Has COVID moved personal training online?

Everyone has seen the rise and rise of online exercise classes, whether you head to YouTube or an online workout hosted by your own personal trainer.


Everyone has seen the rise and rise of online exercise classes, whether you head to YouTube or an online workout hosted by your own personal trainer. There are even some superstars who have emerged in the world of online fitness.

Traditionally, personal training is a face-to-face, one-on-one activity, but the industry has managed to admirably pivot to a new model, using all the latest technology to ensure a seamless exercise experience for clients.

Fitness apps may have taken their place on all our smartphones, and we all crave real human social interaction, but the world has become accustomed to working out alone, in the comfort of our own houses, rather than in a shared environment.

While studies show we work harder in a group, or public environment, technology allows us to emulate the shared experience online – and there’s no fear of an unsanitary shower experience afterwards!

Here’s my thoughts on the future trends in online fitness.

Remote personal training

Remote personal training might have been a long time coming if it weren’t for the pandemic, but for those of us who work out better with someone curating our fitness regime, it’s perfect.

Now, it’s a normalised activity. Gym memberships come with an app, a YouTube or other video streaming channel, and access to a host of online training. So, it’s no surprise that personal training has shifted online too.

According to research from online fitness site Run Repeat, the three fastest-growing fitness trends amongst active adults in 2021 are:

  • At-home fitness equipment (up 49.6%)
  • Personal trainers/nutritionists (up 47.5%)
  • Online fitness courses, classes, and subscriptions (up 16.8%)

Buying fitness equipment for use at home is all well and good, but most of us soon push it into the garage, storage or ignore it. Companies like Peloton have seen enormous growth in the last 18 months – combining easily-accessible home equipment with a barrage of online classes to join in whether you are riding the Peloton bike or running on a Peloton treadmill.

AI-driven experiences

Artificial Intelligence is becoming the new norm, but the fitness sector – including savvy personal trainers – is only just beginning to embrace it. Home exercise technology companies such as Peloton and Zwift are using AI data to deliver their exercise regimes to the home, along with useful analysis of customer usage data.

I recently discovered an innovator in the space called MIRROR, which literally provides an AI-powered mirror to your home space which then displays exercises for you to copy and uses cameras to measure your performance and form. It then uses that data to optimize your workout.

Meanwhile, Tonal is a compact digital workout machine that includes a screen and uses cameras. Tonal uses AI to analyse the data gathered from its system’s cameras, to help users ensure good form, and optimize resistance training.

Virtual reality

Similar to AI, virtual reality (VR) has its place in fitness, especially home fitness, as it can bring an immersive outdoor experience to your lounge.

And it has a number of advantages, from shaking up a stale workout routine, to firing up users to exercise harder, or encouraging people to get into fitness because VR workouts can be a lot more fun. Slip a headset on, and you can be immersed in a routine such as boxing, dance or HIIT within seconds – and exercise remotely or linked up with friends in a class via the system.

There’s many layers to VR workouts, in that they can hold appeal and work for people of different abilities, and they tend to focus on fun.

Bigger virtual challenges

As I’ve said, the world has truly embraced online fitness, to the extent that you can run marathons – competitively, even – from your home.

We are seeing more and more people engage in virtual races, such as the Dubai Virtual Run earlier this year, where entrants could take part virtually in a marathon, half marathon, 10km or 5km run.

Others enjoy taking part in long distance cycle races – connected to a shared online experience, rowing, and even more general fitness challenges like mastering your first five pull-ups.

In the hotter places of the world, like the Middle East, and extremely cold or wet places, virtual challenges provide greater accessibility, more social exercise, and the challenge many of us need to push ourselves to the next level of fitness.

Smarter virtual classes and flexible fitness

Of course, it’s technology that underpins the online fitness world, and there’s never a shortage of equipment, apps, virtual gym plans and personal training via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.

These programmes are designed to keep you active, engaged and challenged. FitBit has been around for a long time and was certainly among the early adopters of technology that slowed you to measure your heart rate, oxygen saturation, calories burnt and set goals, all from a tiny wrist-based, internet connected device.

Fitness today means exercising where, when and how you like, with exact measurements available.

Classes on demand are widely available, and another beautiful thing about online fitness is that it has brought people together – online – from all over the world. You can source a trainer who fits your needs, wherever they are.

I see a time in the near future where classes, tips and training videos will all become available in one place, for a subscription fee – the Netflix of fitness if you like. Keep an eye on sites like Glo, for example.

Increased digital wellbeing and mindfulness

Finally, as all these new habits come to the fore, I’m also seeing increased interest in mindfulness and digital wellbeing.

We’re moving on from pure fitness, into meditation and more esoteric fitness. I even saw eye yoga offered online recently. But a crucial part of all our ‘digital fitness’ regimes should, of course, be knowing when to switch off.

Many devices come with a time restriction, and it’s certainly worth remembering that in a number of surveys – including the Run Repeat survey mentioned above – the number one fitness trend is getting outdoors, and spending as much time outdoors as we can.

There’s nothing better than fresh air and vitamin D for the mind, body and soul, after all.

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