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The unfortunate part about connected fitness equipment for the home

At-home fitness is booming as people look for ways to work out at home instead of the gym. Connected fitness equipment offers a way to replicate the gym experience by providing access to live online classes and training programs led by professional trainers. This smart home gym equipment is great as long as you continue paying the monthly subscription and maintain a robust internet connection. Once you stop paying the monthly fee or go offline, however, your smart gym suddenly becomes dumb. In some cases, you can’t even use it anymore.

When a person is shopping for new connected fitness equipment, they often are wowed by the training software and the features that come with it. Customers are lured in by the slick interface and enthusiastic trainers that promise to whip them into shape.  People visualize themselves exercising along with an online class or a professional trainer. It’s a powerful motivator. So powerful, many people get caught up in the hype and spend thousands on a piece of connected fitness gear without considering some of the drawbacks.

Subscriptions are a must

When users first start working out with their new equipment, the extra cost of a subscription is not a big deal. They spent a couple thousand — what’s a few dollars more each month. Owners also are excited to get started and will do whatever it takes to exercise and improve their fitness. They often push off that monthly charge to a credit card and forget about it.

iFit app showing running workout.

As interest wanes or a financial situation changes, this added monthly cost could become a significant burden. Owners may not be able to afford $40 per month for each piece of connected gear, and they subsequently are forced to cancel their subscription, which means their expensive equipment no longer works. If they really want to keep working out at home, there are actually several free services out there they can try, but don’t expect to find any that integrate with your smart workout gear.

No internet, no workouts

Another overlooked factor is the internet connection. A piece of connected fitness equipment needs a robust internet connection to connect to online classes or stream prerecorded video training sessions. Owners may also move from a city with a blazing-fast connection to a rural area where an internet connection is not guaranteed.

Interaction with the Mirror smart fitness mirror.
John Velasco / Digital Trends

If there is a connection, it may be so slow that owners have to choose between exercising or watching Netflix. Without a reliable internet connection, a treadmill or rower may not be able to stream a video workout. If it does stream, the workout may buffer every few minutes. This frustration may cause an owner to give up on their gear and eventually cancel their subscription.

When a smart gym becomes dumb

Owners who are forced to drop their subscriptions or take their gear offline face a sobering reality. Their expensive piece of fitness equipment is now useless. The treadmill, bike, or smart mirror is nothing more than a fancy room ornament.

Without the training software, the Mirror becomes a wall mirror like one you can buy at Walmart. That Peloton bike that once was a gateway to a virtual gym filled with other riders is now a stationary bike. Yes, they can move the pedals, but who wants to ride when there’s no one to encourage or guide you to increase the difficulty or intensity. Owners might as well buy an actual bike and use the Peloton as a high-priced drying rack.

What you can do

As a consumer, you can shop wisely when purchasing gear for your smart gym. Spend time researching home gym equipment and look for those products that don’t require a subscription or internet connection. If they do have a subscription, make sure the gear still functions without a subscription or internet connection.

Runner using a NordicTrack treadmill.

For example, NordicTrack’s line of iFit treadmills do not require you to use the built-in iFit training software. You can still use the manual treadmill controls to change the speed and incline. You also can track your distance and pace. The manual interface is not as engaging as the iFit training software, but it still is usable. In the end, your $2,000 treadmill may be overpriced for a manual model, but at least you can still use it.

What manufacturers can do

Unfortunately, many manufacturers of connected fitness gear take this all-or-nothing approach. Pay a subscription and connect to the internet or else. It can be a bitter pill to swallow when owners have to pay a hefty monthly fee to use the gear that cost them thousands of dollars to purchase in the first place. The obvious solution is to allow the equipment to work in a manual mode without a subscription or internet connection. A bike or rower could offer resistance settings that the user could change manually.

Manufacturers can ease this sting by offering another type of compromise. They could offer a small portion of their fitness library for free. Users who complete a few basic training plans may be enticed to pay for a subscription to access intermediate content. Equipment makers could also let users download this content so they can access it regardless of where and when they use it.

Manufacturers could let users access three free online classes per week, for example. Three classes are just enough to keep an owner active, but few enough that they may be willing to pay for more. Likewise, a manufacturer could release one new activity each week for free. This steady supply keeps users engaged, so they are less likely to give up on the equipment and sell it on Craigslist.

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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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