If COVID-19 has you skipping the gym in favor of working out at home, you’re not alone. The home fitness equipment market is booming amid the global pandemic, with many people opting to invest in smart fitness machines and other health and fitness tech.
I’ve been into the fitness scene since high school, when I worked in the daycare center of my local gym in exchange for a free membership. Now a yoga teacher and PCMag’s resident fitness expert, I get to test the latest smart home gym equipment, and the machines available today have come a long way compared with the ones I used to work out on in high school.
But what makes a fitness machine smart, and why pay extra for it? At the most basic level, smart home gym equipment connects to the internet. Most machines have a screen on which you can stream workouts, but some work with a companion app to let you view classes on your phone or TV.
Smart fitness devices allow for a whole other level of interactivity than their more affordable, non-connected counterparts. Most offer large libraries of guided classes with knowledgeable instructors and/or customized workouts and programs based on your goals and current fitness level. It’s like having a personal trainer in the comfort, safety, and privacy of your own home.
Many machines also feature live classes with competitive leaderboards, giving you an extra jolt of motivation to run, row, or cycle your way to victory. This also fosters a sense of community, making it feel like you’re not working out alone. The Peloton community is so active that members often become friends in real life, bonding over their shared love of the experience. Smart fitness machines also generally keep track of your progress, and congratulate you when you meet your goals and make gains.
Some, like iFit-powered NordicTrack devices and the new Peloton Bike+, can automatically adjust your speed and/or resistance, so you don’t have to fiddle with knobs or buttons during your workout. Many also support wireless headphones so you can stream classes without disturbing others, heart rate monitors so you can glance at the screen to see how hard you’re working out, and fitness apps like Fitbit and Strava for keeping your stats in one place.
All of these features work together to relieve boredom and keep you coming back day after day. If you need a little motivation on your wellness journey, a smart fitness machine is an excellent investment.
These days there’s no shortage of options on the market, so we’ve rounded up our favorite smart treadmills, stationary bikes, rowers, smart mirrors, and strength training machines to help you pick the best one for you. Keep reading for additional insights and tips that can help you narrow down your options.
How Much Should You Spend on Smart Fitness Equipment?
As you can see from our top picks, smart fitness machines are far from cheap. Most of our favorites come in around at least $1,500. High-end treadmills like the NordicTrack Commercial 2950 are among the priciest, and can easily run you $3,000 or more.
Generally speaking, a machine with a screen is going to cost more than one without, and a bigger screen is going to cost more than a smaller one. If you’re into scenic outdoor content, like the hikes you can watch on the Commercial 2950, a 22-inch or larger screen adds a lot to the experience, but it also drives up the price.
NordicTrack, in particular, caters to different budgets, offering machines with a range of screen sizes. Echelon, Bowflex, and others sell screen-less models that work with your phone or tablet.
When budgeting for a smart fitness machine, don’t forget to include the membership fee in your calculations. They all require a subscription, typically priced from $29 to $39 a month, to access on-demand and live streaming classes. NordicTrack makes its offerings more attractive by including a free year of iFit (a $468 value), but you have to pay to access the interactive fitness platform after the trial is up.
You also have to factor the price of accessories, like the special cycling shoes you need with a Peloton Bike, as well as delivery and assembly/installation fees, which can run up to around $250. Given that these devices are often large, heavy, and sometimes complicated to assemble, springing for assembly is a good idea (and sometimes mandatory, like with the Tonal), unless you’re particularly strong and handy.
The good news is that most smart fitness equipment manufacturers offer financing options to make the cost more manageable. You can pay off a Peloton Bike, for instance, for $49 per month over 39 months. And depending on how much you pay for your gym membership, working out at home can potentially save you money in the long run.
In each of our reviews, we break down the costs and the delivery/assembly process, so you know what you’re in for.
The Best Smart Treadmills
Treadmills are the most popular at-home fitness machines, and for good reason. They support a variety of exercises on a single machine: walking, jogging, running, sprinting, and even simulated hiking if you have a machine that can incline. And while rowing machines can feel intimidating to a beginner without the knowledge of proper technique, and cycling bike seats can be a literal pain in the butt, treadmills are, for many, more user-friendly, accessible, and comfortable, since walking is an activity most of us do on a daily basis anyway.
On the downside, treadmills are typically quite expensive, complicated to assemble, loud, and large. The NordicTrack Commercial 2950, in particular, requires a fairly high ceiling. Fully inclined, the belt sits around 17.25 inches off the ground. Consider these measurements, plus the height of the tallest person in your household when evaluating whether your ceiling is high enough for the machine. This article does a good job explaining how to determine whether a treadmill will fit in your space.
The Commercial 2950 and other iFit-connected treadmills can automatically adjust your speed, incline, and decline, offering an immersive experience when paired with one of the many outdoor workouts available on the platform. During hikes, the incline will start to go up right as the instructor starts climbing a hill, which makes it feel like you’re working out right alongside them. Smart treadmills typically give you access to a plethora of workouts beyond just running, including strength and yoga, adding value to their membership.
