The best workout apps in 2023, tried and tested

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When the App Store first launched in 2008, there wasn’t a single fitness app available. That didn’t happen for another two years, when the first workout app rolled out in 2010. But in the decade since, the rise of fitness apps has been meteoric. Today, there are more than 97,000 fitness apps available to anyone with a tablet or phone.

Options are great, but they can also be overwhelming. That’s why we spent the last four months carefully testing nine of the most popular workout apps such as Peloton, Future, Centr and Nike Training Club (Lululemon Studio was in testing too before they recently merged with Peloton). After countless hours of sweating and thousands of pounds lifted, we found one workout app that stood out from all the rest.

Best workout app overall

Beachbody already has a stellar reputation in the fitness world, so it’s no surprise that the BODi app topped our testing. With nutritional guidance, access to Beachbody’s most popular programs and a wide variety of workouts in everything from cycling and meditation to strength training and dance, we think BODi will please most fitness enthusiasts.

Whether you prefer to stretch your muscles with some barre moves or push the limits of your heart rate with Insanity, BODi by Beachbody has you covered. Out of all the apps in our testing, BODi has the widest variety of workout options paired with decent nutritional guidance and some community support — all at a relatively affordable price.

By far, the variety found within the BODi app is the top in our test. BODi has the best library of workout programs, all coming straight from Beachbody. Unlike standalone or drop-in workouts, these programs offer anywhere from three to five workouts per week with each week building upon the last. There are over 95 programs available, ranging in duration from two to six weeks, and there are options for everyone. Some of the workout programs will be recognizable to anyone who knows Beachbody history: Insanity with Shaun T, P90X and the 21-Day Fix are just a few. But there are plenty of others that we tried, such as XTend Barre, #MBF (Muscle Burns Fat) and Sure Thing.

The quantity of these programs is one thing, but the highlight is how the app hits a number of fitness styles. It doesn’t matter if you’re pumping iron, practicing yoga, learning mindfulness with meditation, improving your VO2 max with high-intensity cardio or trying to lose a few pounds; you’ll find a program on BODi.

Additionally, BODi offers its own programming, referred to as BODi Blocks. A block (or mesocycle, as they’re referred to in the fitness world) consists of five live-recorded workouts per week for three weeks, followed by a fourth week of mental health and recovery. These blocks begin on the first Monday of the month, but you can choose a better start date if you come in later. The idea is that a new block launches every month so you can start a new round once you wrap up your previous block (or jump over to one of the Beachbody programs).

And blocks are offered in five categories: All-BODi (strength, cardio and mobility), Bike, For Beginners Only, Iron and Mind+Body.

In our testing, we definitely preferred the polished vibe of the Beachbody programs compared to the BODi Blocks. The blocks sometimes felt a bit chaotic with some awkward instruction. But since we weren’t solely reliant on the blocks for our workouts, this was merely observational, not a deal breaker.

Between the BODi Blocks and the included Beachbody workout programs, none of the other tested apps came close to touching the quantity of workout programs available. Centr has a decent quantity of workout programs, but there aren’t as many and they don’t have the variety of fitness styles included in BODi. We also really liked the buildable programming found in Ladder, but again, it comes with less variety.

Additionally, BODi offers at least four to five live standalone workouts every day Monday through Friday (but none on weekends). Live classes aren’t super common in apps, though Peloton has some and so does Obé. While the live workouts in BODi aren’t quite as good, or popular, as the ones in Peloton, you can still get the trainer shout-outs and feel like you’re part of the action, if that’s something that matters to you.

Another nice perk to the BODi app: You can download some workouts to access when you don’t have internet. During our testing process, my family took a two-week trip to Tahiti. Since I’m recovering from knee surgery, I wanted to stay on top of my workouts, but I didn’t want to turn on my Wi-Fi for fear that work emails would crash into my family’s island time. Fortunately, some of the workouts and programs are downloadable. In its FAQs, BODi says only BODi workouts are downloadable, but I found it to be hit or miss: I could download some and not others. However, I was able to download two weeks of Sure Thing strength workouts before I left.

