The whole “new year, new you” maxim is undoubtedly cliché. But the truth is that there’s never a bad time to improve your health. So if starting a new orbit around the sun lights a fire under your butt to get moving, run with it (literally). Thanks to all the smart home gym equipment, workout apps and streaming services, fitness trackers, and other consumer health technologies available today, you don’t even need to go to the gym to get lean and make gains.
For anyone less than comfortable with the idea of breathing heavily in a confined public space or wearing a mask while working out, this technology is a true blessing. And if you’re new to the world of fitness or just getting back into it after a period of inactivity, rest assured that many of the latest technologies offer beginner-friendly workouts, guidance for newbies, and virtual personal trainers.
With so many smart health and fitness products to choose from, it can be tough to narrow them down, and that’s where we come in. At PCMag, our mission is to help you make the most informed buying decisions, which is why we exhaustively test every product we review and analyze its strengths, weaknesses, and value compared with the competition.
As a yoga teacher and PCMag’s fitness expert, I get to test and review all the latest smart health technologies—and some of the recent innovations I’ve seen are truly impressive. But not every product is a winner, and not every good product is the right fit for everyone.
For this story, we’re gathering some of the best health and fitness products and software you can use right now, and we’re taking a look at some of the more promising technologies on the horizon. If a product catches your eye, be sure to check out its full review on PCMag.com.
Smart Home Gym Equipment
Although COVID-19 has shut down gyms across the world, it’s caused an uptick in the adoption of smart home gym equipment. Just look at the delivery lead times on the new Peloton Bike+: 10 weeks or longer at the time of this writing. A smart stationary bike that starts at $2,495 might have seemed like a frivolous purchase a year ago, but it’s a lot more appealing now that many of us can’t or don’t want to go to the gym.
But what makes fitness equipment smart, and why pay extra for it? At the most basic level, smart home gym equipment connects to the internet. Most machines have a screen to stream workouts, but some work with a companion app to let you view classes on your phone or TV.
Smart fitness devices allow for a whole other level of interactivity than their more affordable, non-connected counterparts. Most offer large libraries of guided classes with knowledgeable instructors and/or customized workouts and programs based on your goals and current fitness level. Many machines also feature live classes with competitive leaderboards, giving you an extra jolt of motivation to run, row, or cycle your way to victory. This also fosters a sense of community, making it feel like you’re not working out alone.
I was skeptical about the Bike+, but after testing it, I see why Peloton has a cult-like following of millions. The instructors are excellent—their words of encouragement are often so inspiring that I’m moved to tears. The classes are well-planned and produced, and there’s plenty of variety for everyone. The Bike+ is an excellent investment that builds on its predecessor with a new Auto Follow feature for automatic resistance adjustments, an upgraded sound system for a more immersive listening experience, a rotating touch screen for a better viewing angle when doing workouts off the bike, and Apple GymKit integration for one-tap Apple Watch pairing.
If a Peloton is beyond your budget, we highly recommend the MYX Fitness bike, which doesn’t feature live classes or leaderboards, but starts at $1,199 and keeps you engaged with a focus on personalized heart rate zone training.
If you’re not into cycling, or find it to be a literal pain in the butt (a problem newbies encounter with any stationary bike; padded shorts help), there are plenty of other options. Our favorites for cardio include the NordicTrack Commercial 2950 ($2,999), one of the most sophisticated treadmills on the market, with the ability to adjust your incline and speed automatically; FightCamp ($1,995 for the Personal package), a connected home boxing gym that tracks your punches in real time and nudges you to reach a specific goal; and the NordicTrack RW900 rowing machine ($1,699), which stands out for its library of outdoor, trainer-led workouts filmed on waterways around the world.
If you’re looking to make gains, we suggest the Tempo Studio ($1,995) and Tonal ($2,995), two smart strength-training machines. They both feature large touch screens on which you can browse and play workouts led by experienced instructors who walk you through each move. It’s like having a full gym’s worth of strength training equipment—and a virtual personal trainer—in your home. Both keep track of how much weight you should be lifting, count your reps, and offer feedback about your form. They also offer plenty of classes, including beginner-friendly workouts and programs.
