When gyms shuttered during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, many people hopped on at-home fitness trends like Peloton bike as a way to stay in shape (and sane) as the world slowed down. More than a year and a half later, though, gyms are more or less back — yet not everyone wants to return to the same exercise routine they had prior to the pandemic.
Example? Me. I was a devoted gym-goer prior to the pandemic, and while I still love a sweaty spin class or a heart-pounding HIIT workout, a year of working out at home made it clear that at-home fitness doesn’t have to be the meh alternative. I was surprised to find that I pushed myself even harder on my exercise bike at home than I did during spin class, simply because I didn’t have to worry about anyone else judging my performance, and I could play whatever music pumped me up. (Britney Spears. Always.)
Now, companies are embracing the at-home workout trend more than ever, but it’s not just about the tried-and-true stationary bike. Innovative new products promise to make your at-home workouts as engaging as hitting up a 10-credit class on ClassPass. I tried a bunch of them — and here’s how they compared to IRL fitness classes.
Walk roughly 100 feet in Los Angeles and you’ll stumble upon a Pilates class, with many studios favoring the reformer version of the workout, in which you work out on a carriage attached to springs with the intention of creating tension across all your muscles. The focus is on small, controlled movements, and though you may not be lifting heavy weights, by the end of a session, your muscles are straight-up shaking.
So, when Balanced Body offered to send me their version of an at-home reformer to try alongside Balanced Body Education Program Manager and Pilates guru Joy Puleo, I was excited to see if the experience would be the same at home.
The machine itself, which weighs about 85 pounds and is around five feet tall when not stretched out, may seem intimidating to a Pilates novice. (I had to call a TaskRabbit to set it up, but your mileage may vary depending on how stressed you get over Ikea furniture.) Yet once the machine was set up, I was surprised to find it was simple to use — albeit still as challenging an exercise as I experienced in previous reformer classes. Puleo guided me through different exercises I could do, which included perhaps the toughest set of lunges I’ve ever done in my life, as well as breathing-focused exercises that kept me surprisingly zen for how challenging a workout it was.
The one thing you don’t get from the at-home reformer is having a Pilates pro in the room with you to make adjustments — and make sure you’re not going to fall off the reformer, as I had nearly done in a class once before. Still, Balanced Body’s reformer is surprisingly close to the ones you’ll use in a workout class, and while not cheap (the reformer costs about as much as the Peloton when all is said and done) it could replace a Pilates devotee’s splurgy classes.
Prior to the pandemic, I was eager to try West Hollywood’s PlateFit studio, which promises an extra-challenging (but short!) workout on a vibrating plate. Alas, I never got the chance — though my curiosity towards whether or not the vibrating plates could really make your workout more challenging and effective was piqued.
While vibrating plates aren’t exactly common home gym equipment, Lifepro makes a compact version of the plate that will — all pun intended, obviously — shake up your at-home fitness routine. With a range of settings from “Am I wobbling?” to “Is this the Big One?” exercising while standing on the Waver Vibration Plate claims to speed up muscle recovery, enhance your body’s ability to regenerate cells and repair itself, and increase blood flow and oxygen.
Whether or not the Waver delivers on those big claims as promised, I will say doing squats and using the accompanying bands for upper body exercises while on the machine was definitely a challenge — it’s not easy to stabilize as you’re being shaken like Jell-O. Though it’s certainly possible it was the placebo effect, standing on the board while it gently vibrated was pretty calming, too.
As someone with an already pretty stocked home gym, I liked the Waver a lot — but it might not be the first thing you need if you’re just getting into home fitness, says certified personal trainer Tony Coffey, who weighed in on the benefits of the machine.
“If budget is in question, a vibration plate is probably not the ideal piece of equipment you would look to add to your home gym,” he explains. “Although the claims that it ‘builds strength, balance, and flexibility while sculpting your arms and abs’ might not be false, there are many ways to do this more optimally. Classic dumbbells would pack a much bigger punch. This would only make sense to add if you already had a complete gym set up and wanted to spend extra money on some additional bells and whistles.”
Peloton’s interactive stationary bike sold like crazy during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, but the company isn’t the only option for streaming cycling classes. Motosumo offers a cheaper alternative for live cycling classes, with instructors from across the world streaming classes at all hours of the day. All you need is a stationary bike and your smartphone. Rather than recording through the bike, as Peloton does, Motosumo records your RPM through the phone’s built-in motion sensors.
I tested out a Motosumo class and thought that the instructor was certainly up to par with other fitness programs (I, personally, have a NordicTrack bike and use iFit, as opposed to the Peloton). For the price, it’s pretty unbeatable at just $12.99 a month, and I liked how the live aspect of the class allowed instructors to call out riders by name for encouragement. While the nature of Motosumo means that you won’t get hyper-accurate stats for things like heart rate, if all you’re looking for is a cheaper alternative to a smart bike, it’s definitely worth subscribing.
While most people spent the pandemic playing Animal Crossing, I was relatively new to the whole Nintendo Switch thing. RingFit, a game in which you use the controllers alongside a Pilates ring, offered the opportunity to not only play but get some exercise in. Yet I was surprised by how well Ring Fit Adventure actually worked for breaking a sweat. The Pilates ring is connected to one of the Switch controllers while the second is placed inside the pocket of a leg band, and records proper squat alignment, strength for arm exercises, and even the perfect Warrior II placement.
While there are several options to choose from, including mini-games that incorporate different workouts (my husband and I tried to best one another’s records in a friendly squat competition) the thing I enjoyed the most was Ring Fit’s “sets” option. After just a few “sets” in the game, I found myself breathing as hard as I did after a solid HIIT workout, and it was fun to receive a letter grade on my performance to see if I needed to improve my form. Best of all, the sets were divided into body parts, so I could skip an arm workout in favor of a lower-body session, or vice versa.
I’ll be honest: I’m not exactly great at swimming. The dog paddle is pretty much as far as I remember when it comes to swimming lessons. Still, it’s hard not to appreciate Form’s Smart Swim Goggles, which offer metrics like distance, pace and time right inside your goggles — so, basically, right inside your eyeballs. It also comes with a corresponding app with guided swim workouts, which costs $119 a year.
While it’s not exactly a lap pool, my parents’ pool was just big enough to test out the goggles. Swimming may not be my preferred form of exercise (I prefer hanging on top of the water, in a float, unmoving for hours), but the idea that you can challenge yourself in the water without having to use a watch or other device feels like living in the future. After all, goggles are already necessary for swimmers, so there’s no extra piece of equipment dragging you down physically, or mentally.
Since swimming isn’t my preferred form of activity, a guided swim might be just what I need to actually push myself out of the floatie and into the pool.