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Virtual Fitness: Investing in the Future

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Virtual fitness gained traction quickly in the industry due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is an offering that can benefit health clubs long after shutdowns. However, a lot goes into running virtual programming successfully. 

According to Tiffany Levine, the director of marketing and public relations for Club Greenwood in Greenwood Village, Colorado, a key to making virtual fitness a success is ensuring you have proper technology to support the streaming services. 

Technology Tools

For personal training, yoga, Pilates, small group training and livestreaming boot camps, Club Greenwood decided to use Zoom. They set up a master account for the club and added accounts for each department and instructor. “This was helpful for troubleshooting, settings and training,” said Levine. “There are other products, such as Google Hangouts or Cisco Webex, but we found Zoom to be the quickest and easiest for both members and staff to learn.”

There are two categories of software options: platforms that offer one-on-one streaming, or broadcasting to multiple people at once. “These include gymGO, Yondo and LIFT session,” said Levine. “The broadcast model is best for high-quality streaming and one-way communication, with or without chat. Some include a paywall and offer replays, such as Vimeo, Uscreen, Zype, Intelivideo, UNION.fit and Gleantap. We chose Vimeo because we wanted to use Club Automation for our paywall and build it within our own website.”

Greg Maurer, the vice president of fitness and education for Workout Anytime, with over 100 locations nationwide, said in order to support technologies and offer virtual fitness successfully, your club needs high-speed internet.

Workout Anytime has complimentary virtual offerings designed to increase the value of their memberships. The offerings include the Workout Anytime App with over 70 animated workouts through a partnership with Virtuagym, 50 pre-recorded classes featuring coaches from their network delivered through YouTube, and on-demand workouts via PEAR Sports.

According to Maurer, having the right hardware for sound and cameras helps their virtual fitness offerings run smoothly. He recommends AV Now for help choosing the right hardware. Additionally, if your club is considering incorporating virtual fitness, you should have the largest viewing screen possible so the instructor can clearly be seen and heard, and can clearly see and hear the client.

Aaron Moore, the director of operations for VIDA Fitness with four gyms in Washington, D.C. and one in Ballston, Virginia, also stressed video and audio quality play a big role in making your virtual fitness service successful. 

“People are now accustomed to crisp, clear and full-HD picture for everything, so your virtual programming should meet those same standards if you want to play in that arena,” said Moore. “Audio is no different. People can download high-quality audio files at their fingertips in a matter of seconds, so make sure your instructors are easy to hear and the music is high quality.”

An Assortment of Options

Just as your members will expect clear video and audio, they will also expect a variety of workout options like they receive inside the club. VIDA Fitness has four different virtual offerings: group fitness classes, personal training, nutrition counseling and a boutique fitness studio concept called SweatBox. 

When it comes to offering Group X virtually, fresh content is everything. “Members are consuming virtual content at a record pace, so you have to keep things fresh and innovative,” explained Moore. “Take yoga classes for example. A vinyasa flow twice a week is going to get stale quickly. Switch up the props, create a progression series and give each class a specific focus.”

Before you can switch up your content, Vivian Griggs, the personal training coordinator for Club Greenwood, said it is important to have your virtual processes nailed down. Club Greenwood offers virtual personal training, Group X, Spin, Les Mills, yoga and Pilates. She recommends all of her instructors do practice workouts to ensure they are camera aware, speaking clearly and loudly, and addressing the at-home participants frequently.

Griggs has different recommendations for the personal trainers at Club Greenwood who have virtual clients. When feasible, a virtual consultation should be held to see what equipment and space each client has available in their home. “This is also a great time to review the technology that will be used and answer any questions about how the session will be administered virtually,” she said. “And, of course, the trainer should be in a distraction-free zone with an attractive and professionally appropriate background.”

Moore also recommended personal trainers focus on creