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I tried Liteboxer, a video game-like at-home fitness machine that wants to be the Peloton of boxing - here's what it's like to use

INSIDER logo INSIDER 7/23/2021 insider@insider.com (Su-Jit Lin)

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a man holding a baseball bat: Liteboxer © Liteboxer Liteboxer
  • Liteboxer aims to be the Peloton of boxing and is the latest to join the buy now, subscribe later home fitness trend.
  • The experience is arcade-like and addicting but there are a lot of usability kinks to work out.
  • It's expensive at $1,495 and requires a $29/month subscription to an app that has a lot of problems.
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As the subscription-based, at-home fitness market expands, there are more options than ever to digitally work out with others while you're actually alone. Previously, there were plenty of apps that prescribed workouts or programs; Nike Fit Club's free one is still one of my favorites.

But now, the fitness industry is rife with investment-heavy systems where you buy the equipment while also having to pay a monthly fee to stream content - it's a useful strategy for money-making on the manufacturer side and accountability from the user. Peloton's been one of the most successful pioneers of this model but brands like Mirror, Echelon, Tonal, and even a classic like NordicTrack entered the fray, all with unique yet somewhat similar setups.

It's in this uber-competitive market that we meet Liteboxer, a new home gym solution meant to do for boxing what Peloton did for biking - but with more lights, music, and tactical satisfaction.

Specs

Liteboxer
Weight150 lbs
Dimensions54"- 64" x 55.3" x 37.5"
Max user weight325 lb
Minimum app requirementsiPad 5th generation, iPhone 8 on iOS 10, Android 7.0 with > 2 GB RAM

Setting up the Liteboxer

The Liteboxer typically delivers in two large boxes for self-setup. White glove assembly and delivery aren't available but the brand offers a video tutorial and written instructions that break down the steps.

I can't speak from experience how that works, however, since mine was a fully assembled model that had been making the press rounds. I received it shrink-wrapped on a pallet, and a little worse for wear with a few missing components.

The few things I did do - screwing on the rubber feet, adjusting the level of the feet and shield unit height, sticking the USB cable into a plug - were straightforward.

a bag of luggage sitting on top of a table: Su-Jit Lin/Insider © Su-Jit Lin/Insider Su-Jit Lin/Insider

Before you start, you need to have a few things in place: Your phone or tablet, a speaker of some kind, and gloves. From there, you need to download the app and create an account. This is needed as the whole point of Liteboxer's program is to hit designated strike zones to music and track stats like strike force and the number of punches thrown.

The unit requires a good whack to awaken; there's no power button so it turns on with contact and off without. Once on, it connects to a phone via Bluetooth without a hitch. Keeping it connected is tougher, as, throughout several uses, I'd get kicked off in the middle as the app would freeze or crash and I'd have to start over.

Pairing it was a matter of punching the strike zone displayed on your device's screen. It then asks if you would like to calibrate the rhythm, which is done by punching to the beat. You are cued to do this every time you pair but you can choose to skip it if you like. I found no discernible difference between when I calibrated it and when I didn't.

How to pick out a workout

Trainer-led classes

Classes are accessed via the Workouts section of the app, where you're presented with two categories of programs: Trainer-Led Workouts and Build + Restore. The latter offers things like yoga, targeted area bodyweight sequences, warm-ups, and some conditioning programs. None of them exceed 20 minutes and some are as short as a single song.

Trainer-Led Workouts is where you'll find the heart of the Liteboxer app but this is a bit of a misnomer as this category branches out into sub-categories. These include real-time guided timed workouts where the instructor coaches you through the entire session. You can even find some conditioning exercises and sparring sessions where they call out punch combos.

After that brief intro, you're on your own to follow the lights to the proper targets as you flail about, trying to remember what the instructor said. It's a challenge since it gives you two combos per song, plus wild card flurries that appear out of nowhere.

For both, I found that not all workouts share what music genre will be played and none of them allow you to preview the playlist. Neither type are filterable whatsoever.

Self-guided workouts

Even more independent than Sparring Sessions are the Quickplay options. This is a different tab on the navigation of the app and offers the options of Punch Tracks, Freestyle, and Thumboxer.

Punch Tracks is one of Liteboxer's headliners, boasting a sizeable playlist populated by an exclusive partnership with Universal Music Group. Premium memberships grant access to songs across genres while Non-Premium limits your options. The strikes on the shield are programmed to work in sync with the music's beat - I found this can be fallible.

Freestyle lets you put on your own music through whatever service you use, and you're able to just let loose on the shield as it tracks your force. While this is nice, it makes it no different than a freestanding punching bag. However, because of its shape, you can't work on your hooks or kicks like you can a traditional bag. The softly springy uppercut bag is a thoughtful enhancement and an improvement on regular heavy bags but it's too bad most instructors don't make use of it.

Thumboxing is similar to Punch Tracks, only you're tapping your phone instead of hitting the shield.

What it's like to use

a woman holding a suitcase: Liteboxer © Liteboxer Liteboxer

Quarantine made a shadow-boxer out of me, so I was excited about using the Liteboxer. My assumption was that being an experienced, fighter-trained kickboxer meant a seamless transition from newbie to expert level. That wasn't the case as it was an entirely different experience than what I was accustomed to.

