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Image credit: Will Lipman Photography

The best gear to help you stay fit during the school year

Everything from smartwatches and earbuds to mental health apps.
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Will Lipman Photography

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Whatever the future holds for how we go to school, it’s likely that we’ll still spend long nights studying, or partying, or just learning how to adult. One risk to that is the freshman 15, where the lack of properly-balanced meals and time to exercise results in you piling on the pounds. That’s why we’ve put together a list of fitness gear that could help you swerve one rite of passage that, for most folks, means lots more work later.

Beats PowerBeats earbuds

headphones
Will Lipman Photography

Beats took almost everything great about its revamped PowerBeats Pro and added it to its more affordable sport headphones. They may not be “true” wireless like their more expensive sibling, but the connecting wire shouldn’t be an issue for gym rats and runners. And the PowerBeats are jam-packed with reasons why they could be your ideal workout headphones.

For $150, you get great sound, booming bass (they are Beats, after all) and 15 hours of battery life. Apple’s H1 chip on the inside ensures lightning-fast pairing and a rock-solid connection to your phone, too. These are the best sports headphones for working out, especially if you’re keeping an eye on your spending.

Buy Powerbeats at Best Buy - $150

Sony WF-SP800N earbuds

earbuds
Will Lipman Photography

Sony’s awful naming scheme means that it’s not clear which pair of its true wireless headphones we’re recommending. The WP-SP800N is the company’s not-quite-flagship true wireless earbuds which pack in the bulk of what you need and cost $200. For that, you get earbuds with fantastic sound, with rich bass and just as much love given to the mids and highs.

One of the standout features is Adaptive Smart Control, which is essentially smart active noise cancellation. Rather than a blanket deadening of ambient noise, it’ll pick out the level of intrusion based on what you’re doing: you may want more isolation when writing a paper than when you’re running, since you want to be alert to hazards while doing the latter.

Buy WP-SP800N earbuds at Best Buy - $200

JLab Go Air earbuds

earbuds
Will Lipman Photography

Times are tough and not everyone can afford to blow hundreds of dollars on new headphones or earbuds. Thankfully, it’s possible to get into the true wireless game for just $30 with JLab’s new Go Air earbuds. Naturally, there are compromises (and nobody would ditch their AirPods Pro for a pair), but they are a good budget option. 

They’re not the greatest-sounding, with tinny, overly-compressed audio that lacks proper bass and midrange tone. But if you want to cut the cord while saving money, then you probably won’t be getting too sniffy about the audio quality. You’ll get five hours of life on a charge, with three additional charges stored in the Go Air’s magnetic tray. There’s no automatic pausing when removing a bud from your ear, EQ customization or much else. But for $30, can you really complain?

Buy JLab Go Air at Best Buy - $30

Apple Watch Series 5

wearable
Will Lipman Photography / Apple

It’s the Activity rings which do it, really. The red, green and blue lines that snake around in a circle as you move each day. It’s a simple little graphic that tells you so much about how long you’ve been standing, how much exercise you do and how much activity you’ve clocked. That’s the real secret to beating the freshman fifteen: getting into good habits and sticking with them. 

We’re five generations into the Apple Watch now, and you know the pros and cons of owning one. It’s got good activity tracking and a built-in ECG, while the newest model is the first to pack an always-on display. If you have $400 and want a buy-one, do-everything watch, there are few alternatives that are this easy to recommend -- especially if you’re already a Mac user.

Buy Series 5 at Amazon - $384

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

wearable
Will Lipman Photography

That said, a lot of tech-company smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, sacrifice strength for versatility, and you can see why. No matter how sturdy they appear to be, I’d think twice about taking a Series 5 on a Tough Mudder. That’s why I have such a soft spot for Garmin’s wearables which trade elegance for durability. 

The best of the bunch is the Forerunner 645 Music, which works great as a dedicated running and multisport watch. There’s 3.5GB of storage, letting you store up to 500 songs from your music service of choice, and a week’s worth of battery life under normal use. If you want a watch that really can help you focus on your fitness goals, and can take some real punishment, give this one a go. 

Buy Forerunner 645 Music at Amazon - $289

Withings Move

wearable
Will Lipman Photography

Withings makes stylish analog watches with hidden fitness trackers that always promise more than you may expect. Its hybrid activity trackers are a great and subtle way of keeping track of what you do every day, and they are backed by the world-class Health Mate app and Withings’ ecosystem of products. The Move is a smart, stylish and affordable way of doing so without blowing big on a smartwatch.

For $70, the Withings Move offers activity and sleep tracking, a smart alarm and automatic workout tracking. That includes swim tracking, and the company says it’s waterproof to depths of up to 50 meters. Even more incredibly, it’ll last for up to a year and a half on a single watch battery, meaning that there’s no need to hunt for a charger every day.

