When the coronavirus pandemic temporarily closed gyms nationwide in 2020, many people opted to do their workouts at home through online instruction. Even after fitness facilities reopened, a good number of individuals elected to stay at home. That's probably why online training nabbed the top spot in the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, a poll conducted annually by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Online training involves the use of digital streaming technology to deliver exercise programs aimed at groups or individuals, and encompasses both livestreamed and prerecorded workouts. Today, with the omicron variant racing across the globe and many gym-goers pondering a return to online instruction, this trend appears to be here to stay. Or at least some version of it.
"I foresee a hybrid model being the trend of the future," said Jennifer Rewkowski, vice president of community health and wellness at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, which offers both in-person and online workouts. "The world has changed so much over the last 19 months regarding people's work schedules and locations, schooling, etc. For some people, the on-demand world really works," she said via email.
But is one workout format better than the other? Experts say it depends. Here are several factors to consider when deciding whether to head to the gym or your living room for your next workout.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain. Also, be sure to check COVIID-19 guidance in your area.
Online workouts are more accessible and less expensive
One of the most popular reasons for working out to an online video is that it offers the ultimate convenience. No need to roll out of bed at 5 a.m. to make that 6 a.m. boot camp class, which may end up being full when you arrive. Instead, you can turn it on at home at your convenience. And if you're on the road? No problem. You can access your workout via your phone, tablet or laptop.
Another advantage is the price. Gym memberships can be expensive, while online workouts are less so — and sometimes even free. Chicago's Irving Park YMCA, for example, charges $52 per month for an adult membership (age 27+), plus a $52 joiner fee. The online Les Mills+ program, in contrast, offers a free 30-day trial of its 1,500-plus workouts. If you like them, it's just $9.99 per month when you sign up for a year.
There is one catch when it comes to price, though. Some online workouts require you to have specific equipment, such as stability balls or weights, which you may need to buy. And if you fall in love with the popular Peloton at-home workout and simply must have one of its specialty bikes, be prepared to shell out anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500.
In-person workouts are generally safer
One of the main drawbacks to online workouts is that there is no experienced instructor to give you feedback. "When you're in a structured, supervised setting, someone who knows what they're doing can help you out," said John Quindry, chair of the University of Montana's School of Integrative Physiology and Athletic Training. "If your form is off, or you're going too hard or not going hard enough — these things can be remedied when supervised."
In addition, if you're exercising alone at home and fall, or suffer a cardiac or metabolic event, you could really be in trouble. That being said, in-person classes aren't perfect when it comes to safety. Instructors may not notice someone's poor form if a class is crowded, or if someone intentionally stations themself in the back out of self-consciousness, Quindry said.
No matter whether you choose a fitness center or online option, make sure the instructors are qualified, especially if you have a concerning medical condition. Anyone can post an exercise video online, and some fitness centers hire instructors with minimal qualifications.
In-person workouts may hold you more accountable
If you take a yoga or barre class with your bestie every Tuesday, you're likely to go even on days when you don't feel like it. You won't want to disappoint them, after all. But no one will know if you don't turn on an online workout.
You may be more motivated by the variety of workout options online
Your in-person workout options are highly dependent upon the facility. Smaller fitness centers may only offer a handful of classes, such as yoga, cycling and kickboxing. Other facilities may have a wide variety of classes available, but charge extra for them. Online options, in contrast, typically offer a vast assortment of classes. And this buffet of options may be just what you need to stave off boredom and remain motivated to regularly bust out a sweat.
No matter whether you prefer in-person workouts, online sessions or a little of each, the key takeaway is to stay active, said Jafra Thomas, assistant professor in the kinesiology and public health department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
"Unfortunately, cultures around exercise encourage comparing oneself to artificial beauty standards, or adopting unrealistic expectations of when you'll see benefits," he said. "While appreciation for moving may be seldom encouraged by platform creators or instructors, physical activity provides many health benefits."