If you are looking for more personalized, studio-oriented instruction through a circa 30 minute workout, this is your neighborhood. I will help you navigate two popular fitness apps that I use almost every day – Tone it up and Jillian Michaels.
As always I will be honest and look at both the pros and cons of each, and then make a recommendation based on what you may be looking for.
What’s the skinny?
- This post compares two similar style of popular fitness apps, Tone it up and Jillian Michaels.
- Both apps have guided instructions, instead of the video loops of SWAEAT and Fit Body, which I have reviewed here.
- Both apps are appealing if you need some extra motivation and encouragement. It depends on how difficult you want your workout to be and what kind of workout personality you are.
Background on trainer and app
Jillian Michaels, best known for being the hard-core Biggest Loser trainer, is one of the pioneers of the at-home workout experience for women. As early as 2004, she gained international fame for her militant approach to kick-butt workouts designed to shred and achieve results in a minimal period of time. Quite possibly, she is the only trainer who could get away with naming an app after herself!
After a successful series of books and DVDs pre-app era, Jillian joined the mainstream app market. Off the bat, I would her personality and the app appealing to the more mature audience. Although she could easily pass for early to mid-thirties, she is 46, which makes her brand even more appealing, since she looks absolutely amazing. I can vouch for this, having recently seen her up close.
The first thing I noticed about the app was how much AI sophistication it had. The app uses artificial intelligence to “design” a program for you, based on your available equipment, goals and your current fitness level. The setup of all of the programs is essentially having Jillian as your Biggest Loser personal trainer. She guides you through the workouts, pushing you, motivating you.
Also, the app has a unique feature for displaying the moves. It’s a hybrid between traditional “workout videos” and the video loops that SWEAT and Fit body use. You see the workout in its entirety, frame by frame, in advance. Jillian does the workout alone on a bare hardwood studio floor as she coaches you through it. You can choose the transition period toward the next move, which then moves to the next frame. You can also skip frames ahead, if you are short on time.
Jillian’s app probably has the most specialized programs of all the “fitness female celebrity” apps. You are presented with about 25 different options for programs, including:
- Programs for purposes, like Weight loss and getting a bikini body;
- Programs for specific events, like a 6-week Bridal bootcamp.
- Programs organized by specific equipment type, like kettlebell, booty band, slider training, and gym equipment resistance training.
- Programs targeting specific body parts, like abs, and for back, chest and arms (this particular one is also good for brides wearing backless and strapless dresses).
- Cardio-focused programs, like HIIT (including beginner HIIT) and guided treadmill and stairmaster workouts that you can pair with your own music. She also has training programs for 5ks and 10ks.
- Wellness programs, like yoga and guided meditation (by Jillian) . Her yoga is definitely just as challenging as many of her other workouts!
- For pre/post-natal, there are workouts for each trimester AND post-pregnancy,
The app also has varieties of 7-minute workouts, if you are in a hurry.
For each program, you can choose a beginner, intermediate or advanced level of difficulty. Having chosen the advanced level (as I always do), I can report that some of the moves are borderline acrobatic.
Each workout associated with a particular program is about 25-35 minutes including the warm up and the cool down. The moves generally last no more than 20-25 seconds, and are mostly bodyweight training and plyo-style. Her entire DVD library collection is available if you are in the mood for a throwback.
- Need I say more, brides to be – a separate 6-week bridal bootcamp!! Moms to be – this is the only app I have seen that is separated by the trimester (check with your doc before starting, obvi.)
- The app is really smooth. You don’t have to count out reps. Her guidance is so good, you don’t even have to really have your phone in front of your face.
- Jillian has signature moves, like “plank moguls,” crab kicks (HARD), superman-to-pike, extended plank, and sumo touchdowns. It’s not the mainstream burpee-mountainclimber-high knees type of plyo, and it keeps the workout interesting and also mentally challenging.
- The app also has a unique feature I have not seen anywhere else: a GENERATOR feature where you can customize your workout by choosing the time (10-45 minutes) and the type of workout - abs, arms/chest/back, buns and thighs, total body, HIIT, stretching and foam rolling. This is a great feature if you are short on time or if you rushed through an earlier workout and didn’t make it to stretching (come on, we have all done it). The technology is so good it even adapts to the time you pick, for example, if you pick a 10 minute workout, she says, “OK I know you are really busy, so let’s go.” She understands us #fitprofessionals!
