I Tried An Under-Desk Elliptical Machine, Because January
This post originally appeared on Allure.
It's January, which means that I, like roughly 53 gazillion other people (math: I'm good at it) have decided it's time to get in shape. You know, like I decided last year. And the year before that. OK, so I'm not great at getting in shape (whatever that even means), but in my defense, I work in an office, and, awesome as that office is, it requires that I spend a hefty chunk of my waking hours sitting at a desk. So while arriving home from my New Year's break to find an under-desk elliptical machine waiting for me was a little more "get your shit together" realness than I strictly needed on the third day of January, I'll take my fitness interventions where I can get them.
Cubii, the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, is billed as "the world's first under-desk elliptical trainer." It's designed to be portable, quiet enough not to drive your coworkers crazy, and ergonomic (so your knees don't bang into the bottom of your desk every time you pedal). In short, everything you would want to make a piece of equipment legitimately usable in an office. Which is all well and good, but the distance between many things that sound good and things that actually work could be measured in miles.
How does the Cubii stack up? First off, let me say that calling it "portable" is a bit generous, at least for someone whose arms have on occasion been described as "birdlike" and "reminiscent of cooked noodles." Cubii comes with a handle, which certainly makes the unit easier to move, but it's still fairly awkwardly shaped for doing much maneuvering. At 27 pounds, it's totally manageable to carry back and forth if you commute in a car, but if you're planning to carry it far (say, on a journey through the New York City subway system), you're going to get your workout in before you make it to the office.
Once I actually got the Cubii to my desk, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of its claims it lives up to. While it's not hear-a-pin-drop silent (the sound of the rollers moving as you pedal reminds me of a very soft white noise machine) it is, indeed, unobtrusive—my desk neighbor noticed it sitting under my desk when I went to lunch, but no one else realized that I'd spent my morning pedaling away. Likewise, my knees never once bumped the bottom of my desk, although one of my leggier coworkers found that she wasn't able to pedal at all when she tried to use it (she's 5'11"; I'm 5'5")—your fit also depends on the height of your work surface. Any height advantage I might have gotten from heels (because, hey, it's the office) didn't seem to make a big difference in the knee-bumpage, but it did change the angle of my legs, making the whole action a lot more strenuous—flats or slipping off the shoes is definitely the way to go.
As for the actual pedaling part, I found it pretty easy to get into a rhythm of ellipticalling while I worked (I'll take "Less-Catchy Disney Songs" for 100, Alex!). On the lower resistance settings—the unit has eight—I could pretty much pedal nonstop while going about my day without distraction. The downside—which, if you've ever used an exercise machine you can probably guess—is that the lower the setting you use, the fewer calories you burn. Cranking that baby up to level-seven resistance made the workout decidedly more challenging (my thighs were actually a little sore the next day) and torched way more calories.
How many, you ask? According to my handy-dandy Cubii app (available for free on iOS and Android), at level seven I could manage about four calories a minute, with my heart rate up to what would be considered my "moderate exercise" range. Not half bad. Still, maintaining that pace while working became a problem—I kept finding myself getting distracted and then several minutes later realizing I'd stopped pedaling. Ultimately I found a lower setting, somewhere in the three to four range, was more sustainable for an effective getting things done/working out combo.
The app also made it easy to track how long I'd been pedaling (since exercise machines have been found to be less than reliable in their calorie-burn estimates, it's nice to have a second stat to look at) and track the shockingly good battery life—after a week of daily use I still haven't had to recharge it. There are also plans to allow the program to sync up with Fitbit and Jawbone fitness trackers sometime in the near future. My only complaint on the tech side is that you have to manually input your resistance level on the app, which is rage-inducing if you forget and spend ten minutes pedaling at level eight but only get the credit for level two.
And yes, I know, you've read all this way looking for the answer to one solitary question, so I'm finally going to stop teasing you. Does Cubii work?
Well, I could tell you that I shed 40 pounds in a week, sculpted my entire body, and quit my job to become a fitness model, but I would be lying. The truth is, yes, the Cubii works, as long is your goal is to pack a little extra movement into an otherwise stationary day.
Between meetings, random moments when I couldn't be at my desk, and the times when I really just didn't feel motivated to keep pedaling full-time, my daily average on the machine hovers right around 150 calories/70 minutes. I have lost about a pound since I started using it, but, well, it's January, so it's possible that not subsisting entirely on sugar cookies and champagne may also be a contributing factor.
So no, Cubii is no magic fitness bullet. You won't be able to cancel your gym membership, and with a $347 price tag, it's not exactly low-commitment. But if you're up for initial buy-in and willing to accept it as one part of a bigger get-in-shape plan, then 750 extra calories a week is still 750 extra calories a week.