Apple Fitness+ Is Making Me Consider Fitness-App Monogamy

Illustration for article titled Apple Fitness+ Is Making Me Consider Fitness-App Monogamy
Screenshot: Apple

I have an addiction to downloading apps. Whether it’s a game, a productivity app, an app for my dog—I will download and enjoy anything to pass the minutes. My personal favorite app genre is fitness. When it comes to fitness I am one of those people who need to be told what to do, how many times, and for how many minutes or I won’t lift a single dumbbell off the ground. My biggest app download spree occurred in the 2017-2018 period when I was training for a half marathon and for a while I had slowed down on the constant downloads. But then March 2020 came around, and well I don’t think I have to tell you what happened at that point.

Without my daily commute or weekend walks to whatever local eatery seemed interesting I was starting to grow roots out of my ass that permanently attached me to my chair. Like my fitness comrade Victoria from Gizmodo, I felt my Apple watch mocking me relentlessly day in and day out for not closing my rings. So I redownloaded apps I thought I had left in the past, took advantage of every extended free trial under the sun, and tried to scrape together a fitness routine until the day I could safely return to OrangeTheory. Everything was just fine and I was content in my newly constructed fitness land.

But on December 14th everything changed when the fire nation Apple Fitness+ attacked. The app is beautiful for users and a potential armageddon for all of the other fitness apps out there that offer roughly the same thing. At first, I thought there was no possible way this one app could replace all the different ones I had painstakingly cobbled together. So I tried nearly every category on Apple Fitness+ to determine if this one thing could be the end of my multi-app habit.

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General Cardio

I hate cardio and no matter how hard apps try there is no way to make it more pleasant. But it’s important so to make sure my little cold heart kept pumping I downloaded and used Nike Run Club or Nike Training Club (for HIIT) and had short dalliances with 7 Minute Workout and Aaptiv. (I also use the Peloton app but we will get to that particular one later.) The cardio-specific offerings on Apple Fitness+ are HIIT, Treadmill, Cycling, Rowing, and Dance. I did not even look in the Dance section because as I have explained before, I cannot follow choreography in the least bit.

The treadmill workouts on Fitness+ are just as good as the offerings on any other app that guides users through a tread workout. The only shortcoming is that Fitness+ limits its running/walking workouts to treadmill videos whereas Nike and Aaptiv have audio-only guided runs that extend to the outdoors. Considering I am too embarrassed by my gait and stride to run outside, this posed no problem for me personally but for outdoor run lovers, there isn’t much to work with.

What gives Fitness+ a leg up is that every treadmill workout has a Walk or Run option available before starting the workout. So instead of immediately trying to keep up with a Nike run coach who is setting their speed to six as a fucking warm up, I just press the Walk option and scale up from there.

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As for HIIT, the workouts on Fitness+ are comparable to any other HIIT-specific app with the added bonus that the workouts feature three instructors, one of whom is always doing the “easier” modifications so users at the beginner level are not lost in the lateral shuffle. See what I did there? Fitness humor.

Yoga

This one was a tough category as I currently use the best yoga app on the market, Find What Feels Good, which is the paid version of Yoga with Adriene’s free YouTube channel. Surely not even the all-powerful Apple could separate me and my $10 from Adriene.

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The yoga classes on Fitness+ are perfectly fine if you already have experience with yoga. If you are an absolute beginner and have never gone into down dog in your entire life, stick with Adriene on YouTube. My issue with Fitness+’s yoga section is two-fold. The first is that all of the classes are titled “Yoga with *coach’s name here*.” I like to know exactly what type of yoga I’m doing before I commit to rolling out my mat and preferably I want the explanation in the title. Because I don’t know any of these coaches I can’t determine if Yoga with Jessica will involve more vinyasa or something that leans closer to yin yoga (take note: Jessica is indeed a power vinyasa kind of gal). Fitness+ does have a preview option that shows a quick trailer of the workout prior to starting which is pleasant but I’ve been spoiled by Adriene so clicking more than once to find out what the class is going to be is just too much!

