If you use your home as a stand-in exercise studio—or have ever looked around a gym and not known where or how to begin—you may have considered downloading a workout app to guide you through the process. But this simple notion can be a whole process unto itself. There are a lot of apps to choose from, many of which promise to turn you into your best, most-fit self after a few planks, burpees, and jumping jacks.
To ease your search, we tested 14 popular fitness apps, including Daily Burn, Peloton, Nike Training Club, Sworkit, Beach Body on Demand, and Aaptiv. We found that most can be great options for anyone who wants to start or maintain a workout routine, and is willing to keep up with it. But Nike Training Club(available at Nike), which has great workout options for beginner and advanced athletes that are easy to do in small spaces, edged out the competition as the best option for most people.
Here are the best workout apps we tested ranked, in order:
I love Nike Training Club. Using the app made me feel like I was working with a personal trainer and gave me access to HIIT, strength training, yoga workouts, and more, plus healthy recipes and tips for improving eating habits.
When you download the app, you take a basic quiz that asks your fitness level and how many days you typically (or want to) work out in a week. From there, it recommends a few options of multi-week programs to follow, though it’s easy to explore the app and do one-off workouts on your own.
Most workouts in the intermediate program I chose—called “Burn” with the trainer Kirsty Godso—were bodyweight-based, had movements that worked in a small space, and were between 25 and 40 minutes long. The time flew by in each video I tried, and I felt well-trained and accomplished for the rest of the day, even if the workout was shorter than ones I usually do (I’m a fan of hour-long pilates or HIIT-type group fitness classes). The instructors explained the exercises and progressions in detail in every workout I tried, and clearly enough that I only had to glance at the screen occasionally, though eyeing the physical demonstrations were useful, too. The instructors are also consistent about offering modifications for advancing or decreasing the challenge of the workouts, too, so I felt I could always level up or down based on the kind of day I was having.
The app also incentivizes you to keep up with your workouts, whether you follow a program or not—the programs go in stages, so it’s satisfying to check off each step you complete, and you get “badges” for streaks and trying new workouts. Some apps try to shame you into working out, or bombard you with notifications, so I liked this approach. Nike’s app also offers push notification reminders (which you can turn off) to prompt you when it’s time to do a workout.
Nike charges $14.95 a month (or $119.99 a year if you pay up front annually) for its premium features, which include the guided programs, recipes, and many of the coached workouts. The monthly fee is still less than the cost of a single drop-in class at most boutique fitness studios (and the annual cost is similar to what a higher-end gym charges for one month’s membership), and it’s about average for the premium features of the apps we tested. I tried a few workouts available in the "basic" membership and liked them a lot—there are a couple hundred of those to choose from—so the app is still pretty good without the premium features. But the programs are what really make it special, and make it worth the cost of the upgrade.
Editors' note: Nike Training Club is currently waiving all app fees in response to COVID-19, making the premium features free to all. We will update this guide if and when that changes.
I was surprised by how much I liked Sworkit (a portmanteau of “simply” and "work it”), an app I had never heard of before I started researching this guide. Sworkit is currently $9.99 a month for a month-to-month membership and $59.99 for a full year, which is significantly cheaper than Nike’s $14.95 a month/$119.99 a year—and, for everything you get with it, that's a steal. Sworkit is great: easy to use, with a vast assortment of customizable workouts, including strength, cardio, yoga, and warmups and cooldowns.
When you sign up, you take a brief quiz, which gives you an option to join a program or toggle between different workouts. The thing that set Sworkit apart for me, however, is that you can pick how long you want each workout to be based on how much time you have, from one minute to an hour. Other apps allow some degree of customization by filtering workouts by length, but this one actually allows you to pick the workout you want to do, then set the time. It also has good music playlists—full of real music by artists you’ve heard of, not the royalty-free tunes you sometimes get on apps—that you can listen to through the app or on Sworkit's channels on Spotify or Apple Music, though it’s also easy to listen to your own music on your phone as you work out.
My quibbles with Sworkit are minimal. The videos are serviceable in that they show a looping video of an exercise along with clear audio narration, but they can get dull to watch and make it easy to zone out of the workout, especially if you are partial to exercise videos where you see people doing the moves in real time. The app also does not have any free features that I could access, other than a section of kid-friendly workouts that include strength, agility, stretching, cool downs, and warm-ups—though, to my eye at least, they could probably benefit an adult, too.
