“Hot Bod” is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.
The past several months of streaming fitness classes have introduced me to a high-energy and lonesome state. Instructors in conspicuously empty studios stood extremely by themselves, speaking to me, also extremely by myself. Echoes of any camaraderie hung heavy in the air. So it was a super sappy relief to find myself in the group hug that is Apple’s Fitness+. The long-planned digital exercise program is intercepting a socially isolated America with a big team-sport ethos. The group of instructors they’ve assembled appear in each other’s videos, rehearse together, engage in adorable, boring banter. In contrast to the from-my-void-to-yours spirit of other digital classes, sweating along to a group effort (five people on stationary bikes near one another! in one video!) feels novel, uniquely social, uniquely sweet. I’m thirsty for group hangs, what can I say. And this group is ready to hang, ready to leap into the air about victories, because it’s a team; your success is their success. They’re all so friendly, I’m worried I’m about to be recruited into a sorority. And along with some conscientious programming decisions, it’s this cheery, inclusive join-in! environment that makes Fitness+ a very encouraging, cushy environment to start something new.
Fitness+ is a subscription service to a library of workout videos in sorts of genres that include spinning, HIIT, dancing, and yoga. The classes only stream from AppleTV, iPhones, and iPads, and they’re all designed to sync to heart-rate metrics from the Apple Watch, which is a necessary accessory for Fitness+ (I also disagree that an accessory should ever be necessary, but here we are). Fitness+ is around $10 a month or $80 a year; decent compared to equivalent platforms like Peloton, with some free months available to Apple Watch owners. And it’s very oriented to the beginner: The Fitness+ platform has a way of ushering you into things you’d been meaning to try (like weights) and activities you’d never thought about trying (like rowing or “Core,” my enemy).
Now I’m a dilettante, which also means I’m rarely a beginner. I do a zillion things at varying degrees of “fine.” But I started with the Absolute Beginner category for “Strength”, basically the foundations for LIFTING WEIGHTS, BABY. This was something I’d been meaning to do for months, but jumpy cardio always won the battle for my time. Sometimes I would get as far as drafting a phrase for the YouTube search bar (“dumbbell routine but nothing crazy”), but then I’d simply become exhausted and either perish or do something else. I didn’t start Fitness+ seeking a weight-lifting tutorial, I was just poking around the “Simple and Quick” section and suddenly watching a video on how to stabilize myself (there are headlights on my hip bones, they gotta face straight ahead, I’ll never forget it). Then, under a beaming coach’s tutelage, I was actually curling up massive dumbbells. Can’t tell you how much they weigh, it’s too impressive.
The entire beginner’s series is like this: a snappy archive of clearly explained and well-paced introductions. Each coach is like the perfect PE teacher, and all seem to have personalities at least 40 percent constituted of patient grins. They’ll explain how to fit your stationary bike; they’ll explain how to do a lunge; they’ll explain how to work your indoor rowing machine. I mean, it’s a little bit humiliating when someone with thigh muscles so big it looks like they’re smuggling potatoes in their quads is carefully guiding you through a squat, but I assume he also started from the beginning at some point.
Now, be warned, because there’s a serious dose of freshman orientation to this whole thing. It’s a sunshiny, Saved by the Bell aura: soft and bright color schemes for the outfits, chirpy tame optimism. No one except try-hards wants to spend time at the orientation. But it can be efficient for information gathering. You go in, figure out what you want to try, and get out to try it in a class. The Fitness+ classes are also well-produced and engaging, but they’re not reinventing any exercise wheels.
Apple Fitness+ has been as anticipated as anything in the digital fitness realm could be. Their platform seemed ambitious, expensive, and try as I might to imagine fitnessy innovations, I kept skeptically asking: How much room is there to actually improve a streaming HIIT or spin class in a new way? Well, not much, but they’re doing it very well. Apple — as is their way — has made an efficient, exceedingly polished product. It connects to the Apple Watch in all sorts of mostly interesting ways: Your heart rate appears on the right side of the screen—and when an eager coach tells you that your heart rate should be rising, your heart rate icon gets a lot bigger. But don’t worry, no matter how you’re actually doing, you’re told you’re doing great!
So, there’s nothing edgy about Fitness+. But something about this fantasy realm of hopeful-personality fitness teammates popping up in each other’s videos really got me. They have soothing, kind, entirely uneventful banter with each other as they take each other’s classes. I mean, someone give this team of nice trainers one of those gentle reality shows! The past week, I’ve loved darting around the classes trying to assess who secretly doesn’t like each other. Who’re actually best friends? Where are the rivalries? The Fitness program, by the way, is extremely wholesome, and I believe the appropriate authorities should arrest me for my conjectures. But whatever motivations keep me in a digital class until the very final cooldown stretch, I must accept them.