I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, considering I'm an editor for a health magazine, but maybe you can relate: It's been a fairly stagnant year for me, in terms of maintaining my level of fitness. To put it bluntly, I stopped working out almost completely for a big chunk of 2020.
At the beginning of March, I was able to get my hands on a yoga mat, kettlebell, and set of resistance bands and had every intention of coming out of quarantine in the best shape of my life (since I had the time, was working from home, and was newly single). The reality was that I used these tools a handful of times and then allowed for them to collect dust in my bedroom for months. This was partly because I was focused on my mental health and doing everything to survive the day-to-day, and partly because I just wasn't motivated to exercise at home.
I was tired, uninspired, missed my kickboxing gym, and nothing was holding me accountable (yes, I know, not even myself). My friends recommended different streaming apps that were magically pushing them to sweat it out in their living rooms and backyards, but nothing stuck for me. As the year progressed and I adopted a puppy, my step count increased since I was walking to the park every day, and I started hiking more in the fall, but I was still lacking consistency and intensity with my workout routine—and I missed it.
The new Fitness+ service from Apple brings studio-style workouts to iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, integrating workout metrics from the Apple Watch—including your heart rate, time, calories burned, and activity ring status—directly in the top left corner of the screen of whatever device you're streaming on. Why is this so cool? Well, when a trainer says to be aware of your heart rate during an exercise, that number is immediately highlighted on the screen so you don't have to glance down at your wrist; if you're fighting your way through a tough interval (like 15 seconds of mountain climbers or a 30-second climb on a stationary bike), a countdown timer pops up on the screen to help you get through to the last second; and when you close your Activity rings, it's animated on the workout screen (woohoo!).
You can control—play or pause—your workout on your device or directly on the watch, making it easy if you're dancing it out and the doorbell rings or if you're on a treadmill and want to pause your session to hydrate quickly. Also nice? You can download workouts onto your iPad or iPhone and access them on the go or when you don't have Wifi, meaning you can use Fitness+ for outdoor yoga flows, for instance. And don't let your travel plans make you sleep on your fitness routine. If your hotel or friend's house has an Apple TV, you can open the Fitness+ app and your watch will automatically connect and show your personalized settings (even if they don't have an Apple watch or have never used the service).
When it comes to choosing a workout, if you're an indecisive person like me, don't fret—Apple has seriously thought of everything. It uses an engine that takes into consideration workouts previously completed in Fitness+, the Apple Watch Workout app, and your favorite third-party fitness apps that integrate with the Health app. Then, Fitness+ recommends workouts that match what you already enjoy doing, suggests to try something new, or proposes a workout to complement your current routine. Pressed for time or craving a specific type of sweat sesh? Choosing a workout is as simple as filtering by or picking a trainer, time, workout, and music.
Fitness+ is conveniently housed in the Fitness app. Once you're in, you'll have 200+ workouts at your fingertips (!!)—with more being added each week—all for the price $10 monthly or $80 a year, which is a heck of a lot cheaper than a gym membership and even more affordable than other streaming fitness apps out there. (The good news? Right now, Apple is offering three free months of Fitness+ when you buy an Apple Watch. The bad news: If you don't have an iPhone at least, you'll have to fork over some dough on an an Apple device—like an iPad or Apple TV—to stream the services.)
I had the opportunity to review Fitness+ for three-ish days before it launched, meaning I had one long weekend to pack in as many different workouts as possible. Fitness+ offers 10 activity modes—including HIIT, yoga, core, strength, treadmill, cycling, rowing, dance, and mindful cooldown—so there was a variety to choose from, with options ranging from quick 5-minute sessions to 45-minute classes.
Having taken dance classes for eight years of my life, I obviously toggled over to the dance modality as soon as I got my hands on Fitness+. Let me say that my background in dance is rooted in ballet, so my form is pretty stiff and regimented—meaning, while I love hip hop and salsa, I'm by no means Shakira. I'd actually go as far to say that I don't have rhythm at all, and am awkward AF. So, if you can't dance, you're in good company.
On the Apple TV, I selected a 20-minute Latin Grooves class with Jhon Gonzalez, a storyteller and dancer hailing from Colombia, and pressed play on my Apple Watch. I waited as the television counted down... 3, 2, 1. Gonzalez came onto my screen with a huge smile on his face, and after giving a brief intro on what to expect from the class, he reminded viewers that there are no mistakes in dance. Gonzalez's words relaxed me and I no longer felt self-conscious about not hitting every step, even though I was just dancing alone in my living room.
