Yoga Trainer offers a more complete breakdown of the health benefits of yoga, explaining how the practice helps reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and more. It also features detailed tutorials on classic poses like the sun salutation series to help yogis master the practice.