13 things that kept us moving while stuck at home all year
Working out wasn't always easy in 2020, but these things helped.
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In January of 2020, I published an article that, in hindsight, was not terribly prescient. Its headline: “We tried ClassPass—is this your fitness solution for 2020?”
No disrespect to ClassPass. I loved using this workout subscription service that was created to allow users drop-in access to popular boutique in-person exercise classes like Pure Barre and Barry’s Bootcamp, at a cost savings over what those pricey sessions usually cost. (ClassPass understandably pivoted to mostly virtual classes throughout 2020.) But I think most people would agree with me when I say the answer to that question turned out to be “well, not exactly.”
In fact, there was no single fitness solution—if such a thing is ever possible—for most of us during 2020. It was a year in which the coronavirus pandemic shut down gyms, sent workout classes and personal training sessions to Zoom, and left most to rely on the resources they had in the confines of their own homes.
Between all our sourdough baking and iced coffee frothing, we here at Reviewed managed to get our sweat on. Sometimes we took our workouts outdoors. But usually we exercised inside our homes, using whatever gym equipment we’d been lucky enough to snag before lockdown to the light of a glowing screen, whether it was from a workout app, YouTube video, or Peloton bike. And you know what? It didn’t end up being too bad, at least workout-wise.
Here’s how the Reviewed staff stayed active—or, at least, tried to—over the past year.
1. For the next best thing to a personal trainer: Workout apps
When we couldn’t get to the gym, we took to our phones. (And tablets, and laptops, and smart TVs, and any usable screens we could find.) We tested a bunch of workout apps—16, to be exact—with a wide range of focuses and promises.
Our favorite is Nike Training Club—in large part because all the other apps charge a monthly or annual fee, but (inspired by the pandemic), this one is free. Nike Training Club has a wide range of structured fitness programs and one-off workouts including HIIT, yoga, strength training, and cardio taught by Nike’s “Master Trainers” (all of whom lead classes while clad in Nike apparel, naturally). The workouts are relatively easy to do in small spaces and with limited equipment, and offer a nice selection of ability levels, from total beginner to advanced.
Other standouts include Aaptiv (mainly audio-based workouts that make it easy to exercise without staring at your phone), Obé (cardio dance and Pilates-inspired workouts with a fun pastel color palette), Centr (an app with meal plans and workouts from actor Chris Hemsworth and his team), Apple Fitness+ (which seamlessly connects fitness programming to Apple Watches and other Apple devices), and Peloton (yes, you can use it even if you don’t own a bike or tread, though you might like it better if you have a piece of workout equipment). We also loved Joyn, an app that aims to make fitness inclusive to all people, in particular people with disabilities, those who are overweight, deconditioned, or older, and don’t always see themselves represented on fitness platforms.
2. For bringing the cycling studio home: Peloton (and other exercise bikes)
Sure, “Peloton” and “exercise bike” were probably considered interchangeable by a lot of people even before March 2020. But last year solidified the brand’s dominance in the at-home fitness sphere. “I decided to take the plunge in early May, when it became obvious that gyms would not be opening for a while,” says Megan McCarthy, Reviewed’s executive editor of growth. “The bike arrived in late June, and it was instantly clear that it was the right decision. Turns out that regular boosts of endorphins make the rest of your life easier to handle. Who knew?"
We also got a chance to test every piece of existing Peloton hardware in an official capacity, including the original Peloton bike and the new Bike+. The Bike+ won the top spot in our test of exercise bikes, and the original bike came in second place. Both offer stellar fitness programming and easy-to-use machinery—the keys to great motivation for an at-home workout.
Looking to spend a little (or a lot) less? We also tested some great alternatives. For a connected bike that focuses less on community competition, your best bet is the Myx bike, which equips you with a heart rate monitor to hit certain intensity goals during rides and off-bike classes. If you like the Peloton experience but not its hefty price tag, we also like the Schwinn IC4—a Bluetooth enabled bike that allows you to connect with any app you like, including Peloton’s standalone app.
3. For a sturdy foundation: Exercise mats
If you’re exercising at home, you’ll probably need to get down on the floor at some point. And for comfort, your back and/or knees will thank you for investing in a yoga mat (even if the activity you’re doing isn’t technically yoga). This year, we couldn’t get enough of Lululemon’s The Reversible 5mm yoga mat. Its uniquely grippy surface is ideal for staying secure during down dogs and cat-cows, but it’s also durable enough to withstand rigorous HIIT workouts. At about $80, it isn't the cheapest option out there, but owners of the mat say it stays in great shape for years and years.
Another good (and also cheaper) option for some workouts is the Amazon Basics Extra Thick exercise mat. It’s half an inch thick and made of foamy material that makes it great for even more cushion when doing Pilates, stretches like lunges, and ab exercises that require lying down.