Gonzalez began with a brief warm-up and then switched to teaching choreography that was quick but easy enough to follow, and, more importantly, fun. Even though it was just a bite-size, snack of a class, I was sweating by the end of the 20-minute period. I watched my heart rate climb to about 150 bpm (which means I was ~werking~ pretty hard), and I was thrilled to see one of my exercise rings simultaneously close on my watch and the television screen.
While I messed up plenty of times, I didn't care—I was living my best life. If you're worried you won't be able to keep up, you don't need to have any dance skills to participate. Gonzalez broke down each step and repeated the sequence before moving onto the next.
Another thing I discovered during the class was that I wanted to steal every song on Gonzalez's playlist! In boutique fitness classes, I've always had to pause mid-workout to discreetly Shazam a song—however, at the start of every track, Fitness+ flashes the song card at the top right corner of your device's screen. And if you didn't catch it, you can find the song listed in the class playlist once you're finished, so you never miss a beat.
After grooving, I decided to do a 10-minute mindful cooldown with DJ, surfer, and yogi Jessica Skye, which was the perfect combination of stretching and "Chill Vibes" to wind down after a heart-pumping dance cardio session. The cooldown took place in the Fitness+ studio in Los Angeles (where all of the workouts are filmed), a minimal, clean space mixing wood, exposed brick, and large windows filled with lush plants. The ambiance was serene and enchanting, and Skye's soothing playlist and cool, calm, and collected approach helped to melt away any stress I was feeling at the start of my day.
On my second day putting Fitness+ to the test, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and try a 30-minute HIIT class with Londoner Kim Ngo, a math teacher turned fitness pro. I queued up the workout on my iPad, which was the perfect screen size for working out in a corner of my apartment (since I only needed enough room to fit an exercise mat).
As a wellness editor, I've tested plenty of trendy workouts living in New York, but I tend to stick to what I know (and what I know I like). While I regularly signed up for spin, barre, and kickboxing classes prior to the pandemic (all pretty low-impact, mind you), I hadn't done too many HIIT workouts (if any, TBH)... because I was scared. I have a knee injury, which tends to make me feel inadequate or inept during high-intensity classes where a lot of jumping is involved (yeah, no burpees for me, thanks!).
What I loved about Ngo's class is that it was even manageable for a beginner like myself—with plenty of modifications. Every Fitness+ workout is demonstrated by three instructors, with one doing low-impact or beginner modifications the entire time. So I could choose to follow Ngo during this HIIT class, or follow LaShawn Jones in the background, a dance instructor who was dialing it back and doing the moves slower, which was more my speed.
Something I really enjoyed about this HIIT class, besides learning moves I had never done before, was seeing my status on the Burn Bar, which was highlighted in the Apple Watch metrics in the upper left corner of the screen. At one point, it informed me that I was "ahead of the pack" in calories burned, which mentally propelled me forward (hey, I'm competitive by nature). The Burn Bar takes your weight and height into play, and is based on a rolling 2-minute effort during the workout—shown as your calories burned—and the harder you work, the more you move up in the pack.
Keeping my yoga mat out, I opted to wind down with a 10-minute yoga flow with Molly Fox, a 60-something yoga teacher, who truly embodies strength at any age. Fox guided me through sun salutations (going from a standing position, down to the floor, and back up), back-strengthening exercises, and balance work.
During quarantine, I've found that I couldn't even commit to 30 minutes of yoga to save my life—I blame time constraints, stress, feeling antsy, my dog doing his best to distract me, etc. But Fox's class reminded me why I fell in love with the practice years ago. And the fact that I could reap the physical and mental benefits of yoga in just 10 minutes, was a game changer.
On the final day, I grabbed my airpods and iPhone and snagged a day pass from a local gym (I'm currently in Florida for the holidays, where gyms are open during COVID). I hopped on a stationary bike and selected a 20-minute cycling class with Tyrell Désean, a former SoulCycle instructor, whose mantra is “be you, stay true."
If you're a SoulCycle fan, the session was comparable to an expensive in-person version you'd find at a boutique studio—but at a fraction of the price. (Remember, Fitness+ is $10 a month, and a spin class could easily set you back $25 for a single visit.) The ride consisted of 10 intervals with 30 seconds sprints, slower high-resistance climbs, and recovery. I had the option to match my pedal to the beat of the music (Désean had a bomb playlist featuring tunes from DaBaby, Lizzo, Juice WRLD, and Doja Cat), or meet the pedal stroke revolutions per minute (RPM) called out by the trainer.
