13 best fitness apps and online training programmes
We sweated our way through a lot of workouts to bring you the programmes that really deliver results
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a remote village with zero wifi, you’ll have noticed the explosion of the fitness industry in recent years. And not only has it grown in popularity, it’s also had a bit of a facelift.
Unlike the dark days of long-winded, cardio-focused workouts, today’s favoured exercises take the form of quick HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions, weight training and circuits, many of which can be completed in well under an hour – some as short as 10 minutes,
No longer are we limited to forking out for costly gym memberships, as not only are there more affordable and pay-as-you-go options around, there’s also a wealth of information out there – including fitness plans, nutritional insight and expert advice – which means you needn’t even leave the house for a workout.
Thanks to social media we have direct access to top trainers and nutritionists who regularly spurt little nuggets of health-related wisdom, so we’re not only more educated on exercise and eating well, we’re also inspired to take part. But, with so many plans, guides and programmes on the market, how’s a fitness-enthusiast supposed to know which is best to invest in?
That in mind, we squatted and sweated our way through workouts from some of the best guides around, taking into consideration the duration and difficulty, the fitness level required for the exercises involved, the guidance and support provided, plus the functionality of the source (how easy the website, etc, is to navigate). Our favourites, listed below, include sessions from top trainers around the world. Some are based in the US, therefore the price is listed in dollars. This means that, although there are no additional charges for purchasing the programme, the cost may vary depending on the exchange rate at the time. It’s also worth asking what your bank charges for foreign purchases, as it may cost you a small percentage of the fee.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Fiit membership: From free, Fiit.tv
Think Netflix, but for fitness. Fiit provides access to many of the best trainers in the country – including Adrienne Herbert, Alex Crockford and Richie Norton – for video-led workouts that can be completed in your bedroom and beyond. There are three categories to choose from – cardio, strength and rebalance, which includes yoga, pilates, mobility and breath work – and all feature sessions comprised of body weight moves, so they’re accessible to everybody.
There are hundreds of videos already available – either 25 or 40 minutes in length and varying in difficulty – and new ones drop frequently. Upgrading to a premium membership (which costs from £10 per month) provides you with a Fiit device, which allows you to live track your heart rate and calories burnt during a workout, and also provides access to unlimited classes and exclusive content. Plus, if you have more specific goals you can try out one of the new personalised training plans, which recommends specific videos along with nutritional advice to help you hit your goals.
Zanna Van Dijk The Sculpt Guide: £35, Zannavandijk.co.uk
With a firm focus on nourishing not just the body, but the mind and soul also, The Sculpt Guide is more than a run-of-the-mill fat loss plan. Created by Zanna Van Dijk, personal trainer, blogger, social star and Adidas Global Ambassador, it aims to improve health from all angles. The 12-week fitness programme provides weighted and bodyweight workouts – which increase in complexity and difficulty as the weeks progress – and recommends that you complete four (with an optional fifth) per week of your choice depending on your circumstances.
So if, for example, you’re travelling one week, you might favour the bodyweight workouts for ease. Warmups and finishers (for the non-faint hearted among us) are also included, and rest days are compulsory. There’s advice on recovery, stress management and the importance of sleep and self-care, and an emphasis on good form. There’s no meal plan included as nutrition is outside of Zanna’s expertise, however there are recipes aplenty on her website. Available in PDF form only, it’s practical for use when working out on the go, however links are dotted throughout that direct you to video demos of the exercises on Youtube.
GymCube Membership: From free, GymCube
A virtual take on the fitness class, GymCube is an online database of more than 600 do-at-home workout videos, plus regular sessions you can stream live (imagine, all the buzz of a group class with none of the faff beforehand). Workouts can be filtered by duration, target area, difficulty, equipment available, preferred trainer and the amount of calories you could burn, and there’s an option to follow a plan (all of which are listed under the Programmes tab) – such as the 30 day challenge – if you prefer a little guidance.
