For those who need the convenience and flexibility of virtual fitness services.
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When the pandemic hit and gyms closed, virtual fitness programming was the only game in town. Yet as novel as it seemed, people have been working out in front of a screen since the early 1950s when Jack LaLanne debuted the first exercise class on TV. Thirty years later we popped in a VHS tape and sweat alongside celebrities like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons. Fast forward to 2020 and a whole new generation of exercisers started sweating it out via Zoom, with the American College of Sports Medicine naming virtual fitness programming the top fitness trend of 2021.
By 2023, it dropped to No. 21 on the ACSM’s annual list of fitness trends.
For most exercisers, home workouts will do in a pinch, but the energy of an in-person group exercise class is hard to replicate on screen. Yet despite the added motivation of working out in a group, there’s something to be said for the convenience and flexibility of programming featured in most virtual fitness services. You can work out when you want, for as long as you want, and choose the class you want. You can even choose the playlist to suit your mood. There’s no travel time or scheduling your life around your favourite class or instructor. Instead, you can work up a sweat to an on-demand class that suits your schedule, be it a 30-minute HIIT class before work or a 20-minute yoga class when the kids go to bed.
The sophisticated production values of most virtual fitness services have come a long way since the early days of the pandemic, which makes the experience as close as possible to an in-person class. Great music and a great instructor are part and parcel of a great workout, and there are plenty of fitness streaming services that provide both. For only a few dollars a month you can take advantage of all the best features of virtual fitness programming and still keep an active membership at your local fitness club — which is the best of both worlds. Here are some suggestions of fitness streaming services that offer a first-class experience without breaking the bank. All have free trials, so go ahead and try them all before choosing the one you like most.
Apple’s fitness streaming service has all the elements of great virtual exercise programming; an engaging and diverse team of instructors, a varied music catalogue, lots of options when it comes to the type, length and intensity of workouts and high production values. But what I like most about Apple Fitness+ is that it’s equally as good a companion at my local gym as it is at home. I can move from a 20-minute treadmill workout to 20 minutes on the bike and finish with 20 minutes on the rower — all led by an instructor who puts me through my paces.
At home the yoga, HIIT, Pilates and dance workouts demand limited equipment, making it easy to work out when getting to the gym isn’t convenient. I also regularly tune into the Time to Walk audio series that offers a new high-profile guest each week who shares stories and music when out for a stroll. You may also be interested in their structured series of workouts designed for beginners, seniors, prenatal and post-partum women, get ready to ski for downhill enthusiasts and yoga for runners.
$12.99 per month / $99.99 per year
Peloton’s collection of fitness classes has everything you need in a streaming service including the ability to stack workouts to create a full-body experience starting with the warmup, cardio, strength, mobility and cool down. Another cool feature is the ability to check out the class plan which outlines the structure of the workout. It even provides a rating and difficulty scale based on feedback from other exercisers.
But the selling point of Peloton virtual fitness offerings is their instructors. High energy, super personable and not afraid to have fun, the instructors keep you engaged. That said they could do with more diversity in their team in terms of age and body shape and size.
Also worth noting is that you don’t need a Peloton bike or treadmill to enjoy the workouts. There are plenty of workouts that need nothing more than a mat and weights. They even have a series of audio outdoor workouts for runners and walkers.
$16.99 per month
The Lululemon Studio app has the instructors and variety in class length and intensity that are core to a good virtual fitness service, but what sets it apart from others is the partnership with other streaming services, which allows you to experience other cool fitness brands like DogPound, AARMY, pure barre and Rumble. Originally designed to run on The Mirror, which is sold exclusively by Lululemon, the virtual classes translate perfectly to your device or television.
Also worth noting are the chair workouts (strength, cardio, dance and meditation), which are great options for anyone with mobility issues and is the only one of the four virtual services listed here to include seated exercises.
$39.00 per month (includes up to 6 profiles)
Like the other virtual fitness services, Nike Training lets you choose the type, and length of workout, but unlike the others there’s no monthly fee. Yet despite the no-fee policy, it doesn’t come across as a low-end option. There are plenty of traditional workouts (strength, cardio, HIIT, yoga) to choose from, including a series of workouts designed for parents to do with their kids and a surprisingly large catalogue of pregnancy and post-partem workouts — which is cool. That said, you can’t choose the music or the instructor, which for many people won’t be a dealbreaker considering it’s free.
You can customize your workout plans, sync it to your Apple Watch and earn achievement badges, all features offered in the paid services. So if price point is an issue, the Nike Training app is a great option.