Exercise Tips

Virtual Fitness: Exploring the Pros and Cons

Share This

By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Whether it’s for business, retail or entertainment, technology is always changing how we get things done. These days, fitness is no exception. If you have a smartphone, laptop or other device, you can check your heart rate, track your steps, join an online exercise group and even sign up for a virtual fitness class. With just a touch of a screen, you can view live or on-demand exercise programming. So, if you have Wi-Fi, you’re in business.

“More than ever before, people can find ways to work out in their comfort zone,” says Pam Webert, an exercise physiologist at Henry Ford Health System. “If you don’t feel comfortable going to the gym, have transportation issues or if you have small children at home, virtual fitness apps and platforms may be a viable solution.” And in today’s time-pressed world, hitting the Internet to squeeze in some exercise makes sense. But does it pay off?

Virtual Fitness Pros and Cons

Between YouTube, mobile apps and live streaming, the virtual fitness market has exploded in recent years. Plus, plenty of exercise businesses offer classes you can participate in real-time, download or stream on-demand. No matter which virtual fitness platform you choose, consider these pros and cons:

PROS

  • Convenience: You don’t have to leave your home, purchase pricey equipment  or even get decked out in workout clothes. And you can hit your favorite class any time, day or night. “One of the biggest barriers to exercise is time, so if you can access a virtual fitness class at home and you have the space to exercise, you may be more likely to stick with the program,” Webert says.
  • You can choose what you like: With the internet at your fingertips, you can take any kind of class you want. Need to decompress? Choose yoga or meditation. Looking for something high energy? Opt for Zumba or cycling. Want to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture? Try a barre. The options are limited only by your imagination.
  • Affordability: Many virtual fitness classes are free and membership platforms often allow you to sign up for monthly content at reduced rates, especially compared with pricey gym memberships or studio classes.
  • No one is watching: If you don’t feel comfortable exercising in front of other people, virtual fitness platforms are an ideal solution.

CONS

  • Information overload: All you have to do is Google Apple-preferred videos and you’ll find plenty of fitness classes on sites ranging from YouTube to Facebook Live. But choosing which videos are best can be a bit of a challenge. It can be overwhelming and time-consuming to find something that works for you.
  • There are no regulations: Unqualified fitness gurus can create a YouTube video and make all sorts of claims because no person or agency is policing the virtual fitness space.
  • You need a solid connection: Wi-Fi glitches are common, and that affects the quality of any virtual fitness activity.
  • No one is watching: There’s no instructor to tell you that you’re performing exercises incorrectly, or that you’re at risk for injuring yourself. Maybe your knees are bowing out while you’re doing squats or you’re moving in a way that will strain your back. You may never know unless you ask a professional to watch you. If you opt for high-intensity workouts without proper training, you are more likely to set yourself up for an injury[.

Virtual Fitness Done Right

Choosing fitness programming that meets your needs can be challenging. If you’re older, or have a chronic health condition or suffer from an injury, participating in virtual fitness classes can be downright dangerous. But even if you’re healthy, there are a few things you should watch for before you sign on:

  1. Pricing: Many online fitness sites have monthly subscription prices and some tack on hidden fees. Are you really going to be using these classes enough to get your money’s worth?
  2. Credentials: Do some research to find out whether instructors are licensed. A good rule of thumb: Search for companies who have certified fitness professionals teaching their classes. Maybe all of their instructors are certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Other high-profile licensing and professional societies include the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
  3. Reviews: Take a moment to read through reviews for virtual fitness classes. If you see hundreds of five-star reviews, it’s a safe bet the class has something solid to offer. 

No matter which form of fitness you choose — virtual or real-world — talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a chronic health condition. “If you want to go the virtual fitness route, consider meeting with a personal trainer or fitness specialist to get an assessment first,” suggests Webert.

Not only can a professional ensure you’re exercising correctly, they can also guide you toward virtual fitness tools that will help you achieve your unique health and wellness goals.

To find more about exercise programs at Henry Ford or talk with your doctor about how much exercise is right for you, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Want more advice from our fitness experts?  Subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips and recipes.


Pam Webert is an exercise physiologist who sees patients and athletes at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.