Fitness Tips

Do Home Workout Apps Work? The Truth About Mobile Fitness Programs

In the last decade (especially these last few pandemic-ridden years), there has been an explosion of home fitness apps as more and more people are looking to ditch the gym and get fit from the comfort of their homes. But do they provide a good workout? Are they worth the time and money? Do home workout apps work?

The simple answer is that yes, home fitness apps can be extremely effective for fitness and weight loss. They offer a convenient and affordable way to get in shape, with reputable apps including professional training advice and routines. 

young woman in workout clothes checking her home workout app on her phone

However, the truth is that it’s a lot more complicated than that. After all, statistics show that less than a quarter of Americans are getting the prescribed 150 minutes of weekly moderate-to-vigorous exercise. And you can find thousands of anecdotes from people who have downloaded fitness apps and have yet to make any progress toward their fitness goals.

Yet, other people – myself included – swear by them. Case in point, I used fitness apps to shed 25 lbs and get into the best shape of my life without so much as setting foot in the gym.

So what’s the deal? Does it depend on the app? The person? The type of workout? Something else?

Let’s dig into this matter and get some answers, shall we?

The Two Biggest Determining Factors of a Workout App’s Effectiveness

The truth is several variables go into how effective a workout app will be, like the type of exercises and the app’s UX. But most high-quality apps have those things covered, and the research shows us that an app’s effectiveness boils down to two major factors:

The App’s Customizability 

Emerging research indicates that a fitness app’s customizability can make or break its effectiveness. For example, a study by UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences found that customizable apps with individualized goals, meal plans, and support systems resulted in better compliance with the program.

This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock. After all, when we download a fitness app, we’re all starting at widely varying levels of fitness and motivation. If the app isn’t able to meet a person where they’re at when we begin, it’s going to get discouraging very quickly.

The Person Using the App 

The other variable influencing a fitness app’s effectiveness is the person using it. If you’re not in the right frame of mind when you commit to a fitness program, it doesn’t matter how customizable or amazing the app is – you aren’t going to stick with it.

Trust me, I should know. It took me years to figure out how to obtain the right mindset to sustain a daily workout routine. (Mostly, it came down to challenging and overcoming the false beliefs I had about fitness and exercise.)

But pair the right headspace with the right app, and magical things can happen!

The Pros and Cons of Using a Home Workout App

Despite their proven potential for effectiveness, fitness apps aren’t for everyone. Although I firmly believe home fitness is the best route for most people, others might do better in a gym setting. Here we’ll look at some of the pros and cons of fitness apps that can help you determine which camp you fall into.

Pros

They’re Affordable

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. Maybe you can score a deal for membership as low as $40 per month, but that still works out to nearly $500 per year!

Workout apps, on the other hand, are incredibly cost-effective. Even the premium ones usually work out to less than $120 per year. Some are even free! No expensive membership or coach needed.

As a side note, some people feel that expensive memberships are necessary to motivate themselves to exercise. Let me tell you from first-hand experience this is not true for most of us. I cringe to think about how many years of membership fees were wholly wasted as the hassle of going overrode my financial commitment.

Trust me; if you’re not motivated enough to work out at home, you’re not going to be motivated enough to wake up at 5 a.m., pack a gym bag, drive 20 minutes, and exercise elsewhere.

They Offer the Ultimate Convenience

That brings me to the next major pro, which is the convenience factor. You can work out whenever you want, for however long you want. There’s no need to drive to the gym, wait in line for equipment, or deal with crowds. You can even work out in your underwear if you want! 

That’s the kind of workout experience that I can get on board with.

This flexibility of molding my workout routine to my workweek made all the difference for me.

Many Have Fantastic Online Support Groups 

Most health and fitness apps these days come with an online support group filled with other people using the same app as you. Some are in-app forums; others are Facebook groups or Discord chats. I love these groups because you can find so many others in the exact same boat as you, and it gives you someone to celebrate your wins with (or commiserate with when a particular workout kicks your butt!)

