Apple Fitness+ Put Me in Touch With My Inner Fitness Buff
This hands-on first experience with Apple’s hyper-happy trainers was a good one
I’ve never had a fitness trainer and only set foot in a gym a few times in my early twenties and have not been back since. I don’t spin or sweat in hot yoga. My workouts are of my own design, heavily influenced by Jack LaLanne, and they’re roughly the same ones I’ve been doing for almost 25 years. So, you’ll forgive me if I have an aversion to Apple’s hyper-positive, intensely cheerful, clearly fit, and obviously talented Fitness+ instructors.
Even though Apple gave me a Fitness+ subscription to try (it normally costs $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year for use by up to five family members), I wasn’t sure I wanted to try it. Plus, my workout is mostly focused on strength and weights, and Apple’s exercise routines on the Apple Watch — what it recognizes as a workout — didn’t include pushups, curls, or pullups, all my own go-to fitness routines (it’s got me covered on the occasional powerwalk and cycling).
Before I could even give it a go, I had to update my iPhone to iOS 14.3 (a relatively significant update that seemed to reset more than a few connections and settings, including my AirPods Pro, which wouldn’t work until I rebooted the phone again) and make sure my Apple Watch was up to date with watchOS 7.2. It’s a beefy update that my wife’s Apple Watch 3 is struggling to ingest (there isn’t enough space). I’d like her to update, though, because she’s a perfect candidate for Apple Fitness+. For years, she’s been using YouTube video trainers to guide her through aerobic workouts.
With the updates in place, I watched the system’s 90-second welcome video. I recommend you do the same since it gives you a good feel for what the workouts will be like. Most of them look, by the way, like they’re shot at studios in Apple Park. I recognize the woodwork, big windows, and very Apple-campus feel.
Version iOS 14.3 renames “Apple Activity” (the tri-colored three-ring app icon) to “Fitness” and in the app adds, between “Activity” and “Sharing,” there’s a “Fitness+” tab.
The Fitness+ app layout is intuitive and relatively straightforward, which means you can do as I did and dive right in to find the workout of your dreams. There’s also a seven-episode set of “absolute beginner” routines that can really help ease almost anyone into working out. One thing that appears to be missing from Fitness+ is a search capability. Yes, it’s well-organized, and I can sort lists by trainer, recent, time, or music, but finding all workouts with weights or back strength would be cool, too.
At the top of the app is a shallow carousel of workout options that starts off with, at least for me, the inscrutable HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training and basically means short energetic intervals and recovery periods that are designed for cardio fitness and body strength. There’s yoga, core, dance, rowing, cycling, treadmill, and mindful cooldown. I don’t really work with much equipment besides a curling bar, pushup grips, a pullup bar, and some boxing equipment (heavy and timing bag). The one fitness option I gravitated toward was strength because I assumed it would focus a bit more on weight training.
Most workouts in Fitness+ range from 10 to 30 minutes. Since I didn’t know what I was getting into, I looked for one in the 10-minute range. I chose the bald strength trainer Gregg because we seemed connected and found a new 10-minute routine of his called “Pure Dance.” No, I do not dance for fitness but assumed the name describes the tempo and attitude and not the routine, which, based on the thumbnail image, appeared to involve dumbbells, stretching, and some core strength training. The short description more or less confirmed this. It said it would “strengthen muscles in your entire body — one side at a time — with moves like squats, rows, and deadlifts.” Gregg told me upfront that the 10-minute routine encompassed four moves. That seemed just about my pace.
The routine also recommended the use of both light and heavy dumbbells, but I wanted to ensure a good workout since I was not doing my normal curls and opted to use just my 20-pound dumbbells.
I propped up the iPhone in landscape mode on a desk and stood far enough away so I could move my body without hitting the phone. The iPhone is the primary interface for Fitness+, though you can use the iPad or Apple TV. Even with the workout playing full-screen, I realized I’d prefer a much larger image. Next time, I’ll do this with Apple TV and my 65-inch display.
Since I work out early in the morning while everyone else is still asleep, I kept the volume on Gregg’s guidance and the music (“Turn Me On” by David Guetta and “Run the Town” by Offaiah to name a few) down low. I now realize it makes more sense to conduct these workouts while wearing my AirPods Pro, which do have sweat protection.
I hit “Let’s Go” on my screen and watched the countdown start on my iPhone and Apple Watch.
It was an intense but not overly difficult 10 minutes. Gregg’s enthusiasm was almost infectious, and his guidance was clear, though I wished for a few more side-view video shots so I could see Gregg’s exact position and match it. Part of the issue was that, having never worked out with a trainer, I didn’t always understand his direction. I’ve also never combined strength training with movement. Still, it felt good to work my muscles, especially my aging core, in new ways. I felt guilty when I didn’t squat as low as Gregg or the other trainers in the video, but then I noticed how Amir, who has a prosthetic leg adjusted the workout routine to work for his body and how the young woman on the right, Sam, also made some small modifications. Soon I started focusing less on the perfect replication of Gregg’s moves and more on keeping pace and doing my best.
I never looked at my watch during the workout but did keep a close eye on my heart rate, calories burned, and time left, which was on the iPhone screen in the upper left corner. I was pleased to see it hit a high of around 149 bpm. You can, by the way, pause your workout and the video, but you cannot scrub forward or back.
The 10 minutes went fast, but I also realized I’d made the right choice, easing into this training thing. I also think Gregg and I sort of bonded. He seemed so pleased with my efforts.
Apple appends mindful cooldowns to all the workouts, and even though I’m not a cooldown kind of guy (I usually finish working out and then huff and puff my way back upstairs and through making the morning coffee), I decided to give one a shot. I chose a five-minute routine with trainer Dustin. It was, as you might’ve guessed, stretching and breathing. I followed along, which did help return my breathing to normal. Did I feel more relaxed? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll follow my next workout with another cooldown to find out.
I would not normally pay $9.99 for a monthly gym membership or even access to trainers. I’m too happy with my own routine and have a strong antipathy toward gym atmospheres. But that price for my whole family means that my wife, son, and I can work out in our own ways (my daughter doesn’t have an Apple Watch, though she could use the routines without one if she doesn’t mind the lack of real-time feedback). If we all do it with Apple TV, it will, using our individual watches as keys, automatically keep track of who is working out with Apple Fitness+. Also, if you already subscribe to Apple Music, Apple TV+, or iCloud family plans, you might save money by bundling them with Fitness+.
Overall, Apple Fitness+ is a good and unintimidating fitness system. Even if, like me, you’ve never worked with a trainer, I think you’ll find someone and a routine to connect with on this broad and ever-expanding system (Apple is adding new routines every week). I still want to see more workout categories and for Apple to finally get on board with pure, weight-driven strength training, and, yes, I want some boxing routines thrown in.
P.S. When I was done with the Apple Fitness+ workout out and cool down, I still did my 90 pushups because guilt is also part of my exercise routine.