Finally, if you’re more into bodyweight exercises such as yoga and pilates, check out the Mirror ($1,495) and the Echelon Reflect ($1,639.98 for the 50-inch model). Both are worth considering especially if you’re short on space, as they can be mounted to a wall and look like regular mirrors when not in use. During a class, you can see the instructor as well as your own reflection in the mirror, which makes it easy to check your form.
When budgeting for a smart fitness machine, make sure to figure in the cost of a membership fee. They all require a subscription, typically priced from $29 to $39 per month, to access on-demand and live streaming classes.
For more, see our picks for The Best Smart Home Gym Equipment.
If you can afford it, the Peloton Bike brings a high-tech spin class right to your home with sleek hardware, streaming live classes, and integration with your favorite fitness apps.
With a rotating screen and a new Auto Follow feature for automatic resistance adjustments, the Peloton Bike+ is a compelling upgrade over its predecessor, and the best smart indoor cycling bike you can buy.
It doesn’t have live classes and leaderboards, but MYX Fitness is an excellent and competitively priced Peloton Bike alternative that focuses on personalized heart rate zone training.
NordicTrack Commercial 2950 Treadmill
The NordicTrack Commercial 2950 is hefty in size and price, but it’s one of the most sophisticated treadmills on the market, with a vast iFit streaming workout library and the ability to automatically adjust your incline and speed.
FightCamp is a connected home boxing gym that offers hundreds of on-demand classes on your phone or tablet. Its unique punch-tracking technology keeps you motivated to get the most out of your workouts.
With its 22-inch HD touch screen and vast library of outdoor, studio, and Google Maps-based iFit workouts, the NordicTrack RW900 rowing machine is an excellent choice for beginner, intermediate, and advanced rowers alike.
With its sophisticated form-tracking and rep-counting software, challenging on-demand and live classes, and excellent trainers, the Tempo Studio is the best smart strength training machine we’ve tested.
The Tonal system isn’t cheap, but it’s like having a full gym’s worth of strength training equipment—and a virtual personal trainer—in your home.
The Mirror is an interactive fitness device that’s like having your own private gym. With thousands of classes to choose from, you can exercise in the comfort of your home without sacrificing a lot of space.
The Echelon Reflect is an attractive touch-screen workout mirror offering a wide range of live and on-demand classes for boxing, cardio, conditioning, meditation, pilates, strength, stretching, yoga, and Zumba.
Workout Apps and Streaming Services
Especially in light of COVID-19-related layoffs and economic slowdown, we know that most people don’t have a few thousand extra dollars to drop on a smart fitness machine. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable (or free!) apps and streaming services that can help you along, whether you’re a beginner just starting your fitness journey or a seasoned athlete looking to start a new training schedule or spice up your routine.
FitOn and Nike Training Club are two excellent resources when you’re on a tight budget. FitOn offers free on-demand workout videos with celebrity trainers including Julianne Hough and Jonathan Van Ness, and it supports heart rate monitors so you can compete on leaderboards with other participants. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nike removed the subscription fee for its Training Club app, which features more than 185 free workouts ranging from 5 to 60 minutes, including boxing, HIIT, strength, yoga, and more.
Two of our favorite paid options include OpenFit and Forte. For $14.99 a month, OpenFit gives you unlimited access to more than 200 live streaming fitness classes a week, plus hundreds of on-demand workouts and personalized nutrition plans. If you miss the energy of in-person classes, check out Forte, a web-based platform that lets you stream live, unedited workouts from studios around the country, including Powerumba in Miami, Centered City Yoga in Salt Lake City, and Exhale in New York City for $39 per month.
Obe is another fitness app making waves. We haven’t tested it yet, but it offers 22 live classes daily and more than 5,000 on-demand classes covering everything from barre, cardio boxing, and HIIT, to pilates, sculpt, and yoga for $27 per month.
