Sales of fitness gear exploded during the pandemic as gyms shuttered and people worked from home. Even if you are returning to work and leaving home again, like many you may have come to the realization that there are big advantages to having your own home fitness center: no monthly fees, no high-priced ala carte studio class fees, no commuting to the health club, no sharing gear or space with strangers and most overlooked, no need for headphones. Personally I’ve found myself exercising far more since dropping my gym membership because of all the saved time previously wasted in the car and locker room, but also because I now often work out in the morning and evening, whereas I never went to the gym more than once a day.
In addition to the huge spike in sales of hardware (numbers from retail data specialist NDP showed sales of home fitness equipment nearly doubled in 2020 from 2019), there was also a big increase in the quality and availability of home digital platforms, making the other big reason to visit the gym – instructor led classes, from yoga to cycling – obsolete. The top options like the Peloton app and Nordic Track’s iFIT platform take the virtual place of multiple studios with everything from yoga and strength training to all kinds of cardio, running, hiking, road and mountain biking, etc. These plans often cost less for a month than a single urban studio class, and have kept expanding offerings, such as meditation, boot camps, even outdoor coached runs.
But many of us didn’t have dedicated gym spaces at home pre-pandemic, and unless you just built a new house, you may well be space constrained. Just like our “home offices” at the dining room table, many folks had to make do with cramming stuff in the bedroom corner or garage. So, while there is a ton of great workout gear on the market, most of it is not optimized to smaller spaces or urban apartments. Yet there are still more great choices than ever – many of them brand new – for the square footage challenged workouts.
PS: These also make great holiday gift ideas for the fitness lovers or workout deprived on your holiday lists!
Time Under Tension (TUT): Not so long ago, a true gym-level weight workout required purchasing hundreds of pounds of weights, often in addition to benches or large multi-station stacks that run into the four figures. Not anymore, thanks to TUTFitness, with TUT standing for “Time Under Tension.” The TUT Trainer Tower takes stretchy resistance bands and reinvents them – their new patented stackable system for combining bands claims to be an industry first, and these stackable resistance band plates allow you to change the weight load in 5,10, 20 and 40 pound increments up to 200 pounds, while offering a full array of around 250 exercises for every part of the body and muscle group body in a slim, light platform. Because resistance bands are constantly pulling back, or “under tension,” you get functional strength training that changes the resistance load throughout the entire range of motion without added pressure on joints and tendons and less room for injury. TUT has a few products, but the Training Tower takes the place of an extensive weight setup in a single vertical bar that weighs less than 12 pounds, attaches easily to almost any wall or door frame, can be easily removed and stored or relocated, and unlike many other newer pieces of gear, requires no power and can be located anywhere without messy cords. It also offers an app with class videos, and unlike many higher-tech offerings on the market, requires no recurring monthly fee once you buy it. At $795 it is a bargain in terms of both price and space efficiency, and it is hard to get more strength training bang for the buck. There is also a highly portable TUT rower ($595) that can be combined with the tower for a substantial discount ($1195).
The NordicTrack Vault: I absolutely love this concept, which is basically the second generation rethinking of the fitness paradigm introduced by the very popular Mirror. Doing instructor led exercises in front of an interactive digital mirror helps maintain proper form for better results with less chance of injury and is also very space efficient. It may not take any extra space at all if you already have a floor length analog mirror for getting dressed! But the Vault adds a couple of big improvements. Instead of just an interactive mirror hanging on the wall, the Vault mirror is a sliding door on a low-profile wall-hugging cabinet filled with all of the weights and accessories needed to do a huge range of strength training exercises, including sets of premium gym-quality dumbbells, kettle bells, resistance bands and yoga/pilates gear. Instead of purchasing all this stuff separately and then trying to hide it around the house, it stores neatly behind the fitness mirror and is ultra-accessible for workouts and ultra-neatly stored the rest of the time. The Vault also has a bigger mirror, over five feet high, with integrated high definition (HD) 32-inch video and built-in touchscreen. But even though the mirror is substantially larger, because the whole Vault frame is carbon steel, including the small platform it stands on, it can go anywhere and doesn’t need to be permanently (and professionally) mounted to your wall. Smaller than most bookcases, the footprint comes out just 14 inches from the wall and is two feet wide and six tall, yet it holds an entire gym’s worth of gear and workouts.
The touchscreen mirror gives easy access to the entire range of classes and programs from Nordic Track’s excellent iFIT platform, which I have used extensively on ellipticals and bikes and has a vast array of classes. For the Vault specifically, this means strength training, yoga, pilates, sculpt and tone, mindfulness, intervals, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). But it also covers all the iFIT cardio platforms under a single monthly membership fee, meaning you can pair the Vault with any of NordicTrack’s gym-quality ellipticals, treadmills, bikes, rowers or the company’s newest innovation, the FreeStride Elliptical trainers, which basically combine the functions of an elliptical, stair stepper and treadmill into one device – another huge space saver. While there are other excellent multi-platform class fitness apps, none of them come remotely close to offering the array of workouts for various hardware that iFIT covers. Plus, the program combines the studio-style classes most competitors offer with instructor led “virtual” rides, runs and hikes filmed outside with topnotch production values on some of the most beautiful and acclaimed trails and roads on earth (hike New Zealand or ride Tour de France routes in your home!). NordicTrack describes the Vault as the “Complete iFIT Connected Home Gym” and they are not kidding. The fully loaded turnkey Vault system is $2,999 but if you have already amassed free weights and kettlebells for your home workouts you can opt for the empty locker version for $1,999.
