If there were a winner of 2020 — and “winner” of this dumpster-fire year is certainly a reach — it would definitely be at-home fitness. With gyms closed and stay-at-home orders in effect, the majority of the country had to learn to adapt their workout routines to their living rooms, a habit change that’s expected to endure post-pandemic, too. Enter Apple’s Fitness+, the technology company’s well-timed foray into the world of streaming workouts.
Announced during Apple’s annual September keynote, the service officially rolls out today to users across the country. Fitness+ offers an ever-expanding library of exercise classes, taught by a roster of full-time instructors, that work in tandem with the metrics on your Watch.
The app is especially friendly for beginners, offering instructive videos on using equipment along with introductory classes for equipment-free workouts. As someone who’s gotten a little too intimate with my couch in quarantine, I was intrigued by how the service could help people like me ease back into fitness while also supporting the workout needs of people who, like, lift weights for fun. (No shade! You’re amazing!) So, I tested out Fitness+ for a few days ahead of launch, using devices provided by Apple, to find out what you, reader, should know before subscribing.
How Fitness+ Works
Starting today, you should be able to update your iPhone and Watch software, and you’ll see Fitness+ in the bottom menu tray of your Fitness app. You can also use Fitness+ on your iPad or Apple TV, though not your Macbook. You do need an Apple Watch in order to use Fitness+, but if you don’t have one yet, you get three free months of Fitness+ when you buy one. If you’re already Watch’d up, though, it’s $9.99 a month or $79.99 for the year with one month free.
Once you’re a member — current Watch owners get a month free right off the bat, BTW — you can access a huge library of workouts, with new videos added every week. There’s a mix of HIIT, yoga, core, strength, treadmill, cycling, rowing, dance, and mindful cooldowns (basically, stretching plus meditation). To find a class, you can filter by type of workout, instructor, length (five to 45 minutes), and music (think “Latest Hits” or “Everything Rock”).
As you use the app more, it begins to learn your fitness behaviors, and will recommend videos based on what you already like to do, informed by data from Fitness+ and other workouts tracked by your Apple Watch. It’ll also recommend videos based on what you don’t do enough of, so you balance out your five-day-a-week yoga habit with some cardio, for example.
What Are Fitness+ Workouts Like?
I did a 10-minute HIIT workout with Bakari Williams early one morning last week, set to an ‘80s-tastic “Throwback Hits” playlist. The workout itself was an accessible mix of squats, jumping jacks, and high knees, familiar to anyone who’s a HIIT regular. I followed along with the trainer demonstrating low-impact modifications because my knees were bugging me. (26 years young!) I liked that the on-screen metrics counted down each 30-second interval, as well as how much time had elapsed in the workout. Seeing those numbers helped me time out my reps and finish out the full set. I also liked that, since it was my first workout, Fitness+ gave me the option to turn off my Burn Bar, a feature that compares your performance against others who’ve done the class. (I said "thank u, next” to it.)
I followed up my HIIT routine with a 5-minute mindful cooldown. The first video I tried, with Jessica Skye, had a buffering issue about 30 seconds in, so I switched to the same format — a few minutes of stretching, then a minute of deep breathing — with Dustin Brown. I tend to prefer a more intense stretch, so next time I would try the 10-minute version for more recovery. The music — “chill vibes” — lived up to its nickname. (FYI, if you’re an Apple Music subscriber, you can save playlists from workouts to listen to later, though you don’t need to be an Apple Music subscriber for the app to work.)
The next day, I opted for a mid-afternoon 20-minute yoga class with Jessica, set to a hip-hop/R&B playlist. Her tone and flow felt super accessible; we moved from a standing cat-cow to a few lizard variations, then through staple poses like cobra and downward dog. I found the metrics and time countdown a little distracting this time, so I turned them off. As we moved through the sequence, though, I kept noticing myself craving deeper poses and a faster flow. Afterwards, I realized that I might have been better served by a more challenging yoga sequence, and wished I could have filtered workout options by intensity rather than time.
Is Fitness+ Worth It?
To my medium-trained fitness eye, Fitness+ feels poised to capture the market share that Peloton, starting at $12.99 a month for a digital-only subscription, has not. As with Peloton, I can definitely see Fitness+’s diverse roster of trainers, many of whom are Instagram personalities in their own right, generating buzz for the service. You don’t need any specialized equipment to use Fitness+ (well, except an Apple Watch); the seamless integration with devices you probably already have gets rid of a huge barrier to entry. The other main difference is the absence of live classes, which is a big draw for Peloton or, say, obé users, but definitely isn’t a must-have for everyone.
Fitness+ makes a ton of sense for people who are already Watch users, and who haven’t yet found an at-home fitness subscription that works for them. Still, I don’t know that this service — entering an already quite crowded field — will be the thing that converts Fitbit users or those who prefer to work out like cavemen (i.e. sans metrics). A Watch, starting at $199 for a Series 3, is a steep commitment for people who are otherwise happy with a mix of Yoga With Adriene and Blogilates.
But frankly, I was sore the day after my HIIT session in a way that I haven’t been since pre-quarantine, when I was working out for real. It was a nice feeling! I can see others in my boat getting a similar benefit from Fitness+ in that it’s super convenient, the workouts are fun, and again, it’s right there. Only time will tell if Apple devotees adopt the service with the same aplomb as they do other launches, but it’s an impressive start.