Home fitness has come a long way since Richard Simmons' "Sweating to the Oldies." Be it expensive Peloton bikes, affordable workout apps or free YouTube videos, there's a plethora of fitness tech to choose from. Now, anyone can keep fit from the comfort of their living room, especially helpful when you're forced to stay home due to a global pandemic. But with so many options available, it's tough to figure out where to start. So we asked several physical trainers and fitness experts on the kind of tech they use to get fit at home, as well as what they recommend for most people.
The gear experts use
Cassey Ho runs Blogilates, a YouTube fitness channel with over 4.8 million subscribers (plus 1.6 million followers on Instagram). One of the key bits of tech she uses is a Tabata app to time her workouts. "Timers are like personal trainers," she said. "They tell you when to stop and go and you just have to listen! Without one, I'd probably take too many breaks."
The app she uses is called Tabata Pro, which is designed for a variant of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) that consists of a four-minute workout with 20 seconds of max effort followed by 10 seconds rest. With Tabata Pro, Ho can set the cycles, the desired work and rest time, hit start and the timer will take care of the intervals for her. It's the kind of function that your ordinary stopwatch likely won't offer. Aside from that, she admits she doesn't have a whole lot of equipment in her home gym -- just a yoga mat and some dumbbells from Target.
Peloton, a company that's known for internet-connected indoor bikes, is a fairly popular (if pricey) tech option with fitness professionals. "I love my Peloton!" said Kourtney Thomas, a certified personal trainer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. "It's nice to have access to live and on-demand classes, on the bike and off. It's always saying something that other qualified professionals support and use a big brand like Peloton, which means they're doing a lot right." Shauna Harrison, a fitness trainer with over 85,000 followers on Instagram, also loves the Peloton. Both Thomas and Harrison use it in addition to regular workout gear like weights, resistance bands and mats.
Jenny Little, a group exercise coordinator for the Richmond District YMCA in San Francisco, uses an app called Zwift ($15 per month) with her road bike set on a smart trainer (a device that holds the bike in place for indoor use). The trainer transmits data (either via Bluetooth or ANT+) such as cadence and speed to the app, which in combination with her weight input, then converts her pedaling into speed and power. Little uses the Zwift app on her iPhone, but it's also available on Android and both Windows and OSX.
The interface is that of a multiplayer online "game." "Your pedaling drives your avatar around a virtual course; the more power or watts you are pushing, the faster your avatar will go," she said. "There are several different worlds you can ride in this game and navigate as you ride. It is a global community of thousands of riders, riding along with you [...] It is extremely motivating and a really fun way to work out in a ride and feel connected.
Does fitness tech work?
Heidi Speaker, a trainer based in Las Vegas, advises us to be cautious about how much gadgets and subscriptions can cost. "I would only invest in a Peloton or home workout subscription if you know that you can stay committed," she said. "Look at prior subscription-based services and see if you have a history of following through and staying committed. I would recommend setting and achieving a personal fitness-related goal first and then 'rewarding' yourself with the subscription service. That way it is seen as a reward and something good!"
If you can afford it though, connected tech offers other benefits. One of the reasons Harrison loves the Peloton is the community of users that you can interact with. "I think for times like [the lockdown] when people are starved for connection, it can help with that virtually," she said. "It's also helpful for accountability, self-efficacy and consistency since you see all your metrics. It reminds you of how much you are using or not using it, gives you milestones, allows you to 'compete' against your friends or other riders."
Similarly, Little says that a feeling of camaraderie is a prime benefit tech can offer. "Community-based programs and apps are good for those looking for the accountability and support of a group, which is a key piece that is lost with gyms and studios closed," she said.
"I think Peloton is great for those who love cycling," said Ho. "It's pricey, so it only works for a specific demo." As for Aaptiv, an app that offers audio-based workouts ($15 a month with discounts for yearly subscriptions), she personally doesn't like it because she prefers to have visuals along with the voice. "People already do the wrong form when they have a real live instructor right in front of them. And bad form can end up injuring you."
"The Peloton is great for those who can afford the investment," said Tory Hale, a senior director of Gold's Gym. "But cycling should not be the only format of working out for the general population. The body needs resistance training, especially to balance out all of the sitting we do as a culture." He does think smart dumbbells would be a great space-saving resistance training option, and he praised Nintendo's Ring Fit Adventure as "a fantastic family fun option to get everyone moving."
"The biggest thing with any kind of fitness is that you need to find and use what you're into," said Thomas. "Movement is movement, and everything counts. If something techy helps, get it! And I think the subscription apps can be a decent option, especially if you like more of an instructor-led kind of workout."
Get thee to the internet
As online fitness influencers like Ho and Harrison demonstrate, you don't have to pay a single dime to get your workout fix. "YouTube and Instagram are great alternatives!" said Speaker. "They are cheap (free!), and have tons of variety based on your fitness level." Last week, for example, Ho released a 14-day "Quarantine Workout Plan" because her fans were asking for it. "I designed the workouts so that they were all apartment-friendly (no jumping or stomping). I didn't want anyone to make their neighbors mad, especially during such a crazy time!" Other popular YouTube fitness channels include Joanna Soh, the Fitness Marshall, and Yoga with Adrienne.
"There are many instructors and small studios who are very quickly shifting to offer online content since they all had to basically close down their businesses," said Harrison. "Check Instagram or Facebook, IG TV videos, etc. I am one of those people. I've posted a few IGTV videos and am rapidly trying to get some online live classes up on Livekick (a workout video streaming platform)."
As for other online resources, Ho recommends FitOn, a free app that offers home workout videos of pilates, barre, yoga, HIIT, cardio and more. Harrison also pointed out that several companies are offering free trials and specials during this lockdown period when many people are forced to stay home. TRX, for example, is offering a three-month free subscription, and Les Mills is providing health clubs and schools with free access to its digital fitness platform. The YMCA is offering free online classes as well.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
"First and foremost, always make sure that it is actually a trainer/instructor/coach who is qualified to be offering what they are offering," said Harrison. "The wave of content sharing has allowed for people to become 'experts' in things without adequate qualifications. Always look up the instructor or trainer. Check their background. Most of the larger platforms vet their trainers so you can expect quality there, but some of the people offering content on their own via social media are not always the most appropriate resources." Ho agrees. " There's a lot of weird stuff out there on the internet, so just make sure that whatever you're doing feels right. Your body will tell you."
"When you're choosing apps, etc. -- do your research, and know what you need," said Thomas. "Importantly, and a little differently than that – know what you like. Apps are great, and they can be an assist, but they're not going to do the workout for you, so you still have to choose something you enjoy and think of the app or whatever as a support system or a way to facilitate."
"I think the most important criteria in finding a service is to choose something you enjoy that you know you can commit to," said Speaker "The most important factor in progression of your health is consistency. Take into account how much you enjoy something, and also the convenience of it."