- Get the Reversible 5mm Yoga Mat from Lululemon starting at $78
- Get the Amazon Basics Extra Thick Exercise Mat from Amazon for $21.49
4. For running without going anywhere: Treadmills
The treadmill has long been a stalwart of at-home fitness. So it should come as no surprise that treadmill sales saw a huge spike over the past year—they grew by 96% in 2020 over 2019, according to a rep from market research group NPD. We tested the best treadmills from brands including Peloton, NordicTrack, Sunny, and Echelon. Our top pick, the NordicTrack Commercial 1750, has the full package: a robust speed range from 0.5 miles per hour (mph) to 12 mph (that’s a 5-minute mile pace); a generous incline/decline range of -3% to 15%; and a roomy 22-inch wide, 68-inch long belt. It also has a 10-inch screen that streams iFit workout classes (with subscription) from instructors in locations all over the globe, like Thailand, Greece, and Morocco—a welcome change of (virtual) scenery during a year in which most of us haven’t seen much more than our own homes.
For a less expensive option, we love the Sole F63, which has comparable physical specs to the NordicTrack, just without the connected screen and classes. And, if you’re in the Peloton family, the upcoming $2,495 Peloton Tread—a slightly pared-down, slightly more affordable version of its spaceship-esque, $4,295 Tread+—earned our “Best Upgrade” pick and will thrill anyone who can't get enough of Peloton’s studio-style classes.
- Get the NordicTrack Commercial 1750 for $1,799
- Get the Sole F63 for $999
- Shop Peloton Treads starting at $2,495
5. For making gains: Dumbbells
In 2020, two previously innocuous things quickly became must-have items: Toilet paper ... and dumbbells.
Having access to at least one set of weights felt a little like being part of an exclusive at-home fitness club that everyone wanted to be a part of: the people who have dumbbells. (As opposed to, say, the people who don’t—for my part, I will smugly say that I’ve never felt more grateful for the pair of five-pound dumbbells I picked up on a whim at Target in 2016 than I was this year). If you didn’t have a set before lockdown began, or thought to buy a pair in the first week or two, getting them was tough—a shortage started with the onset of spring and was still running rampant by the summer months.
Things are no longer as dire as they once were—at the very least, the price gouging, which caused some single dumbbells to go for as much as $30 or $40 a pop, seems to have subsided. Maybe this year will be even better?
6. For strength training without actual weights: Bands
Resistance bands were easier to find than dumbbells—not to mention lighter and easier to ship—so we used a lot of them this year. The bands come in many forms, like the cheaper, latex-based ones, more durable cloth-and-elastic bands (also known as booty bands), and full-on home gyms composed of straps called suspension trainers.
Reviewed managing editor Meghan Kavanaugh loves her TRX trainer, the original suspension trainer, which hooks into a wall or above a door and uses your body weight and gravity to train your muscles. It’s portable, easy to install, and fun to use, all of which makes it something she looks forward to using regularly. “Within a few minutes, I was set up and sweating away to an online workout,” she wrote in her review. “Simple moves like lunges and planks immediately felt more targeted than when I did them without a TRX, so it was easy to get hooked right off the bat.”
7. For outdoor walking and running: The new essentials
When the CDC confirmed it was OK to venture outside your home for socially distanced (or solo) recreation, many folks couldn't wait to go on walks or runs. Sweat-wicking clothes are vital for any movement-based pursuit. And for those who became first-time runners, it was clear that good gear was needed.
"The most important thing for new runners is to find shoes that support your feet and feel comfortable, with no hot spots," says Reviewed managing editor Amy Roberts, who is also a running coach. She swears by her Altra Escalantes, which have a more "barefoot" feel, but recommends new runners consider trying Brooks Ghost or Nike Air Zoom Pegasus, which are wildly popular traditional running shoes that offer good cushioning and bounciness. "I had a physical therapist once recommend to me that running shoes are a better choice for folks who exclusively plan to walk, because they're more durable than 'walking' shoes," she adds.
A running watch can help you track your pace with real-time data, and get stats like cadence, ascent and descent, and heart rate zones, all without having to bring your phone. Amy doesn't pound the pavement without the Garmin Forerunner 245, our top pick, which is easy to use and see in bright sunlight and has a great battery life.
For those in crowded areas and/or in places with mask mandates a good face mask was also a must. After rigorous testing, we found that Athleta’s non-medical face masks are lightweight and airy enough to wear while walking or running, but still provide appropriate protection with triple layers of material.
- Shop Nike Air Zoom Pegasus Shoes starting at $84.97
- Shop men’s and women’s Brooks Ghost running shoes starting at $130
- Get the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music from Amazon for $292.33
- Get the Everyday Non-Medical Mask 5-Pack from Athleta for $30
8. For adding a little more movement to the day: Fitness trackers
One of the best things about working from home is getting to sit on your couch all day. Unfortunately, that's also one of the worst things about working from home—once you're mired in those comfy cushions, it's tough to extricate yourself. Something that helped us is a Fitbit that buzzes each hour to remind you to get up and move around. Commerce editor Courtney Campbell loves using her Fitbit Charge, which helps her stay active and productive throughout her long work-from-home days.
"My Fitbit Charge was my BFF during the early days of the pandemic, thanks to its steps goals and hourly movement reminders that actually got me to walk," she says. "I think it drove my family crazy when I walked back and forth down the hallway, but it kept me sane when I was missing my longer walking commutes to the office."