- The app automatically moves to the next circuit, whereas with apps like SWEAT and Fit body, you have to keep stopping and tapping.
- The Jillian app is also great for people like us who are always in a hurry. Like if you had planned to do arms that day, but then your day is crazy, you can pick one of her 7 minute workouts, like HIIT, abs, upper body, lower body, etc. This feature essentially bakes in one of the available 7-minute workout apps into her app, but with more specialization.
- The ability to preview a workout from start to finish is very helpful; not only does the app have that, but you can also scroll through and substitute out movements. So, for example, if you don’t want to do a burpee, you can pic from 10 alternatives, like skaters. You can also customize the transition time between movements (between 1-3 seconds).
- The main critique I would have of the app is that there is a lot of overlap of moves between the different programs, so it is hard to say how “specially designed” each one really is. I switched back and forth between different programs, and a lot have the same basic staple moves, like burpees, jumping jacks, plank jumps, suicides, uppercuts, and standing oblique crunches.
- There isn’t much of a robust app or Insta community support, if that’s important to you.
- The meditation and yoga are a little too infused with her personality, so it is hard to zone out.
- There aren’t as many gym-equipment based programs as you would find with SWEAT or other apps.
- You can schedule your workouts on the app, but it doesn’t provide a customized schedule for you that you can see in a week at a glance.
- There is no real variety of trainers - it’s the Jillian show, with the exception of her DVD collection, which features other trainers in a class-style setting, including the Tone it up girls, who we will get to next.
Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott are two gym acquaintances from Manhattan beach turned into fitness moguls. Before 2018 when they launched their app, the pair had reached fitness socialite status through their breif Bravo reality show stint, their DVDs and their Instagram popularity. Their story is pretty amazing - as they tell it, they met each other at a California gym one late Friday night as both of them were the lone people working out there. Out of that, and a 3K investment, a fitness empire was born. Out of all the online fitness sensations, TIU probably wins for product social media domination. It has a massive instagram community , but that has even resulted in a spin-off of sub “TIU” communities (for example, I found one for the DC area - TIU DMV). Like with the Fit Body community, many users have separate “TIU” handles. Some have leveraged that to become fitfluencers in their own right. The TIU trainers do live at-home workouts on Insta (with A LOT of talking), which they then post to their app. They also have a large suit of products, like protein powders, bars, equipment, and even clothing on their own site or at Target.
Katrina Scott Hodgson has been a source of inspiration for moms-to-be and new moms, upgrading the app with related programs she teaches and being really transparent about the changes in her body post pregnancy. Meanwhile, Karena Dawn is a vocal advocate for the mental health community, sharing her history of struggle with mental health and the tools she uses for self-care, including meditation. Her meditation programs are featured on the app.
The app features two main types of workout options - programs and a library on-demand workouts. The instruction is more old-school workout video or DVD style – you are greeted, warmed up, the workout starts a few minutes in, and then there is some stretching at the end.
The app also features a number of other TIU trainers - Chyna, Chevy, Tori, Steph, and some others. They often teach videos with Katrina or Karena, or appear in videos with them. Still, it’s mostly the Katrina and Karena show.
Like SWEAT, Jillian, and fit body, the Toneitup app also has programs, but they are vaguely categorized like “14 day slay” and “Love your Body” (very #girlpower). You are given a fixed set of workouts for each week, but can complete them on your own time, or even do two in a day (they are relatively short, usually no more than 20-25 minutes each). There are also frequent “challenges” you can enter and post your participation in on Instagram.
If you don’t want to do one of the regimented programs, you can browse the extensive on-demand workout, which includes some of the older videos from their bikini body DVDs. The on-demand workouts are systematically categorized by arms, legs, glutes, HIIT, total body, yoga, stretching, foam rolling, and gym-based strength training.
The workouts are almost all conducive to working out at home with little equipment and space. Post-pandemic, the developers have expanded the workouts to guided spin, gym strength training, and outdoor running classes. Any equipment that is needed for the workouts, like booty bands, weights, resistance bands is available in their online store (though you could just as easily find them on Amazon or at Walmart, etc.