I realized at the end of the workout that I had been fully immersed and invested in the spin class—thanks to Désean's infectious energy and storytelling abilities—and hadn't even noticed the bikes filling up around me with gym-goers. I loved how Désean incorporated anecdotes about his sisters into the workout—dedicating each sprint to a family member. Despite streaming the workout through an app (and not physically being in the same room as the trainer), I felt a human connection, which is so important in these COVID times. I came off the bike soaked in sweat—my quads and glutes burning—yet elated and feeling accomplished. (I browsed Amazon that night for a folding exercise bike for my home, so that I could go on more rides with Désean during quarantine. True story.)
Running on close-to empty after an entire weekend of workouts, I decided to round out my gym visit with a 10-minute treadmill session with Scott Carvin, a kinesiology grad, run coach, and former track athlete. While there were options for Pure Dance, Everything Rock, and Upbeat Anthems, I pulled the trigger on Latest Hits, and then selected "Walk," as opposed to "Run" before hitting play.
Real talk: I'm not a runner. Even more real talk: I kinda, sorta loathe running. Hitting the pavement was one of my favorite ways blow off steam and ease my anxiety when I was an undergrad student, but after suffering a knee injury in my twenties, I completely stopped and switched my focus to low-impact activities. I would guess that I haven't run a full mile in a decade, and knowing how much I huff and puff after scrambling up the stairs of a walk-up apartment building, I'd be an embarrassment on a treadmill.
That said, I really enjoyed myself during this workout. I had dreaded running for so long and had viewed treadmills as boring (I prefer outdoor exercise), but Calvin's upbeat, positive attitude and constant words of encouragement—which made me feel like I had my own personal running coach—had me leaving it all on the belt in a way that surprised me.
During the first of the four intervals, I increased my incline and set my speed at a power walk; but Calvin had me so hyped up—and feeling like a welcomed member of the running community—within the first couple of minutes, I ended up running the last three intervals. (I couldn't believe it. I'm changed, I tell you.) I am now looking forward to enlisting these "treadmill" workouts to help motivate me during outdoor runs in my neighborhood.
I also tried several other streamed workouts, including a tutorial from the beginner category in the Fitness+ app. Because I was finally able to get my hands on a set of dumbbells (once they were finally restocked after flying off the shelves during quarantine), I was excited to dip my toes into strength training. Being a newbie, I picked a 20-minute introductory class taught by Betina Gozo, an adorably, petite powerhouse from Puerto Rico and an advocate of disability awareness. It was exactly what I needed to ensure I had the correct technique and form nailed down (like hinging from the hips!), to help prevent injury while lifting weights.
The few critiques I have could easily be solved by Apple—and are by no means deal breakers for me. Some strength and core workouts require tools like dumbbells, while others do not; it would be helpful to be able to filter results, by equipment. I'd also like more variety in the workout modes, like the addition of boxing or shadow boxing (but, I understand that I need to cut Apple some slack, since Fitness+ just launched). Lastly, the Fitness+ metrics displayed in the upper left corner of your screen can be confusing, especially when it comes to heart rate. I found myself constantly wondering if my heart rate was too low or high, what kind of insight that number could provide about my health, and why it was important to begin with?
Another drawback to Fitness+ is that you need an Apple Watch and other Apple devices to join in the fun, which is what makes it super different from other workout streaming services. But, if you've had your eye on a fitness tracker or smart watch, it might be time to splurge on the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch SE, or Apple Watch Series 6, since you now have access to amazing workouts at home and on the go, on top of all of the features you already loved about the watch. As an incentive, Apple is offering three free months of Fitness+ when you buy an Apple Watch right now.
If I learned anything during my weekend testing Apple's Fitness+, it's two-fold. While the trainers have amazing on-camera personalities, they still come off as extremely down-to-earth humans with one motive: to help you feel good about yourself, from the inside out. The other realization? I haven't moved this much in probably 10 months, and finally feel motivated to sweat it out at home, thanks in part to how accessible and manageable Apple has made the Fitness+ workouts (and the fact that I can enjoy them on all of my devices).
What's more, if my soreness is any indicator, I believe the classes have stood up in quality to the boutique classes in New York City I was a regular at pre-COVID. But with Fitness+, I also get the satisfaction of closing my rings, which to me is no small feat in a year that's taught me to celebrate and take pride in life's smallest victories.
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