The Home Workout That Is Part Black Mirror, Part Ingenious
As soon as you start watching an exercise video in the comfort of your own home, it is impossible to deny that it is basically a Jane Fonda workout tape for the modern age. It doesn’t have to be Jane Fonda of course: for decades, any actress or presenter with a strong core entered the world of fitness tapes. But nobody got fit from these things. At least that was the was the stereotype and these stereotypes are deeply rooted.
Working out at home with the support of a recording has long been seen as something lesser than working out on the gym floor, or with a personal trainer, or even fitness classes (which, still, have their own stigma attached by many). It’s seen as an inferior form of exercise, but, increasingly, the world is waking up to its potential benefits: the age of telefitness is upon us.
We’ve previously written about some of the advances in this arena: Peloton bikes allow you to do a spin class within your own home by following classes that you can broadcast on a screen attached to the bike. Freeletics allows you to tailor workout regimens that you can do at home, in the gym, or in a hotel room. Benjy Hansen-Bundy also talked about the glory of home workout app Nike Training Club, “which is basically a personal trainer but without the over-enthusiastic small talk”. There are other phenomena too: celebrities are obsessed with Mirror, which displays a trainer and stats on a pane of glass in your house like you're the wicked witch in Snow White after deciding to go on a keto diet.
While I’ve tried Freeletics and yearn to experience a Peloton for those mornings when I don’t want to commute to my spin instructor, it took Fiit to make me wonder if it was worth working out at home rather than just using an app at the gym. Cofounder Ian McCaig took me through the app and kit that make the basis of the Fiit revolution: exercise at home, optionally wear a heart monitor to register your heartbeat and reps and take 30-minute classes that can help up your weekly exercise quota.
“One of the reasons you love spinning is because you're not doing it alone,” explained McCaig. “It's the accountability: I've booked into this 7pm class, paid for it, I'm going to do it. Similar principles here.” Unlike many boutique fitness experiences, Fiit wants to give you balanced access to a bit of everything, rather than, say, a yoga studio that would give you just bikram classes for a high fee. Their live classes – that you can book into in advance and add to your calendar – and the ability to see your stats via the included heart monitor are two of their biggest draws they say. “You see the stats and the leaderboard and you feel like you're part of something,” explained McCaig. “That's our secret sauce and we're building upon that.”
On Fiit, you have a few choices: first, there are recorded classes of varying lengths, though most are roughly half an hour. These involve a warm-up, a few stints of intense exercise and then a cool down. They’re split between different sections: strength, cardio and rebalance (yoga, pilates, etc). It’s a good idea, McCaig said, to have a few basic bits of equipment for some: a kettlebell, some hand weights, maybe a resistance band, a mat. You can choose your classes based on what you have to hand, what your skill level is and what you’re intending to get out of it. All are taught by bright, bubbly fitness gurus who look flawless in sparse, neon sets. McCaig takes me through the credentials of some of their instructors: Muay Thai fighters, $150p/h PTs, sportswear ambassadors and leading figures in their fields. They yell encouraging mantras in between sets of burpees, talking about working up a sweat you cannot see on their brows. It’s a far cry from the kind of much meme’d jazzercise routines you’ll see from the 20th century, though I do still find myself doing some exercises in some classes that feel like they’re straight out of the Eighties.
The Fiit kit comes with a bespoke HDMI cable that allows you to connect your mobile phone right into your TV so you can broadcast them in your living room. Due to the cable being short, and the plugs in our lounge being far apart, it was impossible for me – and potentially you – to try this. So I stuck to just using it on my phone. I decided to set up in the living room, shutting the door and rolling out a yoga mat, putting on a kettlebell class.
I set up my adjustable kettlebell and put on the class. Gede Foster and her assistant appear in the studio and give me a bit of preparatory talk. I’m used to 45-minutes sessions at the gym, so 30, I presume, will be positively easy: it is not. These are intense sessions to make up for their brevity and I am drenched in sweat at the end after a solid half-hour of different squats. It’s a good workout and my legs really feel it. Although it feels easy to sit out of a few burpees if you don’t feel like it, it is also quite useful to be able to pause during the rest sections so I can actually get in a sip of water. Taking it at your own pace – and by that I don't just mean missing out the hard bits – is actually quite helpful.
What is odd, however, is that, to make sure the class is the right length, it seems that the class was filmed in one, continuous take. As a result, some of the interactions between Gede and her lackey feel incredibly odd, the sort of thing that between takes you'd probably say, “Don't... don't say that...”
Better, then, are the classes with solo instructors. Our living room rug, and the fact it’s a room designed for being supine, made it all feel a bit odd. So, instead, I aimed for a much smaller spare room. It was long and narrow, with an inconveniently low light fitting, but I sprawled out my mat and switched on a cardio class. Gabby Allen was sparky but relatable, charming but forceful. It was a tough class – in part because the room was particularly unsuitable for doing leaps around the room – but I got through it.
Here’s the thing about Fiit: it’s cheaper than a gym membership and, if discomfort at the cohort at your local tends to keep you away, it’s going to do you absolute wonders. McCaig knows this too: he thinks that these classes are very useful, particularly for women, who feel uncomfortable working out around lecherous or condescending men. If you’re looking for a guide on how to use the equipment on the gym floor or what to do with the rack of weights in front of you? The app could also help you both in the gym and with a set in your own home. Doing some of these classes made me feel like I'd be happy either turning on the video with some kettlebells at the gym or getting familiar with a class at home and repeating it on my own.
There is really nothing bad about Fiit. It is part of a growing marketplace and it does its job fabulously. The question is, is telefitness, working out at home, whatever you want to call it, for everyone? Is it going to make your workout more efficient, is it going to help your fitness goals? In my opinion, there’s every chance. I, for one, found the idea of exercising at home deeply alluring: life in the world of editorial is a busy one and the chance to fit in half an hour in the spare bedroom rather than a 30-minute commute to a 45-minute class, at a time I don’t get to choose, is deeply powerful. I think I will keep using it to supplement the way I work out most of the week.
But, for me, it’s definitely part of my future workout regime rather than the whole shebang. The ability to do quick workouts at home or in a hotel is a huge boon, but the fact I don’t have the pressure of getting to the gym does remove some of my passion or commitment and having to find a space and a tech set-up where it’s optimal in my house is a bit of an ask. It’s not perfect for me, and strapping on a heart monitor and being on a leaderboard isn't really my thing, but it is beneficial.