The second issue is that most of the classes currently available in the yoga category are geared toward optimal calorie burn as opposed to the low-calorie benefits of a really good stretch. This is to be expected considering that every coach in every class ends their class with “close your rings.” Again, it’s fine if all you want out of yoga is some chiseled arms and a tight booty but it’s a practice that offers numerous other benefits aside from calorie burn so in the long run, I’ll be keeping Find What Feels Good and maybe subbing in Fitness+ yoga on the days I want to do something strength adjacent without having to leave my bedroom.

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Strength Training

My arms are as strong as cooked pasta but I still deeply enjoy the challenge of lifting weights. To that end, I was using Sweat for a while but that shit is $20 so I switched over to FitBod which for a time had a free option if you selected bodyweight-only exercise routines. This scratched my itch for a while, but then the gym in my apartment building allowed residents to start using the free weights, so I switched to the paid version of FitBod.

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The setup for the strength options for Fitness+ are similar to the yoga options in that they are not titled so you know what you’re doing ahead of time. But it seems like the classes are largely geared toward a full-body experience as opposed to targeting one area for an entire class. I assumed right off the bat that I would not like this but then I took Strength with Sam and the heavens opened up and shone a light upon me.

The beauty of the Fitness+ strength workouts is in their simplicity. The exercises are compound movements that build well on each other yet simple enough that users new to strength can follow along with the lead instructor or with the “easy” instructor who is always on screen. There’s also not too much focus on a set amount of reps per movement with the classes focusing more on doing as much as your body can manage in the allotted amount of time. The real muscle heads probably can’t gain much from this but it’s great for the casual lifter on the condition that they have access to dumbbells or barbells of their own.

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Cycling

For me, this was going to be the be all end all category. I do not have a stationary bike of my own but through my building, I have access to a basic bike and I’ve used my phone to play Peloton classes through their app. If you’ve never tried it, the Peloton app is extremely comprehensive, offering a range of classes from mediation to strength to their signature cycling. Whenever I didn’t like what was on deck with any of my other fitness apps I would turn to the Peloton app to find a workout. But Peloton’s app isn’t exactly user friendly, especially when you consider their flimsy filter system and the fact that they have a library of more than a thousand classes.

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Kym, my new favorite person that I don’t actually know
Kym, my new favorite person that I don’t actually know
Screenshot: Apple

But flaws aside, the Peloton app has been the longest-running subscription I have across all categories of subscription-based apps. It is a home base. So when it came down to grading Fitness+ it was clear that unless the cycling classes were as good or better than Peloton, there would be no point in switching over.

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Now, if you already own a Peloton bike this entire point is moot but if you are an app user, then Fitness+ is about to save you three bucks a month. The cycling is fucking great. There’s no leaderboard, there’s no predetermined resistance that you have to maintain, everything is scalable to the rider. The instructors (my favorite right now is Kym) are super energetic and chat you up through the entire class but don’t cross over into that bumper sticker slogan talk that a lot of Peloton instructors do. If you care about none of that and just want to know if the calorie burn is the same then the answer is yes. In a 30 minute hills and intervals ride on Peloton I hit an average of 300+ on calorie burn and in a similar style class on Fitness+ with fewer hills I hit the same mark.


Is Apple Fitness+ the holy grail of workout apps? Probably not. Everyone has different needs that are met by a different style of instruction and different styles of exercise. But within just a few days of its launch, Fitness+ already feels as close to perfect as one can ask for from tiny people that live inside your phone, and with Apple’s cutthroat business practices it’s only a matter of time before people are lining up outside the Fifth Avenue store to get their hands on the gold plated iBike.

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DISCUSSION

My issue with Fitness+ (and admittedly it’s been mostly from browsing and trying a yoga video) is that it’s very helpful, but has an awfully thin catalogue for the price. I bought an Apple Watch in September so I have the three free months to test it out, but in it’s current form it doesn’t feel like it’s totally worth $10/month for a jack of all trades, master of none type app.

I think if it were priced (initially) at $4.99 a month and then ramped up the price when they doubled the catalogue it would be more attractive. But for $10 a month I could buy a subscription to a more focused app with a much deeper bench, whether it was for strength/yoga/running/cycling etc. Just feels pricey for what it offers at this point.