Still, the app offers a one-week free trial, which should be enough for you to decide if you think it's worth the (to my mind) affordable price.
I’m Sara Hendricks, the emerging categories writer at Reviewed. I'm a pretty active person, and I like switching things around with my workout routine. I have a fondness for group fitness classes, though I've also dabbled in heavy-duty at-home workout equipment. My main fitness go-tos these days are YouTube videos, or when weather permits, a run or bike ride outside. But after some time choosing workout videos ad hoc on YouTube and going on self-driven, sometimes-listless jogs, I wanted something with a bit more guidance. This is why this assignment to try out workout apps, many of which offer comprehensive fitness plans, came at just the right time.
Testing the fitness apps had a lot of components, but ultimately came down to one thing: Will this app actually make most people want to get up and work out at least a few days each week—and keep it up? We hoped for apps to provide guidance, flexibility, and be something that is genuinely enjoyable to use.
Everyone’s motivations are different, so Julia MacDougall, Reviewed’s senior scientist, came up with three rounds of testing procedures to help me gauge each app’s ease of use, range of workouts available, and overall quality of the workouts. We also considered the variety of workouts in terms of type, length, and difficulty (for beginners to advanced), and whether you have a complete home gym or just a floor and your own bodyweight. (My own workout setup: I have a yoga mat, a pair of five-pound dumbbells, a single resistance loop, and paper plates that I use as sliders.)
In the first round of testing, I tried what I could from the free version of every app—in some apps, this was a basic version of some of their offerings; in others, I had to do a free trial that gave me access to everything for a limited time. I looked at how intuitive the apps were to navigate, and if the free version had significant limitations or annoying constant upgrade requests. Most apps have quizzes to gauge your fitness level and goals, so I also considered how detail-oriented each quiz was, and looked at what programs or workouts the app served up to me (if any), based on my answers.
In the second round, I upgraded every app to the paid version. Once I had full access, I checked out the workouts recommended to me to see if they matched up with my answers on the quiz and tried a strength and cardio workout from each app. I also checked on what kind of equipment you need for the workouts (and if the suggested equipment could be modified), how easy it was to follow a program or do one-off workouts, and how bearable (or not) the app’s notifications were. This left me with five top picks—Nike Training Club, Sworkit, Skimble, Daily Burn, and Aaptiv.
In the third round, I passed off these apps to Amy Roberts, Reviewed's lifestyle managing editor and a certified personal trainer, so she could look them over and pick up what my civilian eye could not, in terms of the latest exercise science.
In the last round, I perused any bonus features—some apps have scheduled live streaming workouts, eating plans, recipes, and relaxation tips. Finally, I did what is often the most daunting part of a subscription service: I cancelled them all, and scored them on how well that went.
The good news is that I enjoyed most of the apps I tried. I think almost all of them provide a way to adopt a healthier lifestyle if you're willing to commit to them, so there’s really no way to go “wrong”—but some have features that make them better suited for most people.
What You Should Know About Workout Apps
Like most exercise programs, what you get out of a fitness app depends on what you put into it. You can’t download one and expect to see results after a day or two of working out—likewise, any program you follow should be clear about what its results can be, how long it will take, what you need to put in to get out what you want, and how to approach the whole process safely.
Ultimately, the right app for you is the one that inspires you to open it up and do what it says—all the apps we tested have free trials and free parts of the app (or are entirely free), so you can try out a few to see what works best for you.
Other Workout Apps We Tested
Aaptiv Audio Fitness App
Aaptiv’s pros and cons converge in one key feature: Its workouts are audio-directed, with very limited visual guidance. Each of its many classes—which include strength training, pilates, yoga, indoor and outdoor running, indoor cycling, and elliptical—are led by a trainer who talks you through the routine, rather than demonstrates what to do in a real-time video. Most (but not all) workouts have video clips of the exercises that show correct form, but these aren't synced with the narration, so you either have to preview them all before you start or flip through each card as you move through the workout.
I didn't mind this, mainly because the workouts Aaptiv directed me to were well-suited for me and easy for me to follow along. Its entry quiz is more detailed than others, and I think it set me up with the right workout program for me and my goals. That said, I wouldn’t recommend Aaptiv to a total workout newbie or someone who is a visual learner, because it’s hard to find your place if you happen to zone out for a few seconds and miss the audio cue. But if you’re confident in your audio-learning skills, and want an app that allows you to slip on some headphones and go to town without having to stare at a screen the whole time, it’s a great option.
