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Technology is changing home workouts for the better

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It used to be that working out at home meant donning leg warmers and popping a Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons tape into the VCR. These days, though, technology has made the at-home exercise options seem endless.

There are big-box gyms that bring personal trainers to you through apps. For instance, Gold’s Gym launched Gold’s AMP in October as a “digital personal trainer” that coaches users through workouts, including walking, running, biking and rowing, for $9.99 per month.

Boutique fitness studios are also going digital. In November, Flywheel Sports, which has 42 indoor cycling studios nationwide, began selling FLY Anywhere, a bike and streaming content platform. This year, ClassPass, which provides access to thousands of brick-and-mortar gyms, will start streaming workouts through ClassPass Live for $15 a month. It’s little surprise then that online streaming by health clubs and fitness studios ranked fifth on the American Council of Exercise’s list of 2018 fitness trends.

“The consumer wants specialization, they want community, and they want it whenever, wherever they can get it,” said Sarah Robb O’Hagan, Flywheel’s chief executive officer.

Other options have no association with a physical location . These include free YouTube or Instagram videos, and subscription services with brand names such as Beachbody, a fitness and nutrition program that gets more than 5 million monthly unique visits to its digital platforms. A recent search for “workout videos” on YouTube yielded 62 million results, including Leslie Sansone’s “1 Mile in Home Walk” and FitnessBlender’s “1,000 Calorie Workout.”

“If you can just go to a YouTube channel and do a 15-minute class free, that absolutely opens you up to a lot more things that you might be willing to try,” said Todd Miller, director of George Washington University’s Weight Management and Human Performance Laboratory.

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This trend hasn’t exactly made gyms obsolete, though. The number of consumers in the United States who used a health club in 2016 broke records, at 66 million, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

The driver behind the popularity of brick-and-mortar gyms? Motivation. “That’s the problem with home exercise. Unless you’re intrinsically motivated — that is, you’re doing it for personal reasons — things get in the way,” said Walt Thompson, president of the American College of Sports Medicine. “The gym, on the other hand, provides you the social support and the extrinsic motivation.”

Whatever the venue or cost, the biggest indicator that someone will stick with a workout program is enjoyment, Miller added. “The most effective exercise is the one that you’re going to do,” he said.

Here are three at-home options for every budget.

Bring a cycling studio to you

FLY Anywhere users pay $39 a month to stream live classes — four to six are offered five days a week — or choose from a library of about 100 archived ones through Apple TV, an iOS device or a $400 optional built-in display on the $1,699 bike. (Classes will also be available on Roku and Chromecast and for Android devices this year.) By comparison, a single Flywheel class at the two D.C.-area locations costs $30.

Based on high-intensity interval training, the classes are available in 20-, 30- and 45-minute lengths, and three formats: Method, an interval-heavy ride with hills and sprints; Power, which has longer races and steeper hills; and Beats, a rhythm-based ride.

The bike is Bluetooth-enabled so that Flywheel could incorporate its Torqboard performance-tracking technology into FLY Anywhere. It lets riders see how they’re doing compared with virtual classmates. Home riders can also use Pacer, a feature studio-goers don’t get, which lets them set goals such as sprinting faster than they did during their last ride.

FLY Anywhere will also add access to Precision Training, which includes 10-, 20- and 30-minute off-the-bike sessions targeting the upper and lower body, core and strength.

App subscription

Beachbody has long banked on people’s desire to work out at home, offering video workout series such as P90X, which House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) famously touted in 2012. In March 2015, Beachbody on Demand came online, offering unlimited access to more than 700 exercise programs, which can be streamed to a computer, TV or mobile device, for $99 a year — compared with the $60 on average that gymgoers pay per month. Since then, it’s grown by 188 percent and gets about 5 million page views each month.

“An important aspect of an in-home workout is you’ve got some sort of peer accountability, that you feel connected to some community, even if it’s virtual,” said Carl Daikeler, Beachbody’s CEO. That’s why the program includes coaches who run challenge groups through Google Hangouts or Zoom calls, to push accountability.

“That accountability keeps them on track with what their goals are, but they don’t have to be in the gym, all made up, all dressed up in this quasi-meat market just to get their workout done,” Daikeler said.

Use your weight to work out

Functional training — movement your body is designed to do using your weight — is one of the easiest in-home workouts because it doesn’t require much, if any, equipment, and online how-to videos are plentiful, said Derrick Inglut, a personal trainer based in Washington and West Hollywood.

“Try to do two pushing exercises, two pulling, two legs and two abs over the week,” Inglut said. “Generally, that covers all the major muscle groups.”

Push exercises include push-ups on the floor or against a wall and triceps extensions, while examples of pull moves include pull-ups and biceps curls.

Avoid boredom by changing moves periodically, Inglut said, but realize that building strength takes time. “If you’re doing the same thing over and over, obviously you’re more likely to plateau, but you do need to repeat exercises to get better at them,” he said. “I try not to repeat things more than once a month unless it’s a standard exercise like a push-up, a sit-up, a crunch or anything cardio.”

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