Road Test: I Tried Fitness+, Apple's New Fitness Streaming Service

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Like most iPhone toting fitness fans, I was more than a little intrigued when Apple first announced its newest product back in September. Apple Fitness+ promised to be the ultimate streaming workout subscription—and then some. The stakes were high: Not only could you select from a wide variety of at-home workouts, Fitness+ also promised that it would go with you to the gym for treadmill, rowing, and cycling routines. But perhaps most importantly: The entire experience was built to pair with your Apple Watch and live within the existing Fitness app. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Fitness app, it’s the app with the brightly colored activity rings where you have been able to track workouts, standing, and movement via the watch for the past several years.) Fitness+ adds a new tab within the Fitness app, so you won’t have to download a new one; Fitness+ will just appear once you update to the latest software on your Apple devices.?

After months of waiting, we got a chance to road test Apple Fitness+, and in short: It definitely lives up its promises. (Apple sent me a new Apple Watch Series 6, iPhone 12, iPad Air, and Apple TV ahead of the release with Fitness+ preloaded and ready to go for the purposes of testing since it was not yet available for download.)

Getting started with Fitness+ was pretty seamless because, like I mentioned, the new streaming service already lives in an existing app on your iPhone. If you’re starting completely from scratch (as in, you just bought a brand new Watch and iPhone), you’ll need to pair your Watch with your iPhone, but if you’ve already got a Watch and iPhone you’ll just open the app and log in to Fitness+ (or sign up for a free trial) to begin.

Once logged in, you’ll find tons of classes, a cast of international trainers, and new workouts added every week.

Fitness+ currently features 21 trainers in a variety of disciplines. You can cycle with Kym Perfetto, an elite cyclist who has competed on The Amazing Race; do HIIT training with Kim Ngo, an award-winning instructor hailing from London; or lift weights with Amir Ekbatani, an adaptive athlete and former offensive lineman for the UCLA football team—just to name a few. Fitness+ taps into the existing Apple Music library, so there’s no canned muzak for these workouts. You’ll see the playlist for each workout on the individual workout page, and if you have an Apple Music subscription, you can save the playlist to listen to later.

As someone who is (probably a little too) serious about my workout music selection, this was one of the features I ended up enjoying most. The style of music is listed directly under the workout title (think: Latest Hits, Chill Vibes, Pure Dance, Hip-Hop/R&B), a factor that often helped me decide which workout to pick.

The trainers each have their own pages within the app (Apple calls them “rooms”), so you can read more about them. Trainers also appear in each other’s videos (for instance, in a treadmill workout I did, one of the cardio dance instructors appeared in the background and did a modified walking version of the workout). And the videos are nicely shot. This is probably very nitpicky, but as someone who has watched a lot of fitness videos, I enjoyed that these include multiple camera angles, so you can really see what the trainer is doing during a particular yoga posture, or get the right angle during a strength move.

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There are a lot of workouts to choose from, and one of the potential problems of having an app that could quickly become the Netflix of fitness is that you’ll end up spending more time selecting your workout than just working out. But after you complete three workouts, Fitness+ will make recommendations based on what you’ve already done; it also uses the activity insights from your Apple Watch and third-party fitness apps that integrate with the Health app to make recommendations. You can also filter workouts by type (HIIT, yoga, core, strength, treadmill, cycling, rowing, dance, and mindful cooldown), trainer, time, and music. You’re not able to filter by level of intensity, which is something I would have appreciated.

But it’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get in a workout.

Speaking of intensity, something I definitely missed was an idea of what exactly I was getting into with each workout. How hard would it be? In a 20-minute treadmill workout with Jamie-Ray Hartshorne that I tried, he said “add a little more speed” during the interval pushes. Even though Hartshorne talked through finding a “baseline pace” at the start, I was never quite sure how much speed I should have been adding. As a (pre-pandemic) Barry’s Bootcamp devotee, I always appreciated the specific speed ranges provided (e.g. “You’ll want to be between 7 and 9 mph,” for example). This didn’t have that, and for me, I like having more concrete directions so I know when I should be pushing my hardest.

Likewise, as I was browsing strength workouts, the only info displayed on the main strength page is the trainer’s name, length of time, and type of music. You have to tap into each individual workout page to see the equipment required (almost all strength workouts required dumbbells) and the body part targeted (total body, lower body, etc). And you can’t filter for equipment or body part, either.

I also felt like a few of the videos had too much explanation up front (I found myself saying, “Let’s just get to it already!”)—but unfortunately, you can’t fast-forward these videos to skip ahead. These are misses for me.