The Aaptiv app costs $14.99 a month or $100 a year with a one-week free trial
Daily Burn has a vast catalog of almost every kind of workout you can think of—strength training, HIIT, barre, pilates, yoga, and outdoor and treadmill running, and more. Most are available in video formats, but many, like the running workouts and some strength, yoga, pilates, and meditation classes, are in audio formats. The main pull of the app is that workouts are livestreamed every day at 9 AM—the ones I caught were reruns, but it’s nice to know that you can do a workout every single day with a bunch of (virtual) friends.
The instructors described the exercises well in the workouts I tried, but I still needed to look at the screen pretty much the whole time. Because of this, it’s probably not the best option if you are planning on using your fitness app at the gym, unless you stick with the audio-only workouts. In fact, it seemed that the videos are best watched on a tablet, laptop screen, or TV because the bigger screen allows you to pick up the moves better. Overall, it’s a great app with effective workouts, but it’s best suited for someone who wants to keep their workouts at home.
The Daily Burn app costs $14.95 a month or $180 a year with a one-month free trial
8fit is a comprehensive lifestyle app, with personalized workout plans, meal plans, recipes, and a meal log. It has a “basic” free option, but it’s very basic and seems to function mainly as a way to make you aware of the paid app. In it, you get a few decent beginner workouts to do on your own, but still see everything that’s available in the paid app. If you click on anything that isn’t included in the free version, it triggers an upgrade request.
If you decide to upgrade, you take a quiz that asks about workout goals, level, and preferences, eating styles, and how much work you want to put into making your meals. Then you have access to a workout plan that might include a mix of tabata, pilates, HIIT, yoga, and more. You also get a meal plan based on your goals and food preferences.
I liked that 8fit takes a holistic approach to overall health as opposed to straight-up weight loss. I also liked the workouts I tried, which were explained and demonstrated clearly, but some of them could be repetitive. I also didn’t find them particularly challenging based on what I had entered into my quiz, and in my own searching, I found more beginner videos than intermediate and advanced ones. That's what makes 8fit a great option for beginners, especially ones who want a simple way to integrate new exercise and eating habits into their routine.
The 8fit app costs $25 a month or $80 a year with a free basic program
Skimble (the workout app, not to be confused with Skimbleshanks the railway cat, as Google often did when I plugged the name of the app into the search engine) is a very good all-around fitness app. It offers programs for beginners as well as general options sorted into categories like “Lose Weight,” “Strengthen Core,” “Build Muscle,” “Improve Endurance,” and “Improve Flexibility." You may also pick your own workouts, based on type, difficulty level, muscles worked, and more. It also lets you connect with personal trainers on the app, though there is an extra charge for that service and I didn’t get a chance to try it out.
I liked the workouts I tried, which mainly consisted of bodyweight-only exercises and made it clear in the description if they required extra equipment. The instructions were easy to understand and the moves are demonstrated by a 3D-animated avatar, which I didn’t love aesthetically, but provided correct form cues. Skimble sends you slightly shame-y notifications if you miss a workout, which could be a boon or detriment, depending on what motivates you. (If you don’t like that, you can always turn the notifications off.)
The Skimble app costs $6.99 a month or $59.99 a year with a one-week free trial
The Peloton app is not just for use with a fancy stationary bike. (This was news to me, anyway.) The mobile app has options for strength, cardio, yoga, running, and, yes, cycling classes, all of which you can take live, though the bulk of the live classes are on a stationary bike or treadmill. For the most part, Peloton lives up to the hype. I particularly enjoyed the audio-only outdoor walking and running classes, in which a coach picks a playlist and talks you through a 20- to 45-minute workout, while the app tracks how far you went and your overall pace.
That said, I found some of the strength and cardio video classes a little hard to follow. It was cool to see how many other people were in the class with me—Peloton does this whether the class is live or not, but the classes themselves were just OK to me. It also didn’t have me take any kind of quiz when I first downloaded the app—I added in some basic information like my height and weight in later, but I had to search for the place to do so myself—so it's less customized than other apps.
