Review: Apple Fitness+

Mon, May 3, 2021 4-minute read

I've been using Apple's Fitness+ service since it came available. It's still a young product and has lots of room to improve, but its fundamentals are solid. This is what I like and dislike about it.

What I like: doing the exercises

First, the workouts themselves are excellent. They offer exercises I'm not used to, and I've found that working with a trainer, even a pre-recorded one that isn't talking to me personally, motivates me to push harder than I do when I'm working out alone. At the end of a workout I'm exhausted, and the next day my body reminds me that I did something difficult.

This is the litmus test, after all. A trainer that doesn't challenge and doesn't push me harder than I would push myself isn't much of a trainer. Fitness+ meets this requirement in spades.

Second, Fitness+ has a lot of workouts. When it's time to use one, I want help picking one that's appropriate to me. The app's "discoverability" is… decent:

  • I pick a type of workout (like strength, core, or yoga) I'd like to try, and use the filter to choose a length of time I'd like to work out. I want to do strength training for 20 minutes? Here's a list.
  • From that list I choose a trainer. This is convenient if there's one I like and I want to see more of their workouts, but not as helpful for choosing between them. The app makes the trainers' biographies available but I was overwhelmed with choices the first time.

If I know what workout I want to do, and which trainer I want to work with, Fitness+ is fine.

What I don't like: finding the exercises

But that discoverability is barely sufficient, and leads to my sole criticism. Fitness+ could and should help me find new workouts that are appropriate for me personally, and today it doesn't.

Within selections, the main differentiator in a screenful of similar-seeming workouts is the genre of background music. I know people may have strong preferences here but I don't. As of writing there are 15 "Strength with Gregg" workouts. At a glance, I can't tell the difference between them. Every screenshot shows exercises for both upper and lower body, even though most workouts target certain muscles. Navigating through each available workout exposes that information but it's a lot of work when I'm ready to start lifting weights and would rather lift than investigate. Better titles like "Leg Strength with Gregg" would help a lot here.

There's not an option to like or dislike workouts. I want a recommendation system like Apple Music's: tell me what I might like based on what I've enjoyed, not just what's similar to what I did last time.

Descriptions of workouts are more vague than they should be. For example, one reads "the focus of this workout is upper body, with a new element added to each move as you go." But what part of my upper body? I want to know:

  • Which exercises a workout includes. If my shoulder hurts, I might want to skip lateral raises.
  • Which muscles groups it exercises. Sometimes I'd like to target specific areas like glutes or biceps or shoulders or quads.

If Fitness+ had filters that let me specify that I'd like to work my triceps and lats for 20 minutes, or find one that includes hammer curls because that sounds good today, I'd use it a lot.

Workouts need more audio cues. I spend a lot of effort trying to look at the TV so I can pace myself with the trainer, and would like a consistent signal to complete a rep. I wish the producer would add a chime or beep after each movement so that I could follow along without contorting to see the screen.

Finally, many other Apple apps use Siri to power smart recommendations. Putting all the above together, I'd like to see a Fitness+ notification like "you skipped leg day. Here's a good leg workout you'll going to like." It's easy to rationalize skipping a workout, but harder when someone's reminding you that you've been a couch potato and giving you personalized suggestions for changing that.

Summary

It's tricky to find an exercise I want in Fitness+, but that's because there are so very many excellent ones to choose from. And that's the important part: once I find workouts I like, they motivate me to work harder than I would on my own. I've found the accountability, even if it's to someone who can't see me and who I'll never meet, to keep me moving. I am stronger and healthier for using the app than I would be without it.

Apple Fitness+ may have some rough edges, but for a new service that's still improving, I'm into it.