My non-sponsored, long-term review of Tempo.fit

In January 2022 I blogged about my weight loss journey, and some of the high-tech gizmos I tried to make the process easier. At the end, I said I was looking into at-home workout systems like Tempo. In April, I bought the Tempo Move, and about a year later I bought a used Tempo Studio, the stylish display-included big brother of the Move, because it fit better in my space, and several of the Tempo accessories (all new). A year later, I sold most of the accessories and was ready to list the Studio for sale.

I’ve learned a lot about what drove me to work out at home, and I’m writing this for anyone else who is looking into buying a Tempo or wants to get into strength training at home but isn’t a fitness expert.

grayscale photo of black adjustable dumbbell
You list these to get bigger muscles. Adding photos to your blog post is like working out for search engines.

Why tempo, though?

A few years ago, I moved away from the personal trainer / gym I liked and found I didn’t like any of the gyms near me. I really wanted to give one of the at-home tech-y workout tools a try. Thankfully, any large life decision can be decided with a spreadsheet, so I made a big spreadsheet comparing all the tech-forward options to work out at home (I keep it up to date!). The choice was pretty clear: if you want to do strength training, live in an apartment or don’t want to drill holes in your walls, you have three options: Tempo, Speediance, and Vitruvian.

Speediance wasn’t out yet at the time, and the Vitruvian was a bit rich for me at $3,000 (plus the standard $40/mo for class content). The Tempo Move was – and still is – $499. Tempo is also better long-term becuase the weights are just regular weights, so if the company collapses you have “dumb” dumbbells and not a “smart” metal pile of e-waste. I finally joined the Blue Bubble gang with an iPhone 13 (there were many other considerations) and bought the Move.

Sometimes, customer testimonials are actually true – I agree with this!

We like – but do not love – to move it move it

So, does the Tempo help you build strength at home? Yes! I’m not going to repeat the sales pitch, but it’s pretty simple: the system uses standard free weights, there are video and live classes, you follow the class and lift heavy things to make your muscles bigger. A time-tested weightlifting strategy, helped along by engaging technology. Even though many parts of it don’t work as expected, it’s still compelling.

The good

The core Tempo experience almost works as advertised, and it’s good! I won’t go over the stuff that works because it’s precisely what it says on the tin. I enjoy most of the coaches (and the ones I don’t are still fine), the class library has a decent-enough amount of content, the hardware design and quality is great (with one glaring exception), you can play your own music, and so on. Tempo has been in the game a bit longer than many of its competitors, and it shows with the depth of features they provide. Most other connected fitness devices don’t let you bring your own music at all or even adjust the coach/music mix! This is a huge deal for me, and for countless other people, judging by the forums of other products. Your favorite music can make a workout much more tolerable.

This is a short section because if you research into anything online, it’s easy to find glowing praise from people who got the system as a freebie (my favorite was a video with “not sponsored” in the title where the author revealed they got a free review unit, but this didn’t count as sponsorship somehow). Let’s get into the problems!

The bad

There are a few fatal flaws with the Tempo system, some of which are flaws with all the current at-home systems.

Bluetooth woes

Starting with the most annoying issue: The Bluetooth connection to the Studio is so bad I have to leave my phone inside the cabinet or it won’t work, and even then, it’s spotty. This makes Apple Watch connectivity and Bluetooth audio extremely frustrating to use. Tempo will ask you how many more reps you could have done to calculate your RIR (reps in reserve) and it’s much easier to answer from your watch, but this only works when the connection is strong enough, and it usually isn’t.

When I had the Move, it would often fail to dock correctly or bug out mid-class. Strangely, it also had issues staying connected to my Apple Watch.

Tempo’s CEO promised in the Facebook group that fixes to Bluetooth are coming soon this year, and I’ll update here if it gets better.

The dartboard method of weight training

Any good trainer is supposed to always know exactly how much weight to have you move. All the trainers I’ve had in the past knew exactly how much weight I could handle – both in general and on that specific day. It was uncanny how they knew exactly how far I could be pushed before failure.

You might think a software system that tracks all of your reps and the weight you do them at would excel at this. Tempo has thousands of data points! Data lakes! AI! Surely these buzzwords can all math out how much weight I can lift, at least pretty roughly?

