June 20, 2024

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Peloton Guide review: A solid middle ground for at-home fitness

Now that we are well into post-Covid living, Peloton is upping its game for its strength-training classes with a mid-range hardware option. The Peloton Guide, a compact smart fitness product, uses a built-in camera and your TV to track movement and check your form in real-time as well as access exclusive strength-specific programs.

There’s no doubt Peloton helped keep the world in shape over lockdown. And though some enthusiasts were able to splurge on the company’s popular smart bike (which starts at $1195) and All-Access $39/month subscription service to sweat it out in luxe, cardio style, many other folks flocked to the Peloton app’s diverse selection of live and on-demand classes for a more affordable $12.99 per month. The Guide is somewhere in the middle: A simple, set-top device which offers an interactive introduction to the Peloton world, along with a space-saving design and relatively affordable price.

Is the Guide worth the $295 ($545 if you opt for the Starter Set, which comes with three sets of weights and a workout mat) and $24/month subscription fee? Yes and no, depending on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to pay. Here are my thoughts after spending a few weeks with the Peloton Guide.

The Peloton Guide comes at a significantly lower price point than the company’s popular bikes and other connected gym setups like Lululemon’s Mirror. The Guide hooks up to your TV and uses a built-in camera and advanced motion capture to guide you through strength training classes and help you meet fitness goals. If you’re already a Peloton power user, this will add tracking, more precision and personalization to your workouts. But for those who are content paying the much lower price of $12.99/month for the less interactive app, it’s probably not worth the upgrade.

Peloton

When I first started using the $12.99 per month Peloton app, deep in the time of Covid, it was my savior. We already had a Bowflex C6 bike for family use, so I didn’t need to pay the $39 per month All-Access subscription you’re forced to use if you buy a Peloton bike. I did try my hand at the company’s renowned spinning classes but I’ll be honest, I don’t love ‘em. Personally, I’m happier taking my hard hitting cardio in different forms. But I did consistently stream classes from the Strength section of the app, switching daily from upper body, lower body, core, barre and pilates, and sometimes even incorporating a bit of cardio with the Bike Bootcamp classes (which use spinning in smaller bursts to raise your heart rate between strength exercises).

Finally released from my living room to exercise, I realized I wasn’t interested in going back to the Dodge YMCA, especially if I had to wear a mask – and canceled my 15-year gym membership. Instead I invested in a cabinet of weights and started building a personal home workout plan.

With the addition of the Guide, Peloton joins the ranks of other connected fitness products and platforms by upgrading streaming weight training and strength classes with live, interactive movement tracking. This is done with a standalone product which connects to your TV via HDMI, and combines the company’s AI-powered, camera-based technology with the already proven popularity of the platform’s many instructors.

Last year, I was able to review the Tempo Move connected home gym, which uses your iPhone to track your movements on a TV screen, but also comes with a full set of smart weights tucked into a cabinet for $495 and a $39 per month subscription fee. This is Peloton’s closest competition, so I was interested to see how the Guide stacked up. It’s also worth noting that though Peloton is offering an introductory rate of $24/month for the required All-Access subscription through 2022, Guide members will see their membership roll over to $39/month come January 2023.

Tobey Grumet/CNN

Peloton sent me a Guide with a dedicated remote, a set of 10-and-3 pound weights, a workout mat and a heart rate band which you wear on your forearm. The Guide itself looks like an oversized webcam and even comes with a cover which slides over the camera when you’re not using it. It’s beefed up with a Qualcomm QCS605 processor and 4K resolution from its 12MP camera.

Setup was simple with the included remote and HDMI cable, though once it was secure in my TV, it was harder to find the appropriate space in my apartment. Granted, this is city living, so those with larger homes and/or dedicated home gyms may not run into that problem – though you will need a television handy. Peloton suggests 4.5 x 6 feet of “unobstructed space” so that the camera can correctly read you. For me, that meant moving some furniture, but I got it done.

Tobey Grumet/CNN Underscored

Once I secured a spot to work out and unfurled the rubber-like Peloton mat, I simply placed the Guide in front of my TV and followed the instructions to set it up. This includes connecting your heart rate monitor and voice control, though you can skip the latter if you aren’t interested, and calibrating your body movements. But don’t worry. Even though your movement is being tracked, it’s all saved and utilized on the device rather than the cloud to offer better privacy. To wit, once I was done with setup, I got a screen that read: Your Data is Protected. Peloton doesn’t collect or store any recordings from your camera.

