Lisa Whitney, a dietitian in Reno, Nev., came across the deal of a lifetime about two years ago. A fitness studio was going out of business and selling its equipment. She scored an indoorfor $100.
Ms. Whitney soon made some additions to the bike. She propped her iPad on the handlebars. Then she experimented with online cycling classesfor Peloton, a maker of internet-connected exercise devices offering interactive fitness classes.
Ms. Whitney had no desire to upgrade to one of Peloton’s $1,900-plus luxury exercise bikes, which include a tablet to stream classes and. So she further modified her bike to become a do-it-yourself Peloton, buying sensors and indoor cycling shoes.
The total: about $300, plus a $13 monthly subscription to Peloton’s app. Not cheap, but a significant discount to what she might have paid. “I’m happy with my setup,” Ms. Whitney, 42, said. “Iupgrading would do much.”
The pandemic, which has forced many gyms to shut down, has driven people to splurge on luxury items like Peloton’s bikes and treadmills so they can work out at home. Capitalizing on this trend, Apple released Apple Fitness Plus. This instructional fitness Watch, which requires an iPhone.
But all of that can be expensive. The minimum prices of anadd up to $600, and Apple Fitness Plus costs $10 a month. Then to stream classes on a big-screen T.V. instead of a phone while you exercise, you need a T.V., which costs about $150. The whole Peloton experience is even pricier.
With the economy in a funk, many of us are tightening our spending while maintaining good health. So I experimented with minimizing the costs of video-instructed workouts at home, talked to tinkerers, and assessed the pros and cons.
Here’s what I learned.
The Pros and Cons of Free
To start myon the cheap, I first tackled whether to subscribe to a fitness app or stream classes from YouTube for free. Both essentially of instructors guiding you through workouts.
So I bought an $8 yoga mat and a $70 pair of adjustable dumbbells and turned on my T.V., YouTube channels with free content for exercising at home: Yoga With Adriene, Fitness Blender, and Holly Dolke.. I then subscribed to three of the most popular
One immediate downside was almost too much content — often hundreds of videos per YouTuber — making it difficult to pick a workout. Even when I finally chose a video, I learned to brace myself for some quality issues.
For instance, in the Yoga With Adriene channel, I selected the video “Yoga for When You Feel Dead Inside,” which felt appropriate for our living time. The video looked good, but the instructor’s voice sometimes sounded muffled.
Production problems were more visible in the Holly Dolce channel, which has a collection of intense workouts that you can do without any equipment. When I tried thedemonstrated how to do a more challenging version of each exercise, but the other instructor, in the foreground, constantly blocked her.
Then there were the ads. As I lifted weights while following a 10-minute fat-burning back of my neck while I waited for the ad to end.Blender, YouTube interrupted the video to play an advertisement for Dawn soap. That left me holding a dumbbell above the
Those issues aside, I could do all of the exercises demonstrated by these YouTubers, and they left me winded and sweaty. For the cost of free, I can’t complain much. Most importantly, Yoga With Adriene made me feel less dead inside.
What You Get When You Pay
To compare the free YouTube exercise videos with the paid experience, I subscribed to Peloton and Apple Fitness Plus on my Apple T.V. set-top box. I did workouts using bothtwo months. Peloton and Apple Fitness Plus addressed many problems plaguing the free exercise content.
For one, workouts were organized into categories by the type of workout, including yoga, strength training, and core, and then by the difficulty or duration of the movement. It took little time to choose an activity.
In both Peloton and Apple Fitness Plus, video, and audio quality were very clear, and the workouts were shot at various angles to get a good look at what the instructors were doing. The bonus of Fitness Plus was that my heart rate and calories burned were displayed on both my and the T.V. screen.
I concluded that Peloton’s videos were worth paying $13 a month. And $10 a month is reasonable forand iPhone. In short, paying those subscriptions provided convenience and polish, which led to a more pleasant workout.
Making a D.I.Y. Peloton
So what about exercise equipment like spin bikes? TYou can use a bicycle you already have to go the cheapest route. Here’s where home tinkerers can be incredibly crafty and resourceful. There are two main approaches if you want the tech frills of a Peloton but don’t want to spend on the equipment.
Take Omar Sultan, a manager at the networking company Cisco. He modified hiswith a few add-ons: a bike trainer, which secured the rear wheel and bike frame and cost roughly $100; a $40 Wahoo cadence sensor that tracked his pedaling output and speed and transmitted the data to a smartphone; and a heart rate monitor that strapped around his chest, such as the $90 Polar H10. Then he used a streaming device to follow Peloton classes on his TV.
“The D.I.Y. setup is 80 percent of the way there,” to a Peloton, Mr. Sultan said. The more expensive option was to buy an indoor exerciseclasses via YouTube or the Peloton app, as Ms. Whitney did. The $700 IC7.9, for example, includes a cadence sensor and a holder for your tablet. You could then monitor and a pair of $100 indoor cycling shoes that clip into the pedals.
But if you use your bicycle or a modified spin bike and try Peloton’s app, you won’t be able to participate in the so-called leader board, which shows a graphic of your progress compared with other Peloton users online. With a D.I.Y. bike, it can also be challenging to figure out how to shift gears to simulate when the instructor tells you to turn up the resistance — like when you pretend to ride a hill.
Nicole Odya, a nurse practitioner in Chicago who modified a high-end indoor bike, the Keiser M3i, said there were significant upsides to the D.I.Y. route. Using her iPad, she can choose whatever fitness apps she wants, such as Zwift and Paceline. It also allowed her to customize her bike, so she swapped out the stock pedals for better ones. “I didn’t want to be locked into their platform,” she said of Peloton.