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If you choose your workout based on the instructor, this app is for you

The Freeplay app takes out the middle man and gives you direct access to your favorite trainer.
Jasmine Parent's workouts on Freeplay feature a mix of body-weight strength and dumbbell work.
Jasmine Parent's workouts on Freeplay feature a mix of body-weight strength and dumbbell work.TODAY Illustration / Brianna Steinhilber

There's no shortage of online fitness platforms, especially with the increased demand for virtual workouts during the pandemic.

While I love having all of these at-home fitness options, I have to be honest, they all start blurring together. So when the new platform Freeplay popped up on one of my social feeds, I glossed over it at first. It wasn’t until a specific trainer (and her inspiring weight-loss story) caught my eye, and I realized she offered classes on the platform, that I revisited it.

It may seem like I came to the site through the back door, so to speak, but that’s actually exactly how the platform is designed to work. It’s the only digital fitness platform I have come across that is instructor-first. And while that is limiting in some respects, I think it makes it more likely that those who are just getting back into the groove of a fitness routine will stick with it.

How much does the Freeplay app cost?

What’s nice is that this platform can be as inexpensive or pricey as you decide to make it. The basic membership is $20 a month, which gives you access to unlimited live and on-demand content. (This includes three live workouts a week from individual instructors.) To unlock subscriber-only content (like more live workouts each week and exclusive on-demand content) and to be able to direct message individual instructors, you can subscribe to an instructor’s studio. Each instructor sets their own subscription price, but they typically run from $5-15. After each class there is also the option to review and leave a tip for the trainer.

There is then an $80 Virtual + Venues membership, which is currently only available for Utah residents, but there are plans to roll out to more cities this year, including Phoenix, San Diego, Austin, Boise and Los Angeles. This includes unlimited virtual live and on demand classes and five monthly classes in person at all venues (unlimited check-ins to certain venues) and three “Buddy Passes” to bring a friend each month.

What is the Freeplay app?

While many virtual fitness studios are based on the type of workout, Freeplay is really built around the instructors. More than 100 fitness instructors are sharing content on the platform. And there are currently more than 5,000 on demand classes across dozens of activities from yoga, barre and meditation to strength training, HIIT and hip-hop dancing.

From the homepage you can see which instructors and classes are trending, the upcoming live workout schedule, and the venue schedule (if there are any nearby.) Since there are currently no in-person classes on the East Coast, I stuck with the virtual offerings. But it seems to me that that aspect of the platform would very much work like ClassPass, allowing you to book a certain number of in-person classes at various venues for a set monthly fee.

Once you click into a specific instructor on the platform, you will see their upcoming live class schedule, as well as past live streams and uploaded videos you can do on demand. You also have the option to follow and subscribe to the instructor for a small fee.

During the classes, the live-chat feature allows you to talk with other students, ask questions and interact with the instructor and receive personalized feedback in real time.

Working out home gym
I felt like I was working out with Jasmine Parent in her garage.

I worked out using the Freeplay app

The first major difference I saw between this and other platforms is that instead of a highly produced video, where the instructors are on set in a studio, many of the workouts on Freeplay take you into the living room (or garage or backyard) of the instructor. There were a few with access to a studio or public gym, but I actually didn’t mind working out with them at home. I felt a sense of solidarity that the instructor was also sweating it out next to their desk or in their living room just like me.

The dashboard is a bit overwhelming with all the instructor choices and the inability to filter by workout type. I was thankful that I had come with a specific instructor already in mind. I glanced at “popular instructors” down the left rail and Jasmine Parent was at the top. I was excited to give her class a try because her story is so engaging: She’s a mom of three and has lost over 200 pounds. I spent awhile perusing the site, and while a few instructors with on demand options caught my eye, I decided to stick with Jasmine to get the experience of following a particular instructor on the platform (and also getting to know her community of followers).

I chose from her live schedule and picked her 30-Minute Cardio Core Combo class on a Wednesday morning. There were 20 of us in class, and people commented throughout. I could definitely tell that the same people come back again and again to take her classes, which builds a camaraderie like an in-person group fitness class would. The nine-round workout was dumbbells optional and Parent offered modifications for every single move, so it really was a good workout for someone at any level. Parent was working really hard along with us, sweating and out of breath, and it felt like we were all in it together.

