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Have you ever had the feeling that your clients need more than an hour or two a week with you to gain all the benefits from your fitness expertise? Maybe you have seen new club members wandering around the facility with their exercise guidelines in hand, unable to locate the right machines or remember the movements they are supposed to perform. Perhaps you are interested in maintaining or expanding your existing client list by offering an intriguing new service.

Podcasting, currently the buzzword
in technology, presents many thrilling
opportunities for the fitness and health professional. This article will walk you through the whys and hows of podcasting, while providing additional resources and suggestions for the practical application of podcasts in our industry. If you are like most fitness professionals, you pride yourself on being on the cutting edge; podcasting, which offers the latest in on-demand media, will allow you to remain ahead of the curve.

What Is Podcasting?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines podcast as “a broadcast that can be downloaded from the Internet to a personal audio player.” Basically, a podcast is an Internet-based radio show, which can be “enhanced” to include such things as video and/or photos. Put another way, podcasts are a lot like magazine subscriptions. You must first subscribe to a magazine (podcast), after which the publisher (podcaster) will send an issue (episode) to your mailbox, where it will remain until retrieved (e.g., through iTunes), at which point you may read (listen to) it via your personal computer or take it on the go via any mobile MP3 player (e.g., iPod). Podcasts hold some significant advantages over magazine subscriptions since podcasts are typically free, arrive only when subscribed to (i.e., not as junk mail), can be cancelled at any time and can be created and published more quickly and less expensively than a traditional magazine. All you need to create a podcast is a microphone, a computer and audio editing software.

Why Podcasting?

Podcasts were originally created for radio personalities wanting to use the Internet as another avenue for reaching their
audience; however, podcast uses have evolved over time to include a much broader variety of purposes and much wider audiences. Management companies are now using podcasts as a fast, easy way of sharing information with current and potential clients; educational institutions are podcasting lectures in order to reach larger audiences; and newscasts are now being delivered via podcast for the consumer whose schedule does not fit the traditional 6 o’clock broadcast.

How can podcasting be used in the health and fitness industry? By providing pictures and/or video in addition to audio, podcasts can offer in-depth education, increased safety and the on-demand convenience that today’s clients have come to expect. Here are some practical podcasting applications that could immediately increase your educational reach and financial opportunities. (See “Podcasting Examples” on page 31 for additional

Supplement Face-to-Face Sessions. As an exercise leader, you may find that you can strengthen the range of services you provide by delivering additional information via podcast. For example, clients could download an “Exercise of the Week” podcast, complete with audio instructions and video demonstrations of the exercise of choice. As a trainer, you could use podcasting to provide activities for your clients to do before or after their training sessions (e.g., warm-up, cool-down), to maximize training time. Alternatively, you could deliver an educational podcast on the proper use of exercise machines, to ensure safety and correct technique.

Motivate Your Clients. Podcasting can provide trainers with a unique opportunity to be a driving force for clients when they need you the most . . . when you are not physically present! Providing motivational podcasts based on clients’ goals and past accomplishments will allow you to assist your clients on “their time.”

Develop “Web Clients.” By developing podcasts to serve your current clients, you are in turn creating a product of value. For a minimal up-front cost, you could create a subscription (or pay-per-download) service, which could range in specificity from general exercise guidelines to complex training programs, for Web-based clients throughout the world.

Market Your Services. Podcasting can provide an innovative medium for promoting your training services. Unlike traditional fliers or Web pages, podcasts allow potential clients to experience your training style and personality, while minimizing the use of your professional face-to-face time.

The Podcasting Process

Creating and publishing a podcast is a straightforward process that makes use of hardware and software that are readily available and, oftentimes, free to obtain. With podcasting, as with any new undertaking, you should first familiarize yourself with what is currently being done, so that you can better understand what works and what does not work as well.

A brief overview of the three steps involved in creating and publishing a podcast follows. Please refer to “Resources” on page 32 for Web sources that provide detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Creating a Podcast File. You can probably make a basic podcast file using the hardware and software you already have, as most computers have their own built-in microphone and bundled software for recording voice/sound (e.g., GarageBand on Macintosh computers or Sound Recorder in Windows). Audacity® is a free software recording and editing tool that vastly improves on the bundled Windows software. A key to creating a podcast is that you must export the audio file in MP3 format for portable players to play it. You can easily accomplish this exporting in Windows by using Lame, a free plug-in for Audacity, or with GarageBand on a Macintosh.

Generating an RSS File. In order for your audience to subscribe to your podcasts, you must create a file with a
description of your podcast and the instructions for where it is located. This file is called an RSS file. Although there does not seem to be a consensus on what RSS stands for (Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary), we do know that this format is a way of delivering regularly changing content. You can create your RSS file in a text editor, or it will automatically be generated when you use a podcasting service/application.

Publishing a Podcast. Once you have created a podcast and an RSS file, you will need to upload them to a server for your audience to access them. If you currently have your own website, then you already have a location for your podcast. If you do not have a website or wish to have someone else “host” your podcast, a number of fee-based services will assist you in this process (e.g., .Mac or Hipcast).

At this point, you need to be thinking of your audience and how to provide your podcast in a way that is easily accessible. What makes podcasts different from plain links to an audio file is the audience’s ability to “subscribe” to a series of podcasts. As subscribers, users automatically receive your podcasts when you publish them. To subscribe, your audience will need to use Podcast aggregators, often called “podcatchers,” which are specifically designed to receive podcasts. Currently, the most popular podcatcher is iTunes by Apple, available free by download for Mac and Windows. With this aggregator, users could subscribe to your podcast, receive your updated episodes automatically and download them to MP3 players for portable listening, all through iTunes.

To use iTunes, you will be asked to provide the RSS file, which should have a title and description of your podcast for the intended audience, as well as a link to your podcast file on your own server. Once your submission has been approved, your podcast will be available for subscription free of charge.

If you wish to charge a fee for your podcast or include it as part of your facility’s membership, iTunes may not be the application you wish to use. Numerous other podcatchers, such as BitPass Unplugged or Premium Podcast, enable content providers to charge for their podcasts. (Refer to “Resources,” below, for a list of downloads and resources that will be helpful in the podcasting process.)

Consider the Possibilities

Podcasting can be an inexpensive, effective means of enhancing your current clients’ experiences and also of reaching a population of potential Web-based clients who would previously not have been accessible. However, before you decide to start podcasting, you need to ask yourself whether you will have the time and desire to maintain an active online presence as your face-to-face and Web-based client lists grow. If the answer is yes, the process of podcasting is easy to learn, and the result will be an exciting technological product that will enable you to remain ahead of the curve in the health and fitness industry.

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