Thoughts on Apple Fitness+ from a fitness newbie

If you know me, you know I am the antithesis of a fitness junkie. Whilst I do a fair bit of gay-walking – that is, walking at extreme pace even on a light stroll – being near a gym is not my idea of ‘fun’.

Why is this relevant? Well, at the tail end of last year, I decided to treat myself to a new Apple Watch. It came with a three month free-of-charge trial of Apple’s Fitness+ service; a £9.99 fitness and workout streaming service. After 3 weeks of bed-ridden dilapidation from Covid-19 over the New Year, and polishing off my third and final tin of Quality Street, I decided to take the plunge and activate the trial.

It’s been about 6 months of using it now. Here are some thoughts on what it’s like.

The interface

You can use the service on iPhone, iPad or Apple TV. For the moment, you also need an Apple Watch to use the service; though that requirement appears to be falling away with the upcoming release of iOS 16.

Signing up for Fitness+ is a typically effortless process, as with any in-app purchase. Within moments of opening the Fitness app on my iPhone, I was ready to dive in.

The effortlessness stopped pretty much immediately after signing up, however.

I expected to be given some kind of induction to the service. To be asked how active I was, how active I wanted to be, or what my goals were for using the service; that kind of thing.

Over time, I expected to be given guidance on what to focus on next. The Apple Watch does all this for its general activity tracking, after all.

That’s not what happens though. The first time – and, in fact, every time – you load the app, you are presented with a seemingly endless wall of complexity and noise.

A screenshot of the Apple Fitness+ app on Apple TV
Figure 1: The first experience of Apple Fitness+ is labyrinthian to the uninitiated. Just look at this screenshot from the Apple TV.

There’s no onboarding experience to speak of. You just have to know what you’re looking for. The experience is akin to browsing the Netflix catalogue; carousel after carousel of seemingly unrelated content, in a seemingly random order. That’s not an experience that makes sense for a first time user, let alone a fitness newbie. I don’t think it even makes sense now, after 6 months of using the service.

I’ve been doing most of my workouts immediately after I get up in the morning; bleary-eyed at 6:30am. That’s not the moment in time where you want to be browsing a catalogue of workouts. A sensible interface would be actively guiding me to suitable workouts. It would also queue them up based on my current workout, my past workouts and my wider preferences. My iPhone is recording every workout I have used on the service. My Apple Watch is tracking my steps, my calorie burn and more. My device has the data; I would have expected that data to tailor my experience.

The content

I spent quite a while battling through the catalogue to find the things I wanted. Once I did, thankfully, I found the content to be engaging and accessible; most of the time, at least.

After trying out a few different workout types – core, strength, HIIT, yoga and even some dance (with hilarious and disastrous results) – I’ve settled into doing mostly core exercises. I’ve been consistent in doing them three or four times a week, usually for around 30 minutes each time.

There are dozens upon dozens of 5, 10 and 20 minute sessions available on the service. Each session is pre-recorded. They all start with a warm up of varying lengths – the longer the session, the longer the warm up – and very short cooldowns. A typical 10 minute workout has about 1 minute of warm-up, 8 minutes of workout and 1 minute of cooldown.

Increasingly, I’ve found myself falling back on the same 4 or 5 workouts, and pushing myself to do them more intensely. As I mentioned, the interface design doesn’t really help you find other workouts that would build on the session you’ve just completed. So, faced with too many choices, I’ve just opted to keep things simple. That does mean that the content can feel stale pretty quickly, but that’s to be expected from a pre-recorded service.

The videos themselves are, perhaps not unexpectedly, incredibly well produced. It’s the most expensive looking exercise video you’ve ever seen; in my case, presented in glorious 4K on a 50 inch premium screen. The studio is pristine. Everything has a high-level of polish.

And, of course, the trainers themselves are immaculately presented; but never to a point where I’ve felt intimidated by the physical prowess of the people on screen. Well, except for Molly1. They’re also seemingly nice people! I’ve been told trainers on other services can get a bit shouty; the tone of these trainers, and the structure of these sessions, is always encouraging and confidence building.

Is it worth it?

Ordinarily, Fitness+ is £9.99 a month, or it’s included as part of the Apple One subscription which is £29.95 a month; the latter makes it a bit cheaper if you would have subscribed to lots of Apple’s separate services.

Aside from improving my general fitness levels, my main motivation for using the service was to resolve some chronic back pain and shoulder pain that’s been plaguing me for years. 6 months in, my back pain is much relieved! From that perspective alone, the price is worth it.

If you can wrap your head around the peculiar interface choices, and you’re looking for an accessible way to start improving your fitness levels, Apple Fitness+ is worth a look!

  1. Molly is a 50-ish year old trainer that focuses on yoga. I swear I have never seen a young person as flexible as she is, let alone a 50 year old. That’s intimidating.