Fitness professionals are using online video-sharing to showcase ideas, refine techniques and create an expanded community.
Whoever says step is on its way out apparently is not watching YouTube. Although step has never truly gone away, over the decades we’ve seen its momentum peak and fade and peak again, the choreography advancing with each generation of steppers. Because step has had such a rich history, classes continue to attract audiences from all over the world. Thanks to the popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube, step is inspiring a new audience to try group exercise.
Since the launch of YouTube in 2005, a handful of fitness professionals have been experimenting with its applications. In late 2006, group fitness instructors from around the world started to create a presence on YouTube. Instructors were uploading videos that showcased their step choreographies and helped with combo breakdowns. By 2007, other formats—such as water, high-low, muscle-conditioning, hip-hop and indoor cycling classes—were also appearing (though step seems to be the format uploaded most often). Although YouTube is becoming the new online repository for choreography, it is also evolving as a community destination for group exercise instructors around the world.
The role of YouTube within the health and fitness industry hasn’t been thoroughly explored. However, its influence has certainly sparked new conversations among the fitness community. To gain better insight into this trend, we’ve enlisted the expertise of top fitness professionals and step choreographers Fred Hoffman, MEd, Rob Glick, Gay Gasper and Christi Taylor. Read on to discover the benefits and drawbacks of using YouTube for group exercise. Meet the innovative instructors who have helped ignite the “StepTube” phenomenon, and learn what it takes to effectively contribute your ideas.
What Is YouTube?
Basically, YouTube is a video-sharing site where users upload a pre-recorded video or create new content using a webcam. In its short 3-year history, YouTube has significantly impacted our culture. It was named “Best Invention of the Year” by TIME magazine in 2006 and has become a feature of the 2008 presidential debates. It’s no surprise that with more than 78.3 million videos stored in its servers and an average of 150,000 uploads per day, YouTube is the second most popular destination on the Web. According to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in January 2008, 48% of Internet users had visited video-sharing sites like YouTube, doubling traffic from last year.
YouTube’s primary appeal is that it’s free. The user-generated content is compelling, and the barriers to entry are minimal. All you need is Internet access, a YouTube account and a webcam (or a video recording device, such as a camcorder). Uploading material is virtually effortless, taking no more than a few minutes. And if you have a mobile phone with video-capturing capabilities, uploading to YouTube is instantaneous. No need to be tech-savvy. All that’s required is a passion for sharing ideas and information.
The Birth of StepTube
The idea of sharing choreography is not a new concept to group exercise. Instructors have relied on Web-based communities since the early 1990s. In 1996, Turnstep.com became the go-to forum for instructors wanting to share exercise ideas, class designs and new routines. Many other sites, such as FitMoves and Pedal-On, have also been resourceful throughout the years. But YouTube takes this collaborative effort to the next level and couples text-based choreography with visual demonstrations. “[YouTube] is a good tool to actually see what the choreography is, instead of just reading it,” says StepTuber Leslie (aka “LethalLeslie”). A certified group exercise instructor from Ontario, Leslie has uploaded more than 140 videos and accumulated over 220,000 hits since her debut in December 2006 (www.youtube.com/LethalLeslie). StepTubers post full combinations, adding choreography notes in the video description panel along the sidebar. In some cases, instructors provide links to their blogs, where breakdowns can be viewed in more detail.
Sharing choreography is the main attraction for instructors, but others have found video a worthwhile way to refine their teaching skills. “I started filming my own classes because I wanted to improve my form, my verbal and nonverbal cuing abilities, and the interaction with my students,” says Sabine Van Hoecke (www.youtube.com/koddetrien), an instructor from Maldegem, Belgium. Van Hoecke sometimes teaches without mirrors and therefore believes that YouTube offers instructors a great opportunity to improve their proficiencies.
Since YouTube gives viewers the ability to publicly post their comments under each video, this open forum can make any instructor vulnerable to honest criticism and, possibly, unfavorable feedback. But often the response is positive. “Getting [praised] by a fellow teacher who actually knows what a huge job it is to [teach] makes you feel even better,” claims Van Hoecke.
Instructors interested in marketing their classes and promoting their professional careers are also finding YouTube’s audiences helpful. Seasoned step instructor Seasun Zieger (www.youtube.com/szrockssteady) stars in several of her own professional step videos. She turned to YouTube during a break from production and started recording portions of her step classes. “Posting on YouTube was a great way for me to stay in touch with my fans,” she says. Her participants regularly tell her how much their husbands, children and friends enjoy watching the videos online as well.
Many are recognizing YouTube’s potential to inspire and encourage creativity. “As I watch YouTube group fitness instructors contributing their ideas, [it] awes and intrigues me,” reflects Gay Gasper, an international presenter. “I appreciate the passion for step and choreography.”
