What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I find giving fitness-related gifts to be fraught with danger. No matter how many times my best friend or girlfriend or aunts say they'd like to be more active or lose weight or start exercising again, I know that putting an ab cruncher under the tree is going to earn me some Looks and quite possibly put me in the middle of the "So, you think I'm fat?" conversation.
On the other hand, there are my friends who are so into running or lifting or a sport that they already have all the equipment they need and whatever I might find at the Nike store would probably be redundant.
Never fear, it is possible to give fitness gifts without giving offense and without pondering the merits of different toe shoes. In fact, you can pass some of these off as not exercise-related at all, if you want to be sneaky.
For the Person Motivated by Sound: Unlimited Music Subscription
Most people work out better when they have awesome music pulsing in their ears. Gifting a few months or a year's worth of a music subscription means access to millions of songs and an unlimited array of playlist possibilities. The recipient will never have to be bored by listening to the same old workout songs again. Plus, they'll think of you every time they boogie down, even if it's not the gym.
You can gift a pass for almost every major music streaming service. Spotify gift cards come in $10, $20, and $30 denominations at retailers, or you can gift 1, 3, 6, or 12 months online. Google Music All Access is both a cloud music locker and an unlimited streaming service, so it's possible to create a playlist from songs they own and songs they rent. You can't gift this directly, but you can give a Google Play gift card. If the person on your list is a Windows Phone owner, a 3 or 12 month Xbox Music Pass is a good choice.
For the Person Who Needs Goals and Community Support: Fitocracy Hero ($45/year)
Heard of Gamification? It's where you use the psychology of games to motivate people to meet goals. It's all about getting experience points, leveling up, and acquiring special skills, but for real life and not Zelda.
That's the philosophy Fitocracy is based on. Enter your daily exercise and activity to earn points; you get more points the more difficult or sustained the physical activity. As points accumulate you level up, and the higher the level the more points it takes to reach the next. Where do special powers come in? Well, I know when I do a dozen Burpees in a row I feel like Wonder Woman...
The idea is that people will work harder and be consistent if there's an outside goal and mental boost associated with the activity. Fitocracy is also great for the community aspect. You can friend people, join communities centered around specific goals or activities, and participate in group challenges.
The service is free for the basics. Fitocracy Hero, the paid tier, offers insights into your progress and allows for fun engagement. Consider creating an account for yourself and become the giftee's first friend. Then you can challenge each other to one-on-one duels.
For the Person Who Wants To Start Getting Active: Withings Pulse fitness tracker ($100)
As you may have read previously, I quite like the Basis B1 Band and find it the most accurate of the fitness trackers I tested. The Withings Pulse is my pick for gift giving because it's less expensive, has some of the same features, and you don't have to wear it on the wrist if you don't want to. It's a good choice for someone who doesn't necessarily want to start up an exercise regimen, but does want to be more active (or needs a small push to do so).
The Pulse tracks steps, has a heart rate monitor, can hook into a handful of smartphone fitness apps, and monitors sleep. It connects to iPhones and Android devices via Bluetooth and offers pretty in-depth data about your activity. With the help of outside apps, like RunKeeper, you can get a fairly comprehensive view of daily activity and calories burned.
For the Person Who Works Out In Their Own World: Soul Combat+ ($200)
Working out at the gym has upsides and downsides, and one of the biggest downers for me is how noisy it can be. Between the grind of the machines, the huffing and grunting of the people using them, and the terrible music emanating from the crappy speakers, some noise isolation is in order. Though there are a ton of good sport earbuds available, I don't like this style since they're easy to yank out when I start to get sweaty and hurt after a while, too. If the gym-lover on your list feels the same, I suggest gifting the Soul Combat+ over-ear headphones.
They're sweat-resistant but aren't too hot to wear thanks to the open headband design. The fit is snug so they won't fall off even if the activity gets a little rigorous and at the same time don't hurt thanks to the specially cushioned ear cups, which are removable/cleanable. The cups block some noise and the loud volume plus good audio quality seal out the rest.
For the Person Who Doesn't Like Exercise But Does Like Games: Xbox + Kinect ($250 - $500)
The Xbox's Kinect accessory makes it an excellent game console for getting fit because of the Kinect's sophisticated 3D camera. Both the first and second generation are designed to see and track your whole body, so the games designed for the platform can not only tell that you're moving, but also if you have the correct form. The best part is that getting a good workout with the Kinect doesn't require fitness/exercise games. Adventure games where the whole body controls a character get you moving just as well, and dancing games can make for an amazingly fun cardio workout (plus you learn dance moves).
If you're a generous gifter, the new Xbox One + Kinect Sensor costs $500 and has the bonus of being an entertainment centralizer, so the recipient can stream workout videos from the web as well as control the TV with their voice. With an Xbox Live Gold membership (which you can also gift), they can access the Xbox Fitness virtual training for free.
On a tighter budget? The Xbox 360 + Kinect is as low as $250 and still a great system, even if it's not the newest. Wrap one of these games with it: Dance Central 2 (360), Your Shape: Fitness Evolved (360), Zumba Fitness: World Party (360 and One), Just Dance 2014 (360 and One).