The exercise library illustrates how best to execute each move (which is handy, as some videos are fast-paced with little time for the instructor to demonstrate beforehand, so it’s worth consulting this prior to starting a workout), and there’s a wealth of information to aid in improving your diet, including weekly meal plans and healthy recipes.
It’s recommended that you follow the seven-day Kick Start programme upon signing up to determine your goals and establish your current fitness level. Upgrading to a premium membership costs as little as £5.83 per month, and allows access to additional videos plus member-only support groups.
Scott Laidler Online Personal Training: From £195, Scott Laidler
Unlike the one-size-fits-all programmes on our list, this one is a completely bespoke option. Much like hiring a personal trainer in your local gym, top fitness coach Scott Laidler and his team will devise a plan to help you achieve your goals. There are three options available, a six-week, 12-week or 24-week plan, and each includes both a tailored fitness programme and a customised meal plan created by a nutritionist.
Once you’ve filled out a few forms, you’ll have your personal plan pop up in your inbox in a week or so. It’s up to you whether workouts include equipment or not, and you can also note any allergies, intolerances or dislikes too. The recipes provided are delicious (particularly the peanut quinoa bowl and the orange and blueberry bircher muesli). Support (via email) is available should you need a little encouragement.
FitFusion by Jillian Michaels: From $9.99 (£11.74) per month, FitFusion
Ideal for those who favour a fitness DVD but like a little bit of variety, FitFusion is an online subscription service that allows access to a catalogue of exercise videos, ranging from cardio and strength training, yoga, boxing and pre/postnatal-focussed workouts, too. The sessions vary in length (the 10-minute Body Transformation may sound like a breeze, but it’s brutal), and while many are led by an enthusiastic – yet merciless – Jillian, others see the presence of a range of equally encouraging top trainers.
There’s no knowing how punishing a workout will be before you begin (though watch out for words such as “killer” and “extreme”, code for really, really blimmin’ hard), however modifications are often provided to increase or decrease the level of difficulty. Plans and series’ are available for those looking for more structure, such as the one-week Shred and Ripped in 30, which provide a number of workouts to perform over a certain period of time in order to alter your body composition.
If you’re new to fitness, start with the Beginner Shred. It’s low intensity, yet still sweat-inducing, and will help build strength for the more challenging workouts. Subscribe for 12 months to reduce the overall payment or purchase just one video, if you prefer. You can also download the videos for offline use.
Doyouyoga: from $15 (£7.41) per month, doyouyoga.com
Providing everything from power flows and pilates, to tips for great posture and assistance in progressing poses, the Doyouyoga site has a little something for every yogi there is. Videos can be filtered by style, focus, teacher, level of ability and duration, and modules – such as the Men’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge – are available for those seeking to improve their practice.
With both sweaty and soothing sessions on the menu, it’s easy to find a video to target your mood and goals. Plus, regular reminders via email and virtual badges upon completing certain challenges encourage your persistence. The speedy sub-15-minute flows are perfect for integrating into a busy life, as are the short meditation videos, which guide you through breathing exercises to help manage stress and anxiety.
Some programmes – such as The 28 Day Yoga for Beginners – are free to access, though a full subscription allows access to the entire collection, and lets you track your progress and time spent practicing, which is ideal if you have hopes of becoming a yoga teacher yourself.
Joe Wicks, Lean In Fifteen Workouts: £4.99, Amazon
Joe Wicks, founder of the Lean in 15 franchise – famed for his toned bod and recurring use of the words “midget tree” – has released a second fitness DVD. It features nine HIIT workouts that start at beginner level, and gradually increase in intensity as you complete them. The first eight are short 15-minute sessions, while the additional ninth – or “winner’s” – workout is a 30-minute killer, though with lots of cardio and full-body moves included, even the easier workouts will leave you puffing for breath.
