With so many of us trying to keep in shape outside of a gym these days, it’s no wonder that there’s been a surge in interest in at-home fitness equipment. And a new approach to exercise fitness technology called smart mirrors or fitness mirrors are the next frontier in bringing the gym to your living room.
This type of exercise equipment was first pioneered by a company called MIRROR. Founded in 2016 by Brynn Putnam, a former ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and founder and CEO of Refine Method, a fitness studio in New York, MIRROR established this new category of fitness equipment and technology.
The origin story for MIRROR notes that mirrored walls have long been part of the environment at many gyms and fitness studios as they allow exercisers to see and correct their form in real time. When Putnam added more mirrors to her Refine Method studios, her clients said that significantly improved their experience. As a ballet dancer, Putnam also relied heavily on mirrors during her practice to correct form and aesthetics.
From there, Putnam realized that she could leverage the slim profile of a full-length wall mirror to create a portal to an immersive workout experience that clients could access from their own homes. Her MIRROR invention combines the reflective qualities of a standard mirror with a large screen where you can watch an instructor guiding you through classes. The screen also displays goals, including target heart rate and calories burned.
What Is the MIRROR?
The MIRROR functions both as an elegant full-length mirror when it’s not in use and as an innovative home gym. It measures 52″ x 22″ x 1.4″ inches and weighs 70 pounds. It features a 40-inch, full-HD LCD screen that blends with the mirror so you can see both the instructor and yourself when you look at it while it’s powered on. When it’s powered off or in sleep mode, it reverts to a sleek mirror that doesn’t look like a piece of fitness equipment at all.
The MIRROR also includes a camera, which can be covered up when not in use. This is for use during personal training sessions so your instructor can see you and what you’re doing to correct form and provide motivation and feedback in real time. Speakers are also built in.
The MIRROR uses wi-fi to stream classes, and your network will need to average 10 megabits per second to maintain good connection. You can also download classes and run them offline if connectivity is an issue.
MIRROR deploys advanced tracking technology and machine learning that allows the device to get to know you and provide real-time feedback based on your goals and preferences. The MIRROR can be mounted on a wall or leaned against a wall with a special stand. The device connects to a smartphone app where you can select from a wide range of classes and interact with the MIRROR community.
Other companies, such as Echelon Fitness Multimedia, a Chattanooga, Tennessee–based fitness company that offers stationary bikes, rowers and other at-home fitness equipment and content, have recently released similar mirror-based products.
The Echelon Reflect
The Echelon Reflect, for example, streams live and on-demand connected fitness classes. The 40″ touchscreen mirror is made with high-quality glass and features a 32″ HD display. It measures 39″ x 20″ x 2″ and weighs 26 pounds. It’s designed to hang on a wall. Like MIRROR, the Echelon Reflect is wi-fi compatible and supports heart rate tracking via the company’s “one-of-a-kind Echelon ‘Heart Track’ system, which shows your heart rate up to the second.” It also supports a built-in leaderboard that lets you track your progress against others in the class.
You can access a wide range of class options via the Echelon Reflect and all the fitness content offered by the Echelon company with the monthly membership fee. Echelon Reflect offers personal training sessions in yoga, meditation, core work, Pilates and strength training. It syncs with your health apps like Strava and Fitbit.
Everything Old is New Again
While the technology powering devices such as the MIRROR and Echelon Reflect is futuristic, in some ways it’s just a new spin on a time-honored fitness tactic, says Dr. Michael Jonesco, sports medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
“This is a unique fitness category in some ways, or a very old and common one if you categorize it as a home media workout display — an old-school tube TV with Jane Fonda VHS tapes could also fall into this category,” he says. More recently, plenty of DVD sets and YouTube video content has similarly attempted to deliver class-based workouts in the home.
The key difference here is the interactive nature of these displays and how they can help motivate people at home to stick with a fitness routine.
Pros and Cons of a Fitness Mirror
There’s a lot to be said for being able to do your workouts at home. Sneaking in a short session when you don’t have time to get to the gym or when you can’t leave your home can make fitness goals more accessible for some people.
These devices also tend to take up very minimal room and are unlikely to become a clothes rack the way treadmills and stationary bikes sometimes do. When you’re not using them, they’re functional full-length mirrors that can add beauty to your décor.
