By Julie Peterson
Welcome to the digital age, where budding gym rats, former couch potatoes and schedule-challenged fitness freaks are finding new ways to get in shape. These days, virtually anyone with a smartphone or Wi-Fi connection can connect with a yoga video, a spin class or any number of personal exercise experiences.
Some folks are wearing devices that calculate distance and monitor bodily functions—then post it all to social media. Private trainers are offering online workout routines with motivational emails and text messages, while some gyms include online training as an add-on to membership or leverage technology to provide classes to consumers globally.
Virtual fitness is growing in leaps and bounds. The use of health and fitness apps has more than tripled since 2014, and three-quarters of active users open their apps at least twice a week, according to Flurry Analytics. Yet, it’s not for everyone.
Erin Nitschke, Ed.D., of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the director of educational partnerships and programs at the National Federation of Professional Trainers, is monitoring the upsurge in virtual fitness and believes it will take time to perfect the options. “While virtual training may be a best practice for a certain population of users, it may be a barrier to others,” she says.
Accessible, Flexible and Affordable
The convenience and affordability of virtual training has some clients thriving on their ability to marry technological tools to fitness goals. They can log in anytime, anywhere, even while travelling; take a variety of classes from famous trainers for a fraction of the cost of in-person sessions and receive emails or texts that provide encouragement to reach the next level.
For those new to exercising, virtual training eases self-consciousness. It’s an opportunity to learn the basics and begin the process of toning up at home before venturing into an unfamiliar environment where everyone seems to know what they’re doing. In this respect, virtual training can serve as a gateway to establishing a fitness routine that eventually leads to the local gym.
“One of the most frequent reasons people cite for not maintaining a regular exercise habit is lack of time,” says American Council on Exercise President and Chief Science Officer Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., of Redmond, Washington. He points out that virtual tools and devices may help eliminate some of those time barriers, allowing people to get quality workouts.
The Real Deal
But some people go to the gym or attend fitness classes because they enjoy the social connection more than the sweat. Nitschke says that social support can be a predictor of success, so it’s possible that virtual training can have a negative impact. Bryant agrees. “There are different fitness personality types, and some need the live and in-person experience.”
Bryant points out that gyms and trainers often request health information and fitness goals beforehand to provide clients a more customized program. In-person instruction also has the benefit of immediate feedback to ensure safe, effective and proper technique.
Erika Hetzel, a Pilates instructor and personal trainer in Dane County, Wisconsin, believes that virtual workouts are fine for people that have attended classes enough to know the exercises and have good body awareness. “For beginners, hands-on cues and modifications are important, especially if there are any contraindications for exercise.”
She carefully monitors her clients for form and doesn’t plan to offer virtual training because it’s impossible to give clients bodily adjustments. “It leaves trainees at risk of not getting full benefit or getting hurt,” Hetzel says. “An effective workout is about the quality of the movements.”
Bryant says that instructor interaction is a plus; however, the best virtual workouts give detailed instruction and regression or progression of all moves, allowing participants to choose an appropriate intensity level.
Making a Virtual Connection
Logging in with a high-speed internet connection, gathering required equipment in advance and possessing self-motivation might prevent getting discouraged. However, overconfidence can lead to injury, so being fully aware of limitations is essential before taking a dive off the recliner directly into a series of lunges. For social butterflies, a real-live friend to login with may be necessary to make virtual training fun.
Fitness training may be forever changed by technology, but Nitschke says it remains to be seen if fitness professionals can respond to individual learning styles to foster success and elevate the fitness client’s virtual experience. Julie Peterson writes from rural Wisconsin. Contact her at [email protected]