In recent years, as technology has been able to bring us nearly everything we need – including fitness – many in recreation and health have asked, “Are virtual fitness classes threatening the gym/membership model?”
In some ways, yes.
Virtual fitness opens new doors to flexibility in more ways than one. Typically a pre-recorded or live-streaming session, instructors, trainers, yogis and more can engage individuals or groups anytime, anywhere. When it comes to virtual fitness, basically all you need is a screen and a connection. Using your computer, tablet, TV or smartphone, you can log onto any primary cable service and you’ll find an entire channel or on-demand function dedicated to pre-recorded workout videos. Tap into Apple-preferred videos and you’ll find plenty of “on the go” fitness at your fingertips. Facebook Live, Skype, even Google Hangouts can offer live, streaming fitness with professional instructors. The choices are endless.
According to IDEA Health and Fitness Association, fitness centers, YMCAs, corporate wellness centers, universities, apartment complexes, airports, active-aging communities, medical facilities, schools and the military are among virtual group exercise consumers.
The question is: Does virtual fitness have a valuable place in your recreation business?
Answering that question requires understanding the pros and cons of virtual fitness, as well as thinking outside the box to differentiate your center’s offerings as opposed to competing with free, online services. And ultimately, data can confirm its business value or lack thereof.
Pros and cons of pre-recorded and live-streaming fitness sessions:
- Members receive more convenience and a wider class variety
- Virtual libraries provide an alternative to group classes for varying levels of abilities: Versions of beginner, intermediate or advanced offerings can more fully meet individual needs.
- Classes can be done anytime, anywhere
- Members can re-take classes anytime
- There is low overhead cost for the instructor/organization
- Online offerings can bring access to world-renowned instructors
- There is no opportunity for two-way communication or feedback/correction
- The lack of personal connection means advice and direction is generic and meant for the masses, not individual needs
- Any tech glitches interrupt the flow of the class, therefore staff still need to be available to manage and run the class
- Content can be repetitive and may be boring to repeat
- There may be lower accountability and short-lived results through virtual fitness. According to Scott Hunt, owner of Fitness Enhancement, “Workouts on your computer may add a few nifty bits of technology, but it doesn’t solve the underlying flaws of the idea, and will ultimately see 99 percent of viewers fail.”
It appears as though virtual fitness as a member resource is a bit of a calculated risk. Perhaps a better question to ask isn’t whether virtual fitness is worth your while, but how.
“Outside the Box” application ideas:
- Mini-videos, 5 minutes or less, at kiosks in your center to kick start or inspire in-gym workouts; similarly, “How To” videos can give members the additional support they need to use varying equipment.
- Mini-workouts, available on your website to grow client base and encourage members to sign up for full-scale classes with said instructor.
- Small group, scheduled viewings in a group exercise room is great for beginners or advanced athletes looking to follow an ongoing program; think cohort groups/
- Special, live-streaming event sessions with celebrity or acclaimed trainers can boost group registrations.
- Online streaming of your live classes can engage those who find it difficult to get to the gym, like postpartum women and older adults.
Ultimately, virtual fitness can be a compliment to the offerings in your center. Think of it as one spoke on your wheel; another way to engage your membership. Anything that offers convenience is going to encourage more activity, the key is to just make sure the virtual offerings provide quality fitness that can elevate, not diminish a member’s experience.