Fitness+ is a new premium service from Apple designed to help users “stay active”. It’s an on-demand workout video service – not dissimilar to Netflix – that integrates the health-tracking features of the Apple Watch with 20+ new workout videos, set to be released every week by Apple’s full-time team of 21 professional fitness trainers.
Workouts are offered in nine different categories – cycling, treadmill, rowing, HIIT, strength, yoga, dance, core, and mindful cooldown – and are available on iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.
Apple Fitness+ will cost for NZ$16.99 per month, or NZ$139.99 per year, and it can be shared with up to six family members via Family Sharing.
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21 full-time trainers
Apple has employed (full time) a diverse mix of 21 trainers with ages that stretch from 20 to 60 years old and sports backgrounds that range from yoga to a surfer from Melbourne, to a former rowing world champion, and 18 more in between.
They’re great. I’ve mainly been doing rowing workouts with Josh and already feel like I have an odd digital rapport with him. More importantly, I seem to respond to his coaching and push myself during the workouts.
This, I think, is the masterstroke here. Apple says that the trainers all collaborate with one another and take part in each others’ videos – offering different levels of intensity for you to mirror during your workout.
These 21 trainers are the key to whether Fitness+ will be a long-term success or not. Putting out 20+ new fitness videos a week is a big commitment. Achieving the same levels of enthusiasm and engagement as the launch videos will be the challenge for the service.
However, I’m confident that Apple has assembled the right people for the job. Apple, after all, has demonstrated before that recruitment isn’t an area where it struggles.
No Apple Watch = no Fitness+
Fitness+ requires its users to have an Apple Watch (Series 3 or later). Not just an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV. It’s an odd requirement that puts up a barrier to using the service.
I spoke with Apple’s senior director of fitness for health technologies, Jay Blahnik last week and asked him to explain the thinking behind this.
“If someone has had no interest in the watch, but they have an interest in working out, it probably does come across as a little bit funny.
“But, I think for us, the area of expertise we have in the fitness space is connected to the watch. That’s the area we know the most.
“Our expertise in fitness is really around what we put in the watch. And we felt like the first place to lead would be with people who either have a watch or want a watch because we know how to make the watch come to life.
“I think that we’re committed to making this a great experience for watch users and we’ll learn whether or not it makes sense to have this experience without the watch.”
It’s fair enough, I suppose. The integration of the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features is a big part of what makes this service so appealing.
Using the Fitness+ app
The app is really intuitive and super easy to use. First, you select what sort of workout you want to do. And you’ll be presented with a load of new workouts. If you’re in a hurry, you can just hit the first one you see that fits your schedule and you’re away.
If you want to be a bit more selective. You can. Just hit Filter and you can refine the workouts based on your favourite trainer, duration or the genre of music. And it’s as simple as that. All you need to do next is tap the workout.
Over time, Fitness+ will learn more about what sort of workouts you like and make recommendations to make finding a workout even easier. Apple says it doesn’t want users spending 20-minutes on finding a 20-minute workout. I like this ethos.
Music is clearly a bit part of what Apple is trying to do here. Each workout comes with a curated playlist to help you stay focussed. And the song selections are pretty good.
The good news is that you don’t need to be an Apple Music subscriber to train to these playlists, they’re all part of Fitness+. Though, Apple Music subscribers can download the playlists afterwards if they want to… but I’ve not felt the need to yet.
Doing a workout
When you start your workout, you’re greeted by your trainer and two colleagues (who perform the workouts at different intensities for you to follow.
Before you get going, the trainer will give you a quick rundown of what’s about to come and, as ever, a little pep talk informing you that “you’ve got this”.
I’ve mainly been testing the rowing and yoga workouts. I’ve done a bit of rowing before, so I was confident I could follow the sessions without any real difficulty. However, I am completely new to yoga, so this was a good test for me (more on this later).
Following the rowing workout was really simple. I have done all of my workouts with headphones in, meaning I can turn up the music and almost feel it when the trainer shouts motivational commands at me. I’d recommend headphones as a good way of blocking out the world and getting into the zone.
During the workout, you will see your activity rings and heart rate on screen, as well as countdown timers letting you know how long you’ve got left in the class – or specific interval. I’ve not found this distracting at all, but there is an option to turn these data points off, or tweak what you see during workouts if you want to.
You’ll notice something called the “burn bar” pop up on-screen periodically. This shows you what your effort level is like compared to everyone who has done the workout before you. It’s a neat tool for measuring if you’re pushing yourself hard enough. Mercifully, it’s not on-screen the whole time, so if you’re not “leading the pack” as the Apple trainers say, you won’t be constantly reminded of your performance.
The one issue I’ve had with Fitness+ is that I’m never quite sure where to put my iPhone or iPad. I’ve done all my workouts at home, so I’ve been able to move other bits of equipment to prop up my screen to a comfortable height using the iPad folio case, or a phone stand. But I can imagine this is a bit tricker if you plan on using Fitness+ in a gym where there’s a row of rowing machines, or treadmills, or whatever.
I’m sure third-parties will come up with clever (and affordable) treadmill, rower and bike attachments for your iPhone and iPad soon enough.
As I said above, I also tried yoga for the first time with Fitness+. This was always going to be a big test for me. Yoga is something I’ve wanted to try for a few years now. But I’ve never been brave enough to sign up for a class. The thought of making an embarrassing yoga debut in front of a class of people who know what they’re doing has prevented me – up until now.
So I tried the 10-minute “Yoga with Jessica” class. And it wasn’t scary at all. Sure, I wasn’t flexible enough to do all the things Jessica was doing. But I could mirror (and a bit more) one of her colleagues – so I found my level pretty quickly.
The one issue I’ve had with yoga (as a total beginner) is that I found myself looking at the screen a lot, which made copying the, already tricky, body positions a bit harder. If you’re doing the Fitness+ yoga workouts at home, there’s also no way to check you’re doing it correctly. I found myself questioning whether my form was right (or good enough) a lot throughout the class. This is where feedback from an in-person yoga teacher can’t be replicated.
I think Apple Fitness+ is such a cool service. I’ve totally bought into every class I’ve done and, even after a week, feel better for the workouts I’ve done.
I really like the flexibility that Fitness+ offers: the fact you can do a workout at home or in a gym will be appealing to a lot of people. From a personal perspective, I’ve never really wanted to do a spin class, or whatever, in a sweaty studio with dozens of other gym-goers. And the on-demand nature of Fitness+ means I don’t have to. I can take my iPhone or iPad with me to a gym (or home gym) and workout wherever/whenever it suits me.
It’s priced really competitively (especially if you use Family Sharing) and I can see lots of people using Fitness+ at home, or in their local gym, to get more from their workouts.