The Takeaway: One of the most uplifting and approachable ways to work out at home (for Apple Watch owners).
Who Should Subscribe: Apple Watch owners who are motivated by metrics and love workout classes—but love the option of doing them at home as well.
What We Love: The wide array of on-demand workouts available for users of all levels and the positive, inclusive vibe.
How We’d Use It: As a complement to our usual outdoor cycling routine for cross-training and strength training.
Price: $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year plus the cost of an Apple Watch. A three-month subscription to Fitness+ is included free with the purchase of a new Apple Watch from September 15, 2020 through March 31, 2021, or one month free for current Watch owners.
In the era of COVID-19, streaming workouts at home is nothing new. In that regard, one could argue Apple is actually late to the party, as most gyms, fitness studios, and trainers have quickly pivoted to live or on-demand workout content to stay afloat through the challenges of the pandemic since March.
But if Apple is fashionably late to arrive, it’s for good reason. After testing 17 different workouts (and counting!) on the Fitness+ platform, it’s clear that this wasn’t just slapped together quickly to capitalize off a unique moment in time. Each workout proves that—in true Apple fashion—there was an ample amount of time, care, expertise, and attention paid to every aspect of the interactive experience. The service launches today, December 14; here’s what to expect.
Within the app, you’ll find high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga, core, strength, treadmill (walking and running), indoor cycling, rowing, dance, and mindful cooldown workouts ranging from 5 minutes (for quick cooldowns) to 10-, 20-, 30- or 45-minute options from 21 trainers. Within each category, you can filter by trainer, time, and preferred music. Like all Apple products, the user experience is intuitive to navigate.
Once you select a workout, you’ll see a preview screen that shows the workout details, required equipment, a 30-second preview video, a summary of what to expect, the playlist, and some related workouts. I found this page to be useful before committing because if I didn’t like any of the music, didn’t have some equipment, or was looking for a strength workout with a different body part focus, I could pop out and select a different option.
When you launch the workout, the program will find your Apple Watch—yes, you need an Apple Watch to use Apple Fitness+; not unsurprisingly, it won’t read your trusty Garmin or Fitbit. While the workouts are not streamed live (like some competitors’), your metrics are shown on the screen in real-time. You’ll see time, heart rate, distance (for treadmill workouts), calorie burn, and a Burn Bar (more on this later) in one corner and your Activity rings in the other. All of these metrics are customizable so you can opt to hide or show them depending on your preference.
These metrics are dynamic as well and change or get emphasized depending on the focus of the workout. For example, if the instructor calls for a 30-second interval, the metrics will temporarily disappear and a countdown clock for the time left on the interval will pop up so you can focus on that specific effort. And if you’re as addicted to “closing your rings” as most Watch owners are, you’ll enjoy the integration of your rings on the workout screen.
As for that Burn Bar, this is an optional feature for competitive users that lets you see how you’re doing compared to everyone else who has done that workout. It’s based on your rolling two-minute effort during the workout, and the harder you work, the more you move up on the bar. When you finish, your final position on the Burn Bar is an average of your effort across the whole workout. It’s available for HIIT, treadmill, indoor cycling, and rowing. This is Apple’s attempt to make it “feel” like a live workout and gamify the experience versus a standard on-demand workout video. Since we tested the platform with pre-released software and were some of the first users in the world to try the workouts, we didn’t have access to a Burn Bar, but we look forward to seeing how it will motivate us in the future.
Where this service really shines, though, is for beginners or return exercisers who have taken some time off. Overall, this platform breaks down most of the barriers people face when starting to work out: time, cost, intimidation, guidance, convenience, and motivation.
While I’m fairly experienced (I’m a NASM-certified personal trainer and run, ride, or workout nearly every day), I’ll never forget how hard and scary it felt to get started years ago. First, there’s the upfront cost and commitment of a gym membership, including joining fees and some pieces of essential gear (like shoes or a bike). Then, there’s complete confusion: You’re not sure what to wear, what to do, how to use certain equipment, what the proper form is, what weights to select. And when you’re faced with having to handle those uncertainties in the public setting of a gym or group fitness class, it’s enough to find any excuse to not even try.
I know that if I had the option of getting acquainted with exercise in this way, in the privacy of my own home, where I can try out different modalities to figure out what I like best without having to worry about how silly I look dancing or if it’s okay to do yoga in my pajamas, I’d prefer this.
Aside from the seamless onboarding, there’s even a “Workouts to Get Started” program that offers seven “absolute beginner” workouts specially designed for anyone who is brand-new to exercise. Think: a 10-minute beginner strength set that requires no equipment, but walks you through the basic movements of bending, twisting, hingeing, and lifting.