Step Around the World
YouTube is known for its video-sharing features, but at its core, it is an online social networking site. As on MySpace or Facebook, users can connect with other friends, design their own profile (their “channel”) and disclose some personal information. “It brings together instructors of similar interests,” says “Stepaholic” Denise Hardy (www.youtube.com/stepaholic), a group fitness instructor from Birmingham, England.
With a simple keyword search for step, aerobics, fitness or exercise, viewers can stumble across videos of instructors who’ve posted from France, Spain, Belgium, China, England, Canada, Mexico, Turkey and the United States. If not for YouTube, “I would not have seen what is going on around the world,” claims Hardy.
Like many StepTubers, Hardy videotapes her routines directly from her classes. Viewers get an idea of how she cues and motivates participants throughout her combinations. The YouTube advantage is that instructors who do not speak English can still watch and get inspired. Of course, the language barrier can be there for English-speaking instructors, too: many videos are taught in other languages, and viewers who can’t understand the words must rely heavily on visual cues for ideas. Some StepTubers superimpose English subtitles over their videos to help with choreography breakdowns.
Fred Hoffman, MEd, 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and director of international services for The Club & Spa Synergy Group, presents workshops around the world. “I witness firsthand what is happening with step in other countries,” he says. Hoffman believes instructors are always looking for more choreography ideas. “There are fewer videos on the market for step, so of course instructors are going to see what is out there for free!”
Since YouTube is such a visual medium, it allows instructors to learn movements without having a basic knowledge of how to teach them. Whenever Hoffman presents a step workshop, he reviews technique, discusses Step ReebokSM guidelines and supports these recommendations with research. In watching YouTube videos, he notes that “in about 75% of the cases, the music is faster than industry recommended speeds.” (To review “Revised [Step Reebok] Guidelines,” refer to step originator Gin Miller’s website at www.ginmiller.com and click on the “information/articles” tab.)
“The world is shrinking down to the size of our computers!” exclaims Dana, another StepTuber, whose nom de plume is “StepJunkie” (www.youtube.com/stepjunkie). “Suddenly, I can see what they are doing in Italy or Germany and incorporate some of their ideas or styles into my classes.” Dana brings an international spirit to her videos by inserting various screenshots in the backdrop. One month you might see her in front of the Egyptian Pyramids; the next, she might be stepping in the middle of New York’s Times Square!
For instructors who can’t attend conferences regularly, YouTube is an innovative way to connect with international colleagues, discover global fitness trends and recognize that our combined efforts continue to Inspire the World to Fitness®!
YouTube’s Professional Advantage
Showcasing instructor performance on YouTube can raise the teaching standard for group fitness; market a club’s group programming; and even generate revenue streams for fitness professionals. Here are just a few ideas.
Aerobic Idol. Like contenders on the popular reality show American Idol, instructors who post their material on YouTube are subject to all kinds of public feedback. Some commentators are like Paula Abdul, encouraging and supportive. Others, like Simon Cowell, are harsh but honest. If an instructor has poor form or sloppy breakdown, someone will likely post a comment about it. On the other hand, an instructor whose efforts are creative and consistent will rank high and get a lot of votes.
Think of YouTube as an instructor boot camp or a global sandbox for refining one’s teaching skills. Regardless of whether you post videos or not, the site can be a training resource, effective for demonstrating teaching methods, choreography breakdowns, cuing techniques, video production and professionalism. “A group in Seattle gets together on Fridays to break down the final product of my videos!” says Bobbie Williams (www.youtube.com/bstroud373), a group exercise instructor from Dallas, whose experiences on YouTube have been both humbling and motivating.
YouTube Celebrity. We all know superstar instructors can drive numbers in a group exercise program. A YouTube “celebrity” can, too. StepTube instructors promote facility programming by allowing potential participants to preview classes online. These instructors also draw in new fitness enthusiasts from competitors, who may seek to win the instructors for themselves. It is important that fitness facilities recognize these video efforts and embrace the StepTube culture from within (i.e., feature StepTube videos on the website, schedule a class called “StepTube,” etc.).
Money, Money, Money. Most instructors don’t teach group exercise for the money, but it’s nice to receive some financial return for investments of time and effort. Generating a revenue stream through a video-sharing site is possible, but don’t expect any significant cash flow immediately. There are two ways to generate additional income:
- Post health- or fitness-related ads directly on your video and earn money anytime someone watching your video clicks on the ads (http://revver.com automates this process). If you have a good following, in 2–3 months you could earn enough money to buy a new CD or outfit.
- Place product in videos. Your channel subscribers (viewership) and video “hits” are both quantifiable measurements of your online impact. Increase your following and you increase your revenue potential. Show these statistics to advertisers, marketers and brand managers, and suggest they pay per hit.
Are You Ready for YouTube?
Although YouTube has its advantages, keep in mind its possible limitations. Because it is technically in the public domain, it brings up concerns that you should seriously consider.