The next step is to put in a payment option if you do not have an existing All-Access subscription. If you already pay for the app, you’ll have to upgrade to a Guide-Only account, which as mentioned above, will run you $24/month as an introductory offer until January 2023, when it will automatically rollover to $39/month.

Stellar movement tracking and motivation

Tobey Grumet/CNN Underscored

Once you’re finally ready to get moving, you can distinguish Guide-friendly classes by a Sweat Drop icon on the top right of each class’ thumbnail. And, because the Guide shows what body parts you’ve been working on for the past seven days, as well as a summary of which muscle groups are targeted for each class, it was easier to make educated decisions on my longer-term fitness goals. Peloton also suggests a few classes on the Home screen that might help plug in what you’ve been skimping on. And, you can see other member’s profiles in the same class, along with their age group and location.

Once you decide on and start a class, the Guide captures and streams video to your TV, and you can choose from four different Self Mode views, like Minimized, Maximized, Stacked and Side-by-Side. I was happy with Minimized, thank you very much. You can also choose to hide your Self Mode, though if you ask me, that sort of defeats the purpose – especially when I’m trying not to stick my butt in the air during planks (you know you’ve been there, don’t judge).

That Sweat Drop icon doubles as your on-screen movement tracker during classes and will fill up with blue as you exercise. Stop and it stops as well. Once you’re done with a set, it gives a little “ding” and starts over. Once you’ve finished your workout, you’ll get a detailed summary of your workout, including heart rate, a percentage of which muscles you worked most. And, you’ll also earn badges as you workout, letting you play against yourself and others as you build up your profile.

If you’re already a Peloton user, either as an All-Access subscriber or on the app, you already know how upbeat and simple-to-follow the classes can be. Peloton chooses its instructors carefully and the personalities shine – allowing users to follow their favorites (shoutout to my girl Robin Arzon, who makes the best playlists and makes me laugh through my heavy breathing). Obviously, taking those same strength classes on the Guide, rather than just the app, gave me the added benefit of seeing, and adjusting, my form in real-time. And, it made me feel even more involved because I was interactive, rather than passively watching. It will be up to you to decide whether that kind of reciprocal connectivity is worth the extra bucks you’ll pay monthly.

Tobey Grumet/CNN Underscored

It may be positively cheap compared to Peloton’s pricier bikes or Tread, but the Guide is still an investment. Sure, the hardware itself is just under $300, but if you want a starter set with three different weights, that takes you up to $545. And if you decide to go for six sets of weights, that starts at $935. Compared with the Tempo Move, which comes with four sets of weights and a good-looking cabinet to store them in, it’s not a great deal. However, if you are already a Peloton user, and especially if you pay for the All-Access subscription, it makes a lot more sense.

Another downside is that unlike the Tempo Move, which uses your iPhone as the movement tracker, the Guide must be connected to a TV with an HDMI port, so you can’t simply move to any room or space to workout.

And lastly, though your movements are tracked extremely well on the Guide, it does not count your reps or call you out specifically if you mess up a move. You can certainly self-adjust, but it doesn’t offer as smart a workout as Tempo. However, I would counter by pointing out how much more dynamic and fun the Peloton instructors and classes are in general.

Another annoyance is that Apple Watch connectivity was not available at launch. So, you can only use the Peloton heart rate monitor or any stand-alone Bluetooth heart rate monitor. According to the company, Apple Watch compatibility is “rolling out in the coming months.”

The fact is, a whole lot of folks are not going back to the gym. They may never go back. And having a, well, guide, to help you track your movements and better target and plan your strength training workouts at home is both convenient and extremely helpful.

If you are happy with shedding that monthly gym cost and appreciate the freedom and low, $12.99/month price of the Peloton app, springing for the Guide may not be worth it for you. But if you’re already a heavy Peloton user, the Guide is a no-brainer. It will help motivate you and keep you on-track and balanced with your fitness regime – all while taking up minimal space in your home. And remember, only you can stop your butt from sticking up during those planks.