Wrong! The Tempo weight estimation is wrong almost as often as it’s right, and when it’s “right” sometimes I feel like I’m not being pushed as hard as I can go. I don’t expect it to be anywhere near as a good as a real trainer, but when it’s regularly off by 10+ pounds, I feel like I can’t rely on it at all.

(the lack of) form correction

Form correction is nearly nonexistent, which, to be fair, is what I would expect from anything that doesn’t involve a personal trainer. However, Tempo heavily advertises the form correction feature in their marketing material. For the handful of movements it supports, it has corrected me accurately maybe one time (and I knew I was doing it wrong already). As with the weight recommendations, I didn’t expect this to get close to what a trainer could do, but it barely does anything at all.

It feels dishonest to see how much of Tempo’s website and marketing talks about the form correction, considering how useless it is. The weight recommendations might be wrong for just me, but there’s no way this works well for anyone.

the marketing slide on the website doesn’t even show the form correction in action!

You may not have it your way, ever

The Tempo system disallows changing almost everything other than the amount of weight. This is extremely annoying because it’s not a difficult technology problem like advanced form correction AI, it’s the lack of a skip button and other simple things.

  • You can choose a range of durations that you prefer to work out in 20-minute chunks (0-20 minutes, 20-40, 40+). The training program ignores this preference.
  • You can’t skip anything except the warm-up and cooldown sets. Sometimes I’d like to challenge myself with a longer workout (or the Tempo burns me out in the first 15 minutes with horrible weight recs) and want to skip some movements. Your only option is to just let the class play unattended. Does this throw off the weight recommendations? Probably.
  • If you’re struggling and want to do the movements with less than 7.5lbs, you can’t! I discovered this when I was assigned a 55-minute class (my preference was set to 30-40 minute classes) that had 20 minutes of Bulgarian split squats.
  • Trainers will regularly tell users to modify the workout if they have a mobility restriction or are tired. This is normally great for a trainer to do! But with Tempo, it’s awkward. If you don’t do what the machine expects you to do, it makes disappointed “bloop”-ing noises at you the entire time. This is actually pretty funny when you’re not in the middle of a workout after a long day. I realize they can’t do rep tracking on everything, but why not let me tap a button on my Apple Watch to tell the machine I’m doing an alternative version of the movement and to please stop yelling at me?

Getting a human in, then right back out, of the loop

Sometime in 2022, Tempo announced a program where you could pay $20 extra a month, and work with a real coach. I was ecstatic about this feature. Combining the Tempo content with a real personal trainer would solve a ton of the issues I was experiencing. Imagine my reaction when I saw the “coach” would only build playlists of existing classes for you – literally nothing else. Unsurprisingly, Tempo killed this feature shortly after it was introduced.

The Training Plan program, introduced in 2023 shortly after the Coach program died, has partially pre-set programs for more muscle groups (like upper body, or glutes). It seems to have two “bookend” classes – an intro and a final “test” class to see how much you went up in weight – filled in by algorithmically selected content from the class library.

It is terrible. It’s been worse than an individual class at knowing what weight I need, and ignores your class duration and coach preferences. With more personalization, it could be great – but it’s terrible as-is. I’ve stopped using it.

With respect to Dan F (if this is real), but this make me think he’s never had a personal trainer. If you’re real Dan, please ask for a refund, your trainer scammed you.

bonus round: the killer squat rack

Tempo is ostensibly designed for heavy strength training, as opposed to systems like the Peloton Guide which does HIIT-style strength training, or cable-based systems that max out at relatively low weights (200lb, usually, which is low for most intermediate lifters on leg stuff like squats). There’s a problem with this, though – the Tempo system doesn’t seem built with heavy weight in mind.

The prime culprit: the folding squat rack – officially released in 2020 – is not only wobbly and terror-inducing to use, but it has a max weight of something like 220 lbs (I lost the manual and the weight limit isn’t on Tempo’s website). A trainer actually scoffed when I told him the weight limit. The rack, being a sleek, folding easel-type thing, doesn’t have safeties either.

