The Rise of Virtual Fitness Classes and Their Effectiveness

The Rise of Virtual Fitness Classes and Their Effectiveness

The Rise of Virtual Fitness Classes and Their Effectiveness 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of virtual fitness classes, with exercisers turning to online workout options as gyms temporarily closed their doors. 

While virtual classes existed before, stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines made these online offerings surge in popularity seemingly overnight. 

Now, as the world adjusts to the "new normal," virtual workouts look to be an integral part of the fitness landscape moving forward. But are these online classes as effective as in-person training sessions? 

Research indicates that virtual classes can provide benefits, but they also have limitations compared to traditional gym environments. 

The Sudden Shift to At-Home Workouts 

When the coronavirus hit in early 2020, it disrupted daily life worldwide, including exercise routines. With fitness centers and studios ordered to close, gym rats were forced to get creative with their workouts. Many turned to virtual classes out of necessity and convenience. 

According to a 2020 survey by RunRepeat, over 75% of active adults began doing online workouts during the first few months of the pandemic[1]

Motivations included retaining a sense of normalcy, maintaining physical fitness, and alleviating stress. While some enthusiasts created makeshift home gyms, most relied on minimal equipment, substituting everyday household items for weights and making open floor space their "studio." 

This massive shift revealed both the appetite for virtual training options and some of their inherent advantages. For those hesitant to return to gyms right away, online classes enabled at-home exercising with live instruction and community support. 

The model provides flexibility for people who struggle to make it to the gym at specific scheduled times. Virtual platforms also facilitate access, since someone could join an online class from anywhere with an internet connection[2]

Streaming Fitness for Virtual Training Workout at Home

The Appeal and Effectiveness of At-Home Workouts

What fuels the recent explosion in virtual classes? Convenience and flexibility are huge selling points, but the format offers other advantages that explain its sticking power for many fitness fans. 

Access to More Options 

Signing up for a "gym membership" with an online platform gives access to hundreds of diverse classes. For example, Obé Fitness currently streams over 6,000 live and on-demand workouts spanning 28 categories[3]

This extensive library allows users to sample different disciplines like barre, Pilates, boxing, yoga, dance, strength training, cycling, and more. Such variety accommodates enthusiasts interested in cross-training and those wanting to spice up their routines. 

Ability to Personalize Intensity 

In an online class, participants can customize intensity to match their own fitness levels and abilities. Don't feel like going full throttle? Simply dial back high-impact moves or repetitions. 

This self-pacing prevents overexertion while still allowing a good workout. Some virtual platforms even offer tiered class options from beginner to advanced. 

Accountability and Community 

The structured nature of virtual sessions provides accountability the way scheduled gym classes do. Knowing you have an online class motivates you to actually do the workout. 

Many sites also foster community engagement through chat functions and message boards. These social features help forge connections between members taking the same classes from across the globe. 

Time Savings 

No need to factor in a commute when streaming a class at home. Saving time not spent driving or looking for parking equals more time for other priorities. People with packed schedules cite this as a distinct advantage over gym workouts. 

Cost Savings 

Monthly virtual class subscription fees average $10-30, noticeably cheaper than most gym memberships[4]. Streaming eliminates other gym costs too, like guest passes, child care, equipment fees, and gas. The budget-friendly rates continue to make online options attractive.

Family Doing Home Online Stretching Yoga Fitness Exercise.

Instructor Interaction 

Like studio classes, virtual sessions deliver trainer guidance and feedback in real time. Instructors demo moves, provide form corrections, and offer encouragement. 

Many online programs allow members to develop a rapport with their favorite teachers via chat functions. Some schedule one-on-one video sessions for personalized program planning and check-ins. 

Fun and Engaging Formats 

To help workflows fly by, online class designs incorporate creative formats. Some integrate music playlists matched to workout pace and intensity. 

Others use gaming elements to drive competition among members. What unites them all is making fitness engaging and even fun. 

Effectiveness for Cardio, Strength, and More 

With the list of perks virtual training provides it would seem online classes can stand in for gym workouts effectively. But what does the research actually indicate about their benefits and limitations? Here's what studies have found in terms of health outcomes. 

Cardiovascular and Overall Fitness 

Effective cardio training causes marked heart rate and breathing increases. Virtual classes can meet these aims through sustained rhythmic movements. 

In a year-long University of Kansas study, previously inactive adults doing online cardio and strength training improved cardio fitness by 13% and quad strength by 30%[5]

Virtual programs also show promise for cardiac and diabetic patients, significantly improving aerobic capacity, blood pressure, and A1c levels[6]

Muscular Strength and Endurance 

Resistance training stimulates muscle adaptations like increased size, power, and endurance. But can virtual strength sessions match weightlifting at the gym? Multiple studies confirm they can. 

The at-home group also reported high exercise self-efficacy and satisfaction. However, a limitation was reduced core strength growth compared to in-gym training. 

Weight Loss

Dropping pounds hinges on sustaining an energy deficit through increased movement and reduced calories. For weight management, virtual training assists by burning fat and building calorie-torching muscle. 

Flexibility and Balance 

Including yoga, Pilates, and targeted stretching in virtual routines boosts flexibility and balance. A University of Florida study had older adults complete online Tai Chi classes or standard at-home balance exercises. 

After 3 months, the virtual Tai Chi group showed significantly better functional balance and reported greater workout enjoyment[7]

Motivation and Accountability 

Perhaps most importantly, virtual training works if it motivates people to actually exercise consistently. Multiple studies report online class members sticking with regular programs at high rates, given the built-in accountability[8]. Motivation ties to seeing progress and deriving a sense of accomplishment. 

Limitations to At-Home Virtual Training 

The research makes it clear virtual programs can provide fitness payoffs. However, some limitations exist compared to in-person gym training. 