In our test, there were few apps that offered this feature. Ladder and Obé took the top spot in this regard since both apps offer downloading workouts across the board. But others like Peloton won’t let you start the workout without any type of data or Wi-Fi, which defeats the purpose. And Centr — our test’s runner-up — doesn’t allow any downloading.

If there is anywhere that BODi falls short, it’s in nutritional guidance. But that’s relative since there are only two apps in our test that offer any type of meal planning: BODi and Centr. If you’re interested in this, you’ll go to the BODi Eating Plans and take a short quiz. There, you will be asked to describe your eating style, goals and level of cooking expertise. Based on your answers, BODi will select an eating plan for you. Caveat: It’s coming from limited options. BODi only includes four eating plans in the app — Portion Fix, 2B Mindset, 2B Mindset Pregnant and The Four-Week Gut Protocol — so it’s not like your eating plan is coming from a multitude of options. The app also offers some dessert recipes, but they all center on Shakeology (Beachbody’s superfood shakes).

For meal planning, BODi took second to Centr. Centr offers a variety of recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the recipies aren’t branded. In fact, you can select recipes from the Centr app and add them to your in-app shopping list where they’re broken down by ingredient. In practice, this list was actually super helpful at the grocery store.

Bottom line: BODi by Beachbody has an enormous variety of workout programs with high-quality instruction and a multitude of fitness styles. While the meal planning isn’t the best, at least they offer something, as most workout apps don’t. And we love that some workouts can be downloaded for offline access.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

It’s easy for us to determine the “best” workout app, but here’s the reality: Fitness apps are subjective. We all have different goals and schedules and personalities and interests; all of that will affect what workout app you prefer.

When you’re first considering a workout app, think about your fitness goals. If you’re looking to gain strength and lift heavy, you’ll likely prefer a different app than someone who wants to enjoy a high-intensity cardio workout. For most of us, versatility is key. If you know you’re the sort who has different fitness goals in different seasons of life, try to find an app that can stay with you through it all. This means choosing an app with a wide selection and variety of workout styles so you can adjust based on your mood and schedule.

Another factor to consider is pricing. While there are a few free workout apps like the Nike Training Club (or YouTube videos), most of them come with some monthly fee. It is often cheaper if you pay for a year in advance, but this only works if you know you like the app and will use it for a full year. In general, workouts apps roughly cost anywhere from $10 to $40 per month.

Using a workout app also means that you are typically exercising at home by yourself. (Some apps, like Centr, offer gym options that you can take with you, but that’s not the norm.) If community energizes you, take a look at those offerings in the workout apps. Some apps like BODI, Peloton or Obé have live classes. Often, these classes have community engagement where you can see who else is in there and even “compete” with one another. Ultimately, you want a fitness app that you will stick with, so finding one that’s fun for you makes all the difference.

Finally, consider modifications. If you’re a beginner or coming off an injury, chances are you’ll need modifications to some workouts. While you can’t expect a workout app to cater to your individual needs, it’s important to find one with qualified instructors who are good at offering options as they go. This may mean demonstrating a move two ways: one with a jump and one without to save your knees. Little modifications like this go a long way in making workouts accessible for everyone.

Heather Balogh Rochfort/CNN Underscored

To find the best workout app, we looked at everything from the ease of use and meal planning options to the workout programs and live classes. To do this, we divided our testing into four categories: user interface, versatility, programming and instructional guidance. From there, we directly compared the features by using each app for at least 10 to 15 workouts. Here’s the full breakdown of what we did.

  • Ease of use: We evaluated the app on the first and tenth workout to determine how intuitive the design is and whether it’s usable for most people.
  • Downloads: Since not everyone works out with data or Wi-Fi available, we tried to access workouts offline.
  • Workout styles: We tested numerous workouts to determine if there was a large variety of workout styles available, including yoga, barre, lifting and cardio.
  • Live classes: In addition to completing prerecorded classes, we did at least one live class if available.
  • Home or gym: We evaluated if workouts had modifications so that they could be completed at the gym, in addition to at home.
  • Workout programs: Does the app offer standalone workouts, in addition to progressive programming? We completed at least seven workouts in one or two programs to evaluate the workout progression.
  • Nutritional guidance: We tried any meal planning, if it was available, and determined whether it was useful or promotional.
  • Instruction: We considered the instructor’s personality and levels of enthusiasm to determine whether we felt supported or overwhelmed. Is the instruction easy to follow?

