Credit: Peter Belanger
Is this AI-powered 'mirror gym' the future of home exercise?
For many Americans, regular exercise is an elusive commitment -- one made at the beginning of January that peters out within weeks or months. Busy work schedules, a lack of motivation and unease towards exercising in public all contribute to the dismal statistic that only around a quarter of adults exercise enough per week.
For decades, different variations of home workouts were touted as the solution to hectic lifestyles. In 1982, there was actress Jane Fonda's popular VHS aerobics routines, Billy Blanks's Tae Bo workouts in the 1990s, 14-minute workouts on Bowflex machines, grueling P90x regiments that took off in the aughts and more casual Nintendo Wii Fit routines of the same era.
More recently, design and advancements in technology have offered expanded and personalized training options, while reducing the large footprint of most home gyms. In 2018, former ballerina Brynn Putnam released Mirror, a fitness system that allows users to follow along with virtual personal trainers in classes including yoga, cardio and pilates. That same year, entrepreneur Aly Orady launched Tonal, an AI-powered wall-mounted screen that focuses more on strength training. It features an exercise bench and resistance system that uses electromagnetism to simulate weight machines.
This month, entrepreneur Trent Ward and designer Yves Behar are unveiling their sleek design for a mirror fitness system, Forme. Forme is reflective like Putnam's design, uses machine learning to optimize workouts like Tonal, and offers accessories including ankle straps, rope handles and a heart rate monitor. When not in use, the two arms that form the resistance pulley system fold behind it and the display screen disappears, turning Forme into a simple full-length mirror.
Forme "gives people access to good instruction (and) training in their own home. As we get older, we have less time to go to the gym," Behar said in a phone interview. "For most people it is hard to motivate yourself to train at home, and it is hard to feel like you're doing it right."
Interest in home exercise has particularly spiked in recent weeks around the world as brick-and-mortar gyms have temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Home workout apps have seen a significant uptick in downloads, and trendy brands like Peloton have rolled out free virtual workouts for everyone stuck indoors. One French athlete in quarantine opted to run an entire marathon on his 23-foot balcony.
But beyond the new restrictions affecting daily workout routines, Ward and Behar are tapping into the same concerns that have made every home workout appealing: the ability to save time and sweat in the privacy of one's home. In an era of personal metrics -- where one can measure their heart rate and sleep cycles with smart watches and train for marathons with AI smart sneakers -- Ward and Behar want to optimize exercise through machine learning. Like Tonal, Forme evaluates performance and adjusts weights accordingly. Easy access to performance data also makes it easier to track that progress and stay motivated.
"There is a sense of being overwhelmed by all the things that we're supposed to do, including exercise," Behar said. "I think that people are trying to recalibrate their lives in an efficient way."
Each of these multi-purpose fitness systems offer flexibility, so that users don't become bored by the same routines, and families or roommates sharing the equipment can personalize their workouts. Behar said that one of the best parts of Forme's design, though, is the scale of the system. During classes, trainers appear closer to human height so that users can correct their movements, and motion tracking also allows Forme to make recommendations to further improve technique.
"The best instruction isn't when you're reading a manual or watching someone," Behar said. "It's when you can superimpose your own body and movement on a trainer...
When you're instructed to keep your shoulders straight, or your elbows next to your body, you self-correct."
Though it's too soon to tell if mirror gyms will be the trend of the late 2010s to 2020s, as the unwieldy NordicTrack ski machine was to the 1970s, Behar explained that having a screen in the home can become the basis for more than just fitness, such as shopping or telemedicine.
Overall, Behar hopes Forme's design will encourage all types of people, including the elderly and gym-shy, to get moving. "Everybody has a different body," he said. "Everybody has different abilities, but everyone can learn, and get better."
Forme will be available to ship in Fall 2020.