It’s a good time to be a home fitness app – although a little less so now Apple has entered the fray with its Fitness+ service, announced in September and launched on 14th December.
The service is limited to Apple Watch owners, but that’s still a substantial chunk of the market, and there are blindingly obvious benefits of using Fitness+ if you are on team Apple. At £9.99 a month it’s cheaper than rivals like Fiit and the integration between the watch and Fitness+ (as well as your iPhone, iPad and Apple TV if you have them) is delightful.
The Apple Watch is the key to the service, and if you own a subscription on the watch you can even use Fitness+ on other people’s Apple devices. The workouts start, pause and end automatically on the watch when using Fitness+, and the stats the watch records (like calories and heart rate) are displayed on screen, including the progress towards your activity rings goals.
The screen also displays a Burn Bar, which uses calories burned (adjusted for your weight) to rank you among people who have taken the class already. During the workout the Burn Bar ranking is based on a rolling two-minute average of your calorie expenditure, whereas at the end it’s an average of your overall effort that determines your placement.
You can choose to remove these stats and just focus on the workout. There’s also the option to toggle the timer to show either time elapsed or time remaining.
The workouts are broken up by type in the app – HIIT, yoga, core, strength, dance and sessions to do on cardio machines. The latter includes treadmill, cycling and rowing sessions, which you can do on any brand’s machine, though you won’t enjoy the connectivity of something like a Peloton bike where the bike links to the app to show detailed stats like power and cadence.
You can also find and choose classes by length (there are options lasting five, 10, 20, 30 and 45 minutes), trainer or music. Compared with other video workout apps it’s a little basic and I’d be keen to be able to filter strength workouts by the part of the body it focuses on, since the names of the classes don’t reveal much. They all follow the same format, which is X type of classes with X trainer, so “rowing with Anja” for example. I suspect the service is expecting people to stick with a favourite trainer.
Apple has put the trainers front and centre in the app and, from my limited experience, they seem an engaging bunch. Some are a little much for my tastes, but they offer motivation and useful instructions. During both the core and yoga classes I picked up handy tips for moves that I’ve been doing for a long time.
In each class there are at least a couple of other trainers doing the class, which improves the experience. I’ve always found on-demand video classes with just an instructor fail to recreate the atmosphere of a studio. While Fitness+ still doesn’t match that atmosphere, it gets closer than most, thanks to giving the instructor others to interact with.
Fitness+ puts a lot of focus on beginners and has a wealth of short workouts as a result, along with a dedicated “workouts to get you started” section. This is great, but I’d like to see more longer options too. Once you reach even an intermediate level of fitness I don’t think a 10-minute workout does much for you. While you can do several in a row it’s not the same as one longer class – you’ll be doing warm-ups and -downs each time, breaking your rhythm.
The core and yoga sessions I tried were very good though, and the camera work was particularly well done in the yoga class to help me follow the instructor’s poses. I also found the spinning workout came close to the experience you get from a connected bike from the likes of Peloton and Echelon. You don’t get detailed instructions about the exact resistance, power or cadence goals like you do from a connected service, but for the most part spinning is pretty simple – increase the resistance and push harder when told to, then relax. The advantage of Fitness+ is you can use it on any bike, treadmill or rower, and it’s much cheaper than a £40-a-month Peloton subscription.
Of course, the price of entry is an Apple Watch. However, Fitness+ seriously enhances the experience and I’m sure it will persuade more people to buy one, especially as you get three months of Fitness+ free with a new watch.
While it may lack some of the polish of an app like Fiit, which has had longer to refine the filtering and finding of classes, Fitness+ is an undeniably excellent product with seamless connectivity to Apple devices. It’s especially good for fitness beginners, and will only get better with more classes.
If you have an Apple Watch it’s well worth trying (you can get a one-month free trial), and if you bought an Apple Watch primarily for fitness tracking, adding on the Fitness+ service is certainly worthwhile, even if it’s just for occasional use alongside your normal exercise routine.