I Ditched Boutique Fitness Classes and Turned My Home Into a High-Tech Gym
Here's what happened when I worked out exclusively at home for three months using the latest innovations in at-home fitness.
What's even better than the workout you love? The workout you do. Ideally, what all of us need is one that falls in both of these realms. But finding that is easier said than done.
For years, I've made annoying calls to plead for extensions on class packs for boutique fitness studios that inevitably ran out before the use-by deadlines because life got in the way. While gyms and classes have much to offer-like a sense of community and instructors to correct your positioning-they also follow rigid schedules, fill up, sell out, and most of all, require a level of planning that is often hard to make work with a busy schedule.
So when I started to notice the beginnings of an at-home fitness revolution, my interest was piqued. (See: At-Home Workouts Aren't Exactly "New," but They're Definitely Having a Moment)
For me, it started last year, when I was dog sitting in a fancy New York City apartment building with a beautiful gym that featured a couple of shiny, high-tech Peloton bikes. (ICYMI, Peloton's original product was a spinning bike that livestreams spin classes from its Chelsea hub and offers riders a staggering bank of 10,000 on-demand classes.) At the time, the city was covered in snow-enough of an excuse, as far as I'm concerned, to stay in bed and watch Netflix all day. And yet, miraculously, I rode the Peloton.
Back in my own life and my not-so-fancy building, I wasn't working out anywhere near the recommended amount for a healthy adult (at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, according to the World Health Organization). So, I decided to capitalize on the ever-expanding options for at-home workouts and turn my apartment into a high-tech gym. Here's how it went.
How I Turned At-Home Workouts Into a Studio-Worthy Experience
At home, motivation is both much easier and much harder to come by. On the one hand, it is SO easy to stay put and do nothing. On the other, it's also that much easier to get in a sweat with the click of a few buttons on your phone or app, etc.-without the commute, the change, the return trip (red-faced and in sweaty clothes) and the requisite shower before you can resume regular life. (P.S. Here's Your Guide to Flawless Post-Workout Skin)
If you think about it, one of the things group fitness classes do really well is ignite our senses: the room smells delicious and is well-designed, and the blaring music keeps you in the moment.
So, at first, my at-home fitness regimen felt slightly lonely and awkward, but I quickly found ways to replicate studio-worthy ambiance at home. Ten minutes into my third Peloton class, I un-clipped my fancy spin shoes and turned the light off. I felt awkward for about five minutes, before realizing I should have done this all along. A brief obsession with augmenting my home to feel like a motivating, inspiring setting for working out took over.
I mimicked the aromatherapeutic technique of certain studios by lighting a citrus candle-Lafco's White Grapefruit, in its cheery yellow vessel-and made it part of my at-home routine. Without other people around me (to mimic and motivate), I found music became even more important, so I set up a Sonos Beam (I found a slight increase in the volume helped-not loud enough to piss off my neighbors, but loud enough to provide a little extra inspiration). One of the most important things to make at-home fitness more appealing is also the cheapest and something many will already have: a simple, ~$7 HDMI cord.
My first love in the at-home fitness space has firmly held its place in my heart. Splurge-y as it may be, you simply can't spin at home without a bike-it's that simple. The instructors on Peloton's platform are beloved-they have the Instagram verification and followings to prove it. The Facebook group offers community and support to 153,000 members. The bike itself offers a million options. You can filter by instructor, genre, or amount of time you have to ride-from 20 minutes to an hour, from pop to country (you can even preview the playlist), and there's a ride for everyone.
