Apple Fitness+: Home is the New Gym

25 May

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Screen Times is highlighting this with a selection of articles connected to Mental Health. Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes' brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. James recounts the last five months of Apple Fitness+ and a new regular routine.

Apple couldn’t have picked a better time to launch Fitness+. With everyone stuck at home and unable to get to a gym, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase their new service and provide people with a new way to get moving. I’ve been using the service almost daily since launch and I’ve quickly become a huge fan of it. It has become a part of my daily routine, helped improve my mental health considerably during lockdown and helped me reach several fitness goals in a short space of time. I’m excited for the future of Fitness+ and wanted to reflect on why I love the service and highlight some areas in which it could be expanded upon to truly make this a replacement to my gym membership forever.

Fitness for all

Apple has ensured that Fitness+ is accessible to lots of people, regardless of your level of fitness and what your goals are. The range of workout categories on offer is impressive and the number of workouts available to choose from has grown substantially since launch. I love that I can jump into a quick ten minute workout if I’m short on time or mix and match and get in some strength training and a HiiT workout back to back. If I’m feeling particularly brave I might even go for a 30 minute HiiT followed by 30 minutes of weights! Being able to curate your own workout session is one of my favourite things about the service and it keeps every day feeling fresh and never like you’re just going through the motions of doing the same moves over and over again.

The recent addition of the pregnancy workouts and the program for older adults has only helped bolster an already inclusive service too. A friend of mine recently got back into working out after years away from exercise and felt quite intimated about doing so. She went through the beginner workout program and raved about how welcoming the trainers were and how approachable each workout was for someone getting back into working out after so long. Accessibility for beginners doesn’t end there though and the addition of other trainers on-screen doing more beginner-friendly variations of each move during any workout means that nobody is going to feel excluded.

They haven’t stopped there. It’s nice to see each of the trainers using sign language during the workouts and each video features closed captioning too. The ‘Time to Walk’ is now ‘Time to Walk or Push’ and wheelchair users now have the option to start an outdoor workout using the episodes.

Engaging personalities

If you were to search YouTube for workout videos, you’ll certainly find plenty to choose from but finding workouts that are actually enjoyable and engaging is more of a challenge. It’s tough to know what you’re in store for when you press play on a random workout video and you can end up feeling lost cycling through endless videos promising a great workout or others that promise a workout plan but usually end up just being ads or promotions for another service. When you do find a workout, the trainer in the video can often make or break the experience.

I’ve switched off a lot of YouTube workout videos because the trainer just wasn’t motivating or engaging in any way and it’s one of the areas in which Fitness+ has really shined so far. Apple has done a great job of bringing together an enthusiastic, fun and friendly group to host the workouts. A few months in and I’ve already become familiar with each trainer and have gotten to know each person’s workout style and what to expect when I hit play. I know that Gregg’s strength workouts are going to absolutely punish me every time - my arms still hurt from my last one as I write this! I love Bakari’s upbeat style and fast-paced HiiT workouts and Sam’s challenging core sessions. Apple could have easily just had instructors going through the motions and going from move to move, but everything is fun, engaging and the guys always have me smiling even when the workouts get really tough.

It’s great seeing the trainers sweat and get tired just like we do and it really makes you feel like you’re going through it together and not just listening to someone bark instructions into the camera. Everyone feels natural and like they are having fun and it’s obvious that the group have all become very close too. I follow a few of the trainers on social media and they are always hanging out together in and out of the studio. It really does feel like a family atmosphere which really translates to the workouts.

Hardware, software and services together

Apple prides itself on integration between hardware, software and services and it’s executed brilliantly in Fitness+. In our home, the Apple TV is our most used device and it’s where we use Fitness+ the most. Starting a workout and seeing my watch stats, rings progress and heart rate on screen in real time feels like a little bit of that Apple magic that we all love when all of these things come together perfectly. It’s so satisfying to close a ring during a workout and see it light up on the screen. These same features are available on Fitness+ on iPhone and iPad too but there’s just something special about viewing it all on a big screen. For me, the Apple TV is without a doubt the best way to experience the service.

The Apple Music integration is spot on too. The range of playlists and music styles across the workouts is excellent and there’s a genre for everyone. I personally love the Everything Rock and Hip-Hop/R&B workouts and will almost always end up adding songs from each one to my library after the workout is over. The burn bar is a nice touch and adds some extra motivation to push yourself that little bit harder, but I’ll talk about that more later.

Can Apple Fitness+ replace my gym membership?

In short, yes. At this point, I don’t think I can actually remember the last time I set foot in a gym. Using Fitness+ almost every day since December has had me re-thinking whether or not I am going to renew my membership once everything opens up again and I’ve been fully vaccinated. Being stuck at home, the service has really boosted my mental health both due to the variety of workouts on offer and the brilliant trainers delivering them. It’s simply been a god-send with gyms being closed.

