The global lockdown is making us all rethink how we work out, and with gyms out of action, and limited time out of the house, app workouts are an increasingly attractive option.
There are plenty of free workout apps around – but if you want a workout that really pushes you, there are subscriptions out there that promise to bring the gym experience to your home. And what’s more, many integrate the Apple Watch as well, to leverage the sensors and screen on your wrist.
We’ve been testing some of the best workout apps – and we’ve learned a lot doing it.
There’s a lot of good stuff available, and different apps are certainly geared to different types of people. And small features make a big difference. The quality of audio coaching and the personality of that coach, music integration – it all makes an experience that’s genuinely personal.
We tested the below apps using a mixture of trial subscriptions – all with bodyweight only exercises and leaving out running to compare just how good an app workout can be. The main apps will all work on iPhone, and each have an Apple Watch companion app that was a big part of our testing. However, that part isn’t essential.
$9.99 per month/$79.99 a year
Recommended for: First time workout app users and music fans
The best training app for Apple Watch users, it wins thanks to the premise that it’s 100% built around the Apple Watch. And at $9.99 a month, it’s cheaper than most rivals, too.
The service itself is found within the Fitness app, which displays your goal data from the Apple Watch.
It features a host of workout disciplines, with strength, HIIT, yoga, core and dance meeting equipment based workouts such as indoor, cycling, rowing and treadmill. It also has a neat section for mindful cooldowns.
It’s better suited to those starting with workout apps than many on the list, and there are plenty of modifications to make things easier or tougher. Each workout is filmed with three trainers, so you always have someone to follow at your level.
And there’s a greater percentage of shorter workouts than the likes of Fiit. That means it’s more appealing to get started, or, mix up workouts in a single session. We’ve never used an app that’s compelled us to plan out multiple workouts in a single sitting. We often will try a 10 minute core workout followed by a 20 minute HIIT session, with some yoga after. It’s addictive stuff.
The quality is super-high – as you’d expect from Apple – and music plays a big role. Each workout has a music genre and we’re talking big-name tracks. However, you can’t choose your own music for the workout, as the trainers specifically choose the tracks to suit the music. We don’t think many will be too disappointed.
The filter system is front-and-center, which helps you whittle the workouts down to the type, discipline, length, trainer and even music. Apple hopes you’ll start to follow certain trainers whose workouts you enjoy most.
And the Apple Watch plays a big role. You see your heart rate and stats on the screen as well as your activity rings. And if you choose to have it turned on, the Burn Bar shows your effort levels relative to the community of users.
Nike Training Club
Free | Download NTC
Recommended for: Varied workouts
We’re fans of the Nike Run Club app, with its emphasis on guided workouts – and its sister app Nike Training Club delivers an equally great experience for home based workout regimes. They even work together for those wanting to mix running and workouts together for a full 360 fitness experience.
The app is jam-packed with different types of workouts, both bodyweight and with equipment, and whatever you feel like, there’s something to suit. From strength and cardio to yoga – you can just dive into a guided session.
Guidance is delivered via visual and audio cues – so you can see what to do for each set. The audio is a little robotic sounding, but not offensive. If you’re unsure you can tap the screen on your phone to review the move, which pauses the workout – making it great for beginners.
You can browse workouts via muscle groups, workout type (endurance, mobility, strength) or the equipment you have available. Likewise, you can discover workout sessions via mood, small spaces, or time.
The Apple Watch companion app is pretty basic, but well designed
If you’re interested in starting a program, you can do that via the Plans, which sets a weekly schedule of different workouts. At least that way you’ll be hitting different parts of the body with complimentary workouts and taking some time for recovery. However, plans are now behind a paywall, which is $14.99 a month.
The Apple Watch app is a little underused, and only really acts as a timer for each set. But there are achievements to tick off, which work a little like Fitbit badges.
Overall, Nike Training Club is a great all-round service, with well presented workouts for a range of skill levels. It’s something we feel is better for dipping into when we want a specific workout, rather than a progression.
£20 per month (billed in local currency)
Recommended for: Fitness programs and big time burn
UK-based Fiit is now a global service – and it’s one of the best fitness apps out there.
It rivals Apple Fitness+ for slick, professional, studio shot videos with a host of trainers for varying abilities.
It’s less beginner focused than Fitness+, with longer, harder workouts. However, strength classes have options for no equipment, while Fitness+ generally requires a set of dumbbells.
It’s not as varied as Fitness+ either. Workouts fall under the categories of cardio, strength and rebalance.
There’s also a filter system so you can sort workouts by duration, discipline, body area, equipment, music and trainers.
There’s also a greater focus on training plans and programs, so you can choose to start challenges and journeys that can last anything from a single week to 90 days. This makes it a great gym replacement in lockdown times, but it’s not quite as compelling if you’re just looking for some extra workouts to augment running or cycling.
The Apple Watch also plays a part, but it’s not mandatory like Fitness+. Stats are shown on screen. There’s no Apple TV app, although you can cast your iPhone to Apple TV and get all the stats on screen. That’s a fantastic experience.
Fiit is one of our favorite services, with top quality videos and classes. It’s tougher than Fitness+ and more suited to those wanting to enter programs and plans than one-off classes. But if you’re looking to make progress in 2021, this is a superb option.
$12.99 | Download Zova
Recommended for: Cardio HIIT and class intensity
Taking a completely different tact, Zova centres on three weekly workouts it calls the ZX5 program. There are extra workouts you can do, but ZX5 requires you to complete Body Burner, Strength and Sculpt and Cardio Sweat all within Monday to Sunday, and doing each of these will give you a rounded dose of weekly exercise.