I also tuned in to one of her Monday Mashup classes at 9 a.m. I again felt the camaraderie between the instructor and the students. Some people were also members of her other program outside of Freeplay, so she obviously has a loyal following across multiple platforms. Some people even checked in saying they couldn’t make it live and would do it later.

When the burn started to set in, it was motivating to see others commenting on feeling the same pain.
When the burn started to set in, it was motivating to see others commenting on feeling the same pain.

In terms of the workout, the class was divided into two, 14-minute circuits made up of HIIT intervals that were one minute of work and 30 seconds of rest. I was surprised that I felt challenged even though the moves were basic. By the end, my legs were burning. It was nice to look up from a tough exercise with my legs on fire and see other people in the chat also commenting on feeling the same way.

At the end, she took the time for a nice cool down and encouraged people to reach out and tell her what type of workout they wanted for Wednesday’s class.

I couldn’t make any more live classes work with my schedule that week so I turned to the on demand section and had more than enough to choose from. I liked that Parent has themed classes so I knew what to expect from those videos, like Monday Mashup (10 of her favorite exercises done HIIT-style) and Tuesday 10’s (weighted exercises using 10-pound weights).

I really liked the style of the Monday mashup class so I took another one on demand and turned it into a Friday mashup.

The app reminded me a lot of being on a social media platform. You’re following instructors that resonate with you and you keep coming back to them and the community they have created — versus going to a gym or platform for a specific type of workout, regardless of who the instructor is.

What I liked about the Freeplay app

As opposed to joining one specific gym or studio and having different instructors on the schedule, I felt like I was instead auditioning instructors and finding one that fit my style of training.

Since the platform doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, the instructor really has to shine. And for me, Parent did. I really liked her energy and down to earth, but motivational style. I loved the ability to interact with her in real time and the fact that she actually reads all the comments and answers live. I do think if you are someone who is struggling to get back into a fitness routine, this support could make all the difference. There is definitely a strong community aspect to this platform as well and the chat room in Parent’s classes really created that camaraderie that I used to feel when I was a regular in certain gym classes.

When you do a previously live-streamed video on demand, the comments still come in in real time, which was a feature I really liked. It still feels like you’re live with others and you are still getting that real-time feedback and camaraderie that matches the place you are in the workout. You can even add a comment, which will then show up with that time stamp during the workout moving forward.

Right now, the in–person feature is limited to Utah (and a few other studios in the Northwest), but as it expands I think this may be a game changer for the platform. It enables you to take a class with a trainer you like in person, and then take additional classes with them on-demand or live from home.

What I didn’t like about the Freeplay app

The homepage is a little overwhelming and I just happened to stumble upon an instructor that I loved. But if you come to the site without a specific instructor in mind, it may take a bit of trial and error (and a lot of searching around the platform) to find a workout.

Navigating the site is a little difficult because the search feature is very limited. The inability to filter the on-demand classes by class type is a missed opportunity. I would have branched out and tried more instructors if I could have found them easily based on the type of workout I was looking to do. To enjoy this platform, finding a specific trainer to work with (and a community that comes back week after week) needs to be one of your priorities. Since my priority is easily finding a class type and length that fits my schedule, the platform wasn’t user-friendly in this way. (I should note that you can filter live streams and in-person classes by workout type.)

The limited live schedule was also a hurdle for me. I had a hard time finding any live offerings in the early evening, which is when I like to exercise. Most days the live classes end around noon and don’t start gain until 8 p.m. Early birds and night owls may really like this, but it just didn’t fit with my schedule. Other platforms I have tried offer four or five live classes a day consistently. There were some days that offered that many, but others that had none. I expect this to change as the platform adds more instructors to the roster.

I would recommend this workout to:

  • People who get hooked on specific instructors at the gym.
  • Those who are new to fitness and need a community to encourage them to stick with it.
  • Anyone who wants to form a relationship with his or her fitness instructor.
  • Someone who likes the consistency of the same teacher and group of students showing up each week.
  • People who like a hybrid workout schedule, with some days at a studio and others at home.