Buy Withings Move at Best Buy - $70

Fitbit Charge 4

wearable
Fitbit

Some people want a smartwatch, some an analog timepiece, and there’s a whole other group who want something in between. Fitbit’s Charge 4 is the company’s latest activity tracker, and the first in this series to offer built-in GPS. For $150, you get an activity tracker with a built-in heart rate sensor, Spotify integration and payments. And if you’re worried about sleep apnea -- disrupted breathing when you sleep -- then Fitbit’s work studying oxygen saturation will come in useful if you don’t mind wearing the device overnight. If you don’t use the GPS too often, the company says it’ll last you up to seven days on a single charge, too.

Buy Fitbit Charge 4 at Amazon - $150

Nike+ Run Club

fitness app
Will Lipman Photography / Nike

Remember those heady days before 2020, when we were (mostly) allowed outside to enjoy the fresh air in peace? Nike’s Run Club is an app designed to help you stay in shape by tracking your jaunts outside, and encouraging you to do more. It uses GPS to track your runs, and once it has a picture of your habits, can extrapolate a customized plan to help you improve. There are various goals, including community challenges, to help get you pounding the sidewalk more than you would otherwise. 

There’s also a social component that helps you find a local running club, as well as audio-runs with guides prepared by Nike athletes. And, of course, there’s the ever-present offer to buy new kicks and get tickets to sporting events if you spend more and more time in the app. If you don’t mind being advertised to, then you may find Nike+ Run Club a great fitness app to start with. 

Get Nike Run Club

MyFitnessPal

fitness app
Will Lipman Photography / MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is one of the best and most reliable fitness and food tracking apps that you can get. The Under Armor-owned platform is designed to make logging your calorie intake as easy as scanning a barcode, and its vast user base means most meal options have already been listed. There is a premium option, for $10 a month, which removes ads and lets you access even more data -- but the free edition is so good, it’s not worth bothering with the premium plan immediately. If you’re looking to keep an eye on your food intake, this is the best place to start. 

Get MyFitnessPal

Headspace

fitness meditation app
Will Lipman Photography / Headspace

There are plenty of reasons to stress out, especially now, which is why it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your mental health. One such way is with an app like Headspace, which makes the intimidating business of meditation seem friendly, and simple. Armed with cute animations and easy explainers, Headspace guides you through your journey towards meditative focus. 

Once you’ve gotten the knack, the app will help you with guided meditations focusing on specific issues you may have. That includes creativity, motivation, improving self-esteem or dealing with the dreaded hand of anxiety. And the deal for students is pretty great: If you go to a qualifying school, then you can get a year’s subscription for just $10

Get Headspace (student plan) - $10/year

MoodKit

app
Thriveport

College can be a tough time for a lot of people and it’s important to have a support network of friends, family and professionals. It’s also vital to be able to identify your own mood and feelings to better help you understand where these things come from. Apps like MoodKit promise to help by using the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you deal with low mood.

Users start by journaling their experiences and how they feel and track that to see what helps make things better, or worse. Then, the app will offer tactics to help you feel better, using clinically-proven methods, as well as advice on how to avoid distorted thinking. It’s no substitute for professional psychotherapy, but it could help you get through each day.

Get MoodKit

AmazonBasics Adjustable Barbell weight set

amazonbasics
Will Lipman Photography / Amazon

If you’ve ever read Henry Rollins’ essay on The Iron, you’ll know there’s a seductive quality to just giving yourself over to heavy chunks of metal. A scrawny kid, Rollins was co-opted by a teacher who taught him some basic workouts with a weight set bought at Sears. It’s not a fun way to spend your time, but as Rollins’ says: “Pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness.”

You can answer the call yourself with this set of adjustable barbells that’ll set you back $52 from Amazon. For that, you get a 38-pound set with two three-pound barbells, four 2.5-pound plates, four 5-pound plates and a quartet of retaining bolts, each weighing half a pound. There are plenty of fixed-weight bells you could buy, but an adjustable set gives you so much more freedom. And, as Rollins’ says: “The iron never lies to you.”

Buy adjustable barbell set at Amazon - $91

FitSimplify Resistance Loop Bands

fitness bands
Will Lipman Photography

There are plenty of ways that you can build strength without spending much money or leaving your doom room. One such way is by buying a set of resistance bands that can be put to use in a number of different ways. This versatile swiss-army-knife of latex bands can be used for strength and resistance training, cardio, yoga or pilates. 

Each band has a different resistance level, meaning that you can work your way up from the easiest setting to the hardest over time. Not to mention that, if you do it right, a latex band workout can be tougher than the equivalent just using barbells. Oh, and they fold to the size of a wallet, so you can take them anywhere you want to go.

Buy resistance band set at Amazon - $14

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