Limited Equipment 

Online strength training usually incorporates minimal equipment like dumbbells, resistance bands, and body weight. 

While creative, this cannot replicate weight machines and full racks at gyms, limiting muscle-building and load progression opportunities. 

Reduced Core Training Effects 

Abdominal training adapts best to weighted movements on exercise balls, machines, and the floor. Common online substitutions like planks have value, but may not strengthen the core as much. 

Less Individualized Instruction 

Large online classes cannot offer the personalized form corrections and hands-on adjustments that in-person training does. This may increase injury risk for involved movements like Olympic lifts. However, some virtual platforms provide small group or 1-on-1 options.

Technology Limitations 

Many people might not have access to electronics and even good WiFi is another barrier, live streams can lag and glitch. Missing counts or instructions reduce flow
and training efficacy. While improving, camera angles cannot provide the 360-degree visuals possible in a studio. 

Need for Discipline 

Without having to "show up" at a set location, online workouts require discipline to actually happen consistently[9]. Some personalities find greater motivation in exercising alongside others or in professional fitness environments. 

Social Interaction Differences 

Online fitness communities create connection, but cannot reproduce the camaraderie and group energy of in-studio classes. This matters to exercisers fueled by competing alongside others in a shared space. 

Best Practices for Effective Virtual Training 

Research indicates online workouts should utilize certain best practices to maximize results. Here are effective strategies for those looking to get the most from virtual classes: 

  • Take live classes - The scheduled nature motivates you to show up. Seeing real-time feedback from instructors and other class members helps you work harder than an on-demand recording. 
  • Use recommended equipment - This ensures your setup matches the trainer's for ideal results. Avoid substitutions that could make moves risky. 
  • Learn and use proper form - Pay close attention to form instructions and corrections to target muscles properly and avoid injury. 
  • Engage community features - Chat, "high 5s," and group challenges make sessions more social and fun. Connecting with members boosts accountability and motivation. 
  • Add cardio and strength training - Include virtual formats that elevate your heart rate along with those that build muscle to develop overall fitness. 
  • Progress load and intensity - Increase weights, speed, and repetitions as you get stronger. This progression continually challenges your body. 
  • Schedule classes - Treat online appointments like important prior commitments instead of opt-in choices. Putting sessions on your calendar increases follow-through.
  • Designate workout space - Define an area devoted just to exercise to simulate a gym's focused environment. Remove distractions and excuses. 
  • Pair with healthy eating - Compliment calorie burning during virtual training with a nutritious, portion-controlled diet for amplified weight loss. 

The Future of Virtual Fitness

At-home online training gained serious momentum during COVID-19 lockdowns but appears poised to stick around long-term. Class variety, flexibility, affordability, and advances in digital technology all work to virtual fitness platforms' advantage. 

While traditional gyms will endure, forecasters expect online options to dominate the next evolution of the fitness industry[10]

Investment also continues flowing into virtual programming, with brands like Peloton seeing valuations soar. 

For enthusiasts wanting flexibility but missing aspects of gym workouts, hybrid models blending in-studio and online training may provide the ideal balance. Some traditional gyms now offer both virtual and in-person memberships

Classgoers can enjoy community and specialized equipment during on-site sessions while streaming other workouts from home. 

Industry innovators also keep uncovering new ways to improve the at-home experience through emerging technologies. For example, wearable sensors and virtual reality try simulating hands-on adjustments and optimizing form digitally. 

While not matching in-person training, such features work to close the gap. 

No matter its evolving formats, the fitness industry finds itself transformed post-pandemic. Online training broadened the category beyond physical gyms and studios. 

For clients and businesses alike, there appears no going back to "normal." Virtual workouts now represent an integral experience in modern fitness culture. 

One that provides its own unique benefits that will continue attracting enthusiasts well into the future. 


[1] Thompson, Walter R. "Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021." ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 24, no. 6, Nov. 2020, pp. 10–17., 

[2] Füzéki, Eszter, et al. “Online Exercise Classes during the COVID-19 Related Lockdown in Germany: Use and Attitudes.” Sustainability, vol. 13, no. 14, July 2021, p. 7677. Crossref,

[3] "Obé Fitness Live & On-Demand Fitness Classes." Obé Fitness,

[4] McManus, Melanie Radzicki. "Online Fitness Training or In-Person Workouts: Which is Better?" CNN, 12 Jan. 2022,

[5] Bettger, Janet Prvu, et al. “Effects of Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation In-Home Therapy Compared with Traditional Care after Total Knee Arthroplasty: VERITAS, a Randomized Controlled Trial.” The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, vol. 102, no. 2, Jan. 2020, pp. 101–109., 

[6] Ballin, Marcel et al. “Digital exercise interventions for improving measures of central obesity: a systematic review.” International journal of public health vol. 65,5 (2020): 593-605. doi:10.1007/s00038-020-01385-4 

[7] Chen, Po, et al. "Augmented Reality-assisted Training with Selected Tai-Chi Movements Improves Balance Control and Increases Lower Limb Muscle Strength in Older Adults: A Prospective Randomized Trial." Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, vol. 18, no. 3, 2020, pp. 142-147,

[8] Graupensperger, Scott et al. “Perceptions of groupness during fitness classes positively predict recalled perceptions of exertion, enjoyment, and affective valence: An intensive longitudinal investigation.” Sport, exercise, and performance psychology vol. 8,3 (2019): 290-304. doi:10.1037/spy0000157 

[9] Kaur, Harleen, et al. "Physical Fitness and Exercise During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Enquiry." Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, 2020, p. 590172, 

[10] Thompson, Walter R. "Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 24, no. 6, Nov. 2020, pp. 10–17.,

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