Should You Give Up Your Gym or ClassPass Membership for a "Smart" Machine?
Exercise equipment with built-in smart technology is becoming the norm, but which, if any, are really worth the investment?
When Bailey and Mike Kirwan relocated from New York to Atlanta last year, they realized they'd taken for granted the immense range of boutique fitness studios in the Big Apple. "It was something we really missed," says Bailey.
With an 18-month-old baby and less time than they'd previously had for the gym, the couple started looking for at-home options that would give them the same type of workouts they'd loved at studios like Physique 57 in New York. When they came across Mirror, they decided to invest the $1,495 (plus $39 every month for the content subscription) to give it a try.
"It was overwhelming at first, but we haven't looked back," says Bailey. "You don't really need equipment for it; aesthetically, it looks nice; the classes are appealing to both of us; and I don't think you can get that much variety anywhere else."
Debuted last fall, Mirror looks like a giant iPhone you hang on the wall. Through the device, you can participate in more than 70 workouts—think cardio, strength, Pilates, barre, boxing—streamed from Mirror's production studio in New York, either live or on-demand, right onto your wall. The experience is akin to that of an in-person class, without the hassle of commuting or being held to a strict time commitment.
Mirror is among the latest wave of "smart" home fitness equipment to hit the market in the ultra-competitive world of fitness technology. Peloton kicked off the movement in 2014 when it began selling indoor cycling bikes that allowed riders to take live classes at home; now its most basic package retails for $2,245, and the company reportedly has more than 1 million users. The Peloton Tread, which debuted at CES a year ago, is a treadmill that features up to 10 daily live classes and thousands on demand—for a cool $4,295.
This trend in high-tech home workout gear makes perfect sense from a company point of view when you consider that the global home gym market is expected to reach nearly $4.3 billion by 2021. Experts attribute this to the rise in preventative health care and the growing awareness of lifestyle-related diseases, leading more people to take action to get in shape now rather than waiting until health problems occur.
"At the end of the day, any activity is good activity," says Courtney Aronson, fitness instructor at Studio 3, which offers yoga, HIIT, and cycling classes under one roof in Chicago. "There's no downside to a technology that will make people less sedentary."
The Pros of "Smart" Fitness Equipment
But do you really need to drop a few grand to get in on the trend? Despite these smart machines hitting your wallet a lot harder up front than sporadically pieced together home gyms of the past, if you take a minute to do the math, the shock value wears off. Considering the average monthly cost of a gym membership is about $60, depending on where you live, that means you're forking over about $720 a year. So, if you replace that with a product like Mirror, you'd break even after about 32 months (taking monthly data plans into consideration).
Or, if you're religious about ClassPass and have the highest membership level at $79 per month, it would only take you two years of swapping in Mirror—through which you can take many, if not all, of the same types of classes— to justify the cost. Yet when you get into products like the Peloton Tread, the break-even point stretches out much longer, and the trade-off may come with an even higher cost than you realize.
What At-Home "Smart" Machines Can't Give You
"There is so much benefit to being in a facility with other people, with live, human interaction," says Aronson, who teaches eight classes per week.
Plenty of people enjoy the social aspect of the gym, both for the accountability factor and the fact that joining a gym can be a good way to make new friends after moving to a new city, says Aronson. If you're a beginner, having the guidance of an instructor or a personal trainer to ensure proper form is another critical reason to exercise outside your home. And on a performance level, social exercising can even give you a competitive edge.
In a study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, one group of participants performed a series of plank exercises solo, holding each position as long as they could. In a second group, participants could see a virtual partner who was performing the same exercises, but better—and as a result, persisted in holding the planks longer than the solo exercisers. Another study found that people who exercised with a teammate they perceived to be better increased both their workout time and intensity by as much as 200 (!) percent.
"Part of the reason working out is hard in general is a lack of motivation or knowing what to do," says Aronson. "When you're held accountable by a community, your peers, your instructor, and venture into a fitness studio and have an instructor call you out by name, you create that connection."
What's Right for Your Workout Personality
Yet despite all those reasons, some people just don't need—or want—the motivation, or social pressures, that come from group exercise. Bailey Kirwan uses Mirror five to seven days a week, and just knowing it's set up in their basement, where they've padded the cement floor with foam tiles, "makes it really hard not to find time to exercise every day," she says.