The whole app is more female friendly than many of the others on test – but that doesn’t mean it’s not tough. All of the workouts left us reliably sweaty and collapsed onto the mat by the end.
If you’re looking for muscle-busting gains, this probably isn’t the program for you – but if you’re looking for a hard cardio workout with plenty of core strength and stability work thrown in, the ZX5 program is great.
The Zova Apple Watch app is used as a HR zone guide
The Apple Watch feeds into that cardio story, and it monitors your heart rate though-out – showing the zone you’re working in, which is also used by the audio coach to ensure you’re working at the right intensity. It’s a similar set up to popular gym workout Orangetheory.
And that’s the thing we loved about Zova. The audio coaching and video examples are by far the best on test, with the coach making often spookily-timed technical corrections, that are clearly explained – and gives Zova a real-time workout class feel. It’s not robotic, and while all pre-recorded, it has an authenticity that’s not easily achieved – and that certainly helped us push harder than other apps.
$12.99 | Download Freeletics
Recommended for: Replacing CrossFit
If you’re missing your classes during lockdown then Freeletics might be your best choice for a home-based sweat.
The quality of the workouts and coaching was up there with Zova for us, with a slightly more emphasis on muscle load and techniques – and less on cardio.
The coaching aspect is much more front-and-center in Freeletics than other apps, and even mid-workout you’ll be prompted for feedback on how hard you found elements of the workout.
Despite this, however, we did find Freeletics too ramp up the difficulty quite quickly after the initial sessions.
The onus is on you to complete each set in your own time, before manually moving on. That can mean quite hard loads on the muscle, but you can take your time.
A lot of the bodyweight only workouts will factor in sprints and runs to really get the heart pumping – just like CrossFit WODs. We usually filtered out these due to working out in the lockdown, but it’s a nice mix. If you have basic gym equipment, that can be factored in too.
You get points for completing sets within workouts, and there are named WODs – again, just like CrossFit.
It uses the Apple Watch nicely in this respect, detailing the set you’re doing and timing your progress – and you can skip to the next set from the watch itself. And that’s the key difference with Freeletics – it’s more of a CrossFit vibe.
Our feeling is that Freeletics will suit those who are used to taking on tough workouts – and are looking to translate that at home. We’re big fans.
$5.99 a month or $59.99 per year
Recommended for: Track runners and those looking for an in-expensive sub
Auro is predominately an audio-based fitness app for those that want to workout away from the a screen.
There are loads of reasons people would want to do that – although we’ve found audio only a little confusing to follow at times.
And that’s where Auro has made improvements. It shows video snapshots of the workouts and correct form, so you can follow along and get more benefit from the workouts.
The list of workouts is brilliantly varied, and refreshingly, those running outside are also catered for with guided sessions. That’s another the benefit of an app that doesn’t have you staring at a screen.
Likewise, you can also hook up Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Music for your own tunes. You’ll want to do that as the stock music in workout is pretty bland.
You can hook up wearables to the app to add heart rate data into the mix, but it’s limited to those that can broadcast HR via Bluetooth, so it’s not one for Apple Watch users.
Auro certainly isn’t close to the likes of Fiit and Fitness+, but it’s a lot less expensive. It’s $5.99 a month or $59.99 per year, which could fit well with those looking to dip their toes into the world of app-based workouts.
$14.99 | Download Aaptiv
Recommended for: Not looking at a screen
Aaptiv does things slightly differently and offers audio-only coaching. It’s pretty expensive at $14.99 per month – and we have to say it didn’t really blow us away.
You do get video examples of the workouts, but they can only be viewed in advance of the workout – and we found audio only coaching hard to follow without the visual cues on the phone.
The screen itself is dominated by a huge timer, which is mirrored by the Apple Watch as well. The idea is to workout without being tied to your phone – which is a nice sentiment, but we just didn’t feel that process suited us.
Alternative Apple Watch workout apps
It takes time to test all these apps, after all, there’s only so much working out you can do – so it’s going to be a bit of a process. So here’s some quick looks at extra apps, and we’re going to get round to testing them all.
Seven – Quick At Home Workouts
Free | Download Seven
Does what it says on the tin, a 7 minute full body workout demonstrated on the Apple Watch. There are also variants and packs you can buy as an in-app purchase, so you can do seven minutes of core, upper body etc. It’s a fun app, but we’d try Nike Training Club which is a much more complete and premium experience.
$4.99 | Download Carrot Fit
If po-faced self improvement puts you off, Carrot Fit for Apple Watch is a much better place to start. Carrot’s AI character is notoriously bad mouthed and grumpy, and that’s no different when applied to a fitness regime. It’s actually a good workout, delivered with characteristic belligerence – and could be the catalyst to a new era of lockdown fitness.
$15.99 per month | Download Fitplan
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that with guided workouts from a number of high profile, fit and successful women – there’s a definite target market for Fitplan.
As the name suggests, Fitplan is more than just about one-off workouts, and when you join a plan it follows through for weeks, with most requiring 3x workouts a week, ranging from 3 to 8 weeks each. There are other, single workouts you can do to top things up, however.
The Apple Watch is well utilised too, naming the set, timing you and offering heart rate information as well.
$9.99 | Download Fitbod
One for when we return to the gym, Fitbod’s strength is guiding you around the equipment. There are bodyweight and stretching exercises, but we’d hazard this isn’t playing to Fitbod’s strengths. The Apple Watch is really well-used here, enabling you to enter the amount of weight and number of reps for each piece of equipment – so you can track improvement as you progress.