I don’t know how someone hasn’t ripped a hole in their floor with this yet

It’s the only rack I’ve ever used that feels like if I nudged it from the side it would fall over. The slots for the legs are only about an inch deep, and the levers to secure the legs in place don’t click in, they just get tighter. I’ve read multiple other posts on the Facebook group and Reddit that indicate I didn’t get a defective unit – the design is just bad.

there is one inch of metal between you and a big problem

I sold the squat rack (and the superfluous-but-not-dangerous kettlebell add-on) a few months after getting it. Yes, I did warn the new buyer before we closed the deal.

The ugly – is at-home strength training even a good idea for anyone?

ecosystems are hard

The entire point of paying a premium for these systems – instead of just buying much cheaper weights on their own and using whatever app you want – is the ecosystem they provide. There are plenty of great fitness apps, great video libraries, and great hardware that doesn’t work together; having one piece of the ecosystem isn’t unique.

regular waste and e-waste

Ecosystems of tightly integrated hardware and software can lead that hardware to become e-waste when the beautiful dreamers who built it crash into the brick wall of the market.

On that note: Tempo has been running a 43% sale on the Studio for months, and I think there’s a pretty clear reason why: they’re clearing out old inventory. With the iPhone now using USB-C, Tempo can release a dock that works for both iPhone and Android. Tempo has been telling people Android has been in the works for years. If it’s finally ready, it’s the perfect time to kill off the gigantic Studio, which runs custom Tempo software and the now-deprecated Azure Kinect developer camera. Selling a dock and heavy weights is enough trouble, I can imagine that being able to stop selling a huge, heavy a-frame TV will help simplify operations a bit.

On the positive side, according to a guy on Reddit, you can plug a hard drive with your own OS on the Studio, and it apparently just works, so even if Tempo goes belly-up or kills the Studio you can have a nice vertical touchscreen PC. I tried plugging my iPhone in to mirror the screen, but your device needs to be able to manually set screen rotation. Tempo could probably fix this a lot easier with a software update, but they likely won’t.

the human touch

Trainers are notoriously expensive (it’s around $90/session near me, so $360/month), but the longer I used the Tempo, the more I realized I wasn’t really learning anything that stuck. Would it be better to use that money and work with a real trainer three months a year and just muddle through the rest of the time, I wondered?

I briefly worked with a trainer who was OK with remote training, and I made more noticeable progress in three months than I did in a long time (I was working out a little longer than normal and using much heavier weight). But this brief return to training made me realize just how much better it is, if you can afford it (and keep up with it, which I could not).

In-person classes at a gym are the middle ground, you can (sometimes) get this. You’re paying a lower rate compared to a personal session, but the human being can just look at you and tell you you’re bending your back too much on your row or whatever. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a gym with group strength classes.

Most of trainers I’ve worked with say they would hate training someone online-only (the one I trained online-only with was never happy I was at home and not a gym) or in a group session and don’t do it, so I imagine that’s part of the reason why.

While writing this article, I found that Forme now has app-only programs and does offer personal training at “big city personal trainer” rates (one hour/week @ $400/mo). This is around what Future Fitness charges for app-only workouts and some kind of trainer feedback. If I can ever get my iPhone display on the Tempo screen I might try it for a short time. It’s too expensive to keep long-term.

Wrap-up

Would I buy a Tempo in 2021 again, knowing what I know now? Yes. Mostly because there isn’t anything else like it.

The Peloton Guide isn’t designed for real weightlifting. Speediance doesn’t have classes. The Vitruvian is over three thousand dollars and nearly useless without the companion app and subscription. Tonal and Forme cost an arm and a leg but also want me to bust holes in my walls and pay them again whenever I need to move it or sell it. The Oxefit is a colossal contraption only suitable for people who have a second home to put in. I would love for something better than the Tempo to exist, but it doesn’t.

For $500 and $40/mo, it’s not cheaper than discount gym memberships, but is cheaper than bougie gym memberships. It’s nowhere near as good as a personal trainer, but is much better than trying to follow a list of movements on an app. If Tempo suddenly goes out of business, you still have standard free weights.

This is some of the best value you’ll find in the home fitness space, and if Tempo improves their software experience a bit, it’ll be a compelling package. If they ever introduce an add-on that gets real trainers in the app to help us with form and mobility work, it’ll be unmatched by anything else instantly. Here’s hoping it gets better.

If you found this article helpful or have a question, drop a comment below, or reach out to me on Twitter or Bluesky.

Leave a Reply