Online fitness routines and apps are tempting as they cut out the need to travel, meaning the time your workout will take overall, is reduced.
The use of home fitness apps and videos has surged during the last three years. Largely due to the pandemic when fitness facilities were forced to close their premises. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, during the first half of 2020 downloads of health and fitness apps grew by 46% worldwide.
Online videos and apps can be convenient, cost-effective ways to get active on a regular basis. But the big question is, are they the best option for us to keep fit and healthy in the long term?
Generally, online training comes in three forms:
- Pre-recorded videos. One option for online fitness training is pre-recorded videos. These videos allow you to exercise at a time that suits you, with no commitment to a specific schedule. You can follow along with a trainer who guides you through the workout. This approach is a modern version of the old-style “fitness DVD” made famous by Jane Fonda.
- Live virtual training sessions. Another option for online fitness training is live virtual training sessions. With this option, you log in at a pre-agreed time and join a live trainer via a video link (such as Zoom). The trainer will work with you on a specific programme, and you will be able to see the trainer in real-time and communicate directly throughout the workout. This type of training can be one-to-one or one-to-group.
- Apps. Fitness apps provide a wide range of options for online fitness training. Some apps deliver pre-recorded training, while others offer live sessions. Some create customised programmes for you to follow, and others allow you to log your training progress. We can categorise fitness apps into the two categories mentioned above: pre-recorded videos and live virtual training sessions.
What an effective fitness strategy is
An effective fitness strategy will start with an agreed goal and include guided exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle support, along with a timeline, to help us reach that agreed goal. It will also involve a weekly routine that can be repeated consistently. Consistency breeds results.
Save time, money and effort by cutting out the commute
If we need to travel out of our way to get to a fitness facility, then online training can be an excellent choice.
The key to achieving fitness results is to find a convenient option that can be repeated week in and week out. If travelling to a location is inconvenient or takes up too much, then you’re unlikely to stick with it. And this is where online can really help.
Online fitness videos can help you fit regular exercise into your schedule
Another excellent benefit of online training is it can fit your current schedule. If you travel regularly, work long hours or do shift work, establishing a regular routine can be challenging. Online fitness videos and workout sessions offer flexibility to work out when time and energy are available. Pre-recorded videos offer the most flexibility, but even live virtual training can be more flexible than meeting your trainer at the gym.
No thinking necessary
Pre-recorded videos will usually give plenty of instruction, making one of the greatest advantages of this type of training is that someone has already done the thinking for you. If you ever go to a gym and struggle with knowing what to do or what not to do (and how to do it), an online fitness video can provide structure from a professional resource. This will make the process of exercise easier because all you need to do is show up.
Meanwhile, a trainer working with you live online can create a plan specifically for you, allowing for any injuries you may have, and taking into account your personal goals (and challenges).
Top tip: It’s worthwhile looking at reviews (and the website) to confirm the legitimacy of the fitness provider – just so you can be assured you’re taking your advice from a reputable professional.
Control the workout pace guilt-free
Ever been doing a workout and thought, if I do any more I might die, or been in a class and thought, I need to stop for a moment, but I don’t want to hold everyone up or look like a wuss? A massive benefit of online fitness videos is you can manage the time and intensity with the touch of a button. If the workout is too challenging for your energy level, just hit ‘pause’, take a breath and continue when ready. If you are unclear about how to do a particular exercise, then stop, rewind and repeat the explanation.
Even if halfway through you decide to stop, you can always return to the same session when energy levels and motivation improve. The guilt factor decreases dramatically because you haven’t actually ‘missed’ anything – only delayed it until you have more time/energy/motivation.
If you are using a personal trainer for live virtual training then they can help pace the workouts to suit you, while also keeping you motivated so you always push yourself that little bit more, without overdoing it!
How are your goals set, agreed and measured?
A fitness programme is only as valuable as its ability to help you find your point ‘A’ and then get you to point ‘B’ (your goal).