While these mirrors themselves take up little space, you do need to be sure you have enough room to work out and perform the movements you’ll be working through during a session. These devices are being heavily marketed to people living in tiny urban apartments, but you still might need to move the coffee table out of the way before you start a class.
Jonesco notes that the social aspect of this type of fitness equipment is a positive thing. “We know that exercising with peers holds us accountable and many of us are more compliant with regular exercise when we partner with others,” and being able to connect with people from a safe distance — such as we need to during this pandemic — is a good thing.
However, there could be some drawbacks. “I do feel some apprehension in folks who are best motivated by peers or those who are prone to isolation,” he says. “While the mirror offers convenience of never having to leave your home to exercise, it doesn’t travel. And while there are means to join a community on the app or mirror network, I fear some gym buffs may lose their social spheres and become distant in their relationships.”
He adds that safety is a concern too. “While there’s a wide array of workout intensity, some of the programs could be potentially dangerous for those unaccustomed and untrained for moderate to vigorous physical activity. Should you have any health concerns or plan to start a new fitness program, I’d recommend you consult with your health care provider prior to ensure you are fit enough for your home exercise programming.”
These devices aren’t cheap, but may well end up being significantly less expensive than a boutique gym membership over the long run.
You’ll have to purchase the device, which in MIRROR’s case costs $1,495. The company offers financing from as low as $42 per month. White-glove delivery and installation costs $250.
In addition to the MIRROR equipment, you’ll also have to pay a monthly membership fee to access live and on-demand classes so you can use the mirror for more than gazing at your own reflection. That monthly fee is $39 for up to six household members. MIRROR also offers one-to-one personal training, which costs $40 per 30-minute session. That’s in addition to the monthly membership fee.
The Echelon Reflect’s upfront cost is a little lower. The list price for the mirror device is $1,199.99, but it’s currently on sale for $1,039.98. The company offers financing for as low as $27 per month. (The Reflect is currently sold out and back ordered to February.)
Both products require a significant investment, but the companies both offer financing to make it easier to acquire their products. Nevertheless, “obviously this isn’t for everyone’s pocketbook,” Jonesco says. “However, it would essentially remove the cost of gym memberships and fitness classes, which depending on your activities, this could save you money in the long run,” he explains.
Keep in mind that if you intend to engage in certain workouts such as yoga or strength training, you’ll also have to factor in the cost of acquiring whatever equipment you need for those activities, such as a yoga mat or free weights.
But if you’re going to use it a lot, a fitness mirror may be a great investment. “While you pay a significant bounty for the mirror and its membership, it brings you a plethora of programming to your home with a sleek design and cool tech with biometric feedback linked to your smart devices,” Jonesco says.
A Growing Market
Look for this area of the at-home fitness equipment market to continue expanding as other companies develop their own answers to the MIRROR in the coming months and years. And if you’re looking to acquire one of these devices, do your research to make sure you’re getting the one that most closely suits your needs and preferences.
Lou Lentine, founder and CEO of Echelon, says that what makes the Echelon Reflect stand out is that the one $39 per month membership gives you access to all of the content the company is constantly making. So, this means that if “you have the Reflect, you get the Echelon United, which is our streaming on-demand and live classes package for $39 per month. You’re also given access to all classes, so you can use your own basic bike or hand weights and have access entirely.”
In 2021, Lentin says the Reflect will be adding new programs and will be adding more content in a variety of popular programs including ab sculpting, beach body ready, big arms, strength building, weight loss, fat burning and more.
Lentine says the company will also be expanding personal training options in the first quarter of 2021 and adding one-to-one training capabilities, “as at-home fitness will remain for many, their core workout regimen and still others will be a part of their hybrid home and gym routine. We want to have that personal training session option as well.”
The MIRROR already offers many of these features, and for her part, Putnam notes that MIRROR is the market leader for this type of technology. “Copycats might see our success and try to imitate the form factor of working out in front of a mirror, but they can’t duplicate the MIRROR community and the deep fitness expertise of our professional and best-in-class instructors. MIRROR is the original innovator, patented and owned by industry leader lululemon, and founded by a former professional dancer and fitness industry veteran. MIRROR originated an entirely new category of in-home fitness, and is the one true leader in cutting-edge hardware, response software and unparalleled content for a uniquely immersive and personalized workout experience. You simply cannot knock-off the experience.”
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