With online fitness booming, the biggest name in tech is also getting in on the action. Apple’s new Fitness+ service brings a range of workouts led by world-class trainers, including Ironman champions and professional athletes, to the comfort and safety of your home. Fitness+ offers plenty of floor-based workouts such as core, dance, HIIT, strength, and yoga, which require just a set of dumbbells or no equipment at all. It also features cycling, rowing, and treadmill workouts.
Fitness+ is reasonably priced at $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, which is probably less than your gym or connected fitness machine membership. That said, it does require an Apple Watch Series 3 or later paired with a compatible iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.
Head over to The Best Workout Apps for more.
Fitness+ is a compelling at-home and on-the-go workout companion for Apple Watch users, featuring a variety of studio-style classes with excellent music and instruction you can stream on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.
Fitness trackers are good for more than monitoring your steps, sleep, and workouts: The best ones can motivate you to get moving and encourage you to meet your goals. These devices are more singularly focused than smartwatches, putting the emphasis on your health, but they often include some helpful lifestyle features, including mobile payments and streaming music controls. They also tend to have much longer battery life than smartwatches do.
Before I started using them, I was a skeptic; naturally active, I thought of fitness trackers as an unnecessary (and unsightly) investment. But after testing them, I’ve gained so much useful knowledge about myself and my body—information that has motivated me to make positive life changes.
Knowing my heart rate zones helps me work out more efficiently. Noticing that yoga, my preferred and primary form of exercise, doesn’t always get my heart rate up to my target zone has prodded me to add cardio sessions into my schedule a couple of times a week. If I see I’m short of my daily step goal, I’ll do another lap around the park when walking my dog, which benefits both of us. And learning that my sleep is negatively impacted by even a few alcoholic drinks has made it easier to pass on a nightcap.
I’m happy to have found several recent fitness trackers that balance function and form, with sleek, attractive designs that I actually want to wear. The Garmin Vivoactive 4 ($349.99), a feature-rich GPS fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid, is a favorite. Its stylish build frequently attracts compliments, and it offers motivating training plans with on-screen workout animations, as well as insights about breathing, sleep, and stress (not to mention handy smartwatch features like contactless payments, downloadable apps, and onboard music storage).
Garmin Vivoactive 4
A more affordable favorite is the Fitbit Charge 4 ($149.95), which has a simple, uncluttered interface and an excellent companion app that helps encourage you to get active and improve your sleep. It features a GPS so you can map your exercise route without a phone, Spotify support, and a motivating metric called Active Zone Minutes earned for each minute you spend in fat burn, cardio, or peak zones. It even tracks changes in your breathing as you sleep.
For outdoor athletes, the Coros Apex ($299.99) is a solid choice designed for sports such as biking, hiking, running, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, and triathlons. It tracks distance, elevation, heart rate, heart rate zone, pace, stride, time, training effects, and more, and its app offers beautiful graphs to help you interpret the data, along with actionable insights about how to improve your training.
For mountain training, we recommend the Polar Grit X multisport GPS watch ($429.95), which offers a wealth of outdoor-specific features including refueling advice for long training sessions and events, route planning, and uphill and downhill stats. It’s an excellent choice for anyone who likes to cycle, hike, mountain bike, participate in endurance events, run on trails, ski, or snowboard. The Polar Flow companion app tracks your progress, motivates you to get moving, and offers insights to help you train more efficiently.
For more, see The Best Fitness Trackers, The Best Fitness Trackers for Running, and The Best Waterproof Fitness Trackers.
Garmin’s excellent Vivoactive 4 fitness tracker offers insights about your breathing, sleep, and stress, motivating training plans, and smartwatch features like contactless payments, downloadable apps, and onboard music storage.
The Fitbit Charge 4 fitness tracker builds on its predecessors with the addition of standalone GPS, Spotify support, more sleep tools, and Fitbit Pay.
The Coros Apex is a multisport GPS watch with excellent battery life and a data-rich companion app that offers a wealth of insights about your performance biking, running, swimming, and more.
The Polar Grit X is a best-in-class multisport GPS watch with a rugged yet attractive design, good battery life, and a wealth of useful outdoor-specific features.
Fitness Tracking Apps
If data drives you, you’ll have plenty of options beyond fitness trackers and smartwatches to help you monitor your efforts and progress. Free and affordable fitness tracking apps can fill the gap when you don’t have the money or desire for a wearable, and they can offer additional insights when you do own one.
One of our favorites, especially for those just starting out, is MapMyFitness. It’s free and lets you record nearly any activity, from running and mountain biking to playing an instrument, walking the dog, and vacuuming.
If you’re a runner, cyclist, or swimmer, download Strava, a free app that lets you compete against yourself or others who have traversed the same segments as you. We also recommend Charity Miles, a free app that donates money to charity for every mile you walk, run, or bike.
Many fitness-tracking apps, including MapMyFitness and Strava, sync with wearables such as the Apple Watch and standalone heart rate monitors to offer even more information, including how much time you spent in each heart rate zone during your workout.
Heart Rate Monitors
While most wearables these days can read your heart rate, there are benefits to investing in a standalone heart rate monitor. For starters, most models support both ANT+ and Bluetooth, so they can stream your heart rate to multiple devices, including cycling computers, fitness apps, and smart home-gym equipment, in real time.
Chest straps are slightly more accurate than wrist-based wearables, because they’re worn closer to the heart and measure its activity directly. Optical heart rate sensors found in Fitbit devices, the Apple Watch, and other wrist-based activity trackers calculate your heart rate by shining light into your skin and measuring blood flow. So for the most precise heart rate readings, consider a dedicated chest strap such as the Polar H9 ($59.95), which syncs with a wide range of exercise equipment and apps.
Factors including cold weather, tattoos, and motion can potentially throw off optical heart rate sensors and lead to erroneous measurements, making them slightly less reliable. That said, optical heart rate trackers tend to be easier to use and more comfortable, and they allow for 24/7 monitoring. One of our favorite standalone optical heart rate trackers is the Polar OH1 ($79.95), which can be worn on your arm or clipped to goggles to monitor your ticker from your temple while swimming.
Check out The Best Heart Rate Monitors for more.
The entry-level Polar H9 is the best heart rate monitor for anyone with basic needs, with a wide range of compatibility and an excellent companion app.
The Polar OH1 is an optical armband heart rate monitor rather than a chest strap, and is one of the better devices in the category.
To monitor your progress toward your goals—to lose weight, put on muscle, or simply drink more water—we suggest ditching your old bathroom scale in favor of a smart one. These devices connect with your smartphone and do a lot more than just tell you how much you weigh.
One of our favorites is the affordable Wyze Scale, which is only $20 and tracks 12 metrics, including your basal metabolic rate (BMR), body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, body water percentage, heart rate, muscle mass, protein level, and weight up to 400 pounds.
If you’re trying to lose weight, knowing your BMR, or the amount of energy your body uses when at rest, can be very helpful. You can use this metric to help find your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or the total number of calories you burn each day while active and at rest. At the most basic level, consuming fewer calories than your TDEE puts you in a caloric deficit and results in fat loss.
Smart scales determine your body-fat percentage using a process called bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA), which involves sending a low-level electrical current through your body. The current moves quickly through tissues that contain a large amount of fluids and electrolytes, such as muscle and blood, and faces greater resistance—or impedance—moving through fat.
It’s important to note that the small electric current sent through your body during BIA measurement can affect pacemakers. If you use a pacemaker, you’ll want to look for a scale with a safe mode for those with internal medical devices. The Wyze Scale, for instance, offers a mode called Only Measure Weight, which disables the BIA measurement.
There’s no evidence that smart scales are dangerous for pregnant women, but if you’re expecting, your measurements (with the exception of weight) will likely be inaccurate. The same is true for children and adolescents under the age of 18 who aren’t yet fully developed.
