Before we get to the apps, let’s answer the question – are these optional or niche workouts?
Not if you want your body to truly change. Strength training and cardio do a lot, but they don’t work your core, balance or smaller precision muscles in the same way.
I used to be the biggest SNOB about yoga. “Oh, that’s’ for hippy dippy people who don’t want to do REAL workouts.”
Then I went to my first power yoga class, and collapsed after holding down dog for 10 seconds. This was a RESTING POSE???!!!
The point is, if you are not incorporating yoga as a regular component of your strength training routine, you are missing out on a cardio, strength, and all-over functional workout.
I did not notice significant changes in my body until I incorporated yoga and other types of “precision” training, like barre and Pilates into my routine. Even if you are a beginner to all of these forms of training, so is everyone you are taking the class with. And now, you have the luxury of having well-designed apps and youtube workouts geared towards a private workout in your own home.
This article will give some guidance on some of the best apps that are scalable by time and level.
Why do these workouts?
Strength training and cardio often get all of the attention. Workouts involving mats and little to no equipment, like yoga, barre and pilates, often get perceived as window-dressing, After all, how good of a workout can one get when they are lying on a mat or standing still most of the time?
The answer is: A GREAT ONE. The necessity of precision training stems from several factors:
- You cannot do intense strength training workouts everyday. Your body needs to stay active, but training big muscle groups takes a huge toll on your body and nervous system.
- These workouts train other important parts of holistic fitness, like balance, mobility, and flexibility. All of which are equally important
- You also achieve a meditation benefit, from the mind body connection, especially with yoga
- You work smaller niche muscle groups that traditional strength training cannot reach. This complements your efforts by additionally scultping those “showoff” parts of your body, like your calves, tops of your shoulders, biceps, and obliques. You will have a noticeable lift in areas like your glutes and even your chest.
- Finally, and most importantly, these workouts help prevent injury by helping protect your spine and increasing the bloodflow throughout your body, which accelerates recovery from more intense workouts.
Down dog – Best for customizable yoga
If you just want to do yoga, possibly in 5 minutes, without a lot of chit chat, this app if for you.
Down dog is a no-nonsense, AI driven app, where you can customize by time and practice to meet your daily needs. You can tailor your workout by level of difficulty, type of practice (ashtanga, chair, sun salutations, nidra (for sleep,) vinyasa, and yin). You can customize the time of your routine for as little as 3 minutes, up to 75 minutes (!). The yoga routine features usually a female workout model silently doing the moves to guided instruction. The really nice thing about the customization feature is that you can choose your instructor voice over, which is a mix of women’s and men’s voices with different accents You can listen to a sample of each (like an alarm sound on your smartphone) before you choose. Finally you can also customize the length of the savasana (the closing rest to the class).
Access to the down dog app also includes access to its full suite of apps, which include the HIIT app, the barre app, and meditation and for prenatal yoga.
You should get the app if:
- You just want to roll out of bed and get into the workout the way you want it;
- You have a varying range of time to workout every day and need to make your workout shorter or longer.
- You don’t need additional exercise motivation or encouragement.
Best app to up your yoga game – Alo moves
The maker of the beautiful line of yoga clothing has recently launched its “Alo Moves” yoga app, so of course I checked it out. It resembles Obe in many ways, as in it is taught in a studio, but with more of a real yoga studio vibe (there are even floor-to-celing windows.
The app has you take a survey answering questions about what classes you are interested in, what type of instruction you want (e.g., motivating, inspiring and informative). The app then asks you about your level and what your goals are, whether it is get fit, increase flexibility, reduce stress or improve a skill (like inversions). The nice thing is that if your goals or your focus changes, you have an option to retake the survey.
Classes and programs
The app also offers barre, HIIT, cardio and strength training. If, however, you only want to do yoga you can customize the app for that purpose. You have the option to take individual on-demand classes, but you can also take structured programs for each of the types of workouts.
I mostly focused on the yoga, and found it had a lot of great “morning” and “sleep” flows, which exactly what I need during the week. This is something I will do right when I wake up, as I transition to my workout for the day, or going to sleep. The stretches in those workouts are gentle enough to do after dinner.
The series section of the yoga programs have some advanced skill workshops that are structured as series, like “learn to handstand”. There are also programs organized by different goals, like detox, power, and flexibility, desk therapy (for relieving sore muscles from too much sitting).
The meditations on the program are deep in level of variety and discipline. For example, there are sound bath meditations, which do NOT involve baths, but musical sound played by instructors that focus on certain chakras. You are encouraged to lie down for these, which is great! You can read more about sound bath meditations, here.
Every class you see, whether it is on-demand or a series, can be added to the “my practice” playlist. It has a similar feel to the Equinox+ app where there is a just a Russian doll pattern of classes. You will definitely never run out of options, and it seems that they are making an effort to keep adding new ones.
You should get the Alo app if:
- The aesthetics of a beautiful and spacious yoga studio is appealing;
- Calming and soothing instruction, as opposed to loud music and chirpy instructors
- You would rather do shorter yoga classes as opposed to 45-60 minute practices;
- You want #goodyogateacher vibes;
- You like structured series and programs with bite-sized classes;
- You like variety and are not intimated by a Netflix-like list of options.
Blogilates – Best Pilates-based workouts
I never saw better abs and a higher butt than when I started doing Pilates. So I would highly recommend incorporating pilates or pilates-based workouts into your routine.
Having generated a huge following on YouTube, the Body by Blogilates app by LA-based trainer Cassie Ho is a collection of at home workouts for the Pilates and sculpting focused enthusiasts. To manage expectations, these are not pure Winsor or Joseph Pilates workouts. They are more “Pilates-esque.” If you find traditional Pilates boring, but want the results, this program is for you.
The workout routines involve high amounts of reps, in some cases over a minute. A big differentiator I noticed is that Blogilates incorporates balance as a huge part of the routine. For example, if you are doing standing leg lifts, you are balancing on one leg. She will have routines where you are doing rows as you are in a warrior three position. So you end up working your standing leg as you work whatever other part of your body. Usually my burnout comes from that and not the actual movement.
Most of the videos only require bodyweight – a few require light weights or bands. Even many of her arm workouts are “weightless” – which definitely differentiates this program from similar ones.
The YouTube channel workouts are a good way to sample the program before committing to the app, which has more programs and specialized workouts. Cassie teaches most of these workouts from what looks like her home.
Cassey definitely makes Pilates less boring, which I think was the code she cracked when she founded POP Pilates. Fun music plus her infectious energy make it more bearable. On the plus side, many of her workouts are under 20 minutes. However, they are very difficult, even if you consider yourself advanced (always nice to be humbled).
Don’t be misled – what she does is not really traditional “Pilates.” There are a lot of toning and cardio workouts; however, they all have a Pilates-type foundation to them.
There are stand-alone on-demand workouts that are focused on toning targeted problem areas – like abs, buttocks, and inner thighs. There are also 3-4 week programs with a workout every day, like the 21-day toning program.
Blogilates includes a 28-day bridal program. I put this app under the category of best for Brides in my fitness app decision tree because 1) it has a bridal-specific program; and 2) which is perfect for when your wedding is 3 months or less away,. These are the workouts that will give you a tiny waist and definition in the tiny muscles that will pop in the pictures.
None of the workouts are super long, so they are great to tack onto your existing bridal training, including cardio and strength training. I am doing the bridal program now, just to mix it up, even though I got married 3 years ago:)
This is a great app for you if:
- You do a lot of weightlifting and cardio, but need motivation to do precision muscle training or extra stretching.
- You want really precise body part training
- You like shorter workouts
- You want to “tack on” to your existing workouts as a finisher
- You are pressed for time or want a quick “tack on” option for abs or other areas at the end of your work out. The workouts can be filtered by time and they even have 3 minute quick burns.
Best for Barre – Pure Barre GO
Do you miss the barre? Me too. Pure Barre was not the first barre class I had ever taken but the first one that got me addicted to taking barre. I also got addicted to the “teardrop arm” effect of the arm workouts and the confidence I felt after mastering a given movement. Not to mention, all of the friends.
I will review the live studio in a separate post (there are about 500 studios in North America).
What you need to know for now, is if you are a member of Pure Barre, but the studio is not accessible, Pure Barre On Demand also known as “Pure Barre GO” offers plenty of routines as short as five minutes and up to 60 minutes long. This on demand feature is grandfathered into a Pure Lifestyle membership (which is a 12-month contract membership), but only 30 dollars a month otherwise.
You can filter workouts by what kind of equipment you have and what area of your body you want to tone. There are even prenatal programs and more intensive workouts available for people looking for more of a challenge. It’s not the complete barre experience that us devoted Pure Barre fans are used to, but it’s as close as you can get. The workouts even simulate a live class studio setting (kind of like the on-demand SoulCycle classes – see my review at the link.).
The basic sequences remains the same – Pilates-type core warmup, plank sequence, arms, thighs, seat, core and bridges – but each workout is really different in the movements. As a studio member, you are used to the sequences changing every couple of weeks; but with Pure Barre on Demand it’s like TJ Maxx – you never get the same thing twice. For those of us who go way back, you can also get access to the traditional DVDs on the app.
You can’t replicate the energy of the Pure Barre studio, no matter what you do – the mirrors, the wooden barre, the instructor coming around and lifting your leg higher (they are big fans of hands-on adjustments). Your chair or other stable surface becomes your barre – or you can try to get as close as you can with a banister. Still, it’s better than no barre at all and one of the best options for a full-body, low impact workout.
Solidcore classes on the Equinox+ app
Solidcore has now brought its class to the Equinox + app. For those who are unfamiliar with Solidcore, it is a studio-based megaformer class. Here’s what a megaformer is. Basically it’s a machine that uses pulley resistance to work your entire body. The class is based around slow movements that make your muscles feel like they are about to rip apart (but are still really effective). The classes range from quick 10-minute workouts to 60 minute classes, at all different levels.
Obé on demand and live class fitness app
The Obé app is getting a lot of TV commercial time, which leads me to believe there is a lot of money behind it. It definitely appeals to a more mainstream, entertainment focused crowd. I think their marketing angle is to be the Peleton of yoga sculpt.
Not to be fooled by that persona, the workouts can be challenging, depending on which ones you choose. It has a lot of “feel good” vibes, with peppy instructors teaching in a neon pastel studio. There is also a generous supply of 20 or so live classes every day, seven days a week, starting at 6 AM EST and finishing in as little as 20 minutes.
Classes also appear in an on demand library The on-demand classes span across 15 different types, including barre, dance, cardio boxing, HIIT, Pilates, sculpt, Vinyasa Yoga, and more. You can filter by fitness level (beginner through advanced, as well as pre- and post-natal), class length (between 5-60 minutes), body focus, impact, instructors, and equipment. There are so many options that you could spend longer scrolling through than actually doing a class. To help with any indecision paralysis, there are training programs that will map out a 7-30 day routine depending on your goal.
The “Peloton” vibe with the shout outs and high energy. The class types include HIIT, cardio, dancing, barre, cardio kickboxing, Pilates, strength training (with moderate dumbbells, no gym equipment), and yoga.
For the on demand workouts, it gives you 7-8 filters to customize the class you want. There are also live workouts, which you can take back to back (like yoga then cardio sculpting). There are even workouts that use a small trampolines, which is perfect if you like Body by Simone.
Similar to Blogilates, there are also programs, including for arms, legs, prenatal and postnatal.
This is a great app for you if:
- You want to do yoga but make it feel like a SoulCycle class. If you like Corepower Yoga, you will love this app. The classes are high energy and incorporate HIIT and strength training moves. There is also a “yoga sculpt” , which is a blend of HIIT, strength training, and flowing through poses with weights.
- You like pilates category that incorporates equipment like weights and sliders. The app has a “hard AF pilates that is true to its name. There is also a “Hard AF” program, which the Hard AF pilates with HIIT, cardio boxing, and strength training
- You like more full body workouts
- You like loud energetic music
- You like the feeling of being in a virtual studio