Once in class, you can get competitive (tracking your place in class on the leaderboard), or like me, hiding it entirely. For the most part, Peloton's classes are fairly athletically inclined (which may sound like, "well, duh") but isn't when you compare it to some of its more dance-forward competitors. However, I've found classes like Ally Love's Sunday "Feel Good" ride to be great for when I just want to release stress and am less concerned about interval training. (Related: This New Peloton Treadmill Could Change the Way You Look at Indoor Running Forever)
The bike itself costs $2,245 and is activated by a $39 monthly membership fee, but that fee keeps covering more and more as Peloton expands its offerings to yoga, meditation, and other fitness and wellness modalities that supplement spinning. Most importantly, I actually do it. Especially in New York, investing in anything that takes up space can be tricky (shout-out to my unused, giant Instant Pot), but Peloton helped me surprise myself (as cheesy as that sounds). I started rides at 10 p.m. (who am I!?!?) on some of my worst days-days I usually would have relied on Netflix and an early bedtime. (Related: This Small-Space Workout Is Perfect for When You're Too Cramped to Do Anything Else)
I heard about MIRROR before it launched and was immediately intrigued. Cool technology is common in 2019, but this was different. The mirror is a sleek, well-designed object through which top trainers teach classes including Pilates, barre, and boxing. You "mirror" their movements-but can also see your own. When you first register, you can set your goals and make note of any injuries (and filter by type of workout, time, etc.). In response, Mirror will spit back suggested classes. While a YouTube search will yield an at-home barre class, too, one of Mirror's key differentiators is the fact that the machine connects to an app that connects to a heart-rate monitor. The heart rate monitor can sense if you're in or out or almost at the ideal zone and delivers motivating messages customized to your activity-congratulating you on a job well done or encouraging you to keep going or work harder. (Related: How to Use Heart-Rate Zones to Train for Max Exercise Benefits)
I mostly did mat Pilates classes-a type of workout not offered by any of the other programs I tried, but one that I want to focus on. Since I'm a relative beginner, I filtered for levels one or two and especially loved when the instructor offered modifications that felt safe for me. (Obviously, it's important to be careful when you're alone without an expert to watch your every move, so better safe than sorry!) Thanks to good playlists and the high-tech and totally futuristic feeling of getting feedback, these classes kept me entertained, even when I was struggling through those last 10 seconds a move.
Yes, Mirror is pricey at $1,495, but rumor has it that the camera at the top of the device will soon be used to facilitate private training sessions, too.
It's easy to gravitate toward Obé's 28-minute workouts. At under 30 minutes, their workouts enable you to squeeze fitness into the busiest schedules. The company, which launched a year ago, prides itself on the star quality of its magnetic instructors-a group that includes popular fitness personalities like Amanda Kloots and Megan Roup, both of whom teach strength/toning classes and dance cardio. (Related: Megan Roup's Killer 5-Move Slider Workout for Your Legs and Butt)
Each class is broadcast in a lightbox that looks more like a very appealing art installation than like a fitness studio. If you tune into classes live, you might get an instructor shout-out, but many (not all) go to an on-demand library to make working out on your own time easy. I didn't take a single class with an instructor I didn't love-every single one is high-energy and never stops moving, which makes it easy to follow along. A cheesy highlight was an early morning weekend Moana-themed class-again, something I never would have made it out of the house for. The price is refreshingly accessible, too-$27/month-a number that was calibrated to hit at just under the average price of a single boutique fitness class across the country.
P.volve is a low-impact sculpting workout designed especially for women by celebrity trainer Stephen Pasterino (a man). Pasterino observed problems in other popular workouts-they pushed some muscles too hard, but others not hard enough, put too much pressure on joints, and created pain or even injury. In fact, Pasterino often refers to his creation as "pre-hab," because it incorporates common physical therapy exercises, designed to activate the very muscles other exercises ignore. Many of the P.volve streaming classes I did don't have music, which in some ways makes it feel more like you're in physical therapy-truly targeting those small, lesser used muscles one at a time. P's technique uses a lot of proprietary equipment like the P.ball-but if you want to test the workouts before purchasing all the equipment (the starter kit is $60, and streaming costs $30/month), you can filter for "no equipment" in addition to time and part of the body you're looking to target.
When it comes to P.volve, it's key to start slow. I was able to attend a class at the downtown studio before I got started at home, and I still struggled with form. Taking the time to do the introductory videos, however, helped me get the unique basics of this workout down. The teeny-tiny movements were a serious struggle, but at the end of the day, it truly felt like I was doing something good for my body, in a slow, steady way that is hard to come by.
When I set out to ditch the world of boutique fitness and bring all my exercise within the four walls of my apartment, I imagined it would be a temporary experience. (I truly thought I'd regret volunteering to work out enough to write knowledgeably about four exercise programs.) Instead, I'm not exaggerating when I say that this experiment changed my life. Working out at home made me realize that it is possible to get in some form of exercise nearly every day, if I can do it on my own time. And realizing that was extremely encouraging at a time when I'd just about given up on exercise, my job, and my busy schedule ever coexisting.
Though I do love the energy in certain boutique studios, I plan to keep working out at home for the foreseeable future. With high-quality classes and revered instructors a few taps away, I have no reason to make an excuse not to work out-and for this bed-and-TV lover, that's saying something.