I ditched Spotify for Apple Music for working out — here’s what happened

Apple Music and Spotify logos on two iPhones
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As Fitness Editor, I spend a lot of my time experimenting with workout apps, testing workout headphones, and doing a mix of high-intensity training sessions and low-impact walks. I have an iPhone and use a Mac, so, naturally, I use Apple Music to stream music. But it wasn’t always this way.

I resisted streaming services for years, as I prefer the security of using my own local music library filled with tracks imported from obscure CDs and songs I bought on Bandcamp. But, eventually, I decided to sign up for Spotify to listen to new releases before buying them.

I grew to like the personalized playlists and easy access to such a large and diverse music collection. But as the app refocused on podcasts, I found it too hard to find what I was looking for. This was especially true when searching for a good workout playlist.

So, I switched to Apple Music once I realized I could upload my music library using iTunes Match (yes, the name is confusing since iTunes doesn’t exist anymore). Apple knows more about my preferences than I do, so I expected to find great playlists to soundtrack my workouts, but it didn’t work out that way. Here’s what happened instead.

Apple Music doesn’t always understand me

Apple Music has a clearer interface, allows me to toggle between my uploaded library tracks and streamed playlists, and, generally, does a much better job of understanding what I like. But apparently not when I want to work out, as Apple doesn’t personalize its fitness playlists.

Instead, the themed workout playlists — grouped by genre or exercise style — are the same for everyone. So when I open Metal Workout, for example, I see the same selection of newly released tracks and timeless classics as anyone else, even though Apple has a vast trove of data on what I listen to and when.

It’s hard to understand why Apple isn’t using its library of preference data to customize the playlists, especially since it does such a great job of this elsewhere. I even abandoned manual playlists on my phone because the automatically generated James Frew’s Station is so good.

And because I use iTunes Match, Apple has a catalog of every song I own and how often I listen to it. It’s surprising that despite having three detailed sources of data, it can’t seem to find a way to generate personalized exercise playlists tailored to my interests.

Of course, this may all change later this year when Apple unveils its new AI tools in iOS 18. I'd love if my iPhone could understand context; so, if I open a workout app, Music would know I'm about to exercise and start playing a personalized fitness-focused playlist. Maybe one day. 

One-size-fits-all playlists don’t work

The Metal Workout playlist includes Slipknot’s Duality, which is great for getting pumped, but I don’t feel the same buzz from the demo version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. If you do, that’s great, but this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t seem to fit in a highly personalized streaming app.

Meanwhile, Spotify has a far larger collection of workout-themed playlists, has recently introduced the ability to create the perfect playlist from a text prompt using AI, and there are vastly more public playlists created by other users that you can add to your library.

The main downside to Apple's approach is that a single playlist will never please everyone. You may love a certain track and feel entirely put off by another. And I prefer training to songs that keep a similar beat and intensity the whole way through, so find I need to skip tracks that don't fit that format. 

Not that they're bad songs — many I really enjoy — but they're not right for my training. And that's the problem. In fairness, I'm not sure any streaming service has completely resolved this, but it feels like Apple is starting to fall behind compared to the new features Spotify has rolled out in recent months. 

Spotify has a lot more choice

Whatever my personal thoughts, Spotify is the default music streaming app for most people, so yoga teachers, personal trainers, and fitness instructors often put together custom playlists for their classes or clients that you can find on Spotify too.

These are usually designed specifically for your session, and many trainers and instructors adjust the run order so that the tempo fits with the flow of the class, building up to a crescendo before slowing the pace for you to cool down and recover.

Likewise, brands like Peloton add class-specific playlists to Spotify, so when I had the opportunity to try Peloton’s latest dance-focused class with Defected Records, I loaded up the playlist on my way home, re-listened to all the tracks, but then had to manually add them to my Apple Music library.

The user-generated playlists are particularly useful, as you're quite likely to find something that matches (or, at least, resembles) what you'd like to listen to. And then you can just copy the tracks into a new list, add a few others, and then you're good to go. 

Apple Music plays well with Apple Fitness Plus

A screenshot from the Apple Fitness Plus workout app

(Image credit: Future)

This being Apple, Music integrates well with other Apple services. For instance, if you’re an Apple Music subscriber, exclusive radio shows and podcasts show up in the Apple Podcasts app. And the company takes the same approach with its workout app, Apple Fitness Plus.

These two apps work well together, so if you take a class in Fitness Plus, the music is all listed with a link to the corresponding Apple Music playlist. And you can choose sessions specifically for their music, with workouts celebrating album anniversaries or Super Bowl halftime show headliners.

It’s a much more organized and easy-to-use system than Spotify, which usually relies on manually curated community or brand playlists for specific workouts. But to use this feature, you’ll need to subscribe to Apple Music and take out an Apple Fitness Plus membership for $9.99 per month.

I liked this integration when I used Apple Fitness Plus, but as I review a lot of different apps, I haven't kept up my subscription. It would be great to see Apple roll this out beyond its own platforms though. Especially since some apps, like Centr, have dedicated Apple Music playlists that could be integrated into the app. 

Apple Music or Spotify: which wins for working out?

Having used both apps, I definitely prefer Apple Music’s interface, personalized playlists, and higher payments to artists compared to Spotify. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. I really wish Apple would use all the data it gathers about my preferences to make customized workout playlists.

Particularly because it’s so good at this in other areas of the app. My personal station has become a daily staple as it blends my favorite songs with new tracks I might enjoy, but Spotify just has more choices when it comes to fitness-focused playlists.

Plus, Spotify has started to roll out AI-generated playlists, so it’s possible to create the perfect workout soundtrack to suit your mood and training in just a few seconds. But I still prefer Apple Music and will stick with it, even if that means taking an extra break to manually change tracks in the middle of a workout.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing. His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym. Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones. He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.

  • PhantomMaul
    My experiences were also similar. I did really like the Apple Music interface and such but it's new music recommends and workout lists didn't work for me. Spotify new release and discover are almost 200% more likely to give me new music to like and I'm currently resting the new AI DJs ability to recommend new stuff in the middle of my favorites.
  • James Frew
    PhantomMaul said:
    My experiences were also similar. I did really like the Apple Music interface and such but it's new music recommends and workout lists didn't work for me. Spotify new release and discover are almost 200% more likely to give me new music to like and I'm currently resting the new AI DJs ability to recommend new stuff in the middle of my favorites.
    Maybe one day they'll crack it. I definitely prefer the app overall, and there's a big opportunity for Apple to improve its automated discovery features, especially with Spotify's recent price hikes.