Centr came very close to taking the top spot in our test. Not only does it have a clean user interface but the app comes with quality instruction and a variety of workout programs. We also loved the nutritional component; it was the best in our test. For beginners, we also appreciated that Centr sells workouts kits with the basic equipment to get you started. However, Centr doesn’t offer any workout downloads, and it didn’t have nearly the volume of workout programs as BODi.

Peloton has been a fan favorite for a few years now, and we still think it takes the crown for bike workouts. If you opt for the basic app subscription with no bike, we still love the sheer variety of workouts ranging from adaptive options and stretching to strength training and guided outdoor runs. However, Peloton’s emphasis seems to be on standalone and live workouts; they’re library for workout programs is smaller than what’s available on BODi.

Ladder does things a bit differently, and we liked it. Instead of a huge library of prerecorded standalone workouts, Ladder is all about progressive programming. Once you’re in, you immediately choose a team based on the type of workout you’re most interested in (HIIT, Pilates, running, bodybuilding, etc.) Then, you follow that programming on a weekly basis. Ladder tested incredibly well for its workout programs and easy-to-use app, but we felt like it could be a bit intimidating for beginners. And for those who don’t want to follow a program, there isn’t much else offered.

Of all the apps we tested, Obé left us with the most mixed feelings. The workout options and variety were great; it offers prerecorded and live workouts. We loved that all the workouts could be downloaded for use later. Obé coins itself as “fitness for women,” but we felt the vibe of the app was too stereotypical. Everything is colored in bright and showy pastels and it has a number of workouts centering on talking: “stretch and share” or “walk and talk.” We’re sure that this approachable style of fitness may appeal to many, but it was over-the-top for us.

Bottom line: For a free app, you can’t go wrong. Nike Training Club has a fair number of workouts — many as short as 10 minutes — and a number of workout programs ranging from two to eight weeks in duration. We also like that there are many “whiteboard” workouts, which is simply a checklist-style workout that you can use at a gym without having to watch the screen. However, the app’s interface isn’t the easiest to use, and we found ourselves toggling around to find things a lot. We also weren’t terribly impressed with the instruction or variety of workouts. I logged in a few times to find workouts I could do after knee surgery and often left with nothing. But it’s free, and if you don’t have the budget, it is certainly better than nothing.

Designed for hunters and military personnel, MTNTOUGH follows CrossFit-style programming. The meat of the app is what’s called the Daily Minimum-Gear Workout, which is very similar to the Workout of the Day (WOD) in CrossFit. They also have training programs varying in length from three to 20 weeks. Some are focused on backcountry hunter training, while others are more general, like beginner-friendly foundational programs. They also offer workout programs designed for military applicants. While all the workouts are effective in practice, we struggled with the presentation. The classes usually involve one person talking to a camera with the same amount of energy you’d find at your local gym — no extra enthusiasm to transcend your phone. If you’re someone who loves CrossFit and can handle the longer AMRAPs on your own, you’ll love it. But if you need an extra push, this may not be the app for you.

If you know what you like, then the Down Dog apps can be a great choice. Down Dog owns a series of five apps: Yoga, HIIT, Meditation, Barre and Prenatal Yoga. We tested Down Dog Yoga, and it was clear and easy to follow. You simply input your time, level, focus, voice and music selections and the app creates a workout for you on the spot. It’s basic with no frills, but it’s also very affordable. The trade-off is that each app is sold separately. If you want to dabble in different activities, you have to pay for the different apps.

We loved this app. Future is unlike any of the other apps in this test because it pairs you with a real-live personal trainer who you choose based on your personality and preferences. Then you connect with a one-on-one FaceTime session to work through the details of your programming. Your trainer creates weekly programming based on what you tell them: travel schedules, areas of focus, preferred days of the week, whatever. When I was traveling, my trainer created bodyweight workouts for me so I could do them in the hotel room. However, we quickly realized that comparing Future to the other apps in this test wasn’t fair; it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

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