Vitruvian V-Form Trainer: Ever since the runaway success of the Peloton Bike and its app, the fitness industry has been throwing huge amounts of venture capital and science at high-tech workout platforms looking for the next big thing, and the result has been a multitude of class-driven at home interactive products from the Mirror to Tonal to iFIT, but there has never been anything quite like the V-Form, a new weight training machine spun out of this tech driven re-invention of the way we exercise. Imagine not just an ultra-compact strength training device, but one that constantly adapts the resistance and workouts to you and your abilities both in every set and over the long term. For instance, you don’t need any spotting if the weight you can’t lift suddenly gets lighter, and you can’t get lazy and slack off if the too-easy resistance gets tougher during your sets. If you are having trouble reaching the full range of motion in any exercise, rows, curls, whatever, it lightens the load to the limit that makes sense – in milliseconds. Without this is has been difficult to impossible to train eccentrically alone safely, That’s the brilliance behind the new V-Form. It uses algorithms and the app to constantly adapt to you and your workouts for optimized truly “personal training.” The promise is not just a huge space saver but a better workout period, and the Holy Grail of fitness, faster results. You can do it anywhere because the device is totally portable – take it out on your deck or balcony and enjoy a strength training workout in the fresh air. You can even throw it in the back of the car and take it with you to your weekend vacation home.
The actual device is a small platform a little bigger than a doormat containing all the technology (with recessed wheels) with two cables coming out of it, and it comes with both handles and ankle straps. Stand on it and do curls, lay on it like a bench and do presses, and so on. The resistance is digital, so you don’t need massive stacks of metal weights, yet it can offer between 10 and 400 pounds, more than huge multi stack home gyms. Despite the the ultra-compact platform and simple appearance, you can do just about any weight exercise you could do with all the specialized gear at a fitness club, over 200 exercises. With the app you can cherry pick exercises for you and track progress, or you can try their classes, a wide variety of 10-30 minute sessions with certified instructors, each specifically designed to achieve one of a wide range of goals. Each class also allows you to select a strength level appropriate for you and the V-Form adjust accordingly. Like many of the new video and app driven class training machines out there, there is a monthly fee for membership, $39.
Bowflex Treadmill 10 & 22: Running and walking are among the most popular cardio exercises in the world and running gives a great fitness return on time invested, but treadmills have the biggest footprints of any home aerobic equipment. Unlike stationary bikes, they are heavy and cannot just easily be wheeled out of the way when not in use – and you don’t want a “lightweight” treadmill as they are the one piece of gear that really needs to be heavy duty. The only viable solution is a folding model, but some folding treadmills are kind of flimsy. Not the proven lineup from Bowflex, and while these still take up room, when not in use the occupied space is reduced by nearly half with the Easy Drop Stowable Design. The lower priced Treadmill 10 is rock solid ($1,999) while the upgrade to the Treadmill 22 ($2,699) gets you a bigger video screen and more max incline (20% vs. 15%). Both fold to the same size, both offer decline for downhill running, which many treadmills lack, both have 22 x 60-inch belts, and both weigh a hefty 400 pounds.
Workout in Bed? Another unique twist in the tech home fitness arms race comes from the United Kingdom, where the Pivot Fitness company founders just were selected as Finalists in the 2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards. The ultimate solution for those living in a New York studio apartment, the Pivot Bed is literally a bed that turns into a gym, a fitness minded re-invention of the murphy bed. It is a super-strong metal frame beneath a mattress that flips up easily, thanks to assisting gas springs, and locks very securely in place, revealing a vertical gym-style weight training power rack with adjustable dip and pull up bars and a multi-layer protective floor surface the size of the bed, big enough for yoga or to roll a stationary bike onto. Optional add-ons include a shatterproof mirror, weight plate storage brackets, barbell storage, safety spotter arms, and more. It meets various British safety standards and has been rated for over 1100 pounds on the power rack and 286 pounds for users on pull-ups and dips. You add the mattress, but a CNC machined deck eliminated the need for a box spring, and it comes in sizes from Twin to King, with free delivery to North America. It comes in versions with and without the power rack (both have dip and pull up bars and workout flooring) for $4,600 and $3,200 respectively. For the price it doesn’t give you a lot of workout options, especially since the power rack is probably one of the least used accessories at the regular gym and you have to supply your own old school weights, but it certainly makes use of otherwise wasted space.