Who needs art when you can get a dumbbell that doubles as a sculpture?
At this point, COVID-19 has reshaped almost every aspect of our lives, from the way we work, to the way we travel, to the way we dress. And with the delta variant making another winter of at-home workouts increasingly likely, fitness brands are designing gorgeous pieces of workout equipment to appeal to our sense of style. Bulky dumbbells and clunky fitness accessories are being replaced by an array of gear fit for Instagram.
There’s the pastel-colored kettlebell that could pass for a ceramic sculpture. The “marble” dumbbell that’s actually made of travertine but looks like a miniature column from an ancient Greek temple. And the gym roller, courtesy of athletic apparel giant Lululemon, that can be propped up vertically and stand like a contemporary totem on your TV stand.
“It’s about redefining what traditional equipment is,” says Kodi Berg, founder of Equipt, a fitness equipment company based in Los Angeles. “By making it art, you add sensuality to the traditional movement; it evokes a different emotion than what a dumbbell [would].”
Equipt’s star product is the Ubarre, an elegant, U-shaped tool that can double as a dumbbell, yoga block, Pilates ring—and sculpture. Available in four weights and six colors—from “alpine” white to “burnt brass” to “midnight” black—the patented tool was made to be seen. “It’s for my own message,” Berg says. “No one needs to know it’s a weight.”
Berg, who started her career in modeling and has since become a certified trainer, says it’s all about the “visual trigger.” Research has shown our preference for curves over sharp angles, and for Berg this extends to our broader affinity for pretty things. “The hand is going to reach for what is beautiful,” she says. So basically, we may work out more often if a glistening Ubarre is there to encourage us to do so.
Berg says business has grown sixfold since the start of the pandemic. Equipt has traditionally sold directly to consumers, but it’s now also making deals with businesses in 14 countries, from hotels, gyms, and Pilates studios to ultra-luxury condominiums like Miami’s One Thousand Museum, and even wholesalers like Ireland’s Brown Thomas department stores.
Berg’s success captures the current zeitgeist. The home fitness equipment market was valued at just under $11 billion in 2021, and it’s projected to hit almost $15 billion by 2028. Spend enough time on the internet and you’ll discover a fitness world where refined design meets healthy lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, this combo comes at a price. The above-mentioned marble dumbbell is available in a 2-pound weight and will cost you $109.95, compared to about $6 for one neoprene-coated dumbbell from Modell’s. Berg’s Ubarre isn’t easy on the wallet either (priced from $150 to $180 depending on the weight), though its versatile uses make it harder to compare to other products.
Yet all of this is perhaps more palatable than the price—and size—of heftier machines like a Peloton bike (which hovers around the $2,000 mark) or a Mirror, the wall-mounted machine that doubles as a minimalist mirror and will set you back about $1,500. The sticker shock is real, but if Mirror’s success is any indication (it was bought by Lululemon for $500 million in June), the price point hasn’t stopped eager fitness aficionados from shelling out.
The craze for home fitness equipment isn’t all that surprising, given the recent boom in furniture sales. After so much time spent at home, it turns out we care deeply about the way our surroundings look. So much so that when 1,500 homeowners were interviewed about the effect social media has on how they view their homes, one in ten admitted to feeling critical of their own home compared to other properties on Instagram.
If every little thing in our home has to look good for IG, why shouldn’t our fitness equipment look great too? For Berg, aesthetics were embedded into the product from the beginning. When she thought up the concept, she says the shape came first. For the overall vibe, she drew inspiration from a source with zero connection to the fitness industry. She brought a bag of makeup and a gold-accented tube of lipstick when she approached her first manufacturer. “Meet Tom Ford,” she said to him. And the rest was history.