Still, Peloton has a lot of workout options, so anyone of any fitness level is likely to get something out of it—particularly if you have a treadmill or stationary bike (the company's, or another brand's).
The Peloton app costs $12.99 a month with a month-long free trial
It is Chris Hemsworth's job to work out a lot. The actor, who plays Thor in the Marvel cinematic universe and reportedly put on 20 pounds of muscle for the role, is perhaps the most literal and truest definition of the term "beefcake." So it makes sense that he is the founder of a fitness and lifestyle app, called Centr, that has workouts, recipes, and meal plans for people who want to get a feel for what it's like to exercise like a superhero.
When you download the app, you take a quiz that asks your body stats, fitness level, goals, and eating preferences (“regular,” vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, and so on). It gives you a workout to do every day—most are about 30 minutes, though some days it told me to do two different ones in the same day—and an eating plan to follow.
The workouts it served up to me every day were cardio and muscle-focused, like HIIT, bodyweight strength training, and kickboxing classes, but you can also search for yoga and pilates classes. Some workouts are “coached,” which means they follow the format of a typical workout video, and others are self-guided, which means you watch a looped video of a certain exercise and do each until the timer runs out. I liked both variations, but the app didn’t let me listen to my own music during the coach-led classes, which could be a turnoff for some people.
If you are considering getting this app just so you can work out with Chris Hemsworth every day, Jane Fonda-style, you may be disappointed. Hemsworth appears in some videos and blog posts, but most of the routines are led by other coaches, who are great, but they are not Thor. It’s also $30 a month, which makes it the most expensive app we tested.
If you're looking for something of a lifestyle overhaul, with meal plans and efficient, effective workouts—and don’t mind paying for it—Centr is a good option.
The Centr app costs $29.99 a month, $59.99 for three months, $119.99 a year with a one-week free trial
There’s a lot to like about Obé, the pastel-hued fitness app that you may have seen many (many) times on your Instagram feed (if your algorithms are anything like mine, anyway). Obé offers at least 10 live classes each day and about 4,000 classes in total—most are 28 minutes long, though there are 10-minute express classes and 45-minute “LevelUp” classes.
The app suggests aiming for five classes a week, broken up into two “sweat” classes (including dance, HIIT, and cardio boxing ) and three “define” classes (including pilates, weightlifting, and barre.) It also offers three variations of “flow” classes—yoga, sculpting yoga, and restorative stretching. All the classes are easy to sort through, but I found myself drawn to Obé’s live classes more than I was with other apps. When you open the app, if there is currently a live class, it’ll already be playing on the screen, so all you have to do to join it is expand the window. When you do, the instructor will greet you by your name, because its classes—at least all the ones I took—actually are live.
Why isn’t it closer to the top of our list? At $27 a month or $199 a year, Obé is one of the more expensive apps we tested. Many of its classes also use equipment like dumbbells, resistance loops, and sliders—all of which the brand sells in its shop—and, although most of the instructors offer modifications if you don’t have the equipment, this wasn’t always the case. Finally, many of the classes are dance-focused, and it could be difficult to keep up with the instructors based on audio instruction and occasionally glancing at the screen—particularly if you, like me, are very much not a dancer. It's also not available on Android yet, which disqualifies a lot of people.
That said, if you favor classes like pilates and cardio dance, vibe with Obé’s sherbet-colored aesthetic, and want an app with easy-to-join live classes, Obé is a solid option.
The Obé app costs $26.99 a month or $199 a year with a one-week free trial
Freeletics, despite the name, is not free. It has a decent amount of free features, with several workouts and single exercise demonstrations, but the bulk of the app's content is behind the paywall. To access this, you take a quiz that asks your goals, fitness level, and how you like to work out, and it suggests a few different programs for you to try, most of which are 12 weeks long.
The workouts felt challenging and effective and the instructions were clear and easy to follow. In most of them, the instructions tell you to do things like squats, push-ups, and burpees, with a looping video that shows you proper form, and you click an arrow tell the app when you’re ready to move on to the next set. I didn’t mind this—it meant I could take my time and work on my form—but someone who likes a more straightforward video format and doesn’t want to keep tapping their phone during the workout might have an issue with it.
All in all, I’d recommend this to someone who knows they want to have a specific, thought-out program, but not someone who wants more flexibility with their workout app.