Starting with the positives, the biggest, most instinctual feel-good aspect of the Liteboxer is its arcade game-like sensory feedback. It felt like disguising exercise as a more aggressive version of Dance, Dance Revolution and Whack-a-Mole - and that's not a bad thing.

The Liteboxer guides you to each shot with a trailing sequence of LED lights that leads to an impact zone on the shield. Your goal is to hit that area once the light reaches the dot in the center of it. Make contact early or late, or hit the wrong panel, and the circle lights up red; you can practically hear a buzzer of disapproval. But get your timing just right and that circle lights up triumphant green.

It's so simple and silly but insanely satisfying to get those virtual pats on the back. Its psychological manipulation used in the most positive way, reinforcing the endorphins you're feeling from movement with dopamine from immediate reward.

Another unexpected, visceral satisfier is the feel and sound of your gloves on the shield. New punching bags offer overly solid resistance while used ones get hammered into soft submission. Hanging heavy bags take a while to float back into place while freestanding bags have a tendency to move out of position. The Liteboxer addresses it all and with great aural feedback.

The solid-feeling shield has remarkable impact response, providing the give you need to signal productive force with a plastic surface that should flex around your blows for years. The tower is loud as you punch it but there's no doubt of its stability and ability to take whatever you're ready to dole out. The platform's sandpapery nonslip mat further enhances that feeling.

Its accompanying tech is a weak point

The position of the unit's tablet/phone holder is awful. The fastening itself is secure and well thought out but the stand is hidden underneath the uppercut punching block. Although you're supposed to keep your eyes up as you track the lights, visual cues are helpful during sequence introductions, conditioning exercises, or to find your place within longer combos. Having to crouch down when in playlist mode to hit "play" for every song gets old fast, too.

This would be a lesser issue if not for the sound balance. Even with an LG MusicFlow Bluetooth speaker in my sound-amplifying garage, it was hard to hear the instructor over the music and the reverb from the shield. Headphones might help but for such a dynamic, full movement workout, they're not ideal.

And although you're asked to calibrate the rhythm before each session, there's no guarantee the song or program syncs correctly. Poor timing defeats the purpose but more importantly, messes up your flow.

It's also hard to switch between apps and pausing for a few minutes kicks you out, forcing you to find the routine again and restart it. This messes with your stats since there's no option to pick back up. You have to choose that workout again and fast forward to where you think you were. Same for when it crashes, which it sporadically does.

That leads us to another bothersome quirk: There are no filters whatsoever for the workouts, nor any actual information. This is also something that's still in development but for now, classes list by date of addition. New workouts upload every week, leaving plenty to scroll through.

Additionally, your stats only appear while punching, at which point, you won't be looking at your device. Once a song finishes, you do have the option to hit View Stats but it hasn't worked any time I've tried. Overall stats are viewable when you're done but not for each individual song. Lastly, you can't save your Punch Tracks playlist, so you need to rebuild it each time.

There are physical limitations as well

a person posing for the camera: Su-Jit Lin/Insider © Su-Jit Lin/Insider Su-Jit Lin/Insider

I didn't like that the variety of punches were limited to mostly high and low straight jabs and crosses with very few incorporations of uppercuts and no hooks. Hook punches are among the most taxing strikes but just aren't possible with a flat shield. You can't practice your roundhouse, either, as it's not designed for kicking.

I also found I was unable to work out with the Liteboxer with any kind of regularity. Although I loved the well-cushioned gloves that came with it, they chafed my knuckles significantly. I lost a sizeable amount of knuckle skin within 30 minutes of work and it took days to heal enough to come back. It does come with wrist wraps but I'm not sure how they'd fit inside the gloves due to an open-palm design. At nearly $1,500 plus monthly fees, it feels like a waste if you can't use this as your daily workout.

Should you buy it?

Depends. Do you have $1,495 to invest into your initial start-up, plus $29 a month for premium access to the app? Will you mind that it's just boxing and not kickboxing, or that you can't perfect your hook?

This piece of equipment is fun and novel in much the same way DDR is in an arcade, but whether you have the budget and will actually use it frequently enough to make it worth the money is a personal call. It's a fantastic highlight for a gym with other toys to play with but as your sole workout, not so much - especially since your hands likely can't take the daily beating.

What are your alternatives?

You can always opt for a traditional freestanding punching bag or heavy bag but then you're on your own to devise your combos. The next closest - and costly at around $1,219 - is FightCamp, which is also gamified but trainer-led. It uses a 3-minutes-on, 1-minute-off cadence but takes up more space and doesn't have a convenient device holder. It's best streamed to a TV, which presents more spatial limitations.

There's also QuietPunch, which is designed to fit in your doorway for speed work. Its starter kits cap out at under $400 and neither of its apps require a subscription.

The bottom line

If you enjoy classic arcade games, their various tactile and visual stimuli, and don't care about technique development, you'll love the in-action experience of the Liteboxer. The app has a lot of bugs to work out but if you don't mind growing with the brand as it smooths out its kinks, this is an interesting option for a supplementary workout.

Pros: Doesn't take up a lot of space, easy to put in time, pretty ready to go once assembled, doesn't use a lot of power, remarkably stable platform, great customer service

Cons: Range of movements prescribed is limited, tablet stand is inconveniently placed, workouts are inconsistent, numerous bugs in the app need to be fixed

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