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Mirror, Mirror on the wall, can I lose 10 pounds this fall?

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Kristen Ulve
(Kirsten Ulve / For The Times)

I am in the finished basement of our family home, about to do my first workout with a new trainer. God knows I need it: For more than a decade, I have been losing my battle with physical fitness and, at age 57, have decided to finally get serious and fight back. My plan is to work out at least four times a week, maybe five, and not find excuses this time for capitulating to the couch.

Dressed in Yogalicious capri pants and a Calvin Klein Performance T-shirt (newly purchased for motivation), I greet my instructor, Rachel, ready to start with an easy workout she has designed.

“Happy Sunday,” she says to me, as I make sure the space around us is clear. “I’ve put together a cardio strength class for us,” she says, adding that I will need a light elastic band and dumbbells. “Go ahead and grab one or two sets, lighter and heavier so you have the option.” I dig out the band and 3- and 5-pound sets of weights from a nearby basket and rush back.

Minutes later, I am following her every movement through a sequence of squats, arm exercises and some half-plank movements. A jumping-jack routine has even been adjusted to accommodate my right foot, still somewhat weak after an injury several years ago.

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“Accept where you are at present,” she tells me, encouragingly, as I huff and puff along. “You are creating change in your body.” By the end of the workout, I am sweating profusely but feel truly energized. I want to throw my arms around Rachel and thank her for making this Sunday more about exercise than eating, but I can’t.

Rachel is a hologram.

Jennifer Conlin
Working out with Julie, one of the Mirror trainers.
(Daniel Rivkin / For The Times)

A few days earlier, a gorgeous black case with one word, “MIRROR,” written in white italic capital letters on its lid arrived on my doorstep. Inside was a heart monitor, six beautifully wrapped rubber bands of different lengths and elasticity, and a card that read, “Hello! Welcome to Mirror! Thank you for being an early member of this growing fitness revolution. We built Mirror because we were tired of fighting our ‘real lives’ for our fitness goals.”

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The card was signed by Brynn Putnam, a Harvard graduate and former professional ballet dancer who founded the Refine Movement, a boutique gym in New York, and is now the entrepreneur behind Mirror.

As its name suggests, Mirror, which launched in September 2018, is a full-length mirror that one puts on a wall. Like other in-home workout devices that have jump-started a movement, Mirror streams a variety of original on-demand and live classes taken by an unseen community of fellow exercisers and led by eight motivational trainers. With Mirror, these instructors suddenly appear on the surface of the screen, allowing you to mirror their movements through a variety of workouts at different levels. What’s more, you need only the space of a yoga mat and, unlike working out on an iPad, don’t have to squint to see your trainer.

Two days after my Mirror box arrived in late August, two men delivered, installed and plugged in my mirror in less than 15 minutes. I downloaded the Mirror iOS app on my iPhone (it will launch an Android version in November), paired the Mirror with my Wi-Fi and heart rate monitor, and filled out my profile, including past injuries. (It can also be synced to a Bluetooth heart rate monitor as well as Bluetooth audio device.)

I was now ready for my first on-demand class. (I decided to hold off on a live class until I knew what I was doing.)

Standing before the Mirror, the irony of the moment was not lost on me. In recent years, I had been avoiding mirrors. Now, I was about to confront my body head-on with the help of a trainer. I scrolled through the dizzying choice of a dozen types of workouts, from kickboxing (which I had never done) to stretching and everything in between: cardio, yoga, Pilates … you name it. Within each category, I could choose classes of different levels (1 to 4) and duration (15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes).

Jennifer Conlin boxing
Taking a kickboxing lesson from Armond.
(Daniel Rivkin / For The Times)

On my first day, I chose the easiest class I could find: a Level 1, 15-minute workout led by Rachel.

When I clicked on her class, I could see the other Mirror subscribers remotely joining the session. Their names and locations streamed across the bottom of the screen: One in Houston, another in Maine, even one in my own town in Michigan.

The class was over before I could blink. I loved it … and then I hated it. At the end of each workout, the Mirror reveals key data about your performance. Mine was disastrous. My average heart rate was 64 beats per minute (was I asleep?), I had burned only 71 calories (depressingly, the same amount as half a glass of wine), and I had been in the target “zone” for only one minute. It was obvious I had nowhere to go but up. I was the biggest loser.

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But then the words “Boom Jennifer, you did it!” shone out from my Mirror. I immediately logged into another class.

My journey from fit to fat officially began in 2009. Until then, I had resided in cities (seven to be exact) for my entire adult life and much of my daily routine involved walking from one destination to another. Then we moved into a house in the countryside six miles from the nearest grocery store, and the only thing my feet regularly hit was the car accelerator. My husband and I watched as the pounds piled on, and we panicked.

