If 2020 was the year everyone had to start working out at home, 2021 is shaping up to test whether the runners, weight lifters, and wellness enthusiasts actually prefer it that way.
Most of the cutting edge fitness tech available in 2021 came out in 2020. It makes sense: While stuck at home, people had never before been so dependent on tech for their exercise and wellness needs. Companies had to get those products out as soon as possible, and many of them debuted around the holidays, because no one knew how long the pandemic would last. And, as companies like Peloton have shown, capitalizing on the at-home fitness market worked. Before the pandemic, people did not have high hopes for Peloton, and its stock dipped to under $20 per share. But at the height of the pandemic, it hit over $160 per share.
The 2020 boom means people looking for the most essential health and fitness products in 2021 have a lot to choose from. From smart watches to VR, there have never been more impressive options. But 2021 — and a post pandemic return to normality — will put our allegiance to that tech to the test. Now that people are starting to have the choice of returning to the gym or group fitness classes, will all the devices that let us exercise and track our fitness from home stay essential, or start gathering dust?
Here’s the most essential health and fitness tech of 2021 (so far).
The giant in the smartwatch arena is still Apple, and the Apple Watch Series 6 from September 2020 is its crown jewel. It’s easy to use, has accurate and useful fitness metrics, comes with a variety of health features (like the ability to take an ECG), and looks pretty dang cool.
However, Apple reliably comes out with a new smart watch each year, and the Apple Watch Series 7 will likely come out in fall. Plus, while Mashable’s review deemed the Series 6 an absolutely solid smartwatch (especially its fitness tracking abilities), it’s not that huge of an upgrade from the Apple Watch Series 5. So, you might want to hold on until September for the essential smartwatch of the future.
If you’re not into Apple, the Fitbit Versa 3 delivers as a smartwatch, and excels as a fitness tracker, especially by providing in-depth metrics and trends over time in the companion app. Plus, at $229.95, it’s more affordable than the $399 starting cost of the Apple Watch.
Non-smartwatch fitness and health trackers
What if you want to track your steps and heart rate, but don’t want the pressure of answering your emails and texts from your wrist? You’re looking for a fitness and health tracker that’s not part of a smartwatch.
There are a few recent, high quality options. The Whoop Strap 3.0 delivers in-depth metrics for people serious about their exercise. It can automatically detect the activity you’re doing, and by constantly monitoring your heart rate, show you granular insights like how much more or less time you spent at your peak HR than in previous workouts. The Oura ring creates three simple scores that indicate your activity level, sleep quality, and “readiness” for activity based on a lot of data that it ingests — all by wearing a ring around your finger.
Mashable’s all-around choice is the Fitbit Charge 4. At $149, it’s more affordable than the previous two options, which are both over $300. It has GPS, measures strides as well as distance, tracks “Active Zone Minutes,” and is compatible with a variety of smartwatches.
Google entered the sleep tracking world in March 2021 with its Nest Hub. The smart home product with a display included, for the first time, a feature that delivers metrics about the length and quality of your sleep.
It doesn’t rely on a sensor like a smart watch. Instead, it uses high accuracy motion detectors that keep an eye on you while you slumber. There are plenty of other excellent sleep trackers out there from 2020, like the sleep tracking function on the Fitbit Versa 3. Plus, Mashable found the Google product a bit… creepy. Since it uses radar motion tracking to detect movement (even movement as subtle as the rise and fall of your chest with your breath), it was literally always watching. But this is the aggressive sleep tech 2021 has to offer, so I guess we’ll take it.
Muse is a Mashable favorite for meditation wearables (yes, that’s a category). The fabric head band of its 2020 model, the Muse S, is specifically designed to be worn before and even during bed. Muse plays guided meditations and can measure whether you’re in a meditative state. It now has meditations meant to help transition wearers into dreamland, too, and in-depth metrics to track your slumber.
Home exercise equipment (and apps)
There were no shortage of companies that make smart exercise equipment vying to take the place of the gym during the pandemic. There’s The Mirror for guided classes, Tonal for an all-in-one gym, smart rowers like Hydrow and treadmills like NordicTrack, all hoping to become indispensable.
But thanks to community features, magnetic instructors, and just a darn good product, the Cult of Peloton seems to have outridden them all. It’s the Mashable Choice because, as our reviewer wrote, “The workouts are tough, but the captivating experience and (practically) never ending list of exercise classes are enough to make me want to glue myself to the seat and stay in the magical Peloton universe forever.”
Peloton, however, will probably be sticking to bikes. In 2021 it recalled its Tread+ and Tread treadmills for safety hazards: one child died, and dozens of others were injured, in accidents involving the rear roller of the machine.
If stories like that make you want to depart the physical plain, exercising in VR actually got way more viable in the last year. The Oculus Quest 2 is a wireless VR headset that’s easy to use, and quite honestly, incredibly cool. It now has a robust library of games that get your heart pumping (like Beat Saber or The Climb 2), as well as some activities specifically intended for exercise, like Supernatural and VZFit.
Percussive massagers have been having a moment, but it’s a personal choice about whether you actually need to spend hundreds of dollars on something to supplement your recovery. However, if the answer to that is “yes,” there are two winners that have emerged: Therabody’s Theragun and Hyperice’s Hypervolt.
They have extremely similar technical specs in terms of pressure, power, and customizability. And both come with educational content to guide you through routines. That’s incredibly important considering using these high-powered machines correctly is the difference between game-changing relief and accidental injury.