Running is free, or costs about as much as a quality pair of runners, which is one of the main reasons I prefer it to other forms of exercise. Why pay for an expensive gym membership – and I live in in New York City, so there is no other kind – when the pavement is just outside my door and costs me nothing to use? I’ll tell you why: winter.
There are some people who will run in any weather, no matter how cold it is. I am not one of those people. When temps drop below freezing and slush impedes my every step, I reluctantly head to the gym. But when the Great Blizzard of 2016 dropped 68 centimetres (26.8 inches) in front of my door in less then a day, I realised I had another option: my Apple TV.
The fourth-generation Apple TV now has more than 3600 tvOS apps, Apple revealed in its first-quarter earnings call last Tuesday. Most of those are games or streaming video apps, and there are tonnes of great options in both categories. When it comes to fitness, which seems to me a natural fit for the TV, the selection is sparse. But still, I was sure at least one Apple TV app would have what I was looking for: a cheap way to stay in shape. But it wasn’t that easy.
The perfect Apple TV fitness app
My criteria for a must-use fitness app: high-quality workout videos of varying lengths and forms of exercise, so I can do a 45-minute Pilates mat class or a 15-minute strength-training session, or both if I want to, at an affordable price. A US$15/month app subscription is higher than I’d like to pay – after all, I spend way less than that on Apple Music and Netflix, and I use those way more than any fitness app – but I realise that a lot of time and effort goes into producing those workout videos. I’m just not going to pay gym membership or yoga studio prices when I’m not getting in-person instruction. A free trial is also important, so I can make sure I like what the app has to offer before committing to a subscription.
A fitness app with an iOS version that sends me push notifications to shame me when I haven’t worked out or remind me to take a rest day gets bonus points. An Apple Watch app that taps into the watch’s sensors to track my heart rate and estimate how many calories I burned would be icing on the cake (which would sure be delicious after an intense workout).
Finding an app that met all those standards seemed impossible, but I gave it a shot.
I chose five apps that met at least some of my criteria, the most important being the variety and quality of workout videos at a decent price point. After spending some time with Zova, Beachbody On Demand, Grokker, DailyBurn and Cody, I realised Apple TV has huge potential for health and fitness apps, though it’s not quite there yet.
Zova has a lot going for it. It was one of the first tvOS fitness apps and came recommended by Apple. Zova also offers tonnes of free video content, and even has Apple Watch integration so you can see your heart rate on your TV screen as you work out. Unlocking the premium workouts costs US$8 a month, which is less than my Apple Music subscription. But many of the videos are short, at 15 minutes or less, and there’s no instruction. You just watch a fitness model demonstrate each move wordlessly. The soundtrack is the same uptempo instrumental no matter which video you watch, so a slow stretch session gets the same musical treatment that a cardio workout does. You can always mute the TV and listen to your own tunes, but it’s not ideal. Zova will do in a pinch, and I expect it to improve, but I haven’t got much out of it.
I also tried Beachbody On Demand, which brings popular Beachbody-branded workouts like Insanity and P90X to the Apple TV. If you’re into hard, intense workouts, the Beachbody app might be what you’re looking for. It offers video series like TurboFire and Brazil Butt Lift from familiar fitness personalities like Shaun T. I’m not really into the Insanity or P90X type of workout, so this app wasn’t what I was looking for, but at US$15 a month (with a free one-month trial), it may be a great solution for someone else. Just a note: there is no corresponding iPhone app, and signing up for Beachbody on the Apple TV app doesn’t give you the same perks, like a coach and nutrition guides, that signing up on the Beachbody website does.
Grokker is a yoga-leaning app that also serves up nutritional plans and cooking videos. There’s nothing I love more than watching Food Network or Cooking Channel on TV, so I thought this might be the app for me. But it turns out I don’t really want a Winter Veggie Soup tutorial video sandwiched next to the Advanced Core Pilates class I’m trying, though I’m sure it’s delicious (the soup, not the Pilates). That Pilates class did the trick, though – my muscles throbbed in pain for a full two days afterward. I liked Grokker’s mix of yoga with other types of strength-training and core workout videos, and you can schedule workouts on the in-app calendar so you don’t forget which ones you wanted to do. The free trial is also a plus – you get one week free with a monthly subscription at US$15 per month, or one month free with an annual subscription of US$120 per year, with a dozen free videos to try if you’re low on cash.
DailyBurn is the old faithful of streaming workout services. It supports basically every set-top box platform, from Apple TV and Roku to FireTV and Samsung’s Smart TV. Wherever you go, DailyBurn will be there. Its videos are Beachbody-esque, but with less intense options for beginners, plus yoga and Pilates programs. You can filter workouts by difficulty, length or program type. I did the Pilates Phase One series and found it to be almost as instructionally helpful as an in-person Pilates class can be, with tips on posture and ways to modify exercises to make them easier or harder. There’s also a live 30-minute class every day for the full gym experience. All that costs US$13/month, and you can check out classes for free with a one-month trial. But there’s no way to schedule workouts like Grokker or save them for later, like Cody.
Cody is the priciest of all the apps, because you don’t pay per month, you pay per fitness plan. Say you want to do a 30-day Pilates Slimdown program. That’ll cost you US$40, and comes with 30 days of videos (including inspirational rest day clips) that you can keep for life, plus Cody supports offline downloads for watching workouts on your iOS device while traveling. If you’re looking for a cheap fitness app, Cody isn’t it – though the cost depends on which plan you pick, and plans do go on sale from time to time.
But I like the plan approach, because instead of jumping from yoga to weightlifting to Zumba or whatever else strikes your fancy, Cody forces you to stick with a program, which is the only way to achieve real results. There’s also a social networking aspect on the Cody iOS app where you can post about your progress and chat with others about their own.
Cody’s selection of plans, high-quality videos, and offline viewing capability put it at the top of my list, but the upfront cost (without a free trial option) isn’t ideal. DailyBurn is a solid runner-up, because its filters and selection of videos offer something for everyone, and the price is right. If none of the tvOS fitness apps appeal to you, you can always use the Apple TV YouTube app to find the workout videos you already use or AirPlay videos from your Mac or iOS device’s web browser to the TV. Both are decent, if inelegant, solutions.
I haven’t yet found my holy grail of tvOS fitness apps, but at least I don’t have to brave the frigid winter air or risk slipping on a patch of black ice just to get some exercise.