The best home workouts for 2021

Eilidh Hargreaves
·11-min read
Apple Fitness+
Apple Fitness+

Stuck in isolation, with work to do, children to look after and mental health to sustain, there was nothing else for it. In the first UK lockdown last March the home fitness market, which had been steadily on the up for the previous five years, boomed. Gym equipment got a makeover – no longer was it just big, bulky machines that turned into expensive coat hangers. Now you could buy ‘smart’ bikes, treadmills and rowers with built-in digital screens to follow workouts, and there were live classes and virtual communities to join. Peloton, the brand behind that ubiquitous £1,750 bike, posted a 172 per cent rise in sales year-on-year between July and September.

With months of restrictions ahead, home exercise is here to stay. But if your intentions are starting to flag, this year’s big fitness launch should be just the thing. Apple Fitness+ is an app that works in tandem with the Apple Watch (from £379, apple. com) and features hundreds of workouts, from yoga to HIIT. Slip on your watch, download the app on your iPhone or Apple TV, choose your routine, and once you start moving, you’ll see your heart rate and calorie burn – an instant motivator. For £9.99 a month subscription, you get to choose from 20-plus trainers and hundreds of routines of various lengths, with more added every week. And not every trainer has a ripped California-tanned bod – there are all ages, all sizes and all levels, plus plenty of routines aimed at beginners.

Apple Watch
Apple Watch

Another home workout trend for 2021 will be combining gaming with training. Look out for Supernatural, a cardio fitness app that works in conjunction with the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset (£299, oculus.com), likely to launch in the UK this year. Billed as an ‘ondemand exercise adventure’, via the VR headset it transports you from your front room to an inspirational workout destination of your choice, be it up Machu Picchu or among Icelandic glaciers.

SUPERNATURAL 
SUPERNATURAL

If you’re looking to turn your spare room into a home gym, cycling in particular has lots of exciting launches. Hot on the heels of Peloton’s success come new smart-bike options such as Echelon Smart Connect Sport (£799.99) and Wattbike Atom (£1,899). If your budget doesn’t extend to a smart bike, try a smart turbo trainer (from £200) – a static device that you mount your bike on to, so you can ride without going any where. Retailer Sigma Sports saw a 595 per cent year-on-year growth in sales of turbo trainers in 2020. If you’re a cycling purist and money’s no object, Wahoo’s new Kickr bike (£2,999.99, wahoofitness.com) is the most advanced indoor bike on the market, with instant data feedback and a reallife road bike feel.

WAHOO KICKR
WAHOO KICKR

Forme Life’s Studio Lift (from £2,250), which arrives in the UK later this year, also promises to take home workouts to the next level. It looks like an elegant full-length mirror, but transforms into a voice-controlled touch screen, like a life-sized tablet you can work out in front of and see both yourself and the trainer in. Users can connect to classes with the world’s top instructors for live or on-demand classes, and the mirror enables you to get into the right position more effectively while providing automated guidance on form and technique. You can pay extra for private sessions with partnered coaches, who will appear live in the mirror in front of you to work out ‘in person’.

Forme life
Forme life

If you have your own equipment already, there are apps to help you get more out it. Zwift (from £12.99 a month; zwift. com), the VR cycling and running app, provides virtual worlds for its members to jog or ride through. Even skipping has been souped up: Crossrope’s weighted rope (from £89, crossrope.com) and addictive online routines have turned it into a bona-fide home workout.

The big question is, will working out from home still be popular post-pandemic? Pascal Klein, co-founder of yoga app Asana Rebel, thinks so. ‘Wellcrafted digital products can be a very good replacement for the boutique gym experience. They will continue to be a critical tool for people to stay fit and healthy.’

Meanwhile Lucie Cowan, master trainer at London studio chain Third Space, concludes, ‘People fall into two categories: those that have realised they don’t have to go to the gym to meet their fitness goals and will carry on doing virtual classes, and those who need the gym to break their day up. Whatever happens this year, virtual fitness is here to stay.’

Apple Fitness

Tested by: Lucy Dunn, deputy editor

Apple Fitness+ - Owen Harvey
Apple Fitness+ - Owen Harvey

What is it?

An app for your iPhone, Apple TV or iPad, which features hundreds of workouts that works in tandem with the Apple Watch. The watch will record information about your heart rate and calories burned as you exercise and feed it on to your screen so you can monitor your progress in real time.

Why do you need it?

You need it if you’re anything like me and cut corners. I have been diligently doing the same workout in my kitchen since the first lockdown, but it’s all starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day, and I can be a little on the lazy side.

Does it work?

Seeing my live stats was an instant motivator and it made me work harder. There are countdown timers during sets and there’s even a ‘burn bar’ where you can compare your progress with other people doing the class (thankfully this is anonymous and it’ll be a long time before I’m ready to share my stats with anyone). You can also bookmark favourite workouts and the watch gets to know what you like doing outside of the app too (in my case, running) and suggests complementary routines to try. The app feeds into the watch’s famous exercise rings: you set yourself movement, exercise and standing targets and aim to close each of the rings each day, which makes it really feel like a fitness way of life.

Available as a subscription for £9.99 per month or £79.99 per year from the AppStore

Crossrope

Tested by: Precious Adesina, lifestyle assistant​

Precious Adesina: 'It has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my fitness routine' -  Owen Harvey
Precious Adesina: 'It has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my fitness routine' - Owen Harvey

What is it?