Still, Mirror, offering many different classes, may have an advantage over other "smart" equipment that offers only one kind of modality, such as a bike or a rower. Even if you have the money to spend on such a machine, it won't do you any good if it ends up collecting dust once you get bored with it.
"In the same way that eating the same thing for dinner every night can get boring, working out on the same machine can get tedious as well," says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist and faculty member at Columbia University's Teacher's College.
For introverts especially, she's an advocate of getting out of the house for workouts to encourage socializing, to build a community of like-minded people and to give your day structure. There are lots of smaller fitness studios that offer a more intimate, less intimidating experience than a big, fancy gym, she says, and the best thing to do is to analyze your personality to assess what modality if going to work best for you.
If you want to avoid making a mistake that will set you back a chunk of change, do your homework, carefully weighing the cost of the equipment with the trade-offs you'll incur from forgoing your gym or ClassPass membership.
Remember: "Thousands of people have purchased at home gym equipment with the best intentions, and these machines sometimes end up as clothes hangers," says Hafeez.
The Best "Smart" At-Home Fitness Equipment
If you’ve decided smart workout equipment is right for you and your goals, it’s now time to consider which option is worth investing in. Plenty of popular brands have created their own innovative machines to bring the excitement of group classes, the customization of personal training, and the variety of Classpass to your home routine. Read on to discover the best “smart” at-home fitness equipment for you.
A favorite of celebrities like Lea Michele, The Mirror offers the variety boutique studio-goers crave in a sleek 40-inch HD screen. You can stream everything from boxing and barre to yoga and strength-training classes from certified trainers, either live or on-demand. But that doesn’t mean it’s just a glorified TV screen: It can even create custom modifications of workouts to suit your body’s needs, like demonstrating alternative moves to a jump squat for anyone with knee injuries. Simply set your goals and track your progress as you work towards them.
Channel your inner Rocky Balboa with Fight Camp’s smart boxing system. Each high-intensity workout combines punches, defensive moves, bodyweight exercises, and plyometric sprints for an intense at-home workout comparable to studio alternatives. The “smart” part of the workout is hidden trackers in the gloves: They monitor the total punch count and rate (punches per minute) to provide real-time stats on your workout. The trackers also calculate an “output” number for each workout determined by an algorithm of intensity, speed, and technique. Use your output number to track your routine’s intensity or enter it on the leaderboard to see how you track against the competition.
Pricing starts at just $439 for the smart tracking gloves. Entire kits, including a workout mat and free standing bag, start at $1249.
Pretend you’ve been transported to a regatta in Miami with this smart rower. The rower is built with an ultra-magnetic drag for a super smooth glide that can be adjusted to feel like a traditional rowing machine, 8-person boat, or a single scull. When you choose a workout—either a live studio or pre-recorded river workout—the computer controls the drag while tracking your speed, distance, and calories burned in real time. Best of all, the super quiet drag ensures you can actually hear your instructors, music, or nature sounds during river rides.
NordicTrack S22i Studio Cycle
This sleek bike brings the power of a cycle studio into your home with an enhanced flywheel that promises a smooth and almost silent ride. It’s connected to a 22-inch smart touchscreen that allows you to instantly partake in 24 preinstalled workout or stream from iFit’s vast collection of rides (A free one-year iFit membership is included with the bike purchase). Each bike is outfitted with a padded seat, a set of dual speakers, a water bottle holder, and a pair of mounted transport wheels that make it easy to move the bike from room to room. Plus, it features 110% decline and 20% incline capabilities for your toughest ride yet.
NordicTrack 2450 Commercial Treadmill
If you can never stay motivated on a treadmill, it’s time to try this smart pick instead. It spices up traditional runs with programmed settings that challenge your endurance and speed. Choose from 50 preinstalled workout or access iFit's running collection using your included one-year iFit membership to run in iconic parks or join users around the world in challenges. Beyond the smart tech features, it’s simply a phenomenal treadmill: It’s built with a powerful commercial motor, an extra-wide running track, a cushioned deck, and auto-breeze fans. Plus, it boasts up to 12 miles per hour running speeds and up to 15% incline or 3% decline.