Health, fitness, and tech are an interesting mix. On the one hand, basic biology hasn’t changed since well before the first phone was invented. On the other, as technology improves rapidly, there’s always a new way to spin getting into shape.
I owe Tonal an apology. When we first heard of them, I was sure it was just an attempt to turn weight training into the same sort of subscription service as Peloton. It seemed crazy to me since weights aren’t terribly expensive, and it seemed like they were overcomplicating workouts that have existed since cavemen first hoisted rocks. Then I tried it, and within a few minutes the entire concept won me over completely.
No, Tonal isn’t cheap. But there’s an incredible amount of thoughtful tech built into it, and the library of workouts, videos, and training advice is impressive and thorough. Tonal has a very solid build quality, attachments for just about every kind of workout, and it folds down so compactly it can fit into any space. During my test run, I was able to try several deadlift variations, rows, even overhead press. Further, in talking with them, they explained how their deep video library means you don’t simply get a generic instruction video. Someone with more experience gets a different video than a beginner, so the software and training can grow and adapt as you do. Add that to the sensors and software that allow it to act as a virtual spotter, and it’s a great tool to push yourself safely.
At $3,600 for the hardware and another $49 per month for the subscription, it’s definitely not the cheapest way to work out. On the other hand, Tonal offers financing that can work out to $149/month for 36 months, which isn’t so different from a higher-end gym. Plus you don’t have to go as far to get in a good workout — and Tonal doesn’t require you to get out of your pajamas!
Fitness is about more than just the workout itself. It’s also about taking good care of your muscles and proper recovery. Power Plate showed us several solutions to kick your workouts and recovery to the next level.
On the recovery end, they offer several foam rollers and myofascial release devices. That’s a very fancy way of saying that it’s equipment designed to work on releasing pressure in and around your skeletal system and muscle groups. If you’ve ever foam rolled, or rolled a ball under the arch of your foot, you’ve done myofascial release even if you didn’t call it that. Power Plate adds another layer with both broad and targeted vibration products, and continued use can help you recover faster and be more flexible, which is key whether you’re aiming to win at being a weekend warrior or just want to be able to stand up without injuring yourself.
Vibration can also add to regular workouts, either by improving flexibility or by adding instability to a platform, which helps recruit stability muscles as well as your general balance. The Power Plate products that incorporate vibrating platforms are pricy, and on the high end are suited more for facilities over individual use, but they do offer some smaller, consumer-focused platforms for around $2,999. Still expensive, but I will say this: Judie and I spent some time stretching and testing the Power Plate Move while we were at CES, and both of us swore the few minutes we spent made a huge difference in our energy level the rest of the day!
Along the same lines as Tonal but in a more portable and affordable format is MAXPRO Fitness. Like tonal, it uses adjustable tension to add weight resistance to workouts, but with a focus on portability and compactness. The entire MAXPRO hardware can fit in a backpack but can unfold to give you the tools to get in a full strength training workout. You can even hang it off doors for overhead work! They also include a connected app to help track your workouts and progress. We liked MAXPRO’s innovative take on home fitness so much we gave it a Best of CES award!
Running sneakers aren’t just rubber and canvas anymore. They’re designed and redesigned to wring every bit of efficiency out of each step. ASICS let us test out a few different ways they study shoes and it made me very sad I don’t have my own mobile lab to monitor every run!
They first had me run in their Nimbus 22s, a neutral shoe, then they compared my stride to their new EVORIDE line. The new shoes have a thick sole that guides your foot strike towards the forefoot/midfoot, making it a more efficient stride with less excess energy use. I already tend towards a midfoot strike but even so, the EVORIDE was incredibly comfortable and felt quite natural.
More exciting than a nice cushiony neutral shoe is that ASICS is also working on a smart shoe insert. The product is not released yet (look for it in the back half of 2020), but the report it generated after just a 90-second run was impressive. It offered significant feedback on footstrike, energy efficiency, stride length, and other metrics, plus had some tips on strength training to improve. It’s inescapable that exercise will continue to be quantified, and ASICS seems to have a solid grasp on how to make that data as useful as possible!
Rowing is a phenomenal full-body workout, but it can be tough to motivate yourself sometimes. It’s like any cardio machine-if you don’t have a distraction or incentive, you’re going to eventually get bored. Ergatta gamifies rowing by adding games and competition, plus software that helps adjust the challenges to your skill level. We were able to briefly test it at CES, and it was a lot of fun. Far better than my usual rowing workout of staring straight ahead, then looking at the display and wondering how only five minutes have passed!
Ergatta uses a customized WaterRower, so it’s a smooth and quiet movement. It also can be stored upright easily so you don’t have to turn a rower into a permanent part of your decor between workouts. Which is good, because rowers do not make for useful furniture, based on the number of times I’ve tripped over my cheap one in the middle of the night. They’re in pre-orders now for $1,799 with an expected final price of $1,999, which is extremely reasonable for a high-end cardio experience!
This is 100% in the realm of “cool idea, but not for the average person”. It’s a robotic punching bag that can move and dodge as you punch, making it a more interactive workout. They’ve also added augmented reality, which overlays an opponent on the punching bag. When the bag weaves and dodges, it’s as though your opponent is moving, and sensors on the AR goggles and belt pick up your movements. The result is that you see a health meter for yourself and your opponent, and your punches plus dodging and weaving all determine who “wins” the match.
It’s priced at a jaw-dropping $24,990, so this is aimed more at boxing gyms and specialized fitness centers. But it’s too cool of an experience not to highlight, and it also shows the potential that virtual reality and augmented reality can bring to fitness. Right now it’s beyond the reach of most consumers, but as it becomes more refined and mass-produced, we’ll hopefully see more integration of AR/VR in-home workouts!
Also in the aspirational category, we were able to try Daiwa’s massage chairs. To say these chairs are heavenly is an understatement. It’s a full body massage that offers a tremendous number of customization options to target sore or problematic areas of your body. Recovery is just as important as the workout itself, and if you can afford to have an in-home massage chair it’s a legitimate recovery tool, not just an indulgence. If you can’t, it’s worth considering getting regular massages to keep your muscles happy — after all, those robots aren’t going to box themselves, and no one wants to be slowed down by injury!
In the end, what we saw at CES indicates the merging of technology and fitness is headed down the same path we’ve seen for a while. Quantifying and monitoring, augmented/virtual reality, active recovery through massage and movement, and finding new ways to package full-body fitness at home and on the go are all trends that have existed for some time, but 2020 brings some exciting iterations and big leaps forward.