Even before gyms closed down (because they’d quickly become coronavirus Petri dishes), I always found it intimidating to walk through the door. Growing up, all I’d ever done to stay fit was participate in youth sports. I played soccer, ran laps, and did the occasional push-ups, planks, and other bodyweight exercises as coaches demanded them.
But as I got older and it came time to tame my steadily expanding beer belly, I’d walk past the free-weight section of my local gym and head straight to the treadmill. I know strength training is important, but I had no idea where to begin. That’s where the Tempo Studio comes in. It’s a large digital workout screen, and it feels like the home gym alternative built for the pandemic. Similar to its competitors such as Mirror, it aims to make digital exercise classes feel like one-on-one training sessions.
But what makes the Tempo stand out is its use of 3D sensors, which track your movements to improve your form. In my first test session, my knees went over my ankles as one of the onscreen trainers had me doing weighted squats. The 3D sensors on the front of the Tempo noticed, and immediately triggered a red warning on the bottom left corner of the screen. One rep later, I corrected my positioning.
The Tempo Studio is the perfect machine for learning in solitude. But the barrier that will put a lot of people off is the price. It starts at $1,995, and then there’s the subscription, which costs $39 per month. But if following along with free YouTube videos while working out hasn’t been cutting it for you, maybe it’s worth considering the investment.
The Big White Triangle
The Tempo isn’t as gaudy as you might expect. It’s essentially a 6-foot white triangle with a 42-inch vertical touchscreen TV on the front. I’d go so far as to call it aesthetically pleasing for a workout machine, especially given how well it hides its own accessories between uses.
A cabinet below the screen opens to reveal hangers holding four sizes of weights, ranging from 1.25 to 10 pounds. You can combine plates to create weights that range from from 7.5 to 100 pounds. On the back, you’ll find a bench press bar and two dumbbell bars, discreetly stowed. There’s even an open, triangle-shaped hole between the back of the touchscreen and the back side, a perfect place to store the included heart rate sensor, workout mat, and foam roller. When you’re not exercising, it looks like a digital armoire.
The Tempo Studio is also better for small spaces than a Peloton or other “smart” workout machines. As long as your downstairs neighbors don’t mind hearing you jump squat, you can easily fit it in an apartment. All you really need is an outlet, ceilings high enough to lift weights fully above your head, and about 6 feet of space in front of the machine to place the included workout mat.
Home Workout Future
The problem with most workout machines is that they’re not very personal. You can typically compare yourself with a leaderboard of other wealthy adults based on wattage or mileage, but it’s not like there’s someone on the other side of the screen telling you how your form might be hurting you or offering real-time feedback on how fast you’re doing your reps.
The Tempo solves that with special infrared sensors that create a 3D model of your body based on 80,000 individual points. It takes this data and puts it into an artificial intelligence engine that reduces it to 25 pivot points on your body. Feet, ankles, knees, shoulders, neck, back, wrists, and hands are all accounted for in real time. If you’re worried about privacy, the company says the sensors don’t take the type of images that are identifiable to you—think a skeletal figure—and it doesn’t capture any photos of your home.
It can detect the range of motion of your lifts and count your reps as you do them, say whether you need to slow down or speed up, and call you out when one of those pivot points isn’t where it should be—like my knees-over-ankles problem. It even uses heart rate and the speed of your reps, among other data points, to suggest raising or lowering weight levels and helps you understand which workouts are particularly challenging for you. At the end of each session, you can offer feedback on how hard the workout was, so the AI can provide better exercise suggestions.
Lots of Options
Given what you get in the whole package, the Tempo centers around free-weight exercises like weighted squats, rows, and presses. But I was still impressed to find a vast array of workout styles, whether you’re trying to get ripped or just looking to supplement running or other workouts.
Your first workout on the machine is a fitness assessment of sorts. The Tempo learns what weights to suggest during later workouts. Then the exercises range from quick stretching and mobility sessions to longer strength-training grinds and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Everything is well designed. I love that the workouts vary in time and intensity, and that warm-ups and cool-downs are included in every workout. You can even choose multiweek training plans, all of which are great for beginners like me.
The instructors that lead each prerecorded class do so with real skill. They help motivate you through tougher workouts and give great advice on form for various lifts and exercises. Also, real-time analysis of my form and rep counting, plus a big timer in the upper right corner of the screen that notes how much longer I have to suffer, made everything less daunting.
They weren’t available during my early review period, but the company has now begun offering live classes, where instructors can use multiple screens in front of them to monitor each participant’s heart rate and rep counts, as well as look for common form issues in the group. The rollout was initially delayed due to coronavirus concerns in production. It’s worth noting that even if you don’t like live classes, new prerecorded workouts are continuing to be made available.
A Nearly Perfect Quarantine Gym
It’s all so easy. Press a button on the back of the device, pick your account, and pick a workout (only one person can use it at a time, but you can make multiple home profiles for other folks in the house). It asks for your height, weight, and age, to help it calculate calorie burn and determine logical starting weights, and also to store your workout data for future viewing. It even gives you time to prep the weights before classes.
The only problem I had was that it occasionally miscounted reps when I was doing pushups. Full disclosure: My partner and I were using it in a small room without much space behind the workout mat. All other exercises counted reps nearly perfectly, though dropping a count did happen on rare occasions. I wasn’t too bothered by it; it works very well the vast majority of the time.
But $1,995 is a lot to pay for anything. It becomes a little less painful when you think about how much your monthly gym membership costs in the before times. To soften the price, you can make $55 monthly payments with zero interest for 36 months, though you’ll still have to shell out $39 a month on top of it for access to the content. If it helps, you can use the 30-day free trial to test the waters, and you can ship the product back for a full refund minus shipping. Plus, you get a three-year warranty on the machine.
If you’re already a master of free weights or at-home exercise like WIRED senior writer Arienne So, you don’t need this machine to keep you sweating. But if you’re looking for a gym-free way to supplement outdoor activities like running or cycling, you might be hovering over the buy-now button at this very moment.
One thing’s for sure: The Tempo Studio brings a new level of personalization to onscreen workouts. It’s an excellent example of AI assistance done right.
Updated on July 6, 2020: A previous version of this review stated that live classes weren’t available yet. We’ve updated this review to reflect that they are now available.