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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Log in to the Upscale, Retro-Cool Home Gym of Your Dreams

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The online service Obé (pronounced “obey”) Fitness offers a modern take on those cult-hit workout VHS tapes your mom used to watch. As you might expect from a company founded by former television talent scouts, Obé stands out from a crowded fitness field with its beautiful set design; engaging, charismatic coaches; and workouts that don’t require any equipment beyond a laptop or an iPhone.

To start out, just choose one of the 15 types of workouts on offer. These range from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions to yoga and meditation classes, and they can be streamed either live or on demand. There’s also a selection of multiday fitness challenge series that offer everything from seven-day beginner programs to monthlong fat-burner collections.

A Whiter Shade of Pale

Obé’s coaches teach their classes from a white box with walls that change color as the workouts progress.

Photograph: Elena Mudd Photo/Obé

The first thing you’ll probably notice about the Obé visual aesthetic is the background setting. Instead of the usual studio setup, the coach is framed by blank walls. As you work out, the hues on the walls change, which creates a lively and dynamic feel to every session. It’s almost enough to distract you from how hard you’re working.

The live classes are the star of the show here, as having a programmed schedule for workouts adds a feeling of accountability and gives you something to look forward to at the end of the workday. But if you can’t make it to the 20 or so daily live classes, there are more than 5,000 on-demand classes you can stream. The on-demand classes are the same format as the live classes, but you don’t get the little thrill of hearing the coach call out your name during a live session.

You don’t need specialized equipment from the company, and some classes don’t need equipment at all. Others require dumbbells and fitness bands, or items around the house, like a chair to grab onto for barre classes.

Coaches will take you through the workouts, occasionally directly addressing class members and shouting personalized encouragement, and here’s where Obé really shines. A home fitness system relies on its coaches and programming to attract people to its service. Coaches can make or break the system, and Obé’s coaches are an absolute home run. Obé’s cofounders, Ashley Mills and Mark Mullett, started out as talent agents, and the majority of their coaching pool has a background in the entertainment industry. Their on-camera charisma and entertaining personalities make each class something to look forward to, rather than dread.

When I coach a CrossFit or powerlifting class, I have to keep an eye on my members as they go through the workouts, so I’m very impressed when I see coaches actively doing the workout while they talk. As I powered through a fitness band workout with coach Melody D., she constantly offered guidance and encouragement, referring to participants by name and even offering short anecdotes throughout. Meanwhile, I was gasping for air and incapable of anything beyond a caveman grunt.

I went into it with a skeptical attitude–I’m used to slinging weights and heaving myself up 20-foot ropes, so I wasn’t sure just how hard these workouts would push me. About 15 minutes into my first workout, I learned that the answer was “a hell of a lot.” It didn’t take long for me to gas out and skip a round of plank reaches while I caught my breath (sorry, Coach Angelo G.).

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