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With “new year, new you” season right around the corner, Apple just launched its highly anticipated Fitness+ workout streaming service. Fitness+ brings a range of workouts led by world-class trainers, including Ironman champions, professional athletes, fitness club founders, gymnasts, health coaches, marathoners, martial artists, personal trainers, and yogis, to the comfort and safety of your home. As PCMag’s resident fitness expert and a professional yoga instructor, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Fitness+ and have some first impressions to share while I continue testing the service for a full review.
How to Get Fitness+
Fitness+ is available to download now as part of iOS 14.3 and watchOS 7.2, so once you install those updates on your iPhone and Apple Watch, you’ll be ready to go. Keep in mind that Fitness+ requires an Apple Watch (Series 3 or later) paired with a compatible iPhone (an iPhone 6s or newer, or an iPhone SE).
On the iPhone, Fitness+ lives in the newly redesigned Fitness app. Once you download the iOS 14.3 update, you’ll see a new Fitness+ tab at the bottom of the Fitness app; just tap that to get started.
To follow along with the workout videos on a larger screen than your iPhone, you’ll also need an iPad or an Apple TV. To get Fitness+ on your Apple tablet, you first need to upgrade to iPadOS 14.3, then go to the App Store and manually download the Fitness app. On Apple TV, the Fitness+ app will automatically appear after you install tvOS 14.3. Fitness+ works on the following models: all iPad Pros, iPad (5th generation or later), iPad mini 4 (or later), iPad Air (2nd generation or later), Apple TV 4K, and Apple TV HD. I’m testing Fitness+ on an iPhone 12 Pro Max and Apple Watch Series 6.
The service costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, but Apple is offering a three-month free trial to those who purchase a new Apple Watch Series 3 or later. Existing Apple Watch users get a one-month free trial. Apple will automatically start billing you when your free trial is up, unless you cancel at least a day before the renewal date. You can cancel early at any time by visiting Settings > Apple ID on your iPhone.
It’s Beginner Friendly
Fitness+ is designed for everyone from exercise enthusiasts to true beginners, even those who have trouble with balance or find it difficult getting up and down from the floor.
When you open Fitness+, buttons at the top of the interface let you filter workouts by category: HIIT, yoga, core, strength, treadmill, cycling, rowing, dance, and mindful cooldown. Once you select a workout type, you can filter the classes by trainer, time (5 to 45 minutes), and music.
A section called For Beginners features a series of seven workouts specifically created for those who are completely new to exercise or getting back to it after an extended break. The first four workouts in the series are just 10 minutes each, and designed to teach you basic strength, yoga, HIIT, and core moves. You can then graduate to the final three sessions, which are 20 minutes each. After completing these seven workouts, you should be pretty well prepared to do any of the available studio workouts.
There’s also a Simple and Quick section featuring 10- and 20-minute workouts that are easy to modify and require little skill. Apple has assembled a diverse group of trainers with expertise in a range of modalities to lead its classes. The trainers take each other’s classes, so you might see Josh Crosby, who leads rowing workouts on the platform, in the background of a yoga session modifying the moves so beginners can easily follow along.
As you start taking classes on Fitness+, the service will begin recommending classes you might like based on your workout history. It also takes into account data from third-party apps connected to your Apple Health account when making suggestions. If, for instance, you use a third-party app to track outdoor runs, Fitness+ might suggest treadmill workouts. If you’ve been doing a lot of intense workouts, it might suggest a chill session to help you recover.
Every workout features a detail page with a video preview, written description, and music playlist to help you determine whether you want to take that class. When you find something you’re into, press Let’s Go and Fitness+ will connect with and pull up the corresponding workout type on your Apple Watch for automatic tracking.
A play button will then appear on both screens (your Apple Watch and the device you’re viewing the class on), and you can start the workout from either. If you need a break, you can also pause the workout from either device.
During Fitness+ classes, you’ll see real-time metrics from your Apple Watch on the screen, including your heart rate, calories burned, and activity rings. It shows the elapsed time, but you can switch this to show the remaining time if you prefer. You can also turn off the metrics completely and view the workout in full-screen mode. To customize the metrics you see on the screen, tap the lower right button during the class.
Working out can be boring, but one way Fitness+ aims to keep you engaged is by highlighting different metrics as you exercise. If, for instance, the trainer says to check your heart rate, that metric will animate on screen and show not just your current measurement, but also high and low readings. During intense pushes, you might see a timer showing how much you have left in that interval. And if you close your activity ring during the workout, you’ll see a celebration on screen.
It Fosters Friendly Competition
Unlike, say, Peloton, there are no live classes on Fitness+ at this time, but Apple says it plans to add new content every Monday. To see the latest content, visit the New This Week section.
Another key feature in Peloton and many other smart home gym equipment platforms you won’t find on Fitness+ is a class leaderboard. Instead, Apple is fostering friendly competition with a feature called the Burn Bar.
Available during workouts with intense pushes, including HIIT, treadmill, cycling, and rowing, the Burn Bar shows how your effort compares with everyone else in your weight range who previously completed the same workout. This lets you quickly see if you’re starting to fall behind, leading, or somewhere in the middle of the pack. Burn Bar data is anonymized, so it’s never connected to you, and you can disable this feature if you want.
Music Is Key
One of the things I love about Peloton is the important role music plays in the overall experience. Apple has also made music an integral part of Fitness+. As mentioned, you’ll see a playlist before every workout, and you can filter classes by music genre (chill vibes, fitness music, latest hits, pure dance, top country, everything rock, hip-hop/R&B, Latin grooves, throwback hits, and upbeat anthems). During a class, you’ll see the name of the song at the top of the screen.
You don’t need an Apple Music account to listen to the music during Fitness+ classes. But if you do subscribe to Apple Music, you can also quickly save Fitness+ class songs and entire playlists to your account. Peloton still has a leg up here, as it lets you connect your Apple Music or Spotify account to save music you hear during classes.
It Travels Well
Most smart fitness machines require a subscription ranging from $29 to $39 per month, so at just $10 per month, Fitness+ is an affordable at-home workout option if you already have an iPhone and Apple Watch. Most of us are still social distancing, but Fitness+ should also transition well as life gets back to normal and we start traveling and going to the gym again.
Beyond floor-based classes like HIIT, strength, core, and yoga, Fitness+ offers classes you can do on any rowing machine, stationary bike, or treadmill you own or have access to at the gym. If you’ve never used one of these machines, Fitness+ can teach you how. Inside each of the rowing, cycling, and treadmill sections of the app, there’s a Getting Started video designed to get you familiar with the equipment and its key features, like how to properly perform a rowing stroke, adjust a cycling bike to your proportions, and safely get on and off a treadmill.
Fitness+ also makes it easy to save classes you like, and download them for offline access. This can be helpful if you want to get outside and do some yoga at the beach or a park, or if you’re traveling to an area without Wi-Fi.
It doesn’t support partner workouts (you can do classes with others, but you’ll only see one person’s Apple Watch stats on screen), but you can share your membership with up to six family members. When you open the Fitness+ app on Apple TV, it will scan the room for Apple Watches; just tap your name to access your account with personalized recommendations.
You can also use Fitness+ on someone else’s Apple TV, even if they don’t subscribe; all you need is your Apple Watch to access your Fitness+ account. This could be convenient if, say, you’re visiting a family member who owns an Apple TV, and want to work out while you’re there.
I look forward to taking a bunch of classes and really putting Fitness+ to the test to see how it compares with a Peloton membership, as well as how it fares in its own right. Be sure to check back in a few days for my full review.
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