If you have a bit more money to spend, the QardioBase 2 ($149.99) is the most feature-rich smart scale we’ve tested. It has a rechargeable battery and Wi-Fi support, so it can send your measurements to its companion app when your phone is outside Bluetooth range.
For more, head over to The Best Smart Bathroom Scales.
The $20 Wyze Scale offers unbeatable value, with the ability to measure and track 12 metrics, Wyze Band integration, and a safe mode for pregnant women and people who wear pacemakers.
The QardioBase 2 adds some welcome improvements to one of the smartest scales on the market.
Sleep Better at Night
We all know that it’s important to get a good night’s rest, but that’s often easier said than done. Fortunately, a plethora of available technologies can help you achieve that goal.
Gaining insight into your sleeping patterns is the first step toward identifying problems and fixing them. When you’re evaluating wearable options, look for a device with continuous heart rate monitoring and an SpO2 (or Pulse Ox) sensor that tracks your blood oxygen saturation levels as you sleep. The Fitbit Charge 4 and Garmin Vivoactive 4 tick both boxes. They track the amount of time you spend in light, deep, and REM sleep and offer graphs showing when you were asleep and awake through the night. The Charge 4 also gives you a daily sleep score that can help you quickly gauge the quality and restorative value of your shuteye.
Fitbit Sleep Metrics
Smartwatches are also capable of tracking sleep, but they tend to be bulkier and have shorter battery lives than fitness trackers, which makes them less practical for wearing overnight. The Apple Watch finally got an official sleep-tracking feature as part of watchOS 7, but it’s pretty basic. And the Apple Watch Series 6’s 18-hour battery life means you might want to charge it at night rather than wear it to bed. That said, the Apple Watch can show when you fell asleep and woke up, along with your total time in bed and asleep for the night. It also shows a graph of your heart rate with maximum and minimum recorded beats per minute, but it doesn’t offer a breakdown of your light, deep, and REM sleep.
If you wake up with back pain or can’t seem to get comfortable on your old mattress, a high-tech smart bed such as the SleepNumber 360 i10 ($5,099 for a Queen) might be worth the investment. Though pricey, it lets you adjust the firmness of each side for your optimal comfort level. It also automatically adjusts depending on your movements, so when you turn onto your side, it provides more cushioning, and when you move onto your back, it firms up for extra support. The mattress can also track your sleep and offer insight to help you get the best rest possible.
Read The Best Sleep Tech for Catching Your ZZZs for more.
Tech to Manage Your Stress
Like getting enough sleep, reducing your stress is key to maintaining your health.
Meditation can be a useful tool for winding down at night and relieving stress at any time. If you’re new to meditation or easily distracted, you might want to check out the Core Meditation Trainer ($169). You hold the orb-like device in your hands as you stream guided meditations via its companion app, and it gently vibrates to help you relax and focus. As you meditate, sensors on top of the device measure the electrical activity of your heart through your thumbs to quantify the benefits of each session on your body.
Core Meditation Trainer
The companion app calculates your heart rate variability (HRV)—the time between each heartbeat. HRV is a measure of your nervous system activity and an indicator of your resilience to stress; in general, the higher the HRV, the better.
Most wearables also offer guided breathing exercises that can help reduce stress. The Fitbit Sense takes it a step further with an integrated electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor that measures small electrical changes in your skin’s sweat level to track your body’s response to stress. When taking an EDA scan, you place your palm over the entire screen for two minutes, making sure to completely cover its metal frame while trying your best to stay still. Once the scan’s complete, the Sense vibrates, asks you whether you want to record how you feel, then shows a recap of your session on your wrist. The Sense also gives you a daily Stress Management Score based on metrics including your heart rate, heart rate variability, EDA data, physical activity, and sleep patterns.