A handy set of weighted skipping ropes that comes in a bundle of either two or four different weights, depending on your fitness goals.

Why do you need it?

The ropes are tailored to the user’s height, making the experience more productive (less catching the rope on your toes). You can either go solo and try out the different weights yourself or go for a structured workout using the Crossrope app.

Does it work?

I noticed more definition in my body after I incorporated Crossrope into my workout a couple times a week; though I would recommend either skipping on grass or getting a skipping mat to make the whole affair easier on your knees. I did my first session on the concrete slabs in my garden ( jumping for just over an hour) and was struggling to walk the next day. After moving to a softer surface, it has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my fitness routine.

Crossrope bundles start from£89. Subscription to the app costs £7.30 per month or £59 per year; crossrope.com

Peloton Thread

Tested by: Eilidh Hargreaves, commissioning editor, Luxury

As seen on screen: Access the full range of Peloton’s fitness content at a tap -  Owen Harvey
As seen on screen: Access the full range of Peloton’s fitness content at a tap - Owen Harvey

What is it?

The follow-up to Peloton’s world-dominating bike. Other than being a really, really, good-looking treadmill (a novelty in itself), the Tread’s HD touchscreen brings its user Peloton’s complete running, cycling and strength training content.

Why do you need it?

Having the Tread in my apartment removes all barriers to exercise. No hats, gloves or waterproofs needed, just a bottle of water and a pair of trainers and I’m jogging through Arizona trails on the Scenic Run setting, or sprinting it out on a Pop Run session.

Does it work?

Yes. Control knobs and jump buttons make the Tread really easy to use, and the real bonus is that it is smooth and relatively quiet, not noisy or clunky. Enhanced treadmill running requires shoes with bounce, so I highly recommend Hoka One One’s brand-new Carbon X 2s, pictured (£160; hokaoneone.eu), which feature a propulsive carbon-fibre plate and an aggressive Meta-Rocker. Peloton knows that running is not a one-stop-shop for robust fitness, and the Tread’s on-demand and live workouts include thousands of supplementary floor sessions such as power yoga, stretching and boot camp-style classes. Like any true Peloton convert, I have my favourite trainer – check out Becs Gentry for running-specific Tread and floor training.

£2,295; onepeloton.co.uk

Echelon Smart Connect

Tested by: Marianne Jones, editor

Ready to go: The bike is easy to use – and doesn’t require special spin shoes -  Owen Harvey
Ready to go: The bike is easy to use – and doesn’t require special spin shoes - Owen Harvey

What is it?

An exercise bike, similar to the hugely popular Peloton, only less ubiquitous and kinder on your wallet. You need your own tablet to access the app, for live and on-demand cardio classes overseen by wildly enthusiastic US instructors with names like Dallas Jones and Dani Dellarco.

Why do you need it?

If your gym has barely been open or you miss your group spin class, the question is why don’t you need it? For a cost of just over a grand plus a monthly class subscription, you can bring your workout home for less money than many annual gym fees. I had my husband and two teen boys lining up to train on it, too.

Does it work?

Hell yes, as the motivational trainers might say. Since a back injury put a halt to my running I’ve been looking for a low impact cardio workout that doesn’t damage my joints but still gives me an endorphin hit. This is it. The classes – between 20 and 60 minutes – are easy to follow and had an almost immediate effect, tightening up my hips and tummy and toning my legs. My first 10-minute beginners’ class burned an impressive 200 calories. Once you’ve adjusted the bike to your height, you place your feet in the toe cages and simply pedal (no special shoes needed). If you’re competitive (guilty), the thrill of seeing your initials rise on the leaderboard becomes addictive.

The Echelon Smart Connect EX3 Max Bike costs £1,199, with live and on-demand classes from £24.99 a month; echelonfit.uk

Nurv V Smart Insoles

Tested by: Anna Clarke, features assistant

Anna Clarke: 'If lockdowns have convinced you to start running or upping your mileage, Nurvv insoles can help to improve your performance'
Anna Clarke: 'If lockdowns have convinced you to start running or upping your mileage, Nurvv insoles can help to improve your performance'

What are they?

A new, unique way to improve your running technique and prevent injury, these smart insoles are slipped underneath the standard ones in your trainers to bring its user advanced feedback via a connective app. Once the kind of tech that was only available to pros, these insoles are now highly coveted by amateur runners, too.

Why do you need them?

If lockdowns have convinced you to start running or upping your mileage, Nurvv insoles can help to improve your performance. The smart insoles fit any shoe and their 32 precision sensors produce unique metrics measured 1,000 times per second, delivered back to you in simple charts on the app, allowing you to adjust your technique accordingly.

Does it work?

Nurvv’s main feature is recording where your foot hits the ground and when. After a week running with Nurvv, I could see that while I’m a forefoot runner, when I start to tire I heel strike – which increases the impact on the rest of my body – meaning my foot strength needs work. It also has a smart personal trainer which can coach you to run to a target pace. Plus, with a battery life of five hours plus, I only have to charge them once a week.

Nurvv insoles and coaching app cost £249.99; nurrv.com

Have you bought any new gadgets or equipment to exercise at home? Share your experience in the comments section below