New advances in tech are taking at-home workouts to the next level. From AI to the latest apps, Katie Mulloy delves into the world of the virtual PT
Not since 17 million women worldwide brandished leg warmers, a leotard and a video of Jane Fonda furiously ab-crunching herself into a dewy sheen have home workouts been quite so in vogue. ‘It’s undoubtedly a rapidly growing sector, with recent reports estimating the industry is worth more than £5.3 billion globally,’ says Laura Hill, senior editor at Welltodo, a digital content platform reporting on international health and fitness trends. It’s also an unrecognisable sector from the one Fonda pretty much launched around 35 years ago (her Original Workout video is the bestselling VHS of all time). Gone are the days of frantically pressing rewind to figure out what the hell you’re meant to be doing, because we’re at the new dawn of live streaming, AI, data feedback and being yelled at by a trainer in West Hollywood, while you collapse mid-spin session in your UK bedroom.
Will we all be cancelling our gym memberships soon in favour of home workouts, then? Well, in this country at least, people are abandoning traditional longer cardio sessions, like cycling and swimming, for shorter, high-intensity workouts.* ‘Aside from efficiency and convenience, the at-home market is moving into the space created by boutique fitness brands. Barry’s Bootcamp, for instance, trades on the idea of community and members feeling part of a particular exercise “tribe”, says Hill. ‘Now that people’s concept of community has changed, thanks to social media, we don’t need to physically be somewhere to feel part of it – that’s an undeniable part of its growing popularity.’ But, undoubtedly, it’s also down to the fact that the tech is advanced enough that the quality and usability really works.
Any home workouts should be done with caution, however. High-impact exercise on a tiled kitchen floor, for example, will be too hard on your joints, advises Chiara Lewis, personal trainer and founder of workout app BEAM (Balance Exercise And Mind), launching soon. ‘If you’re starting any kind of exercise that you’ve never done before, have a few sessions with a PT to work on your form,’ says Lewis. ‘And avoid going too hard too soon. It can take six to eight weeks to transition to the next level of fitness – if you’re a beginner, don’t launch straight into a HIIT session; take your time to build up.’
So, what are the best at-home workouts on the market? We rounded up the most safe, convenient and efficient home workouts to try.
The ultra-smart spin bike
What: Peloton is a virtually silent (ie, won’t annoy the neighbours), state-of-the-art exercise bike that comes with an in-built screen through which you can not only follow pre-recorded spin sessions but also join in live workouts. They range from a five-minute warm-up to a 90-minute class. The trainer, based in New York or London studios, knows you’re there, so expect to hear your name yelled mid-workout. The bike tracks your performance and progress, so that you’re constantly pushing yourself to beat your last PB. You can even virtually high-five other riders. Properly American.
Yay: A 45-60-minute session will improve cardio fitness, endurance and burn fat. You’re primarily working on your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Your core and arm muscles will be engaged to some extent, too, especially if you add hand weights. Peloton sends someone to install the bike and sort out the software, making it almost idiot-proof, too.
Nay: The bike costs £1,990 (ouch) and class membership is a further £39 a month. There are finance options for the bike, but you’d have to be confident it wasn’t going to become a pricey clothes horse. Also, you need space to store it.
The live-streamed class
What: In the US, Class Pass Live dominates the live-stream scene, providing interactive classes where participants are tracked via a heart-rate monitor with their performance shown on a leaderboard. It hasn’t made it to the UK yet, and while various trainers offer ad-hoc live sessions, the standout live-stream service is online yoga platform Yogaia.com. Using a two-way camera, instructors – based in Helsinki, London, Berlin and Hong Kong – can see (but not hear!) what you’re doing and offer verbal corrections accordingly. A year’s subscription costs £89.95.
Yay: You can access live sessions via a website or app and both are easy to use. There’s a range of yoga styles (as well as classes like Pilates and meditation), if you miss a live session you can follow a recorded one, and if you don’t want to be watched, you can turn off your camera.
Nay: Because Yogaia is global, the class you fancy doing that day may well only be available at 4am.
The PT in your speaker
What: If you’d like to ask Alexa to do more than turn out the lights, then be assured, the new generation of smart speakers – the Amazon Echo, et al – can also be a nifty addition to your exercise regime. Google Home Hub (£149), for instance, has teamed up with Fitstar, the app famous for its seven-minute HIIT workouts. So, all you need to do is say, ‘Google, let me talk to Fitstar’, and then go hell for leather, during which time it will fire a new move at you every 30 seconds. Unsure of the moves? The Home Hub is a speaker with a screen, which means you can see exactly what you should be doing.
Yay: The cheap thrill of an inanimate object doing what its told hasn’t faded yet. Then there’s all the other ways the Home Hub helps you stay on track. Need an alarm call telling you to ‘get your arse out of bed and work out’? Just ask. ‘Research has shown that regular, short bursts of exercise are as good at building endurance as longer moderate exercise, as well as being more effective at burning abdominal fat,’ adds Lewis.
Nay: If you’re looking for something fresh around the actual exercise, you’re not going to be that impressed. And you need a basic level of fitness to get the most out of these short, intense home workouts.
The on-demand app
What: Leading the pack of fitness apps (which vary from basic libraries of online videos to slicker offerings like Freeletics, which uses artificial intelligence to tailor-make programs to users) is British-born Fiit (free on iOS only). Featuring hundreds of pre-recorded workouts from international trainers, you can choose between 25- and 40-minute sessions, based on your exercise preferences (such as cardio or strength) and new workouts are added daily. For £120 a year, you can upgrade to Fiit Premium. This gives you access to bespoke training programs, nutrition advice and the FIIT device, a belt that records your metrics so you can track your progress.
Yay: The belt is clever enough to know when you’re slacking. If you don’t do that squat properly, it won’t record it, so it’s like having a PT keeping you in check.
Nay: Fiit works hard on building its community element via social media and live events (where you can meet the trainers), but the workouts themselves are a solo effort. If you’re looking for competition, you need to look elsewhere.
*Active Lives survey by Sport England; sportengland.org/news-and-features/news/2018/march/22/figures-show-nations-activity-levels
A brief history of home workouts
Jane Fonda: Original Workout
When the actress took her Hollywood workout to the VHS-owning massive, at-home fitness was born.
The Green Goddess: Get Fit With The Green Goddess
Diana Moran was Britain’s leader of the 80s leotard and leg-warmer movement.
Whole Body Programme
Conley’s first book, Complete Hip And Thigh Diet, sold over 2 million copies. Her ‘low fat’ science may be questioned nowadays, but she looks decades younger than her 72 years.
Mr. Motivator’s 10 Minute BLTs
High on life and the power of his own unitard, Mr M (Derrick Evans) brought such enthusiasm to his GMTV aerobic routines, he made the perennially perky Lorraine Kelly seem lethargic in comparison.
Davina: Power Of 3
Thanks to Big Brother, McCall became TV gold – and this, her first-ever DVD, sealed her destiny as the queen of living room exercisers everywhere.
30 Day Shred
The fact that she found fame on a show called The Biggest Loser should tell you all you need to know about Michaels’ no-bull approach. Her attitude was ‘unless you puke, faint or die, keep going’.
Tracy Anderson Method
The celeb PT promised the world a ‘teeny tiny dancer’s body’. She definitely delivered ‘teeny tiny screams of agony’ with her ‘looks easy, hurts like a bitch’ workouts.
The noughties’ most hardcore HIIT option by the fearsome Shaun T. No idea what the T stands for. Torture? Terror? Tears?