Probably my favorite feature of the app also is a daily feature of one of the first trademarks of “TIU” –which is their “5 daily moves” or “DMs” . Every day, there are new DMs, based circuit style (you are supposed to do three rounds of each. Generally, there is a focus on body area or type of workout for each day of DMs (upper body, yoga, legs, HIIT, etc.) The moves are demonstrated via video loops of one of the TIU trainers, which is a nice alternative to doing workout videos. Generally, they also take less time – I can knock them out in about 10 minutes. I have created a separate video library of the DM screenshots on my phone and consult it when I want to work out at the gym and need a particular routine on the fly.
- Aesthetically, this app wins for best views. Most of the workouts are taught against the background of beautiful Manhattan beach.
- The workouts are easy to follow, well structured, and generally have a good time span for busy people, averaging between 15-25 minutes.. The instruction pauses for water breaks, and there is ample transition time between movements.
- Many of the workouts can be done with only bodyweight. This is a good app if you are short on space and time, and just want to play a video without having to put forth too much of your own effort to learn and memorize movements.
- Like Jillian’s app, the TIU team has 10 minute or less workouts, which is helpfully placed under the “express” category of on-demand workouts. I find them really easy to do and effective, especially the ab ones. Some of them are as short as 6 minutes.
- The workouts are fun and lighthearted, helping Type A people like us take ourselves less seriously. There are a lot of jokes, laughing, self-deprecation, and words of encouragement (like, “come on, beautiful babes”). Towards the end of each video, and sometimes in the middle, there is always encouragement to “check in” with your “sweaty selfies,” which helps provide accountability and motivation.
- The yoga programs are one of the best I have seen. They have a nice blend of shorter morning and evening yoga workouts, as well as more challenging ones incorporating weights and HIIT.
- If you are into social media communities, this app and being a #TIUbabe is probably right up your alley.
- I would say the main drawbacks are the lack of specific customization for each of the videos - you have to play them from the beginning to the end to know what to expect. Unlike Jillian Michales, SWEAT and fit body, you cannot see any of the moves in advance.
- At one point, Tone it up had a “studio” with live classes. I liked this very much, because you would have the feeling that you scheduled a class where you had to show up, and you could chat with other girls right before the class, just like if you were at the gym making small talk in a real class.
- Some of the video banter and giggling can get a little over the top, even seeming immature. There can be excess cooing of “babe” and “you go girl.”
- Many of the videos contain unnecessary “trailers” the girls and their cronies riding around Manhattan Beach and laying around in their bikinis to vexing music. An unnecessary delay for a workout people barely have time to squeeze in.
- There is definitely a lot of product promotion going on. At the end of almost every workout, the Toneitup girls go out of their way to remind you to go to their Instagram page and drink one of their amazing smoothie recipes. If you look at some of their examples, they are works of art . This illustrates the basic problem that I have with app nutrition plans. They always go overboard in detail with elaborate ingredients and complicated recipes. Yo, if I want a smoothie, Imma just gonna blend a banana, PB and almond milk, and call it a day, K? Why? Because I am #busyAF and need to get to my call that’s 5 minutes after my workout ends!
Recommendations on choice of program
Choosing between TIU and Jillian Michaels is like picking between joining a sorority and being hazed by a frat. If you need more “cuddly” motivation and are really into online communities, taking post-workout selfies, and smoothies, TIU is probably a better choice. If you are more focused on the workout itself, and want a high level of difficulty and like a lot of cardio and plyo, Jillian is probably a better app for you.
And you don’t necessarily have to choose. It’s also pretty compatible and economical to have both, and vacillate in between depending on what your mood is that particular day. For example, I prefer TIU for yoga. I also like to supplement either my Jillian or TIU workout with the 5 DMs.
If you only want one app, here are my recommendations.
You should choose Tone it up if:
- You really want to make a lot of “insta” friends and potentially be a fitfluencer.
- You like a “sorority” type of sisterhood vibe while you are working out
- You like constant encouragement and affirmation in your workouts
You should choose Jillian Michaels if:
- You don’t care as much about social media interaction;
- You want more control over the structure of your workout
- You like to be pushed in 1-on-1 workouts
My honest review of the Jillian Michaels app (Positive Fit)