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.
Download: The best Apple Watch apps tested
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.
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.
$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.
$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.