This Body-Neutral Workout App Focuses on How You Want to Feel—and Costs Only $10 a Month
Working out rarely feels like a celebration of my body. As a curvy person with a troublesome coccyx injury that never quite healed, I have a difficult time finding movement that wholly serves me. Because of high costs and the fact that I don’t really love most class-oriented workouts, my exercise routine used to be simple: three quick runs a week, if I could swing it. But with winter in full force, and gyms and fitness studios closed due to COVID-19, the world of at-home workouts has blossomed for me.
I jumped at the opportunity to try Joyn, a digital workout space rooted in body-neutrality—that means the instructors use language that encourages users to think about what your body needs, especially if that’s a break, some water, or even a different video.
The platform, which is a website as well as an app for both iOS and Google Play, is free for a month and then $9.99 every month after, and features options that are siloed into six categories: cardio, HIIT, yoga, dance, pilates, and stretching. New teachers are added monthly, and the wide variety of classes cater to different ability levels and needs, including classes that you can take sitting in a chair.
“As a curvy woman, it’s exciting to know there’s a movement platform that encourages bodies of all sizes and abilities to be able to join in,” Samantha O’Brochta, the social media editor at Apartment Therapy, told me. “Seeing teachers who have a similar body shape to mine makes it easier to feel comfortable while following along.”
To mitigate the stress of picking which class you want to take on any given day, Joyn encourages folks to ask “How do I want to feel?” and “What inspires me?” before taking a class, instead of “What should I do?” or “How should I move?” This made me approach my workout in a different light: Instead of reprimanding myself for running a certain number of miles in a certain number of minutes, I was focused on feeling good during the entire workout. Sometimes that meant meditating instead of taking a higher-intensity class, and sometimes it meant taking a dance class instead of a more traditional “cardio” routine.
For my first class, I decided I wanted to feel energized and sweaty, and landed on a 30-minute HIIT class with Kanoa Greene, which was delightful. As soon as the class started, Kanoa gave her pronouns, a trend I saw repeated by every other instructor in subsequent classes I tried, which made the experience even more accessible to me as a queer person. As for the workout itself, I could complete it from my small bedroom, with no equipment. It was squat-heavy, but there were plenty of variations and Kanoa encouraged everyone to only go as low as they needed to. I was left feeling refreshed, powerful and a little shaky.
Many new classes preach a blanket form of “body positivity,” in other words, the idea that you should love your body all of the time. But that just isn’t reasonable; to that end, the body neutrality movement speaks to the idea that it is okay to not be in love with your body every hour of every day, but still do something that feels good.
“I liked that [Joyn] wasn’t like, ‘Love your body the way it is!’ but was more [like] ‘Be good to yourself and this is a good thing to do for you,’” Megan Baker, Apartment Therapy’s projects editor, told me. “It didn’t feel like it was pandering, it just felt like it was trying to make something that everyone could follow. I don’t want to be talked down to but I also don’t really want to do a class that I cannot keep up with, which is very discouraging.”
All of the classes also include robust warm-ups and cool-downs, and offer variations to nearly every movement. During my first HIIT class, Kanoa instructed us to “take up space,” and all of the instructors I tried encouraged clients to take time for themselves, and do only what feels good. The instructors are the highlight of the app for me.
Megan agreed. “I liked that the teachers were very matter-of-fact, and the focus was on making the exercise work for you,” she told me, comparing the platform to other workout sessions she’s done in weekly virtual yoga meetups with friends. “We have definitely had some videos in the past where I just could not do what the instructor was asking of me, and there was no modification offered that I could do,” she added. “It’s very easy to feel defeated when the only option you have is to wiggle your way into child’s pose and just wait for the next instruction that’s feasible.”
I did, however, have a hard time taking the classes when I wasn’t feeling motivated—a trend I’ve noticed holds true for any pre-recorded exercise class I take. When I sign up for live classes, particularly with a friend, I know I’ll take the class. But when I have all day to turn on a video, I often end up pushing the chore back until the day is over.
Olivia Smith, the director of program operations at Joyn, said the company’s priority this year is to focus on “live classes to bring more of a community field for our platform, as we’ve been getting asked quite a bit for those.” She shared that Joyn is aiming to incorporate live classes on YouTube with instructors and special guests alike to boost the app’s community-minded feel.
The site can also be a bit clunky, and the videos don’t always load perfectly, which can be frustrating, too. But overall, the classes reminded me that movement should be joyful, fun, and good for my body and brain.
“The classes made me remember how much I need to get my body moving and back into flexible mode,” Samantha said. “Joyn will be my go-to site for all things exercise, dance, yoga, and stretching.” As for me, I’m signing up for my next class now.