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The true cost of a connected home gym is not just in the equipment you buy

Home gyms are exploding in popularity, fueled in part by smart fitness equipment that brings the social side of the gym to your home. No longer are you exercising alone in your basement. With a connected home gym, you can join a class and exercise along with others from the comfort of your home. There is little doubt that connected fitness gear is the future of home gyms, but this smart equipment comes with a hidden cost and one particular commodity that’s always in short supply: Time. We break down both the upfront cost and the hidden expenditures of home-connected gear, so you know what to expect financially before you begin assembling your own smart gym.

What is connected fitness training?

When you are shopping for home gym equipment, you will see buzzwords like “connected fitness training” and “smart indoor gym.” but what do these terms actually mean for the user? For starters, smart gym equipment connects to the internet to store your exercise data so you can analyze it online or send it to a third-party service like Strava. Like most platforms, you can set goals, receive achievement awards, and more. Most services also have a leaderboard feature so you can compete against other people to get the coveted top spot for the fastest time. You also can go head-to-head against other people who are working out at the same time as you.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Connected fitness gear does more than just collect your fitness metrics. Its biggest advantages are the interactive workouts and virtual training programs that you can stream to your exercise equipment. Some of these workouts are prerecorded videos that let you fire up a a trainer-led session on you own schedule. In these videos sessions, you can follow a trainer as they climb Mount Fuji or row on the River Thames. These videos are integrated with the machine, so the treadmill, for example, will go faster when the trainer goes from walking to running and will raise the incline when the trainer is climbing a hill. Some fitness equipment is even packed with sensors that check your form and give you feedback as you work out. And if that isn’t enough, there also are live classes with a trainer and other students who are working out together in real time. It’s as close as you can get to the gym experience without leaving the comfort of your home.

Equipment costs

Most people know about Peloton’s lineup of bikes and treadmills, but there is a wide range of connected fitness equipment, including rowing machines, fitness mirrors, and even weights. Some of these products are coming from small startups like Tonal, while others are being developed by major fitness manufacturers like NordicTrack. Even budget fitness gear supplier ProForm has jumped on the smart gym bandwagon.

Peloton Bike
Peloton Bike Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pricing for smart home gym equipment varies widely based on the type of equipment you are purchasing and the included features. You can buy a Proform hybrid trainer for as little as $600, while a tricked-out NordicTrack treadmill with 40-percent incline tops out at $4,000. Most connected gear falls into the middle of those extremes, with price tags between $1,600 and $2,500.

Subscription costs

Connected gear may cost a little more than its nonconnected counterparts, but the price difference isn’t big enough to sway you away from smart home gym equipment. The most significant difference between the two types of equipment is the subscription cost. Every piece of smart fitness equipment requires a subscription to access the connected features of the device.

Most monthly subscriptions cost between $15 and $50 per month, which is almost as much as, or even more than, some people are paying for a regular gym membership. Some services, like iFit, offer individual plans, as well as family plans that support multiple profiles. You also can choose to pay yearly, if that works better with your budget. When you purchase a new piece of fitness equipment, check to see if a subscription is included. Many manufactures provide a trial subscription to get you started. Some even give you a promo code for a year’s subscription.

Subscription Cost

NordicTrac Treadmill with iFit $15/month for individuals or $39/month for a family up to five people.
Yearly plans also available for individuals ($180/year) and a family ($396/year)
Peloton $39/month for a household membership
Hydrow rowers $38/month or $456/yearly for a household membership
Mirror $39/month for up to five accounts with a one-year minimum commitment
Tonal  $49/month for unlimited accounts
Tempo Studio $39/month with a 12-month minimum commitment
Gold’s Gym $39/month or $399 annually

Equipment Cost

NordicTrac Treadmill with iFit $1,299
Peloton $2,245
Hydrow rowers $2,245
Mirror $1,495
Tonal  $2,995
Tempo Studio $1,995
Gold’s Gym  None

Total Yearly Cost

NordicTrac Treadmill with iFit $1479 for an individual or $1695 for a family
Peloton $2,713
Hydrow rowers $2,701
Mirror $1,963
Tonal  $3,583
Tempo Studio $2,463
Gold’s Gym $399

If you are on the fence about paying a monthly subscription, you need to check to ensure your fitness gear will work without a subscription. For example, the NordicTrack X32i treadmill requires a subscription if you want the interactive iFit workouts. If you’re going to use the treadmill without the iFit subscription, you can select a manual option that lets you control the speed and incline yourself. You can view your progress on an oval track while you workout. Without a subscription, you cannot load up any preprogrammed or custom workouts that change the speed and incline on its own. Not all equipment offer this manual option, so you need to do your homework before dropping $1,500 on a machine that won’t work without a monthly fee.

An affordable alternative

Even if you are on a tight budget, you still can experience the benefits of a smart home gym. Some of these services, like iFit and Peloton, have brought their virtual training platform to iOS and Android devices. These mobile apps allow you to access most of their online training plans while using your existing fitness equipment. If you don’t own a treadmill or an indoor bike, just hit Craigslist, where you can purchase used fitness gear at a fraction of the cost of new equipment.  You still have to purchase a subscription to iFit or Peloton, but you won’t have pay thousands of dollars for a new elliptical or rowing machine.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

There is one significant drawback to using mobile apps. Because the apps are not integrated into your fitness equipment, they cannot control the speed, incline, or resistance. On an iFit treadmill, the software will raise the slope when the trainer is climbing uphill and lower it when going downhill. With the mobile apps, you must manually adjust the incline, which takes away from the connected experience.

Home gym vs. in-person gym

Home gyms are attractive because you have everything you need to work out right in your home. You pay for this convenience with high equipment costs and monthly subscriptions. A home gym’s cost can far outweigh the $20- to $40-per-month gym memberships offered by many national gyms.

For some, having a gym at home makes it easier to work out. Instead of having to pack up and travel to the gym, you simply have to walk downstairs. Plus, you don’t have to exercise only when the gym is open. You can hop on your home treadmill whenever you want.

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One thing you can’t put an actual value on is time. Going to a gym requires time — time to drive back and forth, time to change clothes and shower, time to wait for your turn on equipment, and more. Let’s consider for a moment that you’re a conservative gym-goer and live 10 minutes away from your local gym. If you consistently work out three days a week, that equates to a travel time of 60 minutes per week, which then translates over to 3,120 minutes — or 52 hours — in a calendar year! That’s a sobering tally when you think about the amount of time someone spends on just traveling to and from a gym.

For fitness junkies who work out five days a week, the total amount of time you’re looking at with travel is a little over 86 hours in a year. Just think for a moment about how you’d be able to use that time if it were given back to you. Is the convenience of exercising at home worth the added expense of smart home fitness equipment?

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Kelly Hodgkins
Kelly's been writing online for ten years, working at Gizmodo, TUAW, and BGR among others. Living near the White Mountains of…
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