In the two weeks I’ve spent cycling, dancing, squatting and mindful cooldown-ing with Apple Fitness Plus, I’ve closed my rings every day. Honestly, I close my rings most days, but exercising chiefly to satisfy the activity push-notification gods has been an odd experience — an experience that’s left me wondering who else this service is for other than Apple Watch-infatuated users who already work out.
Apple Fitness Plus feels incomplete for a service that costs $9.99 per month. It’s not that it falls short of promises — in fact, it’s as polished-looking as the ads — but there are key gaps in the budding service right now that make it less mandatory for Apple’s legions of users than, say, Apple Music or even Apple TV Plus. It’s an effective way to get sweaty, sure, but the fitness subscription market is more crowded than ever, and the only way Fitness Plus stands out is by catering to those who own an Apple Watch.
So if you’re already enthusiastic about closing your rings every day, you’ll appreciate Fitness Plus’s pursuits and the suave instructors inside Apple’s So-Cal studios. It’s also an enhancement to your Amazon-ordered treadmill or exercise bike. But if you’re a total beginner to working out, you might find there’s something missing to help you get started. If I didn’t already have a foundation of cycling and strength training, I might’ve felt lost during this Apple Fitness Plus review.
Apple Fitness Plus won a 2021 Tom's Guide Award for Health and Fitness. We named it the best fitness service of past year.
Apple Fitness Plus review: Price, availability and compatibility
Announced alongside the Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch SE in September, Apple Fitness Plus is positioned as a wrist-based program, but works with iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs to stream workout classes.
Apple Fitness Plus costs $9.99 per month, or $79.99 per year (the latter is more cost-effective, clearly.) Those who buy the Apple Watch 6 will get 3 months free, though. Otherwise first-time users get one month free before being charged the monthly or annual membership fee.
Of course, Apple Fitness Plus is also included in an Apple One bundle. The Premier tier, which costs $29.95 per month, offers Fitness Plus in addition to Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, Apple Arcade, Apple News Plus and 2TB of iCloud storage. If you already use some of Apple’s services, it could be worth packaging them under a single monthly charge.
Apple Fitness Plus review: Set up and equipment
Before you read another word of this Apple Fitness Plus review, know that you must own an Apple Watch Series 3 or later to use this fitness program. Which means you’ll need to own an iPhone, too.
If you're itching to use Apple Fitness Plus but lack the hardware to match, check out the best Apple Watch deals. Me? I had my Apple Watch Series 6 ready to go.
Also, Apple Fitness Plus is mostly a video-based program, so you'll likely want a screen for watching classes, unless you're using Time to Walk. An iPhone is fine, but you might be able to follow along better if you use an iPad or Apple TV 4K. I used all three and found the iPad Air useful for cycling workouts, while my 55-inch TV display is better for HIIT, dancing and yoga.
That’s not all — there's equipment you might need depending on the kind of workouts you favor. At the very least, one of the best yoga mats is useful for floor-based exercise. If you have any of the best treadmills or best exercise bikes, you can take advantage of more classes, too.
I wrote a guide on how to set up Apple Fitness Plus, but here’s the short version: Make sure your watchOS and iOS software is up to date, then open the Fitness Plus tab in your Fitness app. Follow the on-screen prompts, watch the introduction video and you should be ready to get started with workouts.
Apple Fitness Plus review: Class selection
If you were hoping for more hand-holding, you won’t find it with Apple Fitness Plus. While there is a ‘Workouts to Get Started' program consisting of 10-minute explainers, once you're taking actual classes, there are very few introductions for new members of the “team.”
There are about 200 classes at the moment, with new classes uploaded throughout the week. Unlike the Peloton App, which costs $12.99 per month, there are no live classes on Apple Fitness Plus. Peloton also has a greater backlog of on-demand classes thanks to its having been around longer; it also has an outdoor running coach.
Besides Time to Walk, Apple Fitness Plus classes are all indoors (in stunning Hollywood-quality studios, might I mention), and span 10 different types of workouts with built-in soundtracks that absolutely rival Peloton’s coveted playlists. Better yet, classes are categorized by music genre, so you can strength train with angsty rock or stretch to slow pop.
Classes are labeled by instructor and time, too. A useful filter tool lets you search options ranging from 5 to 45 minutes, although most classes are 10, 20, or 30 minutes. This is fairly standard among at-home workout programs nowadays, giving users the chance to squeeze in a sweat session even during a busy day.
But there’s a labeling catch that speaks to a greater point of weakness in Apple Fitness Plus: Classes aren’t rated by difficulty or experience level. While trailers offer a unique sneak peak at the workout to come, it’s not enough to tell a user whether a workout is right for them.
Luckily, during most classes there are several coaches on-screen taking cues from a so-called lead coach. One of those additional coaches usually offers a modification, which I needed for a 20-minute yoga practice that was too difficult for me. Although I practice once a week, yoga is one of those workout types that’s labeled for skill level by design, so I think adding ratings should definitely be on Apple’s short list of Fitness Plus updates.
Apple Fitness Plus review: What are the workouts like?
Since I’m already an active person with a diverse workout regimen, the only thing I’m doing now that I didn’t do before Fitness Plus is cardio dancing. And I’ll tell you, grooving with LaShawn is a blast.
I’m a big fan of the cycling classes, too. Sherica, Kym and Tyrell rival the Peloton instructor’s infectious energy, but give cues in a way that’s inclusive to all exercise bike models. That said, if I didn’t understand cycling form or terminology, I don’t think Apple Fitness Plus’s classes would be the best options for me or other beginners. I also wished the service offered warm-up and cool-down rides.
As for HIIT and strength training, Bakari and Betina know how to break a sweat. I opted for these styles of training when I only had 10 or 20 minutes to workout that day. Sometimes I coupled a core workout, and I swear my abs felt stronger for it, even if I’ll never actually see them.
Mid-workout, Apple Fitness Plus always showed me my ring progress. “Close your rings,” is the service’s not-so-subtle mantra, as evident by the real-time ring progression plastered on the screen. When I workout with other Apple Health-compatible programs, I won’t see my rings move until the activity is over. With Apple Fitness Plus, my Move and Exercise rings inched closed as my class progressed.
I could imagine this getting addictive for people who must close their rings to sleep easy at night, but that’s not me. I’m not a sociopath. I’m obviously satisfied when I earn a new badge or my triumvirate of daily goals, but it’s not my motivating factor for workouts.
I appreciate how Fitness Plus kept a detailed log of all my past classes, complete with the time I exercised, how many active calories I burned, my heart rate chart and other conditions based on where I worked out. In addition, there’s a Burn Bar feature that shows you how many calories you burned compared to other users who took the same class. If a layer of competition isn’t your thing, this metric is optional. It also doesn’t apply to Mindful Cooldown classes, where the goal is to find namaste instead of sweat.
Apple Fitness Plus review: Verdict
If I’ve learned anything from my chronicles of quarantine fitness, there’s no perfect app or platform that everyone enjoys. Apple Fitness Plus has the potential to be the platform every Apple Watch wearer wants, but it has a few more strides to make before it justifies its $9.99 per month price.
Right now, that fee might be worth it for someone interested in exercise bike classes but can’t afford a Peloton or get one shipped in a timely manner; Get a $400 bike on Amazon and cycle with Sherica, I promise you won’t be disappointed. I’ll make the same vow to Apple Watch owners who must close their rings, or want entry to ring-closing cult. Seriously, it’s rare to find HIIT classes that won’t make you hate working out.
Still, until Apple Fitness Plus adds difficulty ratings and warm-up classes, I’m not entirely convinced. I’m not cancelling my trial, but when it ends in a few weeks I’ll need to see updates to stick around.