This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.
To truly understand the proliferation of at-home workout apps, you have to go back in time to when exercising alone was a matter of preference, not protocol. That time being January, when consumers worldwide, inspired by a slew of athletic-oriented New Year’s resolutions, spent $35.3 million on health and fitness apps in a single week, according to market analysis firm App Annie. That number rose to a record-breaking $36 million during the last full week of March, when social distancing orders became more widespread across the globe.
Polly de Mille, director of performance services at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who focuses her research on the gap between injury and peak athletic performance, sees convenience and variety as two of the most enticing reasons to try at-home apps. “You’re in the no-judgment zone in your own home,” says de Mille. “But the greatest benefits of at-home fitness apps are also their greatest liability.”
De Mille’s job — and that of trainers and hands-on instructors — exists for a reason. “Even the greatest online instructors in the world can’t watch your form when you’re at home,” she points out. And when executed improperly, many exercises can lead to injury.
“If you are doing anything that feels odd or uncomfortable, stop and assess your form,” says Heather Milton, an exercise physiologist and clinical specialist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, who has seen knee and shoulder injuries result from improperly executed squat jumps and push-ups. Milton suggests self-monitoring your moves in a mirror.
We did one better and recorded ourselves while testing some of the buzziest solo workout apps, and then sent the videos to de Mille, Milton, and Nike trainer Ariel Foxie to weigh in on our form (and then destroy the files forever… right, guys?).
$27 a month; available on the App Store
“Obé (pronounced ‘obey’ with a vague sense of humor) offers about a dozen daily, live, living-room-friendly classes — Pilates, yoga, barre, boxing, dance, and more — from morning through afternoon. This is wonderful if you are the kind of person for whom vinyasa yoga sounds like a fun lunchtime activity; grueling for everybody else. Beaming into a live class remotely allows the user to berate their laptop screen with abandon when they have been tricked, yet again, into performing a burpee at a glacial pace.” — Brennan Kilbane, senior writer
Form Check: Yoga may seem ideal for a no-equipment workout, but set up your space to suit you, like positioning your laptop screen within easy gaze, suggests de Mille, so you don’t put unnecessary tension on your spine by hyperextending your neck. And beware of rugs underfoot: “If you are in a lunge position with one foot on a throw rug and another off and the rug slides, you could pull the hamstring on the front leg or a hip flexor on the back,” cautions de Mille.
COUCH TO 5K
$4.99 onetime purchase; available on the App Store and Google Play
“You’ll find eight weeks of workouts that gradually step up to a 5K (about 3.1 miles). At first the workouts are a mix of walking and jogging, all of which can be done on a treadmill or while wearing a mask and staying away from others to observe social distancing rules. The app plays well with music and podcast programs, letting you choose your own tunes rather than forcing you to listen to a BPM-optimized soundtrack, and prompts you with a ding when it’s time to change your pace. My favorite feature is the halfway bell: It lets me know when I should turn home, so I don’t end my run in an Uber (a newbie’s nightmare).” —Jessica Cruel, features director