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Magnetic resistance, 3D Camera Sensors, Reflective Tracking. Is it new? Is it good? Is it for you? Let’s look at what the Mirror, Vault, Tempo, Tonal and Fusion CST has to offer.


By John Destacamento, December 30th, 2020


ABOUT THE WRITER

I shall begin by including my credentials so readers will hopefully acknowledge my intentions are to be transparent without underlying motives. My fitness experience has been derived from 29 years as a fitness professional. Over 300 clients have used my coaching services which includes Physique and Bikini competitors. I myself am a competitive physique, weightlifter and powerlifter with significant achievements which includes setting strength records. I have previously owned a fitness studio for a period of 9 years. Most of all, I’m an avid technologist, a software developer pro-actively enthusiastic to anything relevant to fitness. At this point of my career, I have accumulated a significant amount of knowledge specifically on strength development. The virtual fitness revolution is here and while many personal trainers see this as a threat to their business, I rather embrace technology advances. My plan is to write sincere articles as a consultant to benefit consumers thus avoiding instigating controversy among products.


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ABOUT THE HOME WORKOUT EQUIPMENT SERIES

This is an ongoing series to discuss moderate to high-end home workout equipment. With so many options today, I could understand why many consumers are confused. I am frequently asked the question, “What to buy” so writing articles in a series will be more efficient. My first suggestion for consumers is to avoid being gullible to clever marketing ads and tactics. While their ads can be very appealing, they usually won’t address some of the key important areas when choosing new fitness equipment. Within this series, I shall provide suggestions on what important features to look for and to share my analogy on whether a fitness product leans toward gimmicky rather than innovatively useful.

The Mirror, Vault, Tempo, Tonal, Fusion CST are all new innovative Fitness Coaching Units (FCU), but can they actually stack up to compete with real person-to-person personal coaching?

This first article within this series is to discuss the heavy players of virtual coaching within the price ranges of $1500 to $3000. You may have already seen their ads on the web or tv. These units usually feature a big monitor displaying workouts and the ability to interact with coaches. [honorable mention: CarbonTrainer]
stopwatch Images: Consumers Website

WHERE FACE TO FACE PERSONAL TRAINING ALWAYS WINS

Video: Graham Dracup

The biggest advantage of real person-to-person personal training versus all pre-recorded virtual software will always be creativity on the spot. Today let’s do “Push Up Rotation to Burpee to Push Up to Bear Crawls.” I doubt if this exercise complex has made it to anyone’s virtual software database as of yet, but heck, I just given it away! Whether modifying an existing movement or creating an advanced exercise on the spot, real personal training may always have this edge. A.I. fitness products may eventually have this ability, but I don’t see this anytime soon, read on as I explain why.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF?

WHAT IS YOUR FITNESS OBJECTIVE?

This is always the first and foremost question to ask yourself. Lose weight, tone muscle, gain strength or improve endurance are the most general answers. Setting goals and milestones within time frames should be considered as it may definitely assist with motivation.

  • If I buy a product, will it be used often enough to make it worth the cost?

  • Is there another way you can fulfill your fitness goal which is less expensive?

  • Does it ergonomically fit into your lifestyle?

  • Will the product lose mojo after a few weeks?

  • Will this equipment take up too much space?

ADDRESS THESE OTHER ALTERNATIVES

  • Workout at my own home with some equipment ($300 to $500 upfront)

  • Buy a Virtual Fitness Unit ($1500 to $3000 upfront, $39 to $50 per month for software subscription)

  • Workout at a community gym such as apartment complex. (included as common area in rent)

  • Join a gym, train myself ($20 to $80 mo)

  • Join a gym, take classes ($20 to $80 mo)

  • Join a group workout program gym ($75 to $250 mo)

  • Hire a private personal trainer in a private facility. ($400 to $650 mo)

  • Join a gym, hire a personal trainer, ($500 to $700 mo)

  • Build a gym at home ($2000 to $5000)

DON'T SHUN THE GYM FOREVER

During heavy Covid 19 restrictions, working out at home is practically the only feasible option. Setting up home equipment is very ideal to keep your general workouts in full stride. I had the opportunity to try out one of these FCU's but not long enough to provide a full user review. I won’t be able to judge these products based on workmanship and the ease of use in this article. But because I have been in the industry for so long, I can provide you my perspective based on information provided from their website, consumer reviews and other sources of media. While these units seem innovative, consider all the other options before you dive in. Keep in mind when Covid 19 restrictions apparently lift and gyms continue to re-open, don’t completely shun-out the gym options. As many people are getting comfortable working at home, exercising at home may bring some limitations and disadvantages.
stopwatch Photo: Fotolio stock

HOME FITNESS COACHING UNITS


Mirror

Price: $1495
Monthly: $39

Key Features: Reflective Mirror, Virtual Coaching/Personal Training, compact, weekly live classes, coach platform software. $250 installation fee. website

