The Tech Wrangler: Don’t Overspend On Smart Fitness Tech For Your Home Gym

The Tech Wrangler: Don’t Overspend On Smart Fitness Tech For Your Home Gym

The Tech Wrangler is a bi-weekly column in which Forbes Vetted deputy editor Dave Johnson explores the best values in consumer tech. These are not necessarily the least expensive products in their class, but represent the crossroad of price and performance—in other words, money well spent.

The pandemic was a catalyst for encouraging many people to work out at home, but it doesn’t take social distancing and the fear of illness to convince me to avoid the gym. I’ve enjoyed a simple home gym for years, but only in the last few years has smart, affordable home gym and fitness tech finally become commonplace. If you want to work out at home before you start your work day, you now have some superb options.

But not all options are equal, and I’ve encountered a lot of duds in my home fitness adventures as well. A lot of gear is needlessly expensive, for example, while other options are big, heavy, cumbersome, hard to set up and a bear to maintain. Case in point: I owned two different elliptical machines that failed catastrophically right after the warranty ended. And the third one I bought—overcompensating, no doubt—was so big and heavy that it was nearly impossible to take with me when I moved.

So there’s a middle ground, right? Yes, there is. I’ve assembled a great collection of smart home fitness gear that is reasonably affordable, apartment-friendly and highly effective for staying in shape. In fact, the products in this article literally represent my personal home gym. This list isn’t a bunch of hypotheticals; everything here is in my apartment (in the room that most people would say is supposed to be my dining room).

An Unexpected Choice: Virtual Reality Fitness

This might seem odd, but a virtual reality headset and a subscription to a great VR fitness app is hands down my number one recommendation for most people looking to get into a daily workout groove. Specifically, I recommend the Oculus Quest 2, which is available for $300, and Supernatural, which you and up to three other family members can use for $15 per month.

There are a lot of reasons to recommend the Quest 2—check out my Forbes Vetted review of the headset for details—but in a nutshell, it’s completely wireless and usable in almost any indoor space, from your living room to a corner of the bedroom.

But it’s when you combine the Quest with the Supernatural app that all the pieces fall into place for fitness fans. It has two main modes: You can workout to a Flow—which is like a rhythm game in which you strike incoming targets with a pair of light sabers for a full body workout—or you can box. There are also meditations and stretches, incidentally.

Every workout is guided by one of five human coaches (I recently got to meet Coach Raneir in real life, and he’s as energetic and personable in the flesh as he is in the virtual world), takes place in a breathtaking real-world scenic vista and is backed by an enormous library of popular, licensed music.

I love Supernatural because it offers a wide range of full-body workouts that go from cheat-day-easy to exhaustingly hard, and you can work out more or less anywhere; even if if you are super space-constrained in a tiny apartment, you can get a thorough workout without ever getting bored.

Add Low-Impact Cardio With A Mobi Spin Bike

While I exercised on an elliptical for well over a decade, in recent years I decided that I preferred an indoor exercise bike—while still a low-impact workout, I can work a lot harder on a bike than I do on an elliptical. And since I’m an apartment dweller these days, the smaller footprint of a bike is much appreciated as well. Ellipticals, like treadmills, can be gargantuan,

which brings me to the Mobi Fitness Exercise Bike. Spin bikes can vary wildly in price. I’ve tested a lot of bikes in the last few years, from the premium $1700 Bowflex VeloCore to a budget fold-up exercise bike very similar to this model, so I know what the best and… let’s say… the most modest models have to offer. The bottom line? I suggest the Mobi Fitness, which offers an experience much closer to Bowflex than to a bare-bones budget model, yet is usually priced at $600 thanks to a persistent $300 discount.

The Mobi offers 32 levels of resistance via a twist dial with a color digital display. The 26-pound flywheel is controlled with a whisper-quiet magnetic resistance drive, and every part of the bike is adjustable for the perfect fit and most comfortable form while riding. The pedals have rugged toe cages, and there’s a stop button you can mash to bring the flywheel to rest quickly.

It’s not perfect; there’s no giant built-in display, for instance. Instead, you get a stand on which you can set your own phone or tablet, and Mobi offers an app that can lead you through workouts, which is a surprising addition in this range. The app isn’t much to write home about, though, and I’d suggest just watching Netflix and spinning the resistance dial manually to vary the intensity through the workout. Nonetheless, this is $600 well spent and what I recommend for an affordable and effective spin bike.

The Final Piece Of The Puzzle: Tempo Studio

Tempo Studio is the last piece of the puzzle in my home gym. One of a slew of “fitness mirrors” like Mirror, Tonal and Echelon Reflect, it has a few huge advantages that make it the one I recommend. Like all mirrors, you stand in front of it and take a workout class led by a trainer on the big screen. But what makes the Tempo stand out is that it has a 3D motion capture camera system built in. Tempo can monitor your workout, track your reps and identify when your form is bad, offering feedback for you to correct your posture as you go. That’s exactly what I need—not just a device that tells me what exercises to do, but one that will tell me how to do them and correct me when I get it wrong.

Tempo is also apartment friendly. Unlike some fitness mirrors (like Tonal), you don’t bolt this one to the wall. It stands on its own and has a cabinet under the screen to hold all the weights you’ll need for class.

Do you need a fitness mirror like the Tempo? Of course not. And if all you had was a spin bike and VR headset, you could work out daily and probably stay fit. But Tempo adds weight training to the equation, along with an enormous variety of exercises and styles of workout. Armed with all three of these devices, I feel like my workouts will always feel fresh, and at least for me, that’s critical to committing myself to keep doing them.

What do you think? Tell me if you agree with my opinion, and what other essential tech I should write about by nudging me on Twitter at @davejoh.

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