The pitch sounds tailored for fitness in a socially distant world. A sleek mahogany cabinet suitable for even the most elegant living room hides a cleverly designed system of weights and pulleys that can be used to strengthen pretty much every muscle in your body. Forget the cost and inconvenience of a gym – it pays for itself in less than six months. What are you waiting for?

Just one detail: the portable grammar school, which was introduced in 1861 by the “orthopedic machinist” Gustav Ernst, is no longer available. And its modern day successors – redesigned machines that made big infomercial promises but generally turned out to be better than clothes racks – haven’t yet realized Ernst’s vision of a future without a gym.

That can change. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, experts speculated that a turning point had been reached thanks to a new generation of technologically advanced, attractively designed and, above all, socially networked home fitness systems. PelotonThe high-end spin bike company received an IPO valuation of $ 8 billion last fall Multitude of competitors find out: mirror for the cardio crowd, Tonal for strength training, FightCamp for boxing and so on. (See “Home Game” below.)

Then came the coronavirus, which accelerated device sales and, according to Chris Stadler, Tonal’s Chief Marketing Officer, changed consumer behavior for good. The company’s San Francisco strength training system uses electromagnetic resistance to simulate a weight of up to 200 pounds and uses artificial intelligence to drive progress. Sales of $ 2,995 tripled when the pandemic closed the gyms, and Stadler is confident that these new users will stay regardless of when and how the gyms reopen. Indeed, when it comes to the old fitness model, “I think there is no going back to normal,” he says.

The idea that home fitness could replace the neighborhood gyms goes against what most researchers believe. “There is general consensus that fitness programs need to be better when it comes to exercise adherence,” said Paul Jansons, a research fellow at Deakin University in Australia. Of course, gyms have a lot to offer – not just equipment, but social interaction and opportunities to learn from others. But Jansons says there are ways to increase the level of support people get when exercising at home. In one study, he showed that the telephone consultation resulted in people sticking to a home exercise program just as often after a year as participants in a supervised fitness program. Streaming a live class on Mirror and showing onscreen icons indicating that your friends are doing the same could serve a similar function.

Even in times without a pandemic, getting people to follow a fitness plan is difficult. “The vast majority of people are not active enough,” says Mark Beauchamp, professor of movement and health psychology at the University of British Columbia. Promising comfort and next-generation technology will only get you so far. “People see these shiny devices and think, maybe this is the magic bullet that brings me to sport,” he says. “But whether the novelty is enough to stay with it in the long term is debatable.”

Movement psychologists use what is known as self-determination theory to assess whether a fitness program creates lasting motivation. The framework suggests that we have three basic psychological needs that must be met in order to optimize performance and well-being: autonomy, or the feeling that we choose our own actions; Competence, the feeling that we are mastering a task; and kinship, which relates to social connection and belonging.

Sound and mirrors activate the box for autonomy. After all, you’ve bought the thing and you can work out anytime. Perception of competency is possible when the streamed classes and training programs are well designed and progress is easy to follow. However, the biggest hurdle for home exercise systems, according to Beauchamp, is social connection. This is why Peloton, which offers a range of interactions with other users, including virtual high fives and video chatting, has been so successful. The ability of other networked fitness companies to meet this social dimension will weigh heavily on their fate. “Some of them will flourish,” predicts Beauchamp, “and some of them might fade.”

It’s not just about psychology – the quality of the experience is also important. Few would expect to sit on one Hydrow Smart rowing machine that gives you the feeling of cutting in sync with your boatmates along the Charles River on a foggy morning. You can’t hammer a heavy bag with it either FightCampThe punch trackers really mimic sparring. “So as not to be too poetic,” says Beauchamp, “but boxing is a dance in which two people react to the movements of the other.”

When it comes to large numbers of people, Tonal and other home fitness companies insist that convenience and design are important, and that virtual workout is better than no workout at all. “We can pack a gym equipment into something that blends seamlessly with your home and your life,” says Stadler. Somewhere in the air, Gustav Ernst nods in agreement.

Home game

The connected fitness market is overcrowded, with options ranging from just expensive to ridiculous. Here are some of the key players.


If you already have a smart trainer or treadmill at home, the bike and run app is the most accessible option Zwift ($ 15 per month). Unless, Peloton ($ 2,245 and up plus a subscription of $ 39 per month) is the big name, with competing systems from echelon ($ 1,200 plus $ 40 per month) andSoulCycle ($ 2,500 plus $ 40 per month) also available.


TonalThe main selling point is the weight system ($ 2,995 plus $ 49 per month). Instead of lugging around stacks of iron plates, essentially pushing or pulling through a magnetic field, the resistance of which can be chosen up or down. Tonal rival time ($ 1,995 plus $ 39 per month) uses traditional weights but promises real-time form feedback using 3D motion sensors and artificial intelligence.


Name an exercise and someone will work to bring it home. Hydrow ($ 2,199 plus $ 38 per month) and Ergatta ($ 1,999 plus $ 29 per month) make intelligent rowing machines. Improve your left hook with FightCampPunch Tracker ($ 439 without gloves or bag plus $ 39 per month). mirrorThe reflective display ($ 1,495 plus $ 39 per month) gives access to a variety of gym-style classes.