One unique aspect I did enjoy? The mindful cooldowns. At the end of each workout, you have the option to pick a 5- or 10-minute cooldown. The two I did were each really chill (I even did one before bed without having worked out and I felt super relaxed afterward), and I’m glad I forced myself to slow down.

The Apple Watch integration is what sets Fitness+ apart from other streaming services.

You’ll need an Apple Watch Series 3 or later in order to use Fitness+. You'll use it to start and stop the videos from your Watch, a feature I found especially helpful since I was interrupted more than once mid-plank (ah, parenthood). There are controls on the screen, so you could technically start/stop by tapping your iPhone, iPad or using your Apple TV remote, but using the watch is easier.

The watch also tracks your heart rate and calories burned—and puts that info right on the screen. I loved being able to see my heart rate during a 30-minute yoga practice. It made me much more conscious of my breath—and really forced me to focus on calming down. During HIIT, treadmill, rowing, and cycling workouts, you’ll also see a Burn Bar. This is a bar that shows how you’re doing compared to everyone else who has done the workout before you. If you’re the competitive type, I suppose this is a cool feature. I’m not, so I honestly didn’t pay too much attention to it.

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I’m also not a huge fan of the “calories burned” metric. If metrics aren’t your thing, you can toggle them off, but there’s only a single on/off; you can’t pick and choose which metrics you want displayed. (My ideal scenario would be to just toggle off “calories burned.”)

One note: I noticed that I could access the workout videos in the app without my watch being connected, so I reached out for clarification. A spokesperson said that a watch is required to complete set up (something I wasn't able to test, since the devices I used came with Fitness+ already set up); after that, you're able to access the workouts even if your watch is unavailable, like if it's charging.?

Despite a lack of levels, there is a section that’s actually for beginners.

As a certified trainer, one of my most common gripes about home workout products is that they tend to be too advanced for folks who are just getting started (yes, even the ones that say they have beginner workouts).

Apple Fitness+ is way more helpful—and I think they really nailed this. There are seven absolute beginner routines, including strength training, beginner yoga, and more. The absolute-beginner strength-training video I watched utilized a chair and incorporated slow, focused directions for squats, a modified push-up, and supported reverse lunges using the chair for balance.

There are also Getting Started videos for rowing, cycling, and treadmill workouts. Navigate to the rowing tab and you’ll see Getting Started right at the top. Tap that to watch a roughly seven-minute video where the instructor, Josh Crosby (a former world champion with the U.S. National Rowing Team) walks you through the fundamentals of rowing.

Having said that, as someone who works out like it’s my job (because it is), I would love to see progressive training programs incorporated (something I only imagine Apple is planning for the future). Think: a strength and cardio program to coach you to your first 5K or a faster half-marathon.

Similarly, the workouts seem to cap out at 45 minutes, and there are several 10- and 20-minute options, so if you’re looking to get in a full hour of working out, you may end up stacking a few workouts back to back (that’s what I did while testing). That’s fine, but it requires a bit more forethought and planning on your part. Going forward, I would likely incorporate Fitness+ by maybe going for a run on my own, and then doing a 20-minute strength routine on the app.

Apple Fitness+ is relatively affordable, and your whole household can use it.

Compared to other premium at-home fitness programs, Fitness+ is pretty affordable. The subscription is $10 per month, or $80 per year, and if you buy a new Apple Watch, you’ll get a three-month subscription included. Up to six people can share an Apple Fitness+ account, which is great if you and your partner (or roommates) are all interested in trying it out and getting those customized recommendations.

But there is what I’ll call an initial investment. You have to have an Apple device—an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV to stream, as well as an Apple Watch. Currently, an Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $400 and the latest iPhone starts at $1,000. Then again, I’m guessing if you’re interested in Apple Fitness+ it’s because you already have an Apple device somewhere in your house.

Bottom line: I still think this is a great value, especially if you already have an Apple Watch. Ten dollars per month gets you an expanding library of workouts that you can do at home or at a gym (when you feel comfortable going back), and it’s easy for other household members to share the account without added cost.

Apple Fitness+ opens up a world of workouts that you might otherwise have to download from multiple places. And if you’re already living in the Apple universe, with Apple devices at home, subscribing to Fitness+ is a great value. I’m hopeful that there will be more progressive training programs and sorting options in the app in the future, but I’m pretty psyched at how seamlessly my workout information integrates onto the watch and keeps all of my fitness and health activity tracked in a single place.

Apple Fitness+

Apple Fitness+ offers a wide variety of fitness classes, at varying degrees of difficulty, at a low monthly cost. The experience is designed to pair with your Apple Watch and you can stream the high-quality classes from any of your Apple devices.