Cons

No In-Person Professional Fitness Coach to Guide You 

One of the benefits of going to a gym is that you have access to a certified personal trainer who can guide you through your workout routine and give you pointers on how to improve your form. Unfortunately, you don’t have access to this when using a home workout app. While most apps do have video guidance that you can follow along with, it’s not the same as having someone in person who can teach you the right form and technique. 

Easy to Blow Off Workouts 

Even though most apps will send you workout reminders, it’s all too easy to blow off your workouts if you don’t feel like it. There’s no one there to hold you accountable and no sense of commitment like there would be if you had signed up for a gym membership or personal training sessions. As a result, it can be tempting to skip your workout altogether when you’re feeling lazy or unmotivated. 

Limited Equipment 

If you’re using a home workout app, you don’t have access to any gym equipment other than what you have around at home. This is fine if you have a basic set of dumbbells or resistance bands, but if you want to do more advanced workouts involving squat racks or battle ropes, you’re going to have a more challenging time setting that up at home.

Of course, many people have pimped-out gym garages with all the latest equipment, but such a setup costs a pretty penny.

How to Choose the Best Home Workout App for YOU

If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and have decided you want to join Team Home Fitness, all that’s left to do is choose your app and fitness program. Customization is a must, but what specifically should you look for? Here is tried-and-true my checklist before I download a new app:

Pinterest image with collage of fitness photos - what you need to know about fitness apps

Design and Usability 

Nobody wants to waste time fumbling around with an interface that’s confusing or difficult to navigate.

It’s hard enough to convince yourself to work out, but if you can’t figure out how to start the workout or experience technical issues, it becomes another barrier on your path to success.

Therefore, I always read reviews from other users (both online and in the app store) to get an idea of what they think about the design and useability.

Also, I prefer any app that has a free version or a free trial because it allows you to take some time to explore the app yourself before you commit to the premium version.

And I give bonus points to the ones that sync with my Apple Watch.

In-Depth Progress Tracking

Measuring your training progress is crucial because once you see you’re making progress, you’re way more likely to stay motivated and finish the program. Therefore, your app should have some progress tracking functionality – specifically, a place to track your weight trends or body measurements over time.

I also like when it lets you log other types of progress, such as how many reps or sets you did for each exercise or how long you held a plank.

Another nice touch is when they give you “badges” to celebrate your achievements, like finishing a program or exercising a set number of times. These things may seem a bit silly, but I find it helps “game-ify” the experience, making it more fun and motivating to work out.

Workout Plan Variety

Although you may get decent results from a single workout program, fitness is an ongoing journey, not a destination. What will you do next when you finish that first 12-week fitness plan (because you will finish!)?

Some people are fine doing the same programs over and over again, but I don’t recommend it. It can cause you to plateau or, worse, get bored and quit. That’s why I always choose apps with a wide variety of programs so that things never get stale.

Exercise Difficulty Settings

When starting out, finding a workout program that can match your current fitness level is essential. Otherwise, you risk either getting overwhelmed and quitting – or not challenging yourself enough and seeing minimal results.

Ideally, the app will let you choose your difficulty level for each workout so that you can gradually increase the intensity as you get stronger and more fit.

Equipment Settings

Home workouts can involve just bodyweight exercises or basic equipment like dumbbells, resistance bands, and stability balls.

However, some people have more advanced equipment like kettlebells, TRX bands, etc. Therefore, it’s nice to have an app that allows you to filter workouts based on the available equipment.

(Optional) Customizable Nutrition Plans

A good nutrition plan can make or break your fitness efforts because it’s true what they say; you can’t out-exercise a poor diet. The good news is that many apps come with meal plans that cater to your dietary needs. Some people find that nutritional guidance is just as important as the workout program.