The Fitbit Charge 4 is our reigning top Fitbit pick. It has a sleek look, is easy to use, and automatically tracks all kinds of movement to give you "credit" for your workouts.
9. For “rowing” on the “water:” Hydrow
Unless you live by the water, you probably didn’t get a chance to do much outdoor rowing in the last year. But Kate McCarthy, Reviewed’s senior social media manager, did—kind of—when she tried Hydrow, a connected rowing machine. It, er, streams rowing classes on its 22-inch screen filmed in scenic watery locations across the U.S., from Miami Beach to Boston’s Charles River (which, ironically, is only a couple of miles from her home). Rowing is also one of the best ways to activate most of the muscles in your body—86% of them, according to the number Hydrow touts—so hitting the erg is a great way to get a full-body workout.
“One of the biggest things I missed during quarantine was going to boutique fitness classes, specifically those with specialty equipment like rowing machines,” she says. “The Hydrow scratched that itch. With different class length options and beautiful, virtual locations the Hydrow made me feel like I was traveling and getting much-needed exercise, not just sweating alone in my living room.”
10. For sweating while you game: Nintendo Ring Fit
Two Reviewed staffers—editor Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo and writer Nishka Dhawan—called out the Nintendo Ring Fit as their lockdown fitness obsession.
The system, which must be used with a Nintendo Switch, comes with two main pieces of gear: A Ring-Con, which looks and functions a lot like a Pilates wheel (other than the slot at the top where you insert the Switch controller, or JoyCon, to track your movements) and a leg strap with a pocket for the JoyCon. You select the parts of the body you want to work and how long you want to exercise, and your Ring Fit sends you on an adventure that involves fighting a bodybuilding dragon in the game—and squeezing and pulling the ring and kicking your legs in real life. (It may remind some who came of age in the late aughts of Wii Fit.)
Nishka says the game aspect motivates her in ways other workouts don’t. “I tried tons of different workouts online including Chloe Ting and Apple Fitness+, and none of them worked or kept me motivated,” she says. “I think because you're fighting 'monsters' it activates your flight or fight sense. So even if I'm losing my breath, I keep thinking 'one last push.'”
11. For a Pilates reformer without the bulk: Flobody Gym
Studio Pilates classes took the same hit (of course) as anything else we used to do in person prior to March 2020. Those who are still missing their core-focused workouts will appreciate the Flobody gym, an at-home contraption that combines a yoga mat with two hand or foot straps and five resistance bands with weight levels from five to 15 pounds. It’s a lot like a Pilates reformer, but smaller and without the moving carriage. Through FloBody’s workout portal you get access to on-demand Pilates, yoga, barre, and cardio classes, in which creator Janie Kokakis and other instructors lead you through workouts developed for the FloBody. Access to unlimited classes is $14.95 a month or $125.88 a year with a 7-day trial to test it out.
Heather Muse, Reviewed’s audience development director, swears by it. “I've lost 20 pounds since I got one back in August,” she says. “It's the only fitness program I've been following. The videos from the founder are hilarious because she's so goofy yet inspiring.”
12. For getting some air: Rebounders (a.k.a. mini trampolines)
As most kids know, jumping around is a great way to release excess energy—but it’s not as fun when you’re on a flat surface as opposed to, say, a bounce house. Parenting editor Anna Lane has the solution in the form of her rebounder, a small exercise device that looks like a mini trampoline but with a stronger surface and springs, making it more suitable for adult exercise (but, yes, it’s still irresistible to her kids, who also hop on it every day). She owns the JumpSport 350, which has a solid steel frame, cords that allow you to switch up the tension, and comes with a DVD with four workout videos.
“I use it in combination with streaming classes from Frmation and it’s been such a great way to stay fit and active while stuck at home,” she says. “It’s an incredible cardio workout in a short amount of time. Just doing the choreographed jump sequences for three or four songs spikes my heart rate and leaves me sweating. Plus, the rebounder is easy to move from indoors to outdoors so I can change up my scenery.”
13. For making it all worth it: Massage guns
Working out is great. But you know what’s extra great? Recovery. And the surest way to make your post-workout routine even more special is with a massage gun. We tried out a bunch of ‘em, from brands like Theragun, Hyperice, and ExoGun. Eventually, we landed on the Theragun Elite, which has an easy-to-hold ergonomic handle and a connected app that autoplays preprogrammed massage sequences that take out the guesswork. For a less expensive option, we also like the Vybe Pro, which has a wide variety of speeds and settings and an easy-use switch that makes it simple to change speeds with one hand.
“During quarantine, when I was lacking motivation for working out, there was one thing that always made me start moving—the thought of a post-workout massage,” says Kate McCarthy, who tested the guns. “Massage guns, specifically the Theragun, soothed my tired muscles after a long run, but they also relieved the daily stress of living in a pandemic and hunching over my laptop at my kitchen table. No matter what my workout was (or lack thereof), a massage gun let me treat myself and my muscles.”
And as Kate points out, you don't have to work out at all to enjoy the benefits of a massage gun. If you’re feeling a little stiff, a little stressed, or just want that sweet massaging sensation of myofascial release, your massage gun can come in handy then, too. You’ve been stuck at home for a year—you deserve it.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.