This smart programming is not unique—there are competitor services that also do this well—but it is one feature that sets the service apart from the majority of apps out there in the oversaturated fitness category. There is a real risk of injury and getting in over your head for beginners, which can lead to decreased motivation or just quitting altogether, so this thoughtful approach is a highlight.
That’s not to say you won’t enjoy the service if you’re intermediate or experienced. I found the workouts I chose to be perfectly challenging for an advanced user with the options to scale up even further with weight or intensity. Each workout also has a trainer on set to modify exercises to make them easier for those building up strength or just feeling off that day. The programming is smart and straightforward, free of gimmicks. Expect basic set and rep schemes with classic, functional exercises that are familiar to most and easy to execute without one-on-one attention, an important aspect for injury prevention and home fitness.
And the app will evolve as you do. Once you log three workouts, the app uses this data (and data from workouts over the past 60 days tracked on your Apple Watch) to make personalized recommendations for you. The suggestions include more of what you already do as well as new options that are similar to what you already do, but with different trainers. You may also see suggested workouts that balance out your routine, like yoga to counteract regular cycling.
We’ll be interested to see just how smart this feature gets over time and how the personalized recommendations can help users avoid a plateau or improve their overall performance.
Just like a playlist, you can save workouts you love to a My Workouts section, and you can pre-download any favorites to be used when you’re without internet, for instance, when traveling.
Speaking of music, all of the trainers carefully curate their playlists so the workout builds with the music and the beat drops exactly when you need it. An Apple Music subscription is not required to enjoy the music in the program, but for those with a subscription, you can download favorite songs or full playlists from Fitness+ to your Apple Music library to listen to any time, making it a fun way to discover new artists and music you love. All of the workouts are pre-recorded with the music, so you’re not able to listen to your own playlists or music.
Having tested many live-streamed workouts, there is a level of unpredictability that makes them both flawed and entertaining—and thus engaging. In comparison, the Apple workouts feel choreographed, rehearsed, and then polished to perfection. Whether one is better depends on your personal preference, but the Fitness+ workouts remind me of a more colorful, cheerful version of what you’d find on the Nike Training Club app rather than what you find on say, Peloton Digital.
For us cyclists, the indoor cycling workouts are best for those who are already used to and enjoy a studio-cycling experience (think: fun music and a trainer as your hype-person). If that’s not for you or if you’re looking for race-specific programming, there are other apps and programs for that, but I think dedicated outdoor cyclists will find the most benefit from the cross-training options, specifically core workouts, strength, HIIT, and yoga.
At launch, there are over 200 workouts available—the most for indoor cycling (37) compared to 29 or less in other categories—with new workouts being released every Monday so you can plan out your week. As for live workouts, Apple is not planning to release live workouts at the moment and is instead focusing on on-demand content.
Take one glance at the lineup of the 21 Fitness+ trainers and chances are, you’ll find someone like you. Or even better, you’ll find someone unlike you who can help you grow in a new way.
This year especially, there’s been an overall reckoning for inclusivity, but the attention to this detail, while not unique, is important in the often-seemingly exclusive world of fitness. The trainers range in age, body type, background—I was particularly inspired by Amir, an adaptive athlete with a prosthetic leg who teaches core and strength workouts. The trainers also learned American Sign Language (ASL) so they could use it in workouts as greetings, encouragement, and motivational cues.
Not only do the trainers help one another design the workouts, but they also appear in one another’s videos. This is helpful when you see a trainer with a specialty pop up in another video. For example, Kym, who teaches cycling classes and is primarily a cyclist, might be the “modifying trainer” in a yoga class, so you may identify with her tight spots.
The vibe is high energy and positive, though at times and much like other virtual fitness options, the way the trainers interact with each other and the camera can feel earnest and forced. But as someone who has been both on and behind the camera producing fitness content, I can assure you that this caliber of service takes enormous amounts of concentration and expertise, and the result here is impressive.
If you’d like to know more about the trainers, there is a carousel for more information on each within the app, including a short bio, their Instagram handle, and their workouts. While it does cite some of their accomplishments, it would be nice if these bios included the trainer’s specific credentials.
It’s no secret we love the Apple Watch for tracking our rides and other workouts. I personally have had one for a few years, and despite the ability to test a variety of wearables for my job, I always end up back with the Apple Watch on my wrist. Aside from work, I’ve been a dedicated Apple user for 15 years, so keeping my devices in that ecosystem is easy and makes sense for me.
So if like me, you already have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, and have an Apple Watch, then adding Fitness+ costs $9.99 per month (or $79.99 per year) after a one-month free trial with no commitment until it is canceled.
If you don’t already have an Apple Watch, then the upfront costs are greater. You’ll need at least a Series 3 or higher Apple Watch to get started (which of course, means you also need an iPhone). Then, you’ll get a free three-month subscription to Fitness+ included with your Watch purchase from September 15, 2020, through March 31, 2021.
Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $199 or $8.29/month for 24 months with financing and the latest Series 6 starts at $399 or $16.62/month for 24 months with financing. So we did all the complicated math for you: With the three months free, you can expect to invest around $17 to $27 per month for the first 24 months with the purchase of a new watch from Series 3 to the latest version, Series 6. That’s of course assuming you keep the Fitness+ service through those first two years (you can cancel at any time).
The service is family-friendly; up to six people can access a Fitness+ subscription. If you have two household members who both own Apple Watches and want to do the same workout together, you’ll select one watch to display the metrics on screen.
You can also access it anywhere there is an Apple device, so if you travel to a hotel that has Apple TV, you can access your Fitness+ app on the road.
Finally, for those truly immersed in the Apple world, the Apple One Premier plan includes Apple Fitness+, Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and Apple News+ for $29.95 per month.
I know, we just threw a lot of numbers at you, but considering a typical gym membership costs between $40 to $50 a month (and more in urban areas), and most gyms are closed or considered unsafe right now during the pandemic, the cost of Fitness+ is attractive for someone who is self-motivated and has a few pieces of basic equipment (and some space) at home.
For comparison, some of the top competing apps such as Peloton Digital ($12.99 plus tax per month), Aaptiv ($14.99 per month), Zwift ($14.99 per month), and Trainerroad ($15 per month) come in just above this price point.
If you currently use Apple Watch, you can share your metrics with friends or engage in challenges together virtually. I share mine with my go-to workout partner, and—especially during the pandemic—I find it motivating when I get a buzz saying that she’s completed a workout.
With Fitness+, you’ll get that similar experience, but the Watch will also show a thumbnail of the class you took, so you can easily share with friends. Finally, there is a subtle level of anonymous competition with the Burn Bar, but no social interactivity like seeing who else is taking or has taken the class or messaging within the platform.
The Apple Watch lives at the center of the program. In order to benefit from the metrics on screen, you need to have your watch on. On an occasion when you don’t, like if you forgot to charge it, for example, the program will be able to find an Apple watch nearby and allow you to do the workout without it (and the metrics), but it is optimized to be used together.
The experience gets maximized as you use different devices. We tested it on iPhone, iPad, and on our TV via Apple TV, and each device offers a different experience. While I am not going to the gym right now due to the pandemic, I can anticipate using my iPhone in the gym, when I’m squeezing in a workout on the go or at the park when it warms up. I enjoyed using my iPad the most as it offers a larger screen but is still mobile enough to be used anywhere it’s convenient. (I do all my workouts in the guest bedroom with limited space and no TV.) But for those who have cardio machines aimed at a TV, I can definitely see the benefits of an even more “immersive” experience for cycling, treadmill, rowing, or even for dance workouts.
Apple is known for launching products and services that set the bar high, and they are also known for gathering user feedback and quickly pivoting to create an enhanced or improved version (does everyone remember the first Apple Watch?), so we suspect this will be just the start of an interesting play in the world of streamed fitness content for the company.
That said, I don’t think home fitness will cause gyms to close their doors for good. This global health crisis has taken a devastating toll on existing brick and mortar businesses, especially in boutique fitness spaces that have boomed in big cities. But I don’t think gyms are going away. In fact, I think we will be even more eager to return to a time when we can high-five in-person and not shy away from sweating within six feet of each other.
But I do think gyms of the future will look different, that this pandemic may be the impetus that forces them to innovate and evolve, and that platforms like Fitness+ will contribute to that change.
The future of fitness will likely be a hybrid approach, with some combination of IRL experiences in brick and mortar settings and at-home virtual training for certain circumstances. We’ll see.
If nothing else, the launch of a digital streaming fitness service by one of the biggest tech giants confirms that home workouts and virtual training aren’t going away any time soon. Convenience is great, but the flip side of that convenience is that it’s way easier to snooze your alarm and ignore the workout living in your iPhone than it is to blow off a friend or trainer waiting for you at the gym or sacrifice that steep class fee you paid in advance. And as a certified trainer myself, I know that without customization and smart periodization, it’s likely that users will eventually plateau, in which case engagement tends to fall off a cliff. So I look forward to seeing how Apple iterates on this platform and continues to use data and user insights to improve and further personalize it.
Until then, I’ll be using Fitness+ to supplement my outdoor runs and bike rides. I love the simplicity of the core, strength, and HIIT workouts and intend to use them weekly for my cross-training. After taking a long hiatus from my regular yoga practice, I’m excited to dive into more of the short sequences offered there. And while I love (and miss!) a good party—especially one with a dance floor—after awkwardly stumbling my way through the choreography of a Dance workout, I can assure you I’ll be sitting those out for now.
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