If you had to guess how many workout streaming options exist at this given moment, what would your estimate be? A gazillion? Same.
With so many options out there, anyone entering the streaming space has to think long and hard about what will set them apart. When you’re asking people to open up a device and click “play” on your content instead of everyone else’s — and to get them to pay you, and keep coming back — how do you make the best impression? How do lock them in not only to the workout itself but also to the vibe, the community, and the promise of evolution… all before they realize they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid?
Some fitness brands leverage the human-connection element (harking back to pre-COVID days when your instructor might actually know who you are), employ irresistibly trendy branding, tout celeb-status trainers, or sell the experience with top-of-the-line equipment.
But then, there’s Apple, in a league of their own as always. In case you missed the news, the tech giant recently announced its new fitness streaming service, Fitness+, and it launched officially today. While the tech brand is entering a saturated market, they have something no one else can really touch: All your devices. They’re already on your wrist, in your pocket, in your kid’s hands, and on your TV. And that's exactly what makes Fitness+ special.
Apple’s new Fitness+ service hinges on the ease and simplicity of seamlessly connecting your devices — namely, your Apple watch with your iPad, iPhone, or Apple TV. Your watch connects with whatever device you’re streaming on, so you can see all your workout metrics (heart rate, calories, time, and activity ring status) right on the screen; on the flip side, you can also control (play, pause) the workout from your watch. During a class, when the trainer tells you to keep an eye on your heart rate, that number is immediately highlighted on screen. And when the workout ends, your watch automatically stops the workout session (a saving grace for people like me who forget to hit “stop” at the end of a workout, and accidentally log a 4-hour yoga session). You can even download workouts onto your iPad or iPhone so you can access them on-the-go or without Wi-Fi. At a hotel or friend's house with Apple TV? You can easily hop onto that device to work out as long as you have your Apple Watch on.
It's all housed in the Fitness app (where Watch users have historically accessed their daily stats, logged workouts, and activity awards, etc.), and is almost too easy to cue up; three clicks and your Apple TV, iPad, or iPhone, and Watch, and you're ready with the exact workout you’re craving — no doubt, longer than it’ll take you to put on your leggings. From there, you have 200+ workouts at your disposal, with more being added every week, all for the cool price of $10/month or $80/year. (After buying Apple devices to use it with, of course. Just saying: They're currently offering three free months of Fitness+ when you buy a Watch.)
Sure, Apple does the tech well. But can they compete with top-notch trainers and studios when it comes to workout design? If you're rooting for a dig of a review, hate it break it to you, but I’ll be damned if they don’t do the fitness part really well, too.
I had the chance to review Fitness+ for giveortake three days before it launched, so I decided to do so as if I were running my own home weekend wellness retreat, trying to pack as many different workouts in as possible (within reason), so that I could get a taste of it all. Fitness+ offers 10 modalities, including yoga, rowing, HIIT, strength, core, cycling, dance, walking, running, and mindful cooldown, so I had a lot to choose from.
On the evening of day 1, I decided to try a 20-minute, bite-sized (but serious) HIIT workout, followed by a 10-minute mindful cooldown, both cued up on an iPad tucked into the “workout corner” of my New York City apartment. My wellness retreat "welcome workout," if you will.
Well, in the first six minutes of Kim Ngo’s HIIT class, I learned a new HIIT move. (As someone who essentially lives to work out and who’s worked at Shape for five years now, that’s no small shock.) By the middle of the routine, we were singing J. Lo together. And by the end, I was googling where her cute Nike crop top is currently for sale. (Spoiler: Nike must have outfitted the entire trainer crew, and you're going to want to buy everything.) Color me sweaty, out of breath, and impressed. For one, this HIIT was real HIIT; none of that "leisurely interval training labeled as HIIT just because it sounds productive and sexy" stuff. (Sigh. That rant is for another day.) And listen up beginners: The modifications were on-point. I worried I wouldn’t be able to do all the moves because jumping and a 5th-floor apartment usually don’t mix. But Fitness+ workouts are all demonstrated by three instructors, including one doing low-impact or beginner modifications at all times, so I could pick and choose when to dial it back or when to level up and scare my downstairs neighbors.
DJ and yogi Jessica Skye’s mindful cooldown was a joy, the perfect mix between the post-HIIT stretching that I needed and the yoga vibes that I wanted. Plus, with a moment of meditation at the end, I could check another thing off my to-do list for the day. So far, so good.
