By Meredith Sheldon
After finishing his chemistry assignment, computer engineering major Marcus Ball needs a study break. He cleans his dorm room floor, opens up his laptop and starts a 30-minute workout session with his online personal trainer.
Ball, then an 18-year-old freshman, used to schedule his virtual training sessions twice a week on VirtuFit, an online personal training program. Ball says the online workouts helped boost his self-esteem and enabled him to see effective results very quickly.
Fast forward a few years, and the now 23-year-old from Delray Beach is confidently exercising in the University of Florida gym, a place that used to intimidate him.
Online exercising is becoming increasingly popular among young adults. According to a Michigan State University study, online training with a partner has proven to be more effective than working out alone in a gym. Researchers compared the exercise performance of 200 participants who had to do a series of five exercises alone and then again with a virtual trainer.
Deborah Feltz, the chairperson of MSU’s Department of Kinesiology, who helped lead the study, says those who workout with people online are more motivated to push themselves.
“Our results suggest working out with virtually present, superior partners can improve motivation on exercise game tasks,” Feltz said in an MSU Today article. “These findings provide a starting point to test additional features that have the potential to improve motivational gains in health video games.”
Marc Thompson, a Certified Personal Trainer and creator of VirtuFit, says virtual training enables individuals to get effective workouts from the comfort of their rooms or workplaces.
Thompson says this form of fitness program provides many benefits to students or working individuals because it is convenient, cheap and intimate. No equipment is necessary to use a virtual training program, he says. All you need is a webcam and an empty space.
“When you are done, you are done and where you need to be, whether it is at home or the office,” he says. “There is no driving, no dressing a certain way, no gas and no gym membership.”
Besides the financial benefits, Thompson says online training programs eliminate distractions, which are common in a gym.
“The connection is better because you as a trainer want to connect with the clients energy, which can sometimes get lost in the gym and taken for granted,” he says.
The main difference between an in-person pilates class and a virtual pilates class, Posnak says, is the equipment available. She says she alters each workout based on the equipment her clients have in their exercise space.
“When you are online, it is the same thing, just you are in another space than the client,” she says. “I am essentially there in that I give verbal cues, but I am not able to obviously touch the client.”
Thompson says a main focus of the program is the emphasis of verbal cues. He says an online trainer needs to be very articulate with words rather than motions, he says.
MyBod Wellness, similar to other online fitness sites, allows individuals to share online sessions through Google Hangout. Posnak says this form of virtual group fitness is a fun way to motivate oneself and meet people around the world.
Another great thing about this new fitness trend is the flexibility of the courses, Thompson says. VirtuFit offers 30, 45, and 60-minute sessions and clients typically train two-to-three times a week.
Thompson says the best way to improve is by increasing variability in each workout.
“Variety is key in order to get harmony of your body, mind and spirit,” he says. “I have never duplicated a workout for my clients. I have done 100,000 workouts since I have started and I pull from all different disciplines of fitness to get my client what they need that day.”
Ball, who trained with Thompson virtually, says the online training changed his life. Ball says he recommends this program to students who are very busy with school work and don’t have much time to get to a gym.
“It helped me a lot by giving me the option to have a real workout while being able to still work from my dorm,” he says. “I had a lot of time to focus on school work and not really spend extra time doing a workout.”
There are several misconceptions about online fitness, Posnak says. One misconception is that a trainer can not work effectively with an individual if they are not physically with them. Posnak says this is not the case at all.
“People perform surgery remotely via video camera,” she says. “If you can do surgery through a video, you can workout through a video.”
Some people also fear being on camera, Posnak says. Some of her clients get intimidated, but she says this fear fades after a few sessions.
Posnak says this virtual exercise experience is beneficial to people of all ages. She says she has also worked with cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy. These clients needed another form of exercise since their weak immune systems prohibited them from entering gyms.
“This is for people who don’t want a gym experience,” she says. “They don’t want to go try to work out in front of people. It is a really nice alternative if a gym is intimidating or inaccessible.”