This means you need a goal specific to you personally. To do this effectively and to be held accountable, meeting with a professional on a regular basis, is the gold standard.
Think of it as expected to rely solely on your phone notifications to encourage you to keep up a habit. Without the accountability coming from a real live professional, notifications alone can easily get ignored and the odds of success plummet.
Too many choices become confusing
If you Google search “online fitness videos”, you’ll find over 1,800,000,000 results. This is quite a large pool to whittle down to what you’re looking for. And unless you are a fitness expert yourself, you may not even know exactly what you need.
Choosing to work with a personal trainer on a one-to-one basis via video link (i.e., virtual personal training) does at least alleviate the problem of getting the right workout for your goals.
Working with a vetted professional ensures you are getting the expertise, and attention, you need to succeed.
Both parties need accountability (the online fitness provider and the user)
When you choose an online fitness option, you’re relying on the advice of the person on the other side of the camera to help you achieve your goals. But what if their advice doesn’t work? How will you even know if there’s no one there to track your activities and measure your results? What if you follow everything to the letter and the needle doesn’t move?
Sometimes if things aren’t going to plan despite your best efforts, there needs to be a plan B. Consistent guidance from a trained professional who measures your progress can be the difference between continued frustration and making real progress.
By keeping both sides accountable for your success, you’ll know if the plan is working and if it’s not, you’ll have someone to talk to who can help you fix it.
This is where pre-recorded videos fall down, but where virtual personal training, still works well.
Lack of correction when doing an exercise incorrectly
A pre-recorded fitness video cannot correct you when you’re doing an exercise incorrectly. At best this can lead to an untargeted workout. At worst, it can result in an injury.
Additionally, if you struggle with instructions and then figure it out later on in the workout, you’ll have no reassurance that this is actually a breakthrough. You may even repeat the incorrect exercise many times over, exacerbating the problem.
So, if you are a complete beginner a pre-recorded video may not be the best option. Better to start with a live professional. If you’ve been exercising for a long time and you are confident your technique is correct, then an online video can provide a routine without you needing to think too much about it.
Too easy to skip workouts (no one waiting for us, no physical appointment)
Perhaps the biggest drawback to recorded workout videos is that you don’t have the accountability of an appointment. Scheduling the workout in your calendar is one thing, but knowing someone is expecting to see you is another matter entirely. It’s the accountability of the physical appointment that makes live exercise so much more powerful, and this is where online fitness videos can let you down.
Lack of equipment can be limiting
When training at home online, if you lack suitable fitness equipment for your needs and goals, it can be limiting. For example, if you don’t have weights heavy enough to challenge you for resistance training, you won’t progress.
Lack of space can be a challenge
A balanced fitness programme will require you to move in different directions: forward and backwards and side to side. If you don’t have enough space to move in these directions freely, your movement is limited. Therefore, your results will be limited.
Pre-recorded online fitness videos work well if you are highly motivated and are already very experienced and confident that you can do each exercise correctly and safely. For everyone else, pre-recorded videos are best used as a supplement to a personalised fitness routine.
Online virtual training is great for people who want to save time or, for whatever reason, cannot get to a gym or fitness studio. You get all the benefits of face-to-face training with a personalised programme, constant checking that exercises are being performed correctly (and therefore avoiding injury) and the accountability of a live trainer.
So, combining the two types of online training is ideal. And, if it appeals, using an app to track your progress, diary your meals, and even buddy-up with friends, can add that extra dimension.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to exercise for exercise’s sake. You’ll feel better, and have more energy, and the rush of endorphins post-workout alone is worth the physical challenge. But if you are aiming to achieve a goal, then professional, personalised guidance that sets targets (and monitors progress) based on your needs is the way forward.
This can then be supplemented with online fitness videos. Seeking the guidance and support of a reputable professional will help you determine your starting point, design a plan based around you, your needs, challenges, and goals, and help you to problem-solve if things need adjusting.
James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers, which offers a high-end, all-inclusive fitness solution for those who’ve tried everything in the past.
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