As lower-cost alternatives, plenty of free and affordable meditation apps can help you combat stress and anxiety. Smiling Mind (available on Android and iOS) is a favorite; it’s free and offers meditations sorted by issues and events including difficult emotions, relationships, sleep, and stress. Some of our other favorites include Aura, Calm, Insight Timer, Meditation Studio, Simple Habit, Ten Percent Happier, and The Mindfulness App, all of which are available on both Android and iOS, and offer free content. Headspace ($12.99 monthly or $69.99 annually on iOS and Android) is another standout, providing hundreds of meditations for health issues, emotions, challenges, and productivity.
For more, check out 13 Meditation Apps to Help You Fight Anxiety and Stress.
The Core Meditation Trainer is a handheld meditation aid that uses vibrations to help you focus and guide your breathing as ECG sensors measure your mindfulness and its companion app tracks your progress.
Fitbit’s premium, pricey Sense smartwatch puts a focus on your well-being with the ability to measure and monitor your stress, heart rhythm, skin temperature variation, and blood oxygen saturation.
Smart Features to Curb COVID-19
The fight against COVID-19 has spurred new features in consumer technology to help users protect themselves against the virus and detect early signs of infection. So far, these features are found primarily in smartwatches, which often have many of the same health and fitness aspects as fitness trackers along with large color touch screens, calling and texting capabilities, and downloadable apps.
The Apple Watch Series 6 (starting at $399), for instance, features an SpO2 sensor to calculate your blood oxygen saturation level. It lets you take an SpO2 reading on demand in just 15 seconds and captures periodic background measurements when you’re sleeping and inactive.
Apple Watch Series 6
Several other devices, including the Fitbit Sense ($329.95) and Samsung Galaxy Watch3 (starting at $399.99), can also measure your blood oxygen saturation, though the latter can do so only while you sleep.
An SpO2 sensor indicates how well your circulatory and respiratory systems are delivering oxygenated blood to your body, which can help you gauge whether medical intervention is necessary. Your SpO2 reading alone can’t diagnose COVID-19, but as the Yale School of Medicine advises, a reading below 90% might warrant a trip to the emergency room.
Apple is also aiming to help flatten the COVID-19 curve with a new feature that reminds you to wash your hands when you return home. Included as part of watchOS 7, the feature is available on the Series 3, 4, 5, and 6 watches, as well as the lower-cost Watch SE. When your Apple Watch detects handwashing movements and the sound of running water, it shows a 20-second countdown timer on the screen, so you don’t have to silently hum “Happy Birthday to You” twice in your head when scrubbing germs away. It’s a feature we found surprisingly helpful in testing.
We’re also starting to see wearables with integrated skin-temperature sensors. The Fitbit Sense is one such device; it calculates your baseline skin temperature after you’ve worn it to bed for three nights, after which it lets you know whether you’re running hotter than usual, a possible indication of illness. The Oura Ring offers a similar feature: It measures your temperature at night (when your body is least affected by environmental and lifestyle factors), and its companion app tracks deviations from your baseline.
For more, check out The Best Fitness Trackers and The Best Smartwatches.
Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS, 40mm)
With an unrivaled user experience, fantastic apps, and potentially lifesaving health and fitness features, the Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy.
With an ECG app and trip detection, the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 offers significant health-focused upgrades over its predecessors, and is one of the best alternatives to the Apple Watch.
Sprinting Ahead to Future Fitness Tech
Screenless fitness trackers are making a comeback, with several interesting options entering the market, including the Amazon Halo ($99.99), Whoop Strap 3.0 ($30 per month), and the aforementioned Oura Ring. We’ll have reviews of the Halo and Whoop Strap on PCMag.com in the near future.
Whoop Strap 3.0
Another product I’m excited to test is the Mixfit, a sort of Keurig machine for personalized nutrition drinks. You use its companion app to track your food and activity, and it identifies nutritional gaps, then mixes a drink to give your body what it’s missing. I have one in my inventory of products to test, so look for that review in the near future as well.
As we look ahead, there’s no doubt that 2021 will usher in an exciting new crop of smart health and fitness innovations. We’ll continue to test these products to let you know which ones are worth your hard-earned dollars, so stay tuned to our coverage. In the meantime, stay safe and well (connected) in the New Year!