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Smart Home

Which smart speaker will give you the best workout?

We take a look at the current state of smart voice control speakers as personal trainers.

Chris Monroe/CNET

If you're anything like me, you need something to motivate you to work out. That's why I favor group classes -- they keep me going long after I would've given up at home. But who has time to hit the gym every day?

Enter: Amazon and Google smart speakers. Yes, in addition to being able to control connected devices in your home, Alexa and the Google Home can also help you work up a sweat. Here's an overview of the current state of smart speakers as personal fitness coaches.

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What I want from an audio-driven workout

There are definite benefits to using an Amazon or Google smart speaker over watching an instructor on a screen. 

Convenience is really key here. Because these devices can go pretty much anywhere in your home, you can complete a quick workout in the kitchen while you're waiting for your oven to preheat -- or in your home office between conference calls. 

If I'm not following an actual fitness instructor (either in person or on a screen), I want the audio component to be very descriptive, particularly if I'm learning about a new type of exercise. 

At the same time, if it's asking me to do something familiar -- like jumping jacks -- I want to be able to opt-out of those explanations. 

I also want at least five minutes worth of content. That means I want it to guide me through an actual fitness routine with a series of different moves, like an actual personal trainer would.  

Many of the best integrations on both platforms are HIIT routines (high intensity interval training), which are short by design. For HIIT, having a video component is largely unnecessary, as there isn't much time to look at a screen between intervals. 

Google Home 

Google's Home speaker offers only two workout routines -- 5-Minute Plank and Fitstar, a Fitbit app. Note: You do not need a Fitbit for this workout. 

5-Minute Plank guides you through a series of plank exercises with brief periods of rest in between. They include:

  • Full Plank - 60 seconds
  • Elbow Plank - 30 seconds
  • One Leg Plank - 30 seconds each
  • Side Plank - Each 30 seconds
  • Full Plank - 30 seconds
  • Elbow Plank - 60 seconds

This fast, simple workout is one I'd use regularly, likely over a long period of time. Although planks are simple enough to do alone, 5-Minute Plank times everything for you and makes it much easier to keep track of your progress. 

Fitstar guides you through a complete HIIT workout, from jumping jacks to crunches and high knees, all in 30-second intervals. Along the way, the Google Assistant gives you encouragement, lets you know which muscles you're targeting with each workout and counts down when you only have a few seconds remaining. 

Fitstar has an annoying flaw, though. After you say, "OK, Google, start Fitstar," it replies: "Let's start the 7-minute workout. Up next? Jumping jacks. Want instructions, or ready to begin?"

It doesn't understand when you say you're "Ready to begin." Instead, it repeats the whole "Let's start the 7-minute workout..." portion again. However, if you just say, "Ready," it will take you directly to the workout.

Amazon Alexa

In sharp contrast, Amazon's Alexa speakers have more than 30 fitness skills. Unfortunately, most of them aren't very good. 

The majority of Amazon's workout skills -- Fitness Helper, Workout Buddy, Fitness Exercises and a lot more -- tell you to do one exercise, don't explain how to do it and then instantly turn off. For instance, if you enable and launch Alexa's Fitness Helper skill it might say, "Here's your exercise. Stretch your legs for one minute." The. End. Womp, womp.

Amazon's "My Workouts" Alexa skill, on the other hand, guides you through the exercise routine and explains exactly what you need to do. Only six of the more than 30 Alexa exercise skills actually offer this kind of help:

It's a draw

Most of Amazon's exercise integrations aren't that helpful, and I'd like to see Google introduce more workouts. Even so, both voice control platforms have at least a couple solid options designed for short-duration high-intensity training -- or for targeted muscle group exercises. For that reason, I'd say Alexa and the Google Home are roughly tied in terms of fitness training today. 

But that could soon change. As health and fitness beings to overlap more and more with the smart home, I expect an increase in fitness integrations, as well as improvements to existing smart speaker workouts. Amazon's 7-Minute Workout skill, for instance, was recently updated from version 1.1 to version 2.0 so you can continue a workout from where you last left off. 

A logical next step would also be the ability to share your smart speaker workout data with connected home devices, like your Sleep Number bed or Fitbit's Aria scale (if you want to). Overall, there's a ton of room for growth here and I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses -- particularly when Apple's HomePod speaker hits stores this December.

Curious how to configure your Alexa speaker to give you guided workouts? Check this out.

Do you have a Google Home? Here's how to use it as your very own personal fitness trainer.