The Freeletics app starts at $34 for a three-month premium subscription
If your main exercise goal is to get toned—or, perhaps, shredded—Shred is the app for you. It offers a wide range of customizable workouts for every part of the body, with options to filter them based on the type of movements you want to do and the equipment you have available. When you download it, you take a quiz that asks standard questions, plus what kind of coaching you prefer—“positive,” which is much like any other kind of workout coaching or “intense,” in which the virtual instructor yells at you, sometimes with foul language. Just for fun, I picked “intense,” which the app made me verify I was sure I wanted. (I didn’t think it was that bad, but the double-checking for consent is probably a good idea.)
You can use bodyweight for strength routines (and most of them got me pretty sweaty), but the app assumes you have access to a treadmill, stationary bike, rower, or elliptical when you click through to cardio-only exercises. Those exercises seem effective, but if you don’t have any of those machines at home, it’s hard to use the app to get in your cardio. If you do—or plan to use the app at the gym—it won’t be an issue.
I was surprised that I got a lot of notifications every time I finished a workout—all from random names with a message telling me they were proud of me for working out. You can customize your notifications to turn this feature off, but it seemed odd to me that this was the default.
The Shred app costs $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year with a one-week free trial
NeoU (like “new you,” get it?) is an app that offers access to HIIT, bootcamp, yoga, barre, and more, taught by instructors from name-brand fitness studios, such as YogaSix, Forme Barre, and Vixen Workout. The app also broadcasts three live classes a day and has a nutrition section with recipe videos, as well as workouts you can do with kids.
But NeoU also felt more impersonal than the other apps I tried. There is no questionnaire when you sign up, so it’s up to the user to sort through NeoU’s (impressive) collection of workout videos. This is fine if you know exactly what kind of workout you like doing, but it could be daunting if you don't. It also meant that, other than the live class feature, NeoU didn’t feel all that different to me from videos one could watch on YouTube. Don’t get me wrong—I love YouTube workout videos!—but I think a paid app should have some differentiating features. Still, the workouts are fun, and it’s a cool way to check out the offerings from workout studios you may have heard of but haven’t had a chance to try.
NeoU costs $7.99 a month or $49.99 a year with a one-week free trial
Beachbody on Demand is a multi-level marketing business, or MLM, which means its products and services are sold by person-to-person sales (and you’ve probably seen some old high school acquaintances shilling it on Facebook). I’m not evaluating that aspect of Beachbody, only the effectiveness of the app itself, but it’s useful to know before getting into it.
Beachbody has a wide variety of workout programs you may have heard of—such as P90X, PiYo, and 80 Day Obsession—which encompass HIIT, weightlifting, pilates, yoga, barre, and more. The app all but forces you to go through a program, rather than doing one-off workouts. The ones I tried were easy to follow, fun to do, and would no doubt be effective when followed long-term. The app also offers meal plans, recipes, and a place to log workouts and meals.
But I was ultimately turned off by a few things. The first was that, in almost every video, the instructors push Beachbody’s protein shake brand, Shakeology—if I’m already paying for a fitness plan, I don’t want to be told to buy something else, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. It’s also nice to have the option to do one-off videos on your own, rather than feeling like you’re giving up on a program if you want to do something else one day.
Finally, everything about Beachbody, from the name to the emphasis on losing weight, seems outdated. Weight loss is a valid reason for starting an exercise program, but Beachbody pushes it in a way that seems built around getting a conventionally acceptable bikini body, rather than developing sustainable habits for long-term health. All in all, the workouts are decent, but there are better options out there.
Beachbody on Demand costs $38.87 for three months, $59 for six months, and $99 a year with a two-week free trial
The Seven app has an appealing premise: a full workout in seven minutes. When you download the app, you take a quiz that asks your goals, and if you want a reminder to work out. The workouts themselves are simple, with exercises like jumping jacks, wall sits, planks, and push-ups, demonstrated with animated graphics.
The seven-minute routine got my heart pumping, but I didn’t feel like I was done with exercising for the day when I finished. It’s pretty easy to stack workouts until you feel appropriately worked out, but I got bored of the repetitive narration and simple exercises.
I think Seven is a good option for someone who wants to learn the fundamentals of working out but doesn’t have a ton of time and space, but because there are plenty of seven-minute workout apps you can get for free, paying for Seven doesn't seem worth it to me.
Seven costs $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year with a one-week free trial
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.