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Personal training stays home at CES 2021

New workout machines join an ever-growing list of products that have brought personal training home, for the pandemic and beyond.

Amanda Capritto
8 min read

Personal training does not look the same as it did 10, five or two years ago -- or even one year ago. The increasingly tech-infused landscape was expedited by the global pandemic that forced everyone indoors, and we are seeing that trend continue at CES 2021. 

People had to find new ways to work out when gyms shuttered and the supply chain for analog equipment ruptured (dumbbells are still in short supply, nearly a year later). Shiny objects like Mirror and Peloton became a significant part of the solution in addition to lower-cost options like Zoom workouts and fitness apps

For reference, Peloton was valued at $8 billion in January 2020 and at $35 billion in October 2020. That's a lot of growth in a short time, and it reflects the changing landscape of the fitness industry. 

And now, legacy companies like NordicTrack and Bowflex are responding to the new kids on the block with new products and services that the two companies showed off at CES 2021. Here's what they've developed and a look at how eight other fitness brands are changing the way we do personal training.


The first Bowflex product came about in 1986, and the brand has come a long way since that first resistance machine made of polymer rods. At CES 2021, Bowflex unveiled two upcoming products, an elliptical-stairclimber crossover called the M9 Max Trainer and the T22 Tread treadmill, which features a large 22-inch touchscreen -- the largest screen on any Bowflex treadmill to date. It's slated to launch on Jan. 15, 2021 on Bowflex.com first and at major retailers to follow. 

How it works as a personal trainer: Both the M9 and T22 Tread are really a way to showcase JRNY, Bowflex's stab at streaming fitness service with guided workouts. JRNY (pronounced "journey") starts each new member off with an initial fitness assessment to find your cardio starting point. 

The app then suggests workouts tailored to your fitness level, modifying suggestions as you get faster and fitter. On the T22 Tread, you can also run with trainers and opt into virtual coaching, which will give you an extra push on days you need help with motivation. 


A new smart mirror comes from NordicTrack, a longstanding company that just released its newest high-tech device at CES 2021. Vault combines the best of Mirror and Tempo, with a 32-inch HD touchscreen, a swiveling 60-inch mirror and a cabinet that houses dumbbells, resistance bands, a workout mat, yoga accessories and kettlebells. 

How it works as a personal trainer: Vault pairs with iFit, the workout app from Icon Health & Fitness (the parent company of iFit, NordicTrack and Proform) that powers all NordicTrack equipment. 

iFit classes are led by highly qualified trainers from all around the world, and while Vault doesn't provide real-time technique feedback like Tempo, it does stand out in one way: The massive 60-inch screen allows you to easily self-correct because you can see your entire body and the trainer's entire body at the same time. On smaller fitness mirrors, images can feel kind of mashed up. 


iFit ActivePulse

In addition to workout classes, iFit also offers a newly announced AI component called ActivePulse. This smart cardio technology is an advanced form of heart-rate tracking that automatically adjusts the speed and incline on a treadmill to keep your heart rate in an optimal zone. 

iFit ActivePulse works with Freemotion, NordicTrack and ProForm treadmills and will launch on other cardio equipment, including stationary bikes and ellipticals, from the same brands. 

How it works as a personal trainer: Heart-rate training is notoriously complicated and involves lots of calculations, but iFit ActivePulse does all the work for you. The heart rate monitor learns your body's patterns and, according to a company news release, creates a "real-time feedback loop between a user's measured heart rate and the treadmill's speed and incline." 

Notably, ActivePulse doesn't just assign you a single "optimal zone" to aim for every day — it creates the most effective workout possible by scaling the intensity to your heart rate at that given time (meaning it accounts for various factors such as fatigue and stress). 


The "OG" of digital fitness, if you will, Mirror raised eyebrows back in 2018 when it launched, but it quickly proved fun and effective (albeit expensive) and has earned itself a loyal fan base. 

This aptly named smart fitness mirror doubles as home decor and a home gym setup. With the $39/month subscription, you can access live and on-demand workout classes from cardio to barre to strength training.

How it works as a personal trainer: Mirror actually offers one-on-one, live personal training through the system's video camera and two-way speakers. It functions just like traditional personal training, but without physical contact. It costs $40 per session on top of the $39 monthly membership and monthly device payment, if you finance it.

Angela Lang/CNET

Tempo Studio is a relative newcomer, having just launched in February 2020. The company couldn't have picked a better launch date, because the fitness industry came crashing down just a month later, leaving millions of lost gym-goers looking for -- and willing to pay a lot for -- home gym setups.

Similar to Mirror, Tempo utilizes a large vertical HD screen on which you can stream workouts. However, there's a key difference: Tempo's A-frame cabinet houses a 115-pound Olympic weight set complete with a barbell, effectively replicating traditional gym workouts. Also, Tempo tracks your form and reps whereas Mirror does not have those tracking capabilities.

