The new Apple online exercise service is a good add-on — but won't entirely replace any existing routines you have yet.
Apple's new exercise service Fitness+ is a subscription-based collection of taped classes that are designed for Apple users. Launched in December, the classes cover a number of different workouts, most of which don't require any kind of equipment save one key piece — an Apple Watch.
People are certainly looking for more ways to exercise at home, and are working out more frequently because they have more time at home given Covid-19, according to the Internet of Things Consortium. And Apple's launch was easily well-timed. But is it the right option, at the right price, for right now?
At $9.99 a month, it's certainly cheaper than a gym membership, and a lot less expensive than a Peloton, but is is worth the $120 a year in fees you'll pay? We spent several weeks using the service to come to our own decision.
You can see the classes you've taken in the Fitness app on your iPhoneGearBrain
Fitness+: Who can use it
Fitness+ is a service embedded in the Fitness app of the Apple Watch. You can't sign up for the exercise service without an Apple Watch Series 3 or higher, and while you can work out without having your watch on your wrist, the entire program is really embedded into the Apple ecosystem.
Classes can be pulled up only through an iPhone, iPad and the Apple TV, as these are where you can tap into the Fitness+ app. If you try to launch a class without your Apple Watch on, the app will ask if you'd like to proceed without syncing, which you can do. But you need one of those three platforms to even start a class in the first place. When you're wearing your Apple Watch, though, is when you see the full impact of the wearable to Fitness+.
Immediately, as a class starts, you'll see your own exercise rings, which measure how often you stand, how many minutes you exercise, and calories burned, in the upper right of the screen. (Yes, it's pretty small on an iPhone.) On the left are the metrics around the class, how many seconds for a circuit for example. But the screen also shows you how many calories you've burned, your heart rate and a Burn Bar, which is a way for you to see where your effort matches up with other people who have taken the class, and seems to take into effect the heart rate and calories burn.
Classes range from 10 minutes to upwards of 30 minutes, and you can select from quite a few including high intensity or HIIT classes (Kim is the best), dance, core and even rowing. There are also cycling classes, which do need a stationary bike for the best impact, and even workouts for runners or those on treadmills.
These are updated very often, and I even got alerts when there were new classes available. The instructors are super high-energy, there wasn't one that didn't seem to have just downed an energy shake, and they keep you moving for the full workout. You can pick classes based on the instructor or based on the style of class you'd like. And all seem to be shot in a studio with two other people alongside them as well.
Fitness+ suggests classes based on ones you've taken, while also nudging you to try something differentGearBrain
Where Fitness+ worked best
It's a global pandemic, in case you forgot, and taking a class at a gym is not really possible for me — nor frankly something I want to do. My typical workout is either a run, or I'll do some made-up aerobic danceathon to music in my living room. I don't own a stationary bike, nor a treadmill, although I have a few free weights I bought about 7 years ago that stare at me also from a corner of the living room.
I'm eager to find running alternatives since I tend to only go out for one every other day. I've found downloadable classes from YouTube and other sites not very engaging. I did have luck early in the pandemic with some live classes on Instagram, but Fitness+ promised a bit more with focused and varied workouts.
And they delivered on this front. From the running classes to HIIT to even some of the dance options, I was always able to find a class I was willing to try at least once. The length of the classes were varied as well — which I also appreciated. Even more so because the classes are actually designed then for 10 minutes or 20 or 30 — which means you get a start, or warmup, middle and end, or cool down, and don't feel you have to just stop abruptly.
I also appreciated that I could modify the classes. Some included weight workouts, but you didn't have to use them and there was always someone in the back (one of the three, not the main instructor) who would was doing this modified workout. I even took a treadmill class once — and as I said, I don't have on — and just ran around the apartment instead. It wasn't perfect, but it worked.
One of my main concerns was getting my heart rate up — the way I can with running. And the HIIT classes certainly did that. And they did it in a way where I could also slow down if I needed as well.
And when you finish a class and close a ring you get a nice little visual congrats on the screen which is a great motivator for those of us who like some encouragement to get ourselves moving.
In short, for the 12 classes I took over the five weeks, I felt I used the service and then some.
Things I liked least
Where did Apple+ drop the ball? In a few places. To start, I wanted more options for classes that are heart pumping but don't require equipment. It feels that aside from HIIT classes, the other more aerobic options really do require a stationary bike or treadmill. Yes, I ran around my apartment for one running class — but it wasn't ideal. And the dance classes were certainly fun (Hi LaShawn!) but they never really gave me what I felt was a strong workout.
I also honestly don't love working out on a video on a my iPhone. The screen is way too small frankly for all that data. This is Apple, so the rings are brilliantly designed and easy to see if you've closed them or not, but add that to a Burn Bar, heart rate and calories burned, plus the actual instructor and following steps or moves — you get it, the screen is cluttered.
While you can move the class to a TV via Apple TV — and I did as often as I could — not everyone has that option as some people live in shared spaces with roommates, others don't have the budget for an Apple TV. You can use it on an iPad — but again, extra device there. I'd really like to see this option open on a Mac computer since I know Apple is unlikely to add non-Apple device support right now.
Apple gives new Apple Watch users the first three months for free. All Apple Watch owners though get a one-month free trial, and after that are charged $9.99 a month. You can reduce that by signing up for an Apple bundle, which bundles a number of services together. And if you're a heavy Apple services user, paying extra for iCloud, using News+, TV+ and other services, that bundle option may be worth considering.
Apple Fitness+ syncs with the Apple Watch as you work outGearBrain
Worth signing up?
People are spending more time working out from home — and spending more money as well. Sales of treadmills are up 127 percent, stationary bikes, 221 percent and free weight 97 percent, in the six months prior to November 2020 compared to the year before, according to NPD Group. People want ways to workout amid the pandemic, and they're willing to pay.
Is Fitness+ the right option? If you're an Apple user, the answer I think may be yes. Even over a year — which you don't have to commit to with Apple — you're spending $120. That's less than a gym membership, less than a Peloton surely, and less than a treadmill. A few extra free weights may be more affordable, and certainly you can find some free classes on YouTube, or tip a few dollars to an Instagram instructor. (Although we'd strongly encourage you give more.)
But frankly, for the number of classes and the variety available, Fitness+ feels like a good option. You do have to be an Apple user though — and an Apple Watch is going to be a necessary door opener, and a $199 one at that, at minimum.
For those already with an Apple Watch, who may be runners or swimmers or those who want something they can turn to for a quick 10-minute class, something longer, plus updated courses as well (not the same class on Amazon Prime on repeat, for example) Fitness+ is certainly worth a free one-month sign up. And I — unlike other Apple subscription services I've tried — will be keeping the app past that point, and happily paying for it too.