On day 2, I started my morning with a leisurely 30-minute yoga practice with Dustin Brown, a yogi, Brazilian jiu jitsu blackbelt, and surfer based in Santa Monica. I unfurled my yoga mat inches from my television and cued it up on Apple TV, so I could feel as close to being in a real yoga studio as possible. And, trust, the Fitness+ studio in Los Angeles, where they film all the workouts, is somewhere you want to be: The ultra-modern wood interior, exposed brick, and jungle of plants just outside the windows is a welcome escape from looking around my messy apartment for the last however many months.
Mid-flow, I became obsessed with whatever song was playing in the background. (If you love stealing songs from trainers’ playlists in class, this just might be the hallmark feature for you.) Instead of interrupting my Chaturanga to ask Siri to ID it from my Apple Watch, I waited until I finished my workout, then opened the Fitness app on my iPhone, and found the song listed in the class playlist. More great news: During a workout, at the start of every new track, Fitness+ actually flashes the song card in the top right corner of the screen. When I closed my green exercise ring (signaling that I’d met my 30-minute workout goal for the day), I got the sweet satisfaction of seeing it do a shimmery celebration on screen. Talk about a wonderful way to start the day.
For the next Day 2 session of my DIY fitness retreat, I tuned in for a 30-minute dumbbell strength workout with Sam Sanchez, a petite Latina powerhouse whose smart programming tricked me (happily) into working harder than I intended. Again, the workout proved itself to be surprisingly scalable: Sanchez slowly broke down the dumbbell clean in a way I think even my most uncoordinated friend would have understood. For the already initiated, we got the green light to let 'em rip.
I followed up with a 10-minute mindful cooldown with Gregg Cook, who led a series of stretches and a few minutes of meditation that made me wonder why the fitness community doesn't finish every workout class ever with a guided meditation. As he pulled me out from under my endorphin stupor, I felt an odd rush of affection for this guy that could totally be my friend’s dad or my cool uncle. The Fitness+ trainers are scary good at being on camera but still always manage to come off as real human beings you could reach out and hug. (Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been alone in my apartment for several days now? Idk.)
On day 3, I woke up, well, sore. The perfect antidote? Dance workout. I’d heard great things about dance instructor and choreographer LaShawn Jones (who’d appeared in my HIIT workout on day 1). Over the course of 30 minutes, she taught a solid chunk of choreography, tapping into some of my personal cheerleading skills that have definitely gone stale during quarantine. Rest assured you don’t need to show up to these dance workouts with skill, though; Jones broke down each step and repeated them plenty of times before moving on to the next. And even though this isn't energizer-bunny dance cardio (you know, the kind where you're jumping for 40 minutes straight?), I watched my heart rate on the screen go up to about 140 bpm, a solid moderate-intensity workout for me.
Afterward, I tacked on a 10-minute core session taught by Amir Ekbatani, a former UCLA football star who lost his lower left leg in a motorcycle accident, who coached me through a difficult set of sprinter sit-ups and a banger Pure Dance music playlist. Each workout is labeled with the style of music played throughout, a choice of nine genres including hip-hop/R&B, throwback hits, country, Latin grooves, and more. (And if you aren't feeling any of them, you can filter for your desired genres when you’re picking a workout.)
As the finale for my glorious "retreat," I added a 10-minute slow yoga flow with the ever-so-badass Molly Fox, a 60-something yoga teacher who truly embodies the movement for strength at any age.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try the treadmill walking/running or rowing workouts because cardio equipment access isn’t easy in 1) small New York City apartment and 2) the era of coronavirus. But honestly, I'm dying to — and if the other classes are any indication, they’ll likely meet my expectations set by years of boutique studio workouts in NYC.
As far as workout platforms go, Apple did their reputation — and their competition — justice in creating a seamless, impressive platform that both delivers on content and tech.
My only critiques of Fitness+ are small things, really, and things that will likely come with time (after all, it literally just launched): I’d love the option to filter by equipment needed in the strength section to more easily navigate to bodyweight workouts; to link two Apple Watches at once, so both my roommate and I can suffer through the same HIIT session together; to have a tiny more class variety (think: rowing or treadmill workouts that also incorporate weights); and to have the option to take these incredible instructors with me for guided outdoor audio runs. That said, finding critiques is a stretch.
In the end, the only real downside to Apple Fitness+ — the fact that you need an Apple Watch and other Apple devices to partake — is the factor that truly differentiates it from everything else out there. No, Fitness+ is not yet another workout streaming service. It’s an entire workout ecosystem unlocked by those three little rings on your wrist.