The $2,495 Peloton Tread is the best smart treadmill for small spaces. As a compact treadmill with a big display, a premium build, a vast workout class library, and excellent social features, the Tread is in a lane of its own. We aren’t recommending the larger Tread+ at this time due to safety concerns, but will reassess if and when Peloton re-launches it.
The Best Smart Stationary Bikes
If you’re looking for a fitness machine that won’t wake the baby or a sleeping partner, consider a stationary bike. Coupled with a pair of Bluetooth headphones, which most smart models support, they’re essentially soundless. All involve a bit of discomfort at first when you’re getting used to the seat, but not many other forms of exercise, outside of hot yoga, will leave you quite as drenched in sweat as an indoor cycling class.
If you love boutique cycling classes with competitive leaderboards, good music, and high-energy instructors, you can have a similar experience from the comfort of home on the Peloton Bike and rival Echelon EX5S. The SoulCycle At-Home Bike offers a more meditative, dance-focused experience. Your goal on SoulCycle isn’t to work your way up a leaderboard, it’s to match your cadence with the beat of the music. When you finish a SoulCycle workout, a summary screen shows your Beat Match score from zero to 100%, which indicates how much of the time your cadence matched the rhythm of the music.
The NordicTrack S22i Studio Cycle can automatically adjust your resistance and incline for a more immersive experience, a feature also available on the Peloton Bike+. And Bowflex recently entered the mix with its VeloCore bike, which can lean side to side for a full-body workout and more-lifelike riding experience.
For more, see the best smart exercise bikes we’ve tested.
The Best Smart Rowing Machines
Rowing can be one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise. It’s also one of the most effective, offering a full-body low-impact cardio workout that puts minimal stress on your knees and other joints.
The thing about rowing is that it’s a technical sport that requires coaching and practice to learn. It might look like it mostly involves your arms, but if you’re doing it right, it’s actually 60 percent legs. If you do it incorrectly, you can hurt your back, which would obviously be a major setback toward any fitness goals.
On smart rowing machines like the Hydrow and NordicTrack RW900, the instructors break down the rowing technique to help you learn how to row, and constantly stress proper form. Both offer scenic outdoor rows filmed in a variety of locations around the world, led by excellent instructors, including world champions and Olympians.
Another nice thing about rowing machines is that they’re fairly compact, especially compared with, say, a treadmill. The Hydrow, Cityrow Go Max, and Ergatta can be stored vertically when not in use, and the NordicTrack RW900 folds up to save space.
The Best Smart Workout Mirrors
If you’re short on space, a smart mirror is another excellent option. The Mirror and rival Echelon Reflect can be mounted to your wall, so they take up zero floor space. When you’re working out, you just need enough room to put down a yoga mat. During a class, you can see the instructor as well as your own reflection in the mirror, which makes it easy to check your form. When not in use, it looks like a regular mirror, so you can even put it in your main living space.
Both models we’ve tested offer a wide range of live and on-demand classes, including boxing, cardio, pilates, strength, stretching, yoga, and more. Most of the classes can be done without any equipment, but some require weights, which you’ll need to buy if you want to participate.
The Best Smart Strength Training Machines
Like smart mirrors, smart strength training machines are good if you don’t have the space for a large piece of fitness equipment. That’s especially true for the wall-mounted Tonal, but the Tempo also has a pretty small footprint.
Both are excellent options that will help you build muscle. They keep track of how much weight you should be lifting, count your reps, and offer feedback about your form. They also offer plenty of classes and programs, all led by experienced instructors who walk you through each move.
The Tonal uses a combination of electricity and magnets to digitize weights, offering up to 200 pounds of resistance. It features a 24-inch touch screen, on which you can browse and play workouts; and adjustable arms on each side, onto which you can connect smart handles, a smart bar, and a rope.
The Tempo, meanwhile, has an easel-like design with a 42-inch touch screen on the front. Under the screen is a cabinet that neatly stores four sets of weights, so they’re out of sight when not in use. On the back, you can hang the included dumbbells and barbell.
More Tech to Help You Stay Fit
If none of the options here strike your fancy, rest assured that we will be regularly updating this story as we review new smart home gym equipment, so be sure to check back soon.
And if a smart fitness machine is out of your budget, there are plenty of more affordable technologies that can help you get moving, sleep better, and improve your overall health, including inexpensive and free workout apps.
If you’re on a fitness journey, it’s a good idea to invest in a fitness tracker that can measure your performance, encourage you to stay active, and help you meet your goals. If swimming is your exercise of choice, a waterproof fitness tracker is a must. If you’re more into pounding pavement, a running-friendly fitness tracker that can track your cadence, pace, elevation, and route is ideal. You can also use heart rate monitors and smart scales to track your progress.
Taking steps to improve your sleep and reduce stress can also have a positive impact on your health. If you’re struggling in those areas, check out our lists of the best sleep tech and meditation apps.