Exercises are mostly bodyweight moves, but dumbbells are required for workouts seven and eight. There’s no weekly plan regarding when and how often you should complete a workout, however if you own the first in the series of the Lean in 15 books (and if you don’t, you should!) you’ll find a recommended schedule in there along with quick and delicious recipes.
Set in scenic Italy, the video emphasises the versatility of the workouts, and the fact they can be completed anywhere in the world with minimal equipment. However, if you intend to train on the go, it might be wise to invest in the digital version. The DVD is ideal for those looking to increase general fitness levels, but if you’re looking for a more substantial, tailored plan, Wicks’ 90 Day Shift, Shape and Sustain plan might be more up your street.
The Vertue Method Fitness Programme: £39.99, Shonavertue.com
With a following of over 300,000 and an endorsement by none other than David Beckham, the success of Shona Vertue’s training method speaks for itself. She promotes the equal importance of strength, flexibility and nourishment, and her new video-based programme makes her method accessible to everyone. The 12-week plan, intended to increase all-round health and improve nutrition, is detailed on her website, where – behind a pay wall – you’ll find workouts and wellbeing advice aplenty.
There are three videos for each fortnight of the programme; two that take you through workouts – 30-38 minutes in length – which should be repeated twice per week, and one yoga video that remains constant throughout the plan, but provides progressions for when needed. Exercises involve the use of simple equipment, such as kettlebells and resistance bands, but can be completed without.
A drawback is that internet is required to access the workouts, but there’s an explanation. “I didn’t make a PDF fitness guide because I wanted to be as close as I could to you while you were training,” Shona wrote recently on her Instagram profile. “The cues I give you on your form are in real time so it’s much easier to apply them rather than having to memorise them or go to the back of the PDF to read the exercise descriptions again, mid-way through your workout.”
The plan is bursting with info on improving mindset and proper form to maximise your workouts, and there’s an emphasis on moving at your own pace (Shona even advises repeating any weeks you find particularly challenging until you’re ready to proceed). Recipes are provided, along with nutrition advice, and there’s no such word as cheat, as nothing is off limits.
Barrecore: £5 for 24-hour access or £25 for a monthly subscription, Barrecore
Recognisable for its ballet-style moves that appear deceivingly easy at first glance, Barrecore offers punishing, full-body workouts that’ll have you squealing (in pain, not excitement) through each rep. By signing up to the online subscription service you’ll gain access to 66 videos, which can be filtered by duration, equipment used (such as weights, a rolled towel or a barre/chair), ability and target area.
There’s also the option to follow a two, four or six-week programme – complete with a timetable and recommended videos – to help you achieve your goals. Workouts are led by enthusiastic trainers. Moves (and their benefits) are explained thoroughly, and include squat and push-up variations with lots of little pulses that’ll have your body parts burning, however modifications are available to reduce or increase intensity. Stretches are also incorporated at the end and throughout to release tension and increase flexibility.
If heavy weightlifting is your thing, then Barrecore probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking for something to make your muscles sizzle, this is it.
Kayla Itsines The Bikini Body Guide: From £42.28, Kayla Itsines
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the fitness industry, it’s likely you’ve at least heard murmurs of Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide; world-famous for toning the physiques of its loyal “army” of fans. The 12-week plan consists of three weekly 30-minute HIIT workouts, each including two seven-minute circuits that are to be repeated twice. The goal is to see how many moves you can squeeze into each seven-minute slot.
It’s also recommended that you complete one extra cardio session per week (such as power walking or sprint training) and include some stretching, too. Basic equipment – including dumbbells, a bench, a medicine ball and a skipping rope – is required to perform a number of the moves, however most can be bought cheaply online.
There workouts will leave you feeling depleted (there’s a reason that so many participants look lean and sculpture-like in their “after shots), but if a change in body composition is what you’re looking for, this could be your golden ticket. The repetition of exercises over the weeks can begin to feel a tad monotonous, however they’re over so quickly you’ll hardly notice.
