Apple Fitness+ makes a compelling case for the Apple Watch

While it’s likely not for everyone, a lot of Apple Watch owners can benefit from these guided workouts

The Pros

  • It’s like a gym membership for people who don’t want a gym membership
  • It’s a great way to squeeze in quick and diverse workouts throughout the week
  • The clean design makes using the service simple

The Cons

  • You need an Apple Watch and an iPhone to start using it, but an iPad and an Apple TV make it better
  • Not as in-depth as some competitors
  • You can't do yoga and mindful cooldowns without a watch on

At-home fitness platforms have boomed during COVID-19 and Apple Fitness+ is no exception.

The service launched in December 2020 and, as the ongoing pandemic kept several countries around the world locked down, it took off as a way to stay active from home. Apple Fitness+ is a fitness subscription service that you can add to your Apple Watch for $100 per year or $13 per month to gain access to a wide variety of on-demand fitness courses.

While it has its pros and cons, Fitness+ is still an attractive service for Apple Watch owners and people looking to find an easy way to start working out.

What do you need to get started?

The three essential items you need to get started are an Apple Watch Series 3 or newer, an iPhone and a subscription to Apple Fitness+ or the Apple One Premier bundle.

That said, with this setup, you’re locked into doing yoga, core training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), dance and mindful cooldowns. You’ll likely want a yoga mat for a lot of these exercises as well. This is still an excellent starting place and for people like me who are looking for simple ways to stretch and stay active.

If you want to take things to the next level, you can add weights, a treadmill, a stationary bike or a rowing machine for more intense workouts. This also means you could bring your iPhone and Apple Watch with you to the gym (if it weren’t for COVID-19) and do Apple Workouts using the equipment there.

This makes the service surprisingly versatile since it’s not locked down to specific exercise hardware. As long as you’re using an Apple Watch, you’re good to go. That said, you are still tied to using an Apple Watch, and arguably, a lot of these workouts could be done as effectively without any stat tracking.

What’s the app like?

You can open the Fitness+ service through the Apple Fitness app on iPad, iPhone and Apple TV. You can also stream the service using AirPlay 2 to compatible TVs. Fitness+ is located in the centre tab between your regular Fitness data and the app’s social features on the iPhone. On iPad and Apple TV, the Fitness App is only the Fitness+ section.

The main screen presents you with all the workout categories along the top. Below are the ‘Time to Walk’ shows, which are an enjoyable way to squeeze some fitness into a short walk.

If you keep scrolling, you’ll start to see some workouts related to what you’ve already done, what’s new to the service this week and exercises that might be outside your comfort zone. 4

There are also themed workouts like a category for beginners and another more topical one for Black History Month.

The other two notable categories are ‘Trainers’ and ‘My Workouts.’ The Trainer category lets you see all the workouts that each trainer has done if you’ve taken a liking to a specific instructor’s style. The My Workouts zone is where you can save classes for later. You can even download these if you’re going on vacation somewhere without internet.

This is all accessible and designed cleanly, but each workout is titled with the type of work and the trainer’s name. This means that there are 16 different ‘Yoga with Molly’ episodes, and the only way to tell them apart is to remember the pictures or read the descriptions. It would have been nice for Apple to number these or give them some other kind of identifier to make it easier to remember what workouts you like.

Choosing a workout

Once you dive into a category, you have the option to filter by trainers, duration, and music. While it may seem odd that Apple doesn’t differentiate between beginner, intermediate and expert level classes, every episode features three trainers, each operating at a different level, making every class open to all. This means that if you’re a beginner, you can follow the trainer’s movements on the left. The trainer in the middle does the basic routine and the person to the right pushes things a little harder.

That said, I’ve found that the longer classes are more challenging and move faster than the shorter ones.

Once you pick a class, you’ll see a short description of the workout, the option to watch a preview of it and what music is going to play. I’ve never picked an activity based on the music, but it’s nice to see the list of songs once you’re done if you hear a song you like.

The previews are pretty well done too, each one is custom filmed for the episode and shows some of the moves and has the trainer explain what makes this workout special.

A small set of icons in the top left of the screen show your heartbeat, calories burned, time spent training and heart rate during the workout. Some of the more intense workouts will also display a ‘Burn Bar’ to indicate how well you stack up against other people who do that workout.