We put an old exercise bike and treadmill that my parents no longer used in the basement. While my husband enjoyed both, I did not. Exercising to the news or music didn’t motivate me. I joined a gym so I could take group classes, which I had always loved, but then ruptured my Achilles and spent the next six months in a cast and rehab. Returning to a full-time job, as I did four years ago after 30 years of working from home and raising three children, I quickly learned how hard it is to both work and work out.

Mirror’s fitness model totally reflected (pun intended) my life. Or as Putnam’s welcome card read, “We all deserve great content, tons of variety, true personalization, and a vibrant community on our schedule in the easiest place to work out: our homes.”

It turns out Putnam came up with the idea when she became pregnant and started feeling a time squeeze between running her gym business and tending to her morning sickness. “My story is not unlike your story,” she said in a recent phone interview. “Taking 30 minutes to go back and forth to fit in my own workout was too much.”

Though she tried at-home app-streaming classes, they did not feel interactive enough and she missed the visual feedback of her gym, outfitted with mirrors. “I was sacrificing quality for convenience,” she said.

Before I discovered Mirror, I was contemplating joining Peloton. Everyone I knew was experiencing the adrenaline of virtual fitness via Peloton, which has more than 1 million users taking advantage of its streaming workouts on bikes and treadmills. (Flywheel, one of Peloton’s brick-and-mortar competitors, just announced it will close 11 of its 42 locations nationwide.)

Although Putnam will not yet disclose Mirror’s sales numbers, she said it exceeded its first-year target during last year’s holiday season and that there were now Mirrors in every state. To keep up with demand, this November, Mirror is opening its second store, in Century City. Its first is in New York’s Flatiron District.

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Mirror is not inexpensive at $1,495, but it costs less than the Peloton bike ($2,245) and far less than the Peloton treadmill ($4,295). Mirror is waiving its delivery and installation fee of $250 and offering a 36-month, zero-interest payment plan that comes out to $42 a month. (According to Putnam, 40% of Mirror users have chosen that option.) The monthly subscription fee is the same as Peloton at $39, and like Peloton, one Mirror subscription allows multiple users (in the case of Mirror, six per subscription). I could see how it might benefit other members of my family given that the app includes an easy chair class my elderly parents might enjoy, and even pre- and postnatal classes (though I am not ready to be a grandmother).

Mirror grid
The Mirror setup in Conlin’s basement (left). Fellow workout partners (right) came from places as far-flung as New York, Houston and Boston.
(Daniel Rivkin / For The Times)

Considering I had been paying $25 a week for a Saturday morning Pilates class (not including gas), this felt like a bargain. If for some reason I did not like what I saw in the Mirror within 30 days, I could return it, though I would have to pay $250 for its delivery back to the company.

In my first Mirror month, I worked out on average four times a week. If I woke up late with little time before work, feeling groggy, I would take a 15-minute yoga, stretch or toning class (though they were still tough as I advanced to a few Level 2 classes after the first two weeks). If I woke up early and bright-eyed, I would take a 30-minute cardio dance or kickboxing class. (When alone, you try new classes, unfazed if you trip over a dance move or kick the mirror by accident.)

My enthusiasm was so great, I started canceling happy hour with friends and instead invited them over to hang with my Mirror and me … and Rachel and Julie and Lance, my Mirror trainers who felt like my new best friends. Why drink calories when you could burn them? On weekends, I would participate in live workouts where I could hear my teacher shout out to me in real time, “Keep it up, Jennifer!” as I and my fellow classmates sent emojis during a water break that would light up next to our names, proving we were present … and alive. I even did a Tracy Anderson class (Mirror has a content partnership with her).

When I had to travel one week, I missed my Mirror and wished my hotel gym had one (a number of luxury hotels apparently do have Mirrors now, as do Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Ellen DeGeneres). Last week, I tried my first Level 3, 45-minute strength class with a new trainer, Gerren. At the end, I marveled at my results. I had burned nearly 500 calories, been in the zone for 22 minutes, and had an average heart rate of 115. I have not lost 10 pounds, but I have lost five. And I feel stronger, more empowered, and more motivated to get in shape than I have in a decade.

On Oct. 8, Mirror launched a two-way audio and video experience that is analogous to having a personal trainer in your home. For $40 for a 30-minute session, trainers will be able to see and hear their clients, and give feedback and corrections in real time.

I hope to have Rachel, my first trainer. But I still won’t be able to hug her when class is over.


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