Years back, with a new baby and a cold winter, I was going antsy stuck indoors. That was when I discovered American fitness instructor Leslie Sansone and her Walk At Home program.
Day after day, when the baby was asleep, I used to walk in the same spot in my living room, to the cheerful tones of Leslie urging me on. It cracked my husband up no end, to see me flap my arms about, stomping in the same place, but hey, it stopped me from bopping him in sheer frustration, so win-win, right?
Now you look around, working out virtually, to the instructions of a coach sitting far away from you (sometimes in a different country or continent altogether!) is not a strange concept. The pandemic wrought many changes and the biggest one was, making virtual learning a reality.
In fact, working out virtually meant you aren’t limited to the fitness facilities near your home or your place of work. The world is your oyster, with a plethora of online options, you could choose anyone, from anywhere across the world!
But this throws up a vital question…
Are online workouts a fair replacement for traditional, in-person classes? What are the pros and cons of each?
Let’s delve deep!
The skinny on in-person learning
Traditionally, this is how we have learnt – facing our instructor watching what they are doing, and then copying it ourselves. Get corrected when we make a mistake, and do it again till we get it right. Then move on to the next.
This is the biggest ‘pro’ in the in-person, instructor-led training column – the ability to see, do, and fix our movements. The coach can watch where we are going wrong and we can see how they are going about it and together, come to the correct course of action. And nothing can beat the hands-on approach, especially in fitness sessions.
Availability of workout equipment
Going to the gym also means that you have access to a ton of equipment that your training program is based on. Your coach is not going to write in a program to do 100 reps of battle rope waves every Tuesday if he cannot provide you with the equipment!
If you are the type that loves trying out different equipment, then having a well-stocked training place will definitely get you going!
The sheer joy of being surrounded by like-minded people, and pursuing a common goal, is unparalleled. In the early days of The Quad, when working out at 5 am was something of a rarity, just being the few people that signed up for the boot camp way of life was hugely instrumental in bringing people together and cementing the feeling of community.
Other than just the classic benefits of exercising, group sessions also have the added benefits of added motivation and adding an extra dose of fun to the proceedings.
Social interactions are hugely important for other things too. Studies, in fact, indicate that being surrounded by like-minded people helps compliance.
Advantage: Mental health
Being outdoors gives your mental health a massive boost. Being in nature, breathing in the fresh air, etc, augments the benefits of exercise, and put the two together, you have a winning formula.
In countries with clear cold seasons (unlike us in permanent heat!), working out outdoors can even prevent the occurrence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which generally gets triggered by lack of sunlight and the grey autumn and winter.
When your coach is right at hand, there are fewer chances of you following a cue wrongly and wrenching something. It can still happen, mind you, but face-to-face learning means your coach will be able to check your form much more closely and in real time. With your coach spotting your reps, your poor form will get spotted before you injure yourself.
Let’s talk negatives
Of course, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Training outdoors isn’t just possible in certain circumstances. Your lifestyle might involve plenty of travel, in which case, signing up to be somewhere same time, week after week, might not be a possibility.
There’s also the time factor involved – time to get to the gym and back, which needs to be carved out of your day involving work, family commitments, etc. Not exactly an easy prospect, is it, when there is less time available? And if you have young children, you also need to work out childcare.
And then there’s also the added gift of germs, one thing the pandemic has brought into sharp relief. There are always some bugs or other floating about and being in close proximity to others, and touching the same weights as someone battling a bug is bound to increase the chances of you catching it!
When you look at all of these obstacles, it is better to stick to virtual training, surely?
Virtual training: pros and cons
Long before Covid-19 turned our lives upside down, online exercise programs were a thing. From the days of Jane Fonda’s hugely popular aerobic exercise video, home workouts have always been around.
The pandemic just blew it out of the water.
With the availability of online platforms that make working out together in real time a possibility, the fitness industry has just exploded. Virtual workouts have grown and how!
The Quad was one of the earliest to pivot to virtual training at the onset of the lockdown in 2020 and the ease with which the community adapted to it just makes it easy to understand why they are so popular.
Virtual training is the trend of the future and we might as well accept it. Imagine rolling out of bed and warming up for your exercise session a scant 15 minutes later. You are not limited by the smaller fitness centers around you! You also don’t have to worry about who’s going to look after the kid or will the dog dig through the trash by the time you return or a myriad number of domestic problems.
Work travel? Not a problem! Just plug in your laptop or your tablet and you are ready for your training session. Meeting ran over? Just take a class the next day.
Cut out the friction
For many of us, the fewer points of friction there are between us and the habit we are slowly adapting, the better. This is why, many websites and coaches tell you to get the workout gear ready and set it out in plain view, so when you get up in the morning, there’s one less excuse you can make not to get out the door to exercise.
Some people might also prefer an online course because they don’t feel comfortable or at home in the traditional gym setups. Or group classes might not be their cup of tea
Thanks to the availability of online instruction, including personal training, you don’t have to go anywhere, giving you one less hurdle to jump over. Less chance of flaking out!
Better to get some movement than none
The gyms may be stocked with the latest gadgets in the field of exercise and fitness but they do you no good if you cannot get yourself there. How often have you signed up and let your gym memberships lapse? Isn’t it better to come up with a way to get in some kind of physical activity where you are, than nothing at all?
Plus, there are tons of methodologies out there that do not require any kind of extra equipment. Animal Flow, Ground Force Movement, Original Strength, MovNat – all these schools of fitness work wonders with just body movement alone. Not to mention, your coach might be creative enough to give you alternatives – nothing can be heavier than a backpack filled with books, as every school-going child can attest!
Live in India, attend online training programs run by coaches as far away as, say, North Carolina. Wake up in London, and train with your coach in Chennai. Learn Kalaripayattu from your coach in Cochin, Krav Maga from your base in Chicago. Or Sydney. Or Timbuktu.
Borders have no meaning (as far as online learning is concerned!) and the world has now been thrown open, providing fitness enthusiasts with a whole buffet of options. From the comfort of wherever you are, you can now train with an experienced instructor from anywhere. Wide variety of classes is the norm now! Don’t like a workout format or the coach? Dump it and move on to the next!
How much more 2023 can it get?
Main drawbacks of virtual
Hundreds of our clients from across the world will attest to the beauty of virtual training. The advantages of it, especially when we were staring at endless lockdown and trying not to go quietly potty with all the uncertainties, it was a veritable boon.
This doesn’t mean it is a perfect system either.
The biggest limitation of online sessions is the lack of specific equipment – not everyone can have an indoor gym! After a while, squatting your 9th grader’s school books might being to pall a bit. Or you end up feeling a bit silly, trying to figure out if your kid’s toy trampoline might sub in for stability balls (don’t try it!).
And if you are someone that avoids the great outdoors and the hordes of people out there, the ready accessibility of the virtual environment might become a factor in reducing face-to-face contact, isolating you further.
So what is the solution?
The answer, to most things in fitness and nutrition, is “it depends”.
The aim is not perfection. The aim is to get some kind of movement on a regular basis. For this, it needs to be accessible, it needs to be interesting, and it needs to undulate with the rigours of your life.
The future of exercise might be very different – a hybrid model of coaching, VR headsets, and mind-boggling possibilities of learning experiences.
The key takeaway, therefore, is that whichever one ticks all these boxes for you today – virtual setting or in-person, hands-on learning – that is the perfect solution for you. It is as simple and as amazing as that.
Even more amazingly, at The Quad, we do both – in-person and virtual training – and have been doing so for a number of years now. If you want to know what hits the spot for you, drop us a line, and we will help you get going.