Sport at home: six fitness apps put to the test
Sport keeps you fit, strengthens your immune system and brightens your mood – particularly in challenging times. Yoga and fitness apps promise efficient training at home. Our author tested six apps – from HIIT to breathing exercises.
It’s easy to turn your living room into a gym or your office into a yoga studio! There are countless apps on the market to ensure that you don’t have to miss out on sport or yoga despite the coronavirus crisis and home office. Your body and mind will benefit from a stronger immune system, a more positive mood and more restful sleep. All you need to train at home with apps is a smartphone, tablet or PC, a mat and, above all, plenty of motivation. When it comes to training alone at home, your inner coach potato may be more vocal than usual. So I wondered whether fitness apps could help. I chose six to try.
A steady beat accompanies me through the registration process. Training goals? Parts of the body you want to train? At home or outside? Sports scientists and physiotherapists from Germany developed the app with the aim of further improving personalised training in apps through fitness tests. The test results are used to draw up weekly plans.
There’s silence during the exercises – no music, no voices. Just me and the sound of my breathing. My muscles are burning. It’s impossible to cheat, because the next training session is only activated once I’ve completed the current session correctly. I like the videos showing you how to do the individual exercises properly. However, it’s a shame that the Athlagon app is visually so similar to the Freeletics app.
- Functions: Performance test, weekly challenges, community so you can compare your
- Cost: 3-month subscription for CHF 35.
Pros: Developed by sports scientists and physiotherapists.
Cons: No warm-ups before tests and training.
Summary: If you like Freeletics, then you’ll like Athlagon, too. It’s a good idea to determine areas you need to improve by testing your performance with the aim of improving your fitness
One of the best-known fitness apps. I’ve heard from colleagues that the training sessions are tough and intensive. To cut to the chase: I can confirm that the hype surrounding this app is justified. The training sessions are relatively compact, lasting between 30 and 60 minutes.
The app creates a personal training programme based on my training level, height, weight and training goals. When I add that I’d like to train quietly at home due to my neighbours, the programme adjusts quickly. I like the fact that the app divides each training session into individual parts, such as the warm-up, technique, interval training and cool down, and explains the individual exercises in detail. The training hasn’t really been that tough so far, but the app uses a tracking function to get to know me better with each session and tailor the workouts increasingly to my requirements.
- Functions: Personalised training, large community to compare your results and
network, mindset coach for training principles, stress management, sleep and
- Cost: Around CHF 40 for a basic monthly subscription increasing to around CHF 100 for an annual subscription with nutrition coach.
Pros: Personalised training plans that are constantly adjusted to suit your training level. The exercises are well explained in videos, the community can be motivating.
Cons: The app could be more user-friendly.
Summary: An app for people with a specific training goal – losing weight, building up muscle, improving stamina – and who are also looking for tips on diet and their mindset.
7 MWC – 7-minute workout
No time for sport? The developers of the 7-minute workout have done away with this excuse. Twelve exercises each lasting seven minutes should each deliver the same results as jogging for an hour. The scientific principle behind this claim is high intensity interval training (HIIT). The individual exercises are done at a high intensity for 30 seconds, followed by a break of 10 seconds.
There are several apps designed along these lines, but I chose “7 MWC”. The app is refreshingly simple with no frills or fancy effects. The exercises are straightforward – jumping jacks, sit ups, lunges. I’m sweating after the first round. I do two more, as recommended. After these I’m out of breath. If you don’t like monotony, alternatives are offered for the individual exercises.
- Functions: Exercises, language, length of breaks and duration of exercises can be adjusted individually.
- Cost: The app costs CHF 4 and includes two training packages. After two weeks and then one month of training in a row, two additional packages are activated automatically, or you can buy them for CHF 1.
Pros: Focuses on the essentials. The instructions are clear, and the individual exercises are explained well in text and videos.
Cons: The app’s design is not very appealing. And it’s probably not the app for you if you need to be motivated by a trainer, a nice work-out environment or a community.
Summary: Useful exercises explained well. And you’ve always got time for seven minutes – maybe even 21 minutes.
Asana Rebel offers yoga inspired fitness. The app promises “to make you feel sexier and healthier than ever before”. I’m sceptical, but willing to give it a go.
Training is packaged in bite-sized themed units lasting between five and 30 minutes. I’m not convinced by the shortest workouts. There’s no warm-up, the few exercises are taken out of context and done far too fast. Overall, the rhythm of the programme is often too hectic, although I hardly break a sweat doing the “super tough workout”. I also found the speaker irritating. Her instructions are often unclear and the figures of speech don’t always fit. The fact that the workouts are done by fit and beautiful people alongside villa pools and in hip industrial halls means that the app isn’t very relatable.
- Functions: Workout recommendations based on your user profile.
- Cost: An annual subscription costs around CHF 60, a 3-month subscription costs around CHF 40.
Pros: Stylish settings and short exercise sessions for people with little time.
Cons: The speaker’s instructions are unclear. The pace is often too fast, the sporting challenge is limited, and some of the exercises are not explained sufficiently.
Summary: Mixed review. The app may motivate you to get some exercise when you have a spare five minutes. Better than not exercising at all.
Yoga Easy describes itself as “Germany’s best online yoga studio”. It’s certainly the biggest. It offers over 1,000 videos and more than 40 yoga programmes, with around 70 instructors offering courses in all kinds of yoga styles. With all this choice, I was worried that I might not know where to start, but I found my feet relatively quickly and found instructors and courses to meet my needs. The broad range of courses on offer was surprisingly easy to navigate and the app is straightforward to use. The app offers something for everyone: meditation, beginner workouts, advanced courses, bikini challenge and legs, bums and tums, but also spiritual journeys. The videos are as varied as the instructors and styles of yoga themselves: by the sea, at home and in studios - this was a big plus for me.
- Functions: Personal training plan, multi-week yoga programmes, articles, recipes. Also works offline. Desktop and app versions are available.
- Cost: Free 7-day trial (not extended automatically), a monthly subscription costs around EUR 16, an annual subscription costs EUR 130.
Pros: Almost everything. I love the design of the app, the courses and information on offer
and the professional instructors.
Cons: It takes a while before you find the right instructors and courses for you. Yoga Easy is only available in German.
Summary: A professional yoga offering that adds a personal touch with well-trained instructors.
The Breathing App
Strictly speaking, breathing isn’t a sport. However, the Breathing app earns a place on this list. If sport and yoga help you feel good and reduce stress, breathing exercises offer an even faster way to relax. Simply put, deep and regular breathing calms the nervous system, which in turn controls the heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and other unconscious bodily functions.
I give it a try. In the app I set the frequency that feels comfortable for my breathing rhythm – breathe in for four counts and out for six – and the duration of the exercise. The minimum duration is a minute. I also choose the way the app guides me through the exercise to make sure I don’t lose the rhythm. While I concentrate on my breathing, I forget everything around me and really do feel calmer.
- Functions: No personalised functions, except the design, duration of exercise and breathing frequency.
- Cost: Free.
Pros: Everything: the idea, the design, the exercise.
Summary: The perfect app, especially in stressful situations and life phases. Everyone can find a minute just to breathe.
The Breathing App is available on the App Store and on Google Play.
Numerous local yoga and fitness studios are currently offering online classes – live via streaming services or as YouTube videos. It’s worthwhile checking whether your favourite studio is currently offering online classes. Anyone who likes group fitness classes should also check out the on-demand offering of the New Zealand group fitness pioneer Les Mills.
Beginners, especially anyone who is overweight or suffering from obesity, a cardiovascular disease or chronic illness, should consult a doctor before starting training.