Fitness classes can be motivating in a way that exercising by yourself is not. Somebody’s pushing you to go the distance, to do that next rep, and with luck they’ll drown out the part of your brain that’s tempting you to go home and have dinner already.
The Lifehacker staff tried out several of the apps that promise a class-like workout from the convenience of your phone, with mixed results. Here’s how that went, and which ones we recommend:
I tried a Peloton workout on an exercise bike at the gym. I am not a fan of cardio, but it’s necessary to be a healthy person or something (so I hear) so I’ve begun tacking a quick bike or rower workout onto the end of a few of my lifting sessions.
The Peloton app (available on Android, iOS, and Fire TV; $US12.99 ($19)/month after the free trial) puts the camera on an instructor who pep-talks you through an interval workout. I chose a 15-minute Tabata ride, and found it to be very similar to the Cyclebar classes I’ve taken in the past. The instructor was just the right mix of peppy and serious, and the music was well chosen. The only annoying thing is that she referenced specific Peloton resistance settings (urging us to get up to 55 for a certain interval, for example) which had no relation to anything on my gym bike.
Besides bike rides, the app also has routines for other types of equipment and for home workouts.
Our video producer Joel Kahn was familiar with actual Peloton bikes, so I asked him to try out Studio.live (available iOS; $US14.99 ($22)/month after the free trial) to compare. He did a treadmill workout and reported back:
The actual routines seemed pretty close to an in-person class, however it was hard to keep up with the poor audio at points. Certainly having an instructor there to tell you if you are doing something properly is an advantage. There are also no on-screen prompts letting you know the speed or incline you should be doing at a given moment, so if you miss what the instructor just said, then you have a full minute of walking when you should be running. I do think it’s better than doing it on my own, but I would rather try another app to find a better interface before incorporating it into my routine.
Nike Run Club
Our podcast producer Micaela Heck likes to run outdoors, so I sent her out to try a guided run with Nike Run Club (free on iOS and Android), an app that I myself love if I’m stuck on a treadmill. (The interval routine called “Run fast. Repeat.” is a personal favourite.) This one provides audio workouts only, no videos.
Micaela tried the runs labelled “First Long Run and Second Long Run” and had this to say:
Coach Barrett has a nice voice and he provides just the right level of encouragement without being cheesy or over-the-top. His conversational tone also does sort of make you feel like you’re not alone on your run. I also found that having someone talk to me while I run made me pace myself a little better.
I don’t know that I would go to a class or seek coaching for running anyway personally, but I do think this is a very cheap (free) way to amp up your running game without having to seek out a coach or a running club. There are so many guided run options, I can’t imagine you’d run out of them very quickly.
I think it would be helpful for days when my motivation is lacking, but I probably won’t use it regularly as I’m someone who enjoys simply zoning out to music while I run.
Our food and beverage editor Claire Lower wanted a workout she could do without leaving home, so I asked her to try Aaptiv (available on iOS or Android, $US9.99 ($15)/month after the free trial), and she chose a 10-minute core workout. Aaptiv doesn’t have built-in videos either, which turned out to be a downside for this type of workout. Here’s what she said:
I do not like the Aaptiv app at all. For one, you cannot see anyone doing the moves while you’re working out. You have to watch the move in a different screen, which I find disruptive. Also I do not like the music, and it turns out I do not like people speaking to me in a loud, motivational voice. I will continue to watch short demonstration videos and gifs at home and ask the old men at the gym if I’m “doing this right.”
For what it’s worth, the cardio workouts seem like they would work a lot better in this format, and you can listen to sample clips on the Aaptiv website.