However, meal plans are a double-edged sword. I have yet to come across a meal plan that isn’t way too time-consuming and fussy to bother with. I’m a busy woman and don’t have 40 minutes in the middle of the day to make a bistro-quality salad with homemade dressing.

So if you also find meal plans like that overwhelming, you can skip following them. But that means you need to create your own meal plan that works for you.

Best Workout Apps – My Top Recommendations

I get that sorting through app reviews can be overwhelming. However, I’ve used tons of them over the years, and I can help point you in the right direction – here are the top three I recommend based on everything we’ve discussed. All of them are muscle-building apps designed to help you shed weight fast and effectively tone every body part the scientific way.

Best Overall App -The Fitness App by Jillian Michaels

This has been my favorite app for many years because I’m a huge Jillian Michaels fan and find her tough-love approach to fitness motivating. Her programs are insanely effective (special shout-out to Body Revolution!), and the app is a joy to use.

She also has workouts targeting specific body parts (including a six-pack abs program) and more low-intensity options, such as yoga programs with stretching routines. This app is best for people who can go all out in their workouts – the majority of workouts are very HIIT-focused. (Read the full review.)

SWEAT by Kayla Itsines

SWEAT was one of my first workout apps, and her signature program, High Intensity with Kayla (formerly Bikini Body Guide), showed me some serious results when I was first starting. It’s the perfect “home workout, no equipment needed” type of app. Of course, you’ve got all your usual suspects, like jumping jacks, push-ups, and burpees, but there are also a lot of challenging and fun exercises I had never come across before this app.

Since I first used the app, SWEAT has blossomed into a highly comprehensive app with many different trainers and programs for every focus. It would probably take years to do all the workouts! (Read the full review.)

Best Strength Training App – FitBod

In the past year, I’ve had to ditch high-impact workouts due to a migraine problem I’ve developed. This weight training app is much more straightforward and basic than the other two, but it’s very customizable, and the workouts are great if you want to build muscle. You can choose full-body exercises or decide which of the main muscle groups you want to target, and the app will also recommend which ones you should train based on how rested they are from the last workout! (Full review to come!)

Final Thoughts About the Effectiveness of Fitness Apps

Do home workout apps work? Absolutely, but the app must offer lots of customization. It’s also essential that you be in the right headspace to tackle a fitness program.

Consistency is the key to successful daily workout routines at home; commit to it for at least eight weeks. Make sure you’re working out at least 3-4 times per week and really give it your all.

If you struggle to stick with the program, take a step back and reassess your goals. Make sure you’re being realistic and that your chosen program is a good fit for your needs.

Otherwise, you just need to remember why you started in the first place!

Now go download one of the fitness apps recommended in this article and get started on your journey to a better you!

FAQ

Do home workout apps work?

Yes, they work. However, research shows that the app’s level of customization and support play a major role in a person’s ability to stick with it.

What are the best workout apps?

Jillian Michael’s The Fitness app, SWEAT by Kayla Itsines, and FitBod are all great choices.

Can I still get a good workout if I don’t have any equipment?

Yes! Many apps work with bodyweight only and provide fantastic results. However, it is worth investing in a set of dumbbells for added resistance.

How much weight can I lose using a workout app?

Weight loss depends on many factors, including age, sex, diet, and starting weight. However, most people can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week by working out 3-4 times per week and following a healthy diet with a modest calorie deficit.

How long should a home muscle-building workout be? 

You don’t need to dedicate hours and hours to your workouts! Even just a few minutes a day can make a difference. However, I would aim for at least 20 minutes three times a week.

How long should I use a fitness app before seeing results?

You can see results in only a few short weeks! Most people see start to see results within the first month of using an app consistently.

Corrie Alexander is a former ISSA-certified personal trainer, home fitness advocate, and founder of The Fit Careerist. A proponent of personal growth and a self-proclaimed fitness app-junkie, Corrie shares tips and product reviews with the goal of helping others on their own fitness journey.

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