Tempo

Price: $1995
Monthly: $39

Key Features: 3D sensors, Analytics and fitness tracking, Heart Rate Monitor, free weights and accessories included, coach platform software and classes. website

Vault by NordicTrack

Price: $1999-2999
Monthly: $39

Key Features: Reflective Training, 360 rotation display, iFit coach platform software, Optional variety of exercise equipment. Bluetooth and premium sound quality.website

Tonal

Price: $2995
Monthly: $49

Key Features: Magnetic resistance, Adjustable cable arms, up to 200 pounds of resistance. Compact Design, coach platform software. website

Fusion CST by NordicTrack

Price: $1899-$3299
Monthly: $39

Key Features: Magnetic resistance up to 200 pounds, Multiple cable pulleys, Heart Rate Monitor, iFit coach platform software. Expandable equipment. website

THEIR SHORTCOMINGS

CAMERA SENSORS VS NAKED EYE

Virtual Coaching is not really new technology nor are 3D camera sensors in fitness. Microsoft introduced XBox Kinect in 2009 which had very similar 3D sensing technology. Yes it’s been over a decade but how much has the technology improved since then?

When comparing all of these units versus a real in-gym personal trainer, just about all current Virtual Fitness Units will lack visual aspects. Every certified personal trainer is taught to walk around their client to observe angles of each movement. As some of these units do have 3D camera sensors with A.I. technology, a single front-facing camera is no match for the human eye when it comes to observing an exercise.

Some of the most commonalities in bad form are over-rotating limbs, elevating trapezius, knees protruding, tight hips and pelvic tilts as each is not easy to detect with cameras.

When I coach clients through video calling, I am continuously asking them to turn their body side-ways, move the camera up and down so I can visually see specific angles. This is helpful, but it still doesn’t compare to live in-gym personal training. I’ve noticed that many people that have never had a personal trainer, usually develop bad habits in form. Also, I find attempting to correct these habits takes actually longer to fix rather than training a first time client with no fitness experience at all. Living in Silicon Valley and knowing many bright minds and engineers, I wouldn’t be surprised if tech companies are already attempting to address this issue by adding wearable sensors or by enhancing Computer Vision machine learning.

MOTIVATION AND ACCOUNTABILITY

One of the most important advantages on having a real personal trainer is accountability. Pre-recorded coaches and virtual machines usually lack to express emotions and don't have the mentality to judge clients. If they could, would clients actually care on hurting an A.I.'s feeling? When you have an appointment at the gym with a real personal trainer, that’s a different story. Regarding cancellations, coaches may not mind a few but ongoing inconsistencies and excuses can often lead to judgementalism. Real humans are much better to motivate others as well. I still cannot imagine people being motivated by a machine or robot.

RUNNING OUT OF WEIGHT LOAD FOR SPECIFIC EXERCISES

First, don’t be misconstrued by just moving your body weight alone without increases on resistance can make you significantly stronger. Yes, you may gain some strength but there are limitations. Also you definitely can lose weight with just body weight exercises, but you can also lose weight without exercising. Challenging resistance training is what builds muscle, dense muscle not necessarily large muscles. The more muscle fibers you have leads to a faster metabolism which is the longer fix for maintaining weight loss. Repeating only your body weight as a load, strength gains will eventually be limited by muscle adaptation. So in terms of increasing metabolism, strength and faster fat loss, it is imperative to have a progressive load intensity.

Changing tempos, time under tension and or adding more repetitions are some techniques to improve a progressive load. But this procedure usually produces different results such as better endurance and not a primary focus of strength improvement. For more detailed information please read one of my other articles Lifting Heavy to Lose Fat.
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Having approximately 80 pounds total available could be enough to develop upper body strength in females but yet very limited for leg exercises. Both male and females need heavier loads to benefit from squats and deadlifts. Sure, you can do split squats and weighted lunges but let’s not forget that squats and deadlifts are better glute and leg builders. While there are two cable units mentioned in this article which both provide up to 300 pounds, leg exercises don't go to well with cables versus free weights.
stopwatch Photo: Monica Rea and John Destacamento.
Coach physical interaction remains unique to personal coaching.

LACK OF CUSTOMIZING AND REAL-TIME INTELLIGENCE

All these virtual coaching features pre-recorded interaction from a knowledge base. Although some software integrates a machine learning process, there are too many client attributes which fall through the cracks. Example:

User Question: "That last workout aggravated my lower back."

Virtual Coach: "I'm sorry I don't understand can you rephrase that?" OR "Here are the search results for "aggravated my lower back"

As a coach my response would be: "Let's see which previous exercise may have aggravated your back, and we'll make note of it."

MY PRODUCT ANALYSIS

Based on information provided, research and consumer reviews

Mirror - The choice for cardio focused enthusiast and space saver.

The Mirror doesn't seem to provide camera sensing yet. You are to keep up with the on-screen coach but you can probably easily cheat. On-demand classes is a feature, but it's a standard feature with all the rest of the competition. When not in use, you get a mirror but that is rather gimmicky. It's a nice compact design but what if you just buy a large vertical computer monitor or TV and connecting to other online software? IDEAL: Beginner to novice exercisers that are motivated by aerobic cardio type of routines. People that can still get resistance training elsewhere but need a cardio resource at home.

