Apple Fitness+ review: Your new home gym?

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(Cybertech) – Apple has been focused on fitness for some time, but until now it has really only focused on you doing it on your own via the Apple Watch.

Now, with a subscription focused future in play, Apple has launched Fitness+ – a collection of interactive fitness classes encouraging you to get active with the help of a team of trainers over an array of disciplines. It’s all tied in with your Apple Watch and a monthly subscription.

But can Fitness+ make exercise easy and enjoyable? We’ve attended a number of classes to find out.

What Apple tech do you need?

  • Must have an Apple Watch
  • Works with iPhone, iPad, Apple TV

Apple Fitness+ is available to all Apple users for a monthly subscription. To make the most out of the experience you really need an Apple Watch and  an iPhone. However, you can do the classes without the Watch if it’s charging – but then you’re just watching an exercise video. 

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Beyond those two devices, you can also enhance the experience with an iPad or an Apple TV. All devices will need to run iOS 14.3 though. And you can’t access Fitness+ on a Mac – exercise isn’t for laptop users apparently.

The concept

  • Exercise classes starting from 5 minutes
  • Watch used to track heartbeat and calories

Open the Fitness app, tap on the new Fitness+ tab, then pick a class. Once you start a class the app connects with your Apple Watch for tracking your exercise time, heart rate and calories burned, and in some cases how you’re doing against others who’ve already completed the class.

The classes are all pre-recorded rather than live, come with a musical soundtrack courtesy of Apple Music, and Apple is promising new classes each week to keep you coming back for more.

Classes

  • Various class disciplines
  • You have to supply the accompanying equipment

There are a number of classes covering a number of disciplines including HIIT, Strength, Core, Yoga, Rowing, Cycling, Treadmill, and Mindful cooldown. At times you’ll need various kit needed to complete them. In the description it tells you what you need before you start, but there are plenty that need nothing more than yourself. 

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The classes can last from 5 minutes to 45 minutes, with the majority sitting in the 10 – 30 minutes bracket. Difficulty varies, although it’s hard to know what the difficulty rating is before you start the class. Apple’s approach is for you to push yourself at your own pace regardless of the discipline rather than force you to do something you can’t cope with. 

Most of the classes we’ve done so far revolve around three blocks of interval training. The rowing class, for example, is about building up to an imaginary race with the intervals getting tougher as you go. Likewise the Core sessions are about progressively pushing you, but ensuring you get a rest inbetween. 

That’s perfect for beginners and those who have the ability to push themselves – but might be a little lacklustre for those who want to be pushed harder. That’s why live gym classes that push you within your ability are so successful, which isn’t what you get here.

Trainers

  • Numerous trainers
  • Diverse group of instructors

Within the disciplines there are a number of personal trainers representing a wide diversity. Most are from the US, but some are from the UK.

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All are super friendly, approachable, and full of smiles. As Brits we find the anecdotal stories – mostly about “college” and “game day” – aren’t 100 per cent relatable, but it doesn’t really get in the way. With many of the classes we’ve completed so far, we’ve found by the end we’re geed up and ready to sweat.

Of course, you’ll not find every trainer suits your style or approach – we didn’t, and although you can’t tell Apple’s recommendation algorithm that you don’t like a trainer, you can at least tell them the ones you do like so it recommends them again next time.

As a nice touch they even do sign language although don’t make a big deal about it.

Seamless integration

  • Connects to your Apple Watch
  • Workouts saved to your phone automatically

If there’s one thing that’s a resounding success with Apple Fitness+ it’s the ease of it all. The integration between the Apple Watch and the screen you’re using is seamless.

Once you’ve picked your class the two devices are connected instantly without any fuss, and the class doesn’t start until you either press play on the screen or on your Watch.

Once you do, your key vitals are displayed on the screen – relaying your stats back to you with every beat – and it’s easy to keep track of your performance as you work out.

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The classes are all choreographed with an accompanying soundtrack. The trainers reference the beats as you exercise to make it feel a lot more natural as to why you are listening to what you are listening to.

Beyond key stats like your exercise time, heart rate and calories burned, the screen flashes up other pertinent information like how long until the end of the interval, how you’re doing with the overall completion of your rings, or how, in some classes, you are doing on something Apple calls the ‘Burn Bar’ (which we explain more below).

Once an exercise session is done the data is accessible via your Apple Watch, for the day, or via the workouts tab as if it was a workout you had done before Fitness+ existed. However, you can’t access previous workouts on the iPad or Apple TV – they are merely there for playing the classes. 

Burn Bar

  • Compares you to the community

During some of the workouts the trainers refer to something called the Burn Bar. It’s Apple’s attempt at adding a level of competitiveness to the experience.

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This lets you see how you are doing compared to others who have also done the same workout. Shown as calories burned, it’s based on your rolling 2-minute effort during the workout – so the harder you work the more you move up in the pack. You get a final score at the end.

It’s a nice idea, but it’s also a bit distracting as it’s so very vague. Those who’ve heard of or experienced the Peloton leader board will see it as nowhere near as aggressive or brag worthy, and there’s no sense of localised community to it.

We would love it to show us against those who we are activity synced with, or competing against within Apple Watch Active Challenges. At the moment it’s just not that relevant to you personally and there’s certainly no bragging rights.

Beginner or expert

  • Let’s you work at your own pace
  • No live classes

We’ve already done a number of classes with a number of trainers, from yoga to core to strength to rowing, and plan to do more. All have been easy to get into, approachable, and all surprisingly enjoyable.

What is clear though is that all the classes are driven by you. Yes, there are suggestions by the trainers to go at a certain pace, but it’s easy to take things at your own pace. That’s a good and a bad thing.

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The classes and trainers aren’t about beating you up, if you don’t want to go as hard as the instructor then you don’t have to. If you miss a couple of days no one is going to tell you off. If you need to be pushed then Fitness+ isn’t about making you feel guilty about missing a class and that, we suspect, could lead to you simply not bothering once you lose interest. The only competition is yourself.

If you’re lousy at going to the gym then Apple fitness+ is unlikely to make the gym come to you – unless you want it to.

Verdict

Apple Fitness+ is as simple and straightforward as you could want it to be, seamlessly connecting pre-recorded fitness classes with your Apple devices and recording your efforts using your Apple Watch.

Apple has steered away from household names or celebrity trainers in favour of genuine wholesome instructors keen to make you feel good about yourself and the fact you’ve put in some exercise time, even if it’s just 10 minutes.

However, while all of that works just fine, it’s the lack of focused programmes with tangible end goals or a sense of commitment in having to turn up at a certain time. That makes us wonder just how many will stick at it longer than a couple of months without losing motivation.

If you’re someone who needs a goal then Fitness+ is unlikely to help deliver that focus. If you’re someone who has already dabbled with fitness apps that let you complete a class each day or week and enjoy that freedom then you’ll certainly enjoy this subscription option.

Fitness+ certainly lives up to its name, but for us to be truly glued we feel there needs to be more of a pull than our own motivation alone.

Also consider

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Zwift Run

The virtual running assistant might be more up your street – especially if enhanced by accessories to boost your training.

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Peloton Bike

Although obviously an entirely different product proposition, you’ll get live classes and more in terms of motivation. It’s pricey though.

Writing by Stuart Miles.



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