PIIT 28 Programme: From $39 (£30.91), Blogilates
What in the world is PIIT? Well, think HIIT, but with the addition of pilates-inspired moves. The 28-day programme – originally created by award-winning fitness instructor, Cassey Ho, to keep herself moving while travelling – comprises of 11 workouts that are to be performed over six days per week. Each workout is, rather precisely, 28 minutes and 40 seconds long, and features seven simple but sweaty bodyweight moves – many including a springy element, like bunny hop variations.
The rule is 45 seconds of all-out exercise, then 15 seconds of rest, repeated four times (but not before you’ve completed the warm up, of course), and followed by a cool-down. The eBook provides diagrams of each of the moves (great if you’re on the go and your data is dwindling), plus a 28-day calendar and an Instagram challenge, where you’re encouraged to upload a photo everyday to connect with others participating.
Videos and gifs are accessible behind the membership wall on the website if you’d rather consult a screen, and the free Blogilates app will give you access to a timer. Once you’ve completed the programme, there are two others you can tackle.
That Girl Method: £59 for 12 months, That Girl London
Founded by trainer-to-the-stars Christina Howells and activewear designer, Charli Cohen, the That Girl Method is described as being “the beginning of a lifestyle change”. The eight-week challenge is broken down into four two-week blocks, each comprising of a workout that you’ll repeat six times over the fortnight, plus two steady-state cardio sessions (walking, jogging and cycling are recommended) and two HIIT workouts, depending on your ability (HIIT isn’t introduced until week five for beginners).
The four workouts at the core (excuse the pun) of the programme are comprised of 10-12 moves using bodyweight or basic equipment (such as a resistance band or chair) that target the whole body, and increase in difficulty as the weeks go on. Gifs and short explanations demonstrate how to best execute the moves, though nowhere does it mention that – performed in a row – they’re way tougher than the girls in the gifs let on, so consider this your official warning.
While fun and relatively quick to complete, if you’re someone who likes an ever-changing exercise schedule, then – due to the workout repetition – this might not be the programme for you. But if you’re looking to bust your butt to kick-start a lifestyle switch-up, then this is the door to knock on. Nutrition advice with meal suggestions and a handful of recipes are also available, plus a couple of extra workouts for the advanced and the masochists.
Carly Rowena Get Gorgeous Guide: From £30, Carly Rowena
Insta-famous for her enviable abs and positive demeanour, it’s no wonder Carly Rowena gets lots of questions regarding her fitness routine. Lucky for us, her 12-week plan provides everything we need – including workouts and advice on nutrition and managing stress – to improve our health, and perhaps even reveal abs of our own. Ideal for fitness newbies and the advanced alike, the eBook (also available in hard copy) allows you to choose your own level of intensity.
It encloses three different circuit workouts per week, all comprising of five to six uncomplicated moves (such as jump squats and press-ups) which can be performed with or without basic equipment, and are clearly illustrated. The workouts are relatively quick to complete, but don’t let their simplicity trick you into believing it’ll be a walk in the park. Pick the correct intensity level and you’re in for a challenge.
Participants can access the private Get Gorgeous Facebook group, where subscribers can encourage, motivate and inspire one another. Once you’ve downloaded the eBook to your laptop or phone (you can download it a total of three times), you needn’t be interrupted by any poor internet connections, so it’s ideal for travelling.
The Verdict: Fitness apps and online training programmes
Choosing a fitness programme is very personal – what might be one person’s ideal workout will be another’s worst nightmare – so above all, it’s important that you opt for an exercise that you’ll enjoy, and that suits your lifestyle. That being said, if fun, trainer-led sessions are your thing, then – with no equipment required and a broad range of classes available – Fiit has our vote.
The Sculpt Guide scores points for its focus on all-round health and the option of personalising your own workout week depending on your schedule (plus its affordablility!), though if you have a particular goal in mind, consider online coaching with Scott Laidler for a bespoke plan to help you achieve it.
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