Tempo – The Choice for Software

Overviewing Tempo’s software does look pleasing as it goes into details of analytics and scheduling. Tempo describes their sensor as 3D technology and once again I must ask, how accurate is it? Why did Microsoft discontinue their XBox 3D sensing Kinect accessory? I have one of these units and Kinect Fitness was fun while it lasted, now the unit sits in back of my storage unit. I have yet tested iFits software but so far for what I’ve read, it’s not going to stack up to Tempo’s robust interface and camera sensing. IDEAL: a complementary weight training unit. People that prefer free weights.

Vault – Best choice for variety equipment

Equipment wise, Vault offers a more dynamic equipment package in the base $2000 version. While Tempo provides barbells, Vault provides Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Resistance bands, and yoga accessories. I’m a competitive weightlifter and powerlifter so I do love barbells however when I perform accessory exercises and train for maintenance, I like to have more variety. The reflective training is rather gimmicky as I don't see it much different than the Mirror Unit. IDEAL: Users that likes a variety of free weights and a giant touch screen.
Tempo and Vault
While Tempo includes free weights in the standard package. Vault provides them as an option. Too bad the cost of free weights has dramatically increased due to the Pandemic. With that said, buying these units including the weights could be an attractive deal.

Tonal – The choice for compact strength development

While Tonal has yet to introduce their sensor technology, it appears it may come soon. Tonal’s magnetic resistance technology gains an edge when comparing to other FCU's. The adjustable eccentric resistance could be the most valuable feature but it’s still not new technology. It’s a spin-off of old school Life Circuit Machines which filled the floor of 24 Hour Nautilus (Fitness) back in the early 90’s. Just a heads up, the Life Circuit product line failed because of ongoing maintenance cost. Yet, I think it’s great that this feature has been revamped from the dead. Tonal also provides some metrics in their software such as a fitness score. IDEAL: User that wants up to 300 pounds in a cable unit that is also compact.

Fusion CST – The choice for overall strength development

My perspective as a fitness professional. The Fusion CST unit is the best value if you have the space for a slightly bulky unit. Like Tonal, it too features magnetic resistance technology. At this time, I would choose to have more weight training substance than software but software may improve in time. The Fusion stands out for offering resistance from all directions and while their display screens are tiny compared to the other competitors, keep in mind you can always add your own screen and connect to the internet. As far as video instructional learning is involved, that too is a temporary feature that consumers will actually use. IDEAL: User that wants a dynamic machine for more types of movements. Some use of Virtual Coaching.

CONCLUSION

Honorable mention Jan-4: CarbonTrainer should be included in this article but I haven't gathered enough information about the unit upon publishing this article. Integrating virtual coaching and resistance together in one unit is convenient and a space saver. But there are many substitutions and alternatives to consider. These products have put a lot of focus on establishing an ecosystem with subscription to software, that’s where the long-term profit will be made. Having an exercise library is a saturated market so fitness programs don't hold merit for exclusiveness. With that said, other software can be accessed by installing a giant screen or tablet via connected to internet. You can still video call a live personal trainer as well. This way you have the flexibility to choose any fitness software program available on the internet and still have the option to utilize real live personal training.

Magnetic resistance hardware is unique but it's too early to tell what repairs and maintenance costs may arise after extensive use. Standalone resistance training machines are said to be more reliable and maintenance free. Having body tracking sensors is a nice feature but I don’t see it a long-term thing. Once people have learned or practiced proper form a few times, it’s not like they will be performing improper form all the time. This is where there could be diminishing value for the body movement tracking technology.

WRAP UP

In this first part of this ongoing series, I’ve discussed that consumers should define their fitness objectives and look to many other options before purchasing a Home Fitness Coaching Unit. We then dug a little deeper and looked at how these FCU’s may compare versus personal training. I am deeply enthusiastic on fitness technology but what are the important features should you look for?

If you want a more hands-on educational program and looking for quicker results, personal training still holds a lot of value.

If you seek convenience and have the budget, one of these Virtual Home Fitness Units may be useful to save you time and money. But in the long haul it could end up as an expensive depreciated piece of furniture. Sustaining use may rely on how well gamification is in the software programs. If you do decide to purchase one, please write a review, I'd be interested on reading it!


In the near future I am hoping to physically use and test these products so I can provide a complete consumer review. I intend to cover more related topics including a buying guide on how to build your own home gym according to your goals and space setting.
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Jeffren says:
Thanks for all the information. I still like using my rubber bands and db`s.


References

Mirror
https://www.mirror.co/

Tempo
https://tempo.fit/

NordicTrack Vault
https://www.nordictrack.com/vault

Tonal
https://www.tonal.com/

NordicTrack Fusion CST
https://www.nordictrack.com/strength/fusion-cst