I’ve gotten into the habit of planning my week when the new workouts drop each Monday. I may schedule in some HiiT with Bakari or Kim on a Monday, a strength session with Gregg on Tuesday and some yoga with Dustin in the evenings. I might then mix it up with a combination of workouts to finish off the week or try something completely new. There’s so much on offer that it’s easy to put together a program of your own for the week depending on what you’d like to focus on. I’ve even tried to use any moments of downtime I have during the day to squeeze in an extra ten minute workout if possible. Rather than taking a break from work and staring at my phone or scrolling through social media, I’ve started firing up my Apple TV and getting in a quick 10 minute HiiT or core session and it has helped improve my mental health a great deal.

It’s also much easier to get changed at home and get a workout done instead of travelling to and from the gym. The sheer amount of different workout types on offer make it easy to try out new things too. I’ve never been to a real-life yoga class, but I can attend one now with the tap of a button. Doing regular yoga classes during my time spent with Fitness+ has already improved my overall flexibility and has become a nice, relaxing way to wind down in the evenings.

I’ve not yet been able to try out the rowing or bike exercises as I don’t own either piece of equipment, but I am enjoying the service so much that I’m already looking into making space for them in the house.

My Apple Fitness+ wishlist

As much as I have enjoyed my time with it, there are some features that I’d love to see Fitness+ expand upon and some extras I’d like to see added to the service in future updates. I have my fingers crossed that we’ll get some information on new features at WWDC in June; however, below is a list of new additions I’d love to see come to Fitness+ long term.

• Multiple users per workout

My wife and I enjoy working out together and are both heavy Fitness+ users. It’s frustrating not being able to have both of our watch stats showing on screen at once and it would be great to be able to see each other’s progress throughout the workout. We will usually take turns of connecting our watches to the Apple TV if we’re working out together and the other person will simply start a workout on their own watch. Being able to both connect to the TV for the same workout would certainly make for a better shared experience and provided added motivation to close your rings that little bit more.

• Better workout previews

It would be helpful if Apple could include a list of moves contained in each workout in the description or include better previews of these in the short videos. There have been a few times where I’ve had an nagging injury and I’ve had to miss out moves or start a new workout because the one I’ve started has been heavy on moves that require hip hinges, for example. A better idea of what’s coming up before hitting play would be very useful. 

• Feel the burn (bar)

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy using the burn bar and the extra motivation it gives me to push myself harder. There have been times during a workout where I’ve been ‘ahead of the pack’ only to drop down near the end and it does make me pick up the pace and really put in that extra bit of intensity to try and get back to the top again. I would love to see this expanded a little. It would be nice to see some kind of leaderboard to get a better of idea of how you fared against other users doing the same workout. Game Center-style usernames could work here in order to avoid any real names being used. Claiming the top spot for the most calories burned on a specific HiiT without would be something that would push that little bit further each time.

• More competitive features

I have a lot of family and friends who own Apple Watches and who are using Fitness+ and we often like to challenge each other for a little extra motivation. Racking up trophies when you win a weekly challenge is satisfying and it would be nice to see this brought over to Fitness+. I’d like to be able to challenge my friend or work colleague to see who could complete the most Fitness+ workouts that week or to see who could earn the most points doing strength workouts, for example.

• Exclusive Apple Fitness+ Awards

Like many of you, I enjoy earning awards on my watch and have become rather addicted to unlocking them all. Doing Fitness+ workouts is a great way to work towards this, but I would love to see some Fitness+ exclusive awards. For example, a special award for completing Gregg’s new strength workout that week or an award for completing a certain number of Fitness+ workouts in a given month could give users something extra to work towards and also give us more awards to collect - and who doesn’t love that? It would also be great to see awards in general pop up on your TV screen if you unlock one during a workout.

• Time To Walk with Apple TV+

Since you’re reading this on Screen Times, you’re probably a regular Apple TV+ viewer like me. I love seeing Apple promote TV+ in different ways and I feel like the ‘Time to Walk’ exercises would be a great way to do so. I would love to go out for a walk and listen to some of the cast and crew talk about filming the latest season of The Morning Show or preview an upcoming film on the service, for example. How great would it be to listen to Jason Sudeikis in character as Ted Lasso take us for a walk around Richmond too? Fingers crossed we see some TV+ content in ‘Time To Walk’ when the feature returns later in the year.

In conclusion

After five months of use, I can definitely see myself using the money that I’d spend on a gym membership to invest in my own bike or rowing machine to further expand the types of workouts I can do at home and ditching the gym altogether. Apple has put together a service that is so accessible and enjoyable to use that I think I’d actually miss it if I went back to a crowded gym at this point. Fitness+ has grown so much and already amassed an incredible amount of content and an extremely likeable group of coaches after only five months. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Apple Fitness+ requires an Apple Watch. Sign up through the Fitness app for a monthly or yearly rolling subscription, or share access with up to 5 members of your family as part of Apple One Premier.

James Lees
James has been a fan of Apple for as long as he can remember. He is a film & TV obsessive and has also written for several publications such as BBC Good Food Magazine. He lives in Glasgow, Scotland and can usually be found drinking copious amounts of coffee, watching Apple TV+ and talking about it with anyone who will listen.