This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.
To truly understand the proliferation of at-home workout apps, you have to go back in time to when exercising alone was a matter of preference, not protocol. That time being January, when consumers worldwide, inspired by a slew of athletic-oriented New Year’s resolutions, spent $35.3 million on health and fitness apps in a single week, according to market analysis firm App Annie. That number rose to a record-breaking $36 million during the last full week of March, when social distancing orders became more widespread across the globe.
Polly de Mille, director of performance services at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who focuses her research on the gap between injury and peak athletic performance, sees convenience and variety as two of the most enticing reasons to try at-home apps. "You’re in the no-judgment zone in your own home," says de Mille. "But the greatest benefits of at-home fitness apps are also their greatest liability."
De Mille’s job — and that of trainers and hands-on instructors — exists for a reason. "Even the greatest online instructors in the world can’t watch your form when you’re at home," she points out. And when executed improperly, many exercises can lead to injury.
"If you are doing anything that feels odd or uncomfortable, stop and assess your form," says Heather Milton, an exercise physiologist and clinical specialist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, who has seen knee and shoulder injuries result from improperly executed squat jumps and push-ups. Milton suggests self-monitoring your moves in a mirror.
We did one better and recorded ourselves while testing some of the buzziest solo workout apps, and then sent the videos to de Mille, Milton, and Nike trainer Ariel Foxie to weigh in on our form (and then destroy the files forever... right, guys?).
$27 a month; available on the App Store
"Obé (pronounced 'obey' with a vague sense of humor) offers about a dozen daily, live, living-room-friendly classes — Pilates, yoga, barre, boxing, dance, and more — from morning through afternoon. This is wonderful if you are the kind of person for whom vinyasa yoga sounds like a fun lunchtime activity; grueling for everybody else. Beaming into a live class remotely allows the user to berate their laptop screen with abandon when they have been tricked, yet again, into performing a burpee at a glacial pace." — Brennan Kilbane, senior writer
Form Check: Yoga may seem ideal for a no-equipment workout, but set up your space to suit you, like positioning your laptop screen within easy gaze, suggests de Mille, so you don’t put unnecessary tension on your spine by hyperextending your neck. And beware of rugs underfoot: "If you are in a lunge position with one foot on a throw rug and another off and the rug slides, you could pull the hamstring on the front leg or a hip flexor on the back," cautions de Mille.
COUCH TO 5K
"You’ll find eight weeks of workouts that gradually step up to a 5K (about 3.1 miles). At first the workouts are a mix of walking and jogging, all of which can be done on a treadmill or while wearing a mask and staying away from others to observe social distancing rules. The app plays well with music and podcast programs, letting you choose your own tunes rather than forcing you to listen to a BPM-optimized soundtrack, and prompts you with a ding when it’s time to change your pace. My favorite feature is the halfway bell: It lets me know when I should turn home, so I don’t end my run in an Uber (a newbie’s nightmare)." —Jessica Cruel, features director
Form Check: “Ideally, the knee is flexed at least 15 degrees at the foot’s initial contact with pavement [when running],” says Milton. “This way, the thigh muscles are able to absorb and dissipate force, reducing stress.” And since you’re not trying to break any speed records yet, “take it a little slower,” adds Foxie, “to feel out the strides that work for you.”
SWEAT: KAYLA ITSINES FITNESS
"After the umpteenth friend recommended Sweat (each calling it 'dummy proof'), I splurged. There are 11 workout programs to choose from, the majority of which can be done at home with minimal equipment, and the option to focus on strength training, cardio, HIIT, yoga, postnatal, and more (each also has an accompanying nutrition plan). I chose a body-weight workout based on the sole fact that it needed no equipment (a slight fudge — resistance bands and mats were referenced). Each move is illustrated with a technically explicit video example, and the 28-minute workout is capped with a well-earned stretch." —Cotton Codinha, senior beauty features editor
Form Check: "It is very easy to create unnecessary compression in our spine in sit-ups and crunches," says Foxie. "From the seated portion, think about lowering yourself by staying rounded, unraveling one vertebrae at a time from your low back until you feel your shoulder blades touch the floor." Exhaling deeply when you lift in a crunch ensures that the transverse abdominus (the deepest core muscles) are being used when you lift, says Milton.
TONE IT UP
"Its name gave me pause ('Tone It Up' sounds like something an already athletic person would do, and athletic I am not), but I found myself really enjoying the stand-alone workouts designed for beginners, like Morning Mantra Yoga and Sculpt + Stretch. That’s not to say there aren’t a plethora of other options available that incorporate more advanced methods, including kettlebells and HIIT. If you’re looking for a kick start, sign up for the 14 Day Slay Program and you’ll be prompted to try a new, specially selected routine each day. I just received a notification that it’s time for me to do the Slay With K&K workout. Oof. Maybe tomorrow." — D.M
Form Check: “It is definitely worth looking for introductory classes in anything you are trying at home, whether it’s strength training, yoga, kickboxing — whatever,” says de Mille. “Listen to your body: If you’re feeling an exercise in your joints and not your muscles, stop.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure