Pros and Cons of Virtual Fitness Classes

Technology is rapidly changing how the fitness industry delivers services. In addition to wearables, apps and countless other options, technology offers—at the touch of a screen—almost any type of prescheduled or on-demand group exercise class at any venue that has Wi-Fi. This is virtual fitness, exercise programming that is carried out, accessed or stored by means of a computer, especially over a network.

What does the growing use of virtual fitness mean for group fitness instructors? Will live class participation dwindle? Is there something you can do to leverage the virtual fitness trend? Read on to find out more.

The Pre-Virtual World

Long before we could watch group fitness classes on our phones, Jack LaLanne, fitness icon and recipient of the 1986 IDEA Lifetime Achievement award, hosted a fitness television show. For more than 30 years, from 1951 to 1985, LaLanne led audiences through exercises virtually. In 1982, Jane Fonda’s

Workout
started the home exercise video market, igniting the aerobics trend. Jacki Sorensen, Judi Sheppard Missett, Richard Simmons, Gilad Janklowicz, Denise Austin and Kathy Smith—among many others—also became well-known home exercise video celebrities.

Fast-forward to today, when the options are endless. Within the next few years it may be difficult to find a computer with a built-in DVD player, and standalone DVD players will gather dust on the shelf beside VHS players. Numerous exercise businesses provide an incredible variety of classes that consumers can access at home or on the go via television, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Some providers specialize in one format, such as mind-body. Others offer a free trial period and a monthly or yearly membership option. The caliber of instructors, the workout settings, the video quality and the price all vary.

Still other companies offer public venues, video downloads, on-demand classes, in-house kiosks, wall-mounted touchscreens and more. Fitness centers, YMCAs, corporate wellness centers, universities, apartment complexes, airports, active-aging communities, medical facilities, schools and the military are among the virtual group exercise consumers. Virtual classes may be offered at a prescheduled time set by the facility; or they may be available on demand, which allows clients to choose their own workout time.

Pros of Virtual for Fitness Facilities

Virtual programming has become a turnkey service, allowing facilities to maximize space and offerings while providing members with added convenience and a wider class variety.

Here are some additional pros:

  • Virtual classes provide a last-minute option if an instructor is ill or has an emergency.
  • Clients have access to the classes anytime the facility is open.
  • Virtual classes provide a wide variety of formats, class lengths and high-quality instructors.
  • Members can create their own classes (e.g., Tabata™ followed by yoga or meditation).
  • Virtual classes allow members—especially beginners—to take an instructor-led class alone or with a small group, increasing their comfort level and creating a bridge to larger, live classes.
  • The instructor is always on time.
  • Members can go back to their favorite class at any time.
  • Facilities can repeat a class as often as needed.
  • Facilities get more use out of the group exercise room.
  • Virtual classes provide training and ideas for staff.

Cons of Virtual for Fitness Facilities

Access to virtual programming requires a good Internet connection and reliable technology. Virtual instructors are generally world-class content specialists, and they provide excellent instructional cues with level options. Their expertise enables them to address common mistakes; however, they can’t provide personalized feedback on proper body alignment.

The following are some additional drawbacks:

  • There is a lack of personal interaction.
  • Smaller classes affect group dynamics.
  • Wi-Fi glitches can interrupt the flow.
  • Safety, injury and liability issues are greater when a live agent is not available.
  • Staff need to be available for technology issues, equipment malfunctions or emergencies of any kind.
  • The content of virtual classes can be repetitive.
  • Instructor quirks may become redundant and annoying.

To read more about the pros and cons technology brings to the group fitness experience, visit “Which Is Better: A Live Class or a Virtual One?” or find in the February 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Terry Ferebee Eckmann, PhD

Terry Ferebee Eckmann, PhD

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