Professionalism. Remember, what you upload to YouTube can be seen around the world. It represents you and the fitness industry. Future employers may look at your work and make decisions based on your performance. Christi Taylor, international fitness conference educator and star of 23 DVDs, advises instructors who are thinking about posting to YouTube to “be sure what you are showcasing is of top quality—you will be judged for years to come on what you do publically” (see the sidebar “Steps to Creating a Successful StepTube Video”).
Production Costs. Equipment and production time are the two main costs involved in making a StepTube video. Video recording devices and editing software can range in price from $20 to $2,000, depending on the extent of your production. These days, most cell phones and digital cameras can cost-effectively capture and upload short bouts of video. The average YouTube video takes a minimum of an hour (from recording to uploading) to post. But if you consider editing footage, adding text and creating special effects, it could take longer.
Another concern is the issue of member privacy. Most participants do not go to the gym expecting to be filmed for a worldwide broadcast. At minimum, post a sign at the club stating that public filming is occurring, and include a contact person and phone number. Note, however, that while a sign can function as a release, actual written releases are always preferable. Ultimately, ask yourself if you are taking away from the member experience. Record before or after class to avoid any member concerns.
“The ‘free’ won’t last long,” Taylor predicts. “Clubs, members, clothing companies and music will eventually want a piece of the action.” YouTube has given instructors a place to be expressive without much regulation. Laws may eventually change, but until then, Taylor encourages, “Go YouTube, and go instructors!”
Note: For more information on legal issues, consult with an intellectual property attorney in the state or country in which you reside. The information presented here is merely for educational purposes and general discussion, and is not intended to be used as legal advice for any specific situation. Each case may present unique facts and legal issues. For more inquiries, contact David Albert Pierce directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Future of YouTube
YouTube is a trend that allows everyone a voice and an opportunity to contribute to a larger community. Its value lies less in the content itself, and more in the networks of learners that form around the content (EduCause 2006). Right now, fitness professionals are experimenting with video-sharing platforms, and the efforts of group exercise instructors seem to be working well (refer to the sidebar “Comparison of YouTube Uses Between Group Exercise Instructors and Personal Trainers”). “I think as an industry, we can embrace this technology and learn how to use it to improve the professionalism within our industry globally,” says Rob Glick, co-founder of Global Fitness Solutions and a presenter at international fitness conferences.
Regardless of how you use YouTube, it isn’t going away anytime soon. Some may argue that it could be a stepping stone to the next era in the fitness industry. Could this mean a future in group exercise in the form of live classes streaming over the Web? “I think the social and motivational experience is what drives our group fitness programming and what our members come for,” says Carol Espel, national director for group fitness programming at Equinox Fitness. “But if at some point it makes sense to Web-stream our classes, then I’d definitely explore the options. Anything is possible!”
SIDEBAR: Steps to Creating a Successful StepTube Video
Below are a few tips that will help instructors share their choreography effectively on YouTube.
- Capture your choreography in a well-lit environment. Record the routine from several different angles and run through combos two or three times.
- Keep your routine reasonably brief. Although YouTube accepts videos up to 10 minutes long, those under 5 minutes tend to be viewed more often.
- Title your video to reflect the exercise format and intensity; e.g., “Brenda’s Double Trouble (Step, Advanced).” Always tag with key words like exercise, aerobics, step or fitness, to make your videos easier to find.
- Include choreography notes in the description panel on the sidebar. Instructors generally like to see each 8-count phrase in text. (Including choreography notes as subtitles within your video could make for international success.)
- Engage with the YouTube audience by posting videos regularly and making comments on other StepTube videos. Read and respond to your video comments and answer in-coming messages in a timely fashion; otherwise you might lose your fans.
- Give a “shout-out” within your post to any fellow StepTuber or fitness professional who inspired you. Include a “Thank you to . . . ” in the description panel, or embed it within the video.
SIDEBAR: StepTube in Motion
While researching for this article, the author went on a business trip to Dallas, where she met Bobbie Williams, aka “BStroud373,” a group fitness instructor with a strong YouTube presence. Together they created two unique combos on the spot. View their creations, “Surfer Dude” and “Skip to My Lou,” at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=x5umuxvr5ik.
SIDEBAR: Comparison of YouTube Uses Between Group Exercise Instructors and Personal Trainers
Fitness professionals are using YouTube in distinctive ways. The videos uploaded by group fitness instructors and personal trainers target unique audiences, diverge in content and fulfill different objectives:
Biray Alsac, MS, owns FITTmaxx Institute, a consulting company for fitness/wellness professionals interested in Web-based tools and interactive technologies. She is an adjunct faculty member in exercise science at Mesa Community College in Arizona. Visit www.befitwithbiray.com for tips on “exercising the Web.”
EduCauseCONNECT. 2006. 7 things you should know about YouTube. http://connect.educause.edu/Library/ELI/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAbout/39395; retrieved Mar. 2008.