How Apple Built the Perfect Team of Trainers for Its New Apple Fitness+ Platform

Sure, the tech is impressive — but this dream team of trainers is the real star of the show.

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Former full-time musician Betina Gozo is the founder of a nonprofit that brings medical aid and school supplies to children and adults with disabilities in Kenya. Onetime UCLA football star Amir Ekbatani found solace in songwriting after losing his lower left leg in a horrific motorcycle accident. Jamie-Ray Hartshorne, who performed a few years ago in the UK's traveling musical production of The Bodyguard, now lives in Los Angeles with his fiancé and their adorable chihuahua, Alfie.

These are three of the 21 trainers who'll be front and center of Apple Fitness+, an intelligent streaming service that links your Apple Watch with your iPad, iPhone, or AppleTV set to launch December 14. And the crew as a whole is as diverse as the users Fitness+ is trying to reach. Take, for example, Molly Fox, a proud grandmother and former Jane Fonda workout instructor who now teaches yoga and strength, and Kim Ngo, a snowboarding enthusiast who used to teach math in London and now leads HIIT.


Rather than snap up the most followed and fawned over fitness stars during the casting of its first-ever team of trainers, the behemoth tech brand is betting that users will find inspiration in a mix that's more unexpected and, frankly, more relatable. The videos, some 200 upon launch and additional options slated to upload every week, will feature instructors of a range of ages, nationalities, ethnicities, abilities, and body types. If there's anything that 2020 has brought to light, it's that representation matters — and this will be vibrantly reflected in Apple Fitness+. "We looked for trainers that have a heart not just for the very fit, but also for the beginner," says Apple's senior director of fitness for health technologies Jay Blahnik, who oversaw the project that's been years in the making. (Apple made members of its team available for background calls, then supplied by email all quotes that appear in the story.)

While the world of fitness streaming can lend itself to cults of personality, Apple is instead encouraging engagement, teamwork, and friendship among its cohort of trainers — a sentiment that'll hopefully translate off the screen and to the Fitness+ community as well. The synergy Apple is inculcating will be plainly visible: Users will see trainers appearing in each others' videos, often demonstrating modifications so people of all levels can participate and have someone to follow. Subscribers (you can become one for $10/month or $80/year) will see a yoga instructor who has a killer handstand walk through a treadmill running session, or a world-class rower execute a downward dog with bent knees to accommodate his tight hamstrings.


In the five plus years since Apple launched its nifty watch, the company has been inspiring people to move more, tracking every step and brightening spirits with colorful, animated activity rings that inspired the hashtag #closeyourrings on social media. Until now, though, the Apple Watch was a tool people typically used with their own workouts or alongside other workout platforms, apps, and IRL group classes in the pre-COVID world. It seems it was only a matter of time before Apple would add branded workouts to its seamless ecosystem.

Videos on Fitness+ will feature one trainer leading a pair of colleagues, set to Apple Music playlists curated for each class by the trainers themselves. They're available to all participants, regardless of whether you're an Apple Music user or not. (Though, there's an incentive to subscribe: If you dig a trainer's music selection, you can listen to the playlists any time.) Apple Watch metrics are integrated into the workout experience, and the top corner of the screen — be it your iPad, iPhone, or AppleTV — will display real-time tracking information such as heart rate and calories burned so you don't need to look down at your wrist. If a trainer calls out mid-class that she wants you to keep tabs on your heart rate, the metric automatically enlarges on screen. Should you close one of your rings mid-workout, the happy animation that signals such an achievement, usually on your wrist, will play out right there on the video.

Members can sort through workouts by instructor, duration (from 10 to 45 minutes), music genre (there are nine), or discipline (including yoga, rowing, HIIT, strength, core, cycling, dance, walking, running, and mindful cooldown). Classes you've completed will inform the suggestions for your next session; Fitness+ recommends workouts that match your previous selections so you can revisit a favorite style, try something new, discover a new trainer, or find a workout to complement your current routine. Newbies need not feel intimidated, thanks to a workout series called Absolute Beginner, which focuses on the basics of HIIT, strength, core, and yoga.

Apple Watch Series 6


The gadgetry that Apple built to weave the watch into the workout platform is pretty cool, but it's the human element that most excites Blahnik. He and his team scoured the globe, scouting gyms and studios looking for instructors who had the right mix of talent, humor, exciting stories to tell and, most importantly, understood the value of teamwork.

Once a few very promising instructors were identified, the Apple team's quest for diversity began to fall into place. Blahnik and his colleagues reviewed the candidates according to discipline, with the goal of representing different backgrounds and experiences across each. For instance, the group of rowing instructors includes Josh Crosby, a world champion rower in his 40s, as well as Anja Garcia, a former U.C. Berkeley gymnast who recently gave birth to a baby girl and works at UCLA as a pediatric intensive care nurse.


The team was finalized right before the coronavirus outbreak, and those who lived in other cities moved to Los Angeles in order to film the workouts at the company's new state-of-the-art set in an undisclosed location. As many of the trainers were unable to visit the friends and family members they'd left behind, the transplants found themselves developing deeper bonds with one another than they'd expected. Don't worry, after the pandemic, the trainers whose families didn't move to LA will be able to travel back and forth as originally planned. For now, though, the group spends the majority of their time together.

I met four of the trainers via video call. Speaking with them is like talking to a quartet who have won a Willy Wonka contest for our era. Even on this brief call, their joy and individuality leaps off the screen. Fox, the 60-something yoga and strength instructor, tells me she feels lucky to punctuate her career with this out-of-this-world opportunity. "I love the diversity of this group," she says. "Sometimes age gets left out of the diversity conversation. My hope is that everyone feels seen in the Fitness+ trainer team." She adds that she's excited to take LaShawn Jones's hip-hop dance classes with her granddaughter. For her part, Jones, who studied public health and taught dance on the side of a corporate job in New York, says she was thrilled for the opportunity to concentrate full-time on the thing she has loved to do since age three. She hopes that passion can infect those who take her classes, as well. "I'm excited to share the power of dance, and what it can do for people," she says. "Regardless of whether you're a novice or experienced, it's really something that can be an escape, a form of freedom, a form of expression that anyone can benefit from."

Leave it to Hartshorne, the former regular on the London musical circuit, to tell me about the outrageous fun he's been having creating playlists and designing routines with the feedback of his new partners. "It's so exciting to think that we're going to be able to encourage people of all ability levels, including those who have never worked out before, to try Fitness+ and hold their hand across that start line," he says. All this good energy and goodwill is bound to have a ripple effect — not only across the trainer team, but around the world, where activity rings will be closing and shimmering like never before.

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