How it works as a personal trainer: While it doesn't offer one-on-one live personal training, the AI and 3D sensor technology provides real-time feedback on your technique. The device also offers suggestions for weight, reps, rest intervals and workouts based on your performance history. Notably, Tempo creates weekly customized programs based on the principle of progressive overload, a fundamental fitness concept that explains how your body improves in response to continuous increases in workout intensity.  


Tonal is like the halfway point between Mirror and Tempo, because it's a fitness mirror with weights, but not real weights: Instead, Tonal uses "digital weights," a concept the company introduced with the launch of Tonal in 2018. Using electromagnetics to create electronic resistance, Tonal employs cables (much like the cable machines at gyms) to create up to 200 pounds of resistance. 

How it works as a personal trainer: Like Tempo, Tonal uses AI technology to track your workout performance and make suggestions for future workouts. This alleviates much of the stress that comes with working out, because you don't have to program for yourself -- you can trust the technology to program for you. Tonal also sets your weights for you and increases weight automatically as you get stronger.


Ah, Peloton, the unicorn of 2020. After a treacherous 2019 holiday commercial, Peloton recovered and went on to become one of the most valuable companies in the fitness industry. 

This wildly popular indoor stationary bike all but exploded when fitness junkies started grappling with gym closures. There's also Peloton Tread, the connected treadmill, and Peloton Digital, the app that houses Peloton-exclusive workouts.

How it works as a personal trainer: It doesn't, really, but that doesn't stop people from using it like one. Peloton functions more as a group fitness instructor than a personal trainer, because there aren't any true one-on-one or real-time feedback opportunities. Sure, Peloton enlists some of the best trainers worldwide to teach its classes and group classes can be energizing -- but there's still a risk of injury for beginners, especially with resistance training workouts.


Echelon started with bikes and rowers before moving into the fitness mirror category. The Echelon Reflect comes in two sizes, a 40-inch and a 50-inch, and with an Echelon membership, you can join live classes or stream on-demand classes. If you enjoy a little friendly competition, check in with Echelon's leaderboard to see how you stack up against fellow exercisers in your classes. 

How it works as a personal trainer: Again, it doesn't, really. Like Mirror, the Reflect allows people to join instructor-led classes, which is better than working out alone (especially if you're a beginner), but not quite on the same level as personal training. Tracking your workouts with Apple Health or another integrated app will help continuously level up, since you can go back and see your performance history. 


Another tech-analog hybrid, Hyfit launched in mid-2020 with its take on smart fitness. The company places a strong emphasis on do-anywhere fitness, and its first (and currently only) product is a smart resistance band set called Hyfit Gear1

This product offers limited workout options compared to other smart fitness devices, considering you can only perform basic bodyweight resistance exercises. However, the system allows you to continually increase the resistance you work with, preventing fitness plateaus.

How it works as a personal trainer: The Gear1 resistance bands contain sensors that track your repetitions, volume (total weight lifted) and calories burned. When you pair the bands to your phone and download the Hyfit app, this data is automatically collected, which makes workout tracking a breeze. The smart sensors also track your form and the app can tell you which type of workout, such as strength, endurance or flexibility, you should focus on.


Another legacy fitness company that's produced quality equipment for decades, ProForm dipped its toes into the smart fitness business with Vue, a product akin to Mirror, Tempo, Reflect and Tonal. This smart mirror comes equipped with a pivoting 60-inch-by-24-inch mirror, part of which also functions as a touchscreen. It also comes with a barbell, dumbbells, weight plates and resistance bands.

How it works as a personal trainer: ProForm is owned by Icon Health & Fitness along with NordicTrack, and like the new NordicTrack Vault, the ProForm Vue is powered by iFit. When you stream iFit workouts, you won't receive real-time feedback, but you can watch your trainer and self-correct. Vue automatically stores your workout performance and uses AI to suggest future workouts. 

Personal training: Then and now

Personal training used to work in one of two ways: Either you met your trainer at the gym, or the trainer met you at your house. You'd complete 30-minute or 60-minute sessions with real-time, hands-on feedback and form correction, schedule your next session and be on your way. Many clients had little to no contact with their trainer in between sessions.

Fast-forward a couple decades and personal training shifts online. Fitness pros start training clients through video chat software or by delivering customized programs by the week or month. 

Zoom through another few years and the internet explodes with fitness influencers, some of which are trained professionals, some of which are not. Regardless, a spunky online presence drove sales of done-for-you programs created by trainers and influencers. Free workout videos go up on Instagram and YouTube, and new fitness apps crop up every month. 

By the early 2010s, the brick-and-mortar fitness industry is grappling with the reality that digital fitness is snapping up members left and right. Then 2020 happened, and the imminent shift accelerated, leading us to today and the 10 high-tech personal trainers above.

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