Apple’s $10-a-month subscription service for iPhone, iPad and Apple TV makes it easy to start working out anywhere using your Apple Watch.
Apple has given us a not so subtle reminder to get moving with Fitness Plus, the new service that gives you all types of guided workouts to do at home, or wherever you want. Costing $10 (£10, AU$15) a month, or $80 (£80, AU$120) a year, Fitness Plus streams directly from your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV and uses the Apple Watch to display metrics on screen to help you meet your fitness goals. For those already deep in the Apple ecosystem and feeling lost in this at-home workout world, Fitness Plus can be a great way to get you moving. It’s easy to use and beginner-friendly (here’s how to set it up), and has 10 different workout types to choose from. I tested out an early version of the Fitness Plus app and completed at least seven different workouts over the course of four days to see what it was all about. Spoiler: Everything hurts now.
How the Apple Watch works with Fitness Plus
The premise is simple enough: Fitness Plus offers guided workouts for every level, whether you’re just getting started with your fitness journey, or you’re a more advanced gym-goer. There are 10 workout types: treadmill run, treadmill walk, stationary bike, rowing, dance, strength training, core, yoga, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cooldown. What sets it apart from similar fitness apps like Nike Training Club or the 7 Minute Workout is its close integration with the Apple Watch.
Fitness Plus uses all your previous workout data, from the Apple Watch or any other fitness app that syncs to the Health app, to help guide your next workout. If you’ve logged any workouts on your Apple Watch, you’ll be given two categories to choose from as soon as you start using the app: more of what you love, or try something new. They’re fairly self-explanatory, either serving up similar workouts to what you’ve done in the past or suggesting new workouts that complement what you’ve already been doing. My test account of Fitness Plus didn’t have access to my workout history, so I wasn’t able to test out the recommendations feature for this review, but I’ll be updating it once I’ve been able to test it out on my own account.
Stats from the Apple Watch like your heart rate, calories burned and elapsed time show up on the iPhone, iPad or Apple TV screen. This helps to put you right in the workout so you don’t have to keep glancing at your wrist. You also get a live view of your activity rings, which will fill up throughout the workout. For some workouts, the app even uses your heart-rate data to tell you how much effort you’re putting in compared to everyone else who’s done it in the past, which Apple calls the burn bar. The instructors also reference heart-rate info to push you during a workout.
How to get started with Fitness Plus
The app will be available on the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV with the latest software updates (iOS 14.3, TVOS 14.3 and iPadOS 14.3 respectively). You’ll have to download the Fitness Plus app on your iPad, but it’ll come preloaded on the AppleTV and will appear as a new tab within the existing Fitness app on the iPhone. A future software update (still in beta) will also let you to cast to any AirPlay2 compatible TVs and devices, though at launch you’ll only be able to see your live stats on the main device running the Fitness Plus app (iPhone or iPad). Once you choose a workout on the screen, it’ll automatically start logging the corresponding workout on your Apple Watch (WatchOS 7.2) with no extra effort on your part. You’ll also be able to use the watch as a remote to stop or pause the workout at any point.
The app itself is intuitive and easy to navigate. Even if you don’t like any of the recommendations, a filter makes it easy to find your next workout. You can search by workout type, duration, instructors and music. There’s no way to filter by difficulty level yet, but you can watch a brief trailer to get a sense of what you’re in for.
Within the first two days of testing Fitness Plus, I managed to complete seven out of the nine workout types available, which I thought would be impossible with a full time job and two young kids in the house.
Time doesn’t really seem to be too much of a constraint with Fitness Plus considering you can find anything from a five-minute cooldown to a 45-minute yoga class, depending on your schedule. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even mix and match workout routines. Perhaps a little core work to round out your strength training, or add on a calming cool down at the end of a sweaty HIIT session. The only thing you can’t do yet (take note, Apple) is make a playlist that automatically plays back to back with multiple workouts. For now, you can just save them to My Workouts section on the Fitness Plus app to see all in one place.
Putting Fitness Plus to the test
Without any recommendations on my test account, I was left to my own devices to choose my first workout. I chose something fairly familiar — a strength training session in my living room on Apple TV. I do about three outdoor runs a week, which I balance with Pilates to strengthen my muscles. Fitness Plus doesn’t offer Pilates yet, so strength training (or yoga) was my closest option. The 30-minute workout felt engaging and high-energy, and the instructor had a good pace. I definitely felt challenged during parts of it, but mostly because of the pace and the weight of my dumbbells. The moves were fairly basic, and it started to get repetitive after a while. What really kept me engaged was watching my heart rate go up and down in real time on the screen. I felt like it kept me honest about how much effort I was putting into each move and I pushed myself more than I would have otherwise. It was also a nice pat on the back to see my exercise ring close on the screen as I was winding down.
The workouts don’t really offer much of a cooldown, which is great when you’re tight on time, but you also get the option to add one in from the cooldown section at the end.
Then I decided to challenge myself to try something I’d never done before: rowing. I’d received a loaner rowing machine as part of my review package so I figured I’d put it to work. But if you don’t own a rower, treadmill or stationary bike, that’s OK too because you can pick out workouts from the other sections. Most of these can be done with no equipment whatsoever, although sometimes the instructor will recommend a dumbbell or yoga mat.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been too intimidated to even go near a rower at the gym. But Fitness Plus makes it easier to step out of your comfort zone with an entire beginners section with short, easy workouts along with a “getting started” video that teaches you how to use the equipment.
They also provide modifications within each workout video, just look to one of the other two instructors in the back for a slightly easier or more challenging version of the routine.
After watching the six-minute intro video for the rowing machine, I was able to complete my first workout without injuring myself. I did, however, slide off the seat the first time I attempted to mount it, which you can check out at the end of my review video if you need a laugh. Even though it was just 10 minutes, it engaged my entire body and got my heart pumping. Enough so that I definitely felt sore the next day (and not from sliding out of the seat). I even scored a 78 on my burn bar which, according to the app, put me “ahead of the pack,” although that’s not saying much considering the service wasn’t available to the public yet.
Consistent instructors, perfectly choreographed music
I also did a 20-minute HIIT session and a 10-minute core workout outside using the iPhone, and a yoga and a Latin dance session in my living room. The last two didn’t end up being as effective, because I tried to get my 1-year-old and 3-year-old involved. Their attention span only lasts for so long.
What it did allow me was to get to know some of the different instructors and mix up the type of tunes I worked out to. There were definitely some teaching styles that suited me better, but they’re all highly engaging and good at motivating you to push yourself throughout the workout. Despite how different they all are, they all convey the same sense of excitement to be teaching you, and there’s a consistency in the way they all structure their classes which was extremely helpful.
The music is also an important part as each workout has its own unique playlist that keeps the momentum going. It’s a great way to discover new music without having to spend any time on it. The name and cover album of the song pop up on the screen as you’re working out. While everyone can listen along to the songs during the workout, Apple Music subscribers can download the entire playlist to their library directly from the Fitness Plus app.
A great starting point, or complement to your existing routine
As with any fitness plan, it takes weeks or even months to see changes in your body or fitness level (which the Apple Watch now tracks), and it would be unfair to make a definitive judgment call on Fitness Plus in less than a week. Also, it will likely evolve as more workouts are added on a weekly basis and the algorithm gets better at figuring out what to recommend. But here’s what I can say right now after having used it for four days.
Fitness Plus is a no-brainer if you already own an Apple Watch, or are considering getting one, as you get a free three-month trial. It’s also included as part of the Premier Apple One subscription bundle, for $30 (£30, AU$40) a month. But with so many fitness apps out there, it’s probably not reason enough to buy an Apple Watch.
It’s also not the best option if you’re a pro in any of the workout categories, or you’re really looking to hone your skills, as it seems to be geared for a broader audience and it can’t offer personalized feedback on form.
Fitness Plus won’t make me ditch my Pilates studio anytime soon (once I can go in person), but I’d definitely consider it as a complement to my current routine. Sub in a fun dance session when the weather’s too bad for a run, or squeeze in a 10-minute core workout after putting the kids to bed. It’s a welcome changeup to my old running and Pilates routine, with different workout types and no-excuse options to get moving whenever or wherever I can. For now, I need to collapse on my couch for the next few days while I recover from this review.
We recommend consulting with your physician before starting a new exercise regimen.
First published on Dec. 14, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. PT.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Credits: Vanessa Hand Orellan
Featured Image: Apple Fitness Plus streaming on the AppleTV. | Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET