Online Fitness Training: Benefits, Drawbacks and How to Start

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Online training is one of the fastest growing segments of the fitness industry. In fact, according to Flurry Insights, health and fitness app usage rose 62% in the first half of 2014, and it's growing at a rate 87% faster than that of other industries.

It's not just fitness apps that are growing in popularity. Streaming programs, such as Grokker and Crunch Live, are popping up all over the internet, and full-length fitness videos abound on YouTube.

All this growth is incredibly positive - it's making health and fitness resources available to the general consumer wherever they are, without requiring access to a gym or fitness studio. But it's not without problems.

For one thing, the sheer volume of online fitness possibilities can feel paralyzing. If you thought it was hard to choose which gym to go to in your neighborhood, it's going to be a lot harder to choose which YouTube channel to follow when sifting through the 9 million results you return after searching "fitness videos."

If you're ready to test the waters of online fitness, here's what you need to know.

Benefits of Online Fitness

  • Login Anywhere. As long as you have access to pre-downloaded videos and/or a wifi connection for streaming videos, you can workout wherever you are.
  • Workout for Less. Most online fitness programs are much less expensive than similar offline programs. This is due in part to the decreased rate of overhead expenses, and in part to the wider audience and greater opportunity to sell programs to more people. Many programs are actually offered 100% free, particularly if you're not hoping for personalized, one-on-one attention. 
  • Exercise According to Your Schedule. Instead of being locked into a specific class at a specific time, online programs are almost all offered at your convenience. While there are some exceptions for live workout videos, you can usually still access the video after the live workout is finished recording.
  • Access Limitless Opportunities and Trainers. You're no longer required to work with the one Pilates instructor available at your local studio. When you head online, you have Pilates instructors from around the country all ready and willing to help you master your favorite moves. Same goes for types of exercise. Just because you don't have a Zumba class in your area doesn't mean you can't go online to find a few high-quality Zumba workouts led by certified instructors.
  • Skip the Gym or Studio. If you're new to exercise, you aren't sure what types of exercise you like, or you feel intimidated when walking into a new workout environment, online training is an excellent reprieve from the traditional gym or studio. You can test different programs from the comfort of your living room, learning the basics before taking your practice into the "real world" of clubs and gyms.


The main thing I caution before committing to an online fitness program is "know thyself." If you struggle with self-motivation, you don't like exercising at home, and you prefer a social workout environment, online fitness may not be for you.

Other than those three "biggies," there's one other major drawback for online fitness:

  • No One's There to Check Your Form. With very few exceptions (LIFT Session being one of them) very few online programs enable the instructor to see you, check your form, and offer modifications or corrections based on your performance. This means you could be inadvertently performing exercises wrong, or even unsafely, even if you think you're doing them correctly. This is particularly concerning for beginners and those recovering from injuries, as they're more likely to perform exercises wrong.

How to Get Started

  1. Decide What Type of Program and Feedback You Require. This is the most important step. If you're hoping for more one-on-one, personalized help, look into workout programs led by a specific trainer and held for a certain number of weeks or months. If, however, you require less personal feedback, organizations like Fitness Blender and Nerd Fitness offer a number of pre-packaged programs you can work your way through on your own terms. If you're more free-flowing and simply want high-quality, full-length workout programs you can access and stream, Grokker or FitnessGlo may be a better fit. And finally, if you're more interested in short video clips and exercise tutorials, you can't beat YouTube's search for its sheer volume of responses.
  2. Select Your Budget. You can pay almost anything for anything. While many streaming services are less than $20 per month, more personalized programs and one-on-one personal training services are going to cost more. Decide what you're comfortable spending before you start looking at options. As with much in life, you often get what you pay for. If you're hoping for higher-quality resources and care, you might want to ante up a reasonable budget.
  3. Take Advantage of Free Trials and Programs. Most online fitness venues and trainers know that the best way to land new clients is to let them test-drive their service. As such, there are lots of free and discounted resources available. Go ahead and take advantage of them.
  4. Ask Questions. Once you've narrowed your search to a few key programs, don't hesitate to ask each company about its program's benefits, personalization, ongoing motivation and feedback, and anything else you're curious about.
  5. Seek Out Reviews and Referrals. It never hurts to see what other people are saying about the program you're considering. Other people's experiences can give you a good glimpse into what you can expect as well.
  6. Sign Up! Go ahead and let the rubber hit the road. Make a decision and give an online program a try. Very few programs require a long-term commitment, so you're almost always welcome to cancel if you decide it's not a good fit for you.

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