In the top right of the screen, you’ll see your Fitness rings and how close you are to closing them. Both of these are nice touches that keep you motivated as you go.

I’ve found the most success doing the workouts on an Apple TV since it’s easier to see, but the iPad works great as well. Working out on the iPhone is possible, but I find I need to adjust and move it a few times to keep it within my vision since I mostly do yoga. The smartphone works the best on machines like a stationary bike.

As for the workouts themselves, each trainer brings a fun personality to the class and since there’s such a wide range of characters, I feel most people will be able to connect with at least one instructor per exercise type. However, I found that switching between different trainers often helped me better grasp certain yoga poses and stretches.

For example, while doing a Warrior 3 pose with Jessica, she focuses on your shoulders. When you do the same pose with Molly, she helps you focus on your stance. By doing exercises with various trainers, you’ll learn more than sticking with one.

Other Apple Fitness features

While Fitness+ might be new, several other fitness-related features inside the Apple Fitness app are worth mentioning since they’re tied closely to the Fitness+ experience but are offered for free in the Apple Fitness app for Apple Watch owners.

To start, the most important part of the Apple Fitness app and using an Apple Watch in general for working out, are your Exercise rings. Every Apple Watch user has three rings to close each day. There’s a blue ring for standing at least one minute each hour, a green circle for working out and the final red ring is how many calories you’ve burned.

To close the standing ring, you need to stand up at least once an hour for the time that you’re awake. The green and red circles you can set your own goals for. I have my green ring at 30 minutes per day and my red ring at 560 calories. I’d suggest putting them at a high enough point that you need to work out a little bit to get them, but not so high that you’ll never reach them. Closing your rings is one of the most motivating parts of the whole system and doing it ever.

You can also share your stats with friends to see how you all stack up against each other.

Along with a few others, these features are all part of the Fitness app and don’t require a Fitness+ subscription.

Closing thoughts

Fitness+ offers a lot of value for $100 if you get a yearly subscription. Being able to wake up and do a quiet bout of yoga with an actual trainer is really nice and since I’ve started, I enjoy being able to do these simple workouts on demand.

While the app might not seem the most organized, I find that the disorganization helps me jump into any class that’s my selected workout type and time limit.

I’m not the most fitness-inclined person, but I enjoyed the slower pace of Fitness+ and the simple fact that I could do small workouts without feeling like I’m wasting money on a gym membership.

If you’re someone who already works out a lot, I’m sure you could get a lot out of this since you can bring it with you on your phone to the gym or on your existing equipment, but you’d need to figure out how to balance the costs. Fitness+ likely won’t replace everyone’s fitness routines.

The fact that you need an Apple Watch to do this is a little annoying. I get that Fitness+ is basically an Apple Watch add-on, but I’m not that into tracking my health metrics or stats and would enjoy this program just as much if I could only do the videos without needing to wear a watch. My girlfriend can’t even do the yoga courses unless she starts it from my watch, making the service somewhat limited for larger households unless everyone owns an Apple Watch.

That said, this is cheaper than many other home workout programs and offers a wide variety of classes, with new ones added every week. There is a ton of value here if you already have an iPhone and an Apple watch. With that in mind, if you don’t live in the Apple ecosystem, it’s hard to commit to Fitness+ since the upfront cost can be anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand, depending on how much Apple gear you need.

The Fitness+ classes feel a cut above the competition with their cool music, well-lit atmosphere and approachable class styles. After using Fitness+ for a month, I gave Fitbit Premium a try and while you don’t need as many devices, the experience isn’t even close. The menus are overloaded with info, and the videos themselves are just edits of a person doing static workouts instead of an actual program with a trainer. Both Peleton and Fiit offer classes that I found to be on par with Apple, and their apps even have more features, but they cost a little more a month, so you’d have to weigh what you’re looking for before you make a choice.

If you have an Apple Watch already, you should give Fitness+ a try. The simple fact that these videos are so accessible means I’m doing more exercises, which is great for my health and something other people looking to find a home workout solution should consider.

Apple Fitness+ costs $100 per year or $13 per month. It’s also worth noting that you get three months free with the purchase of an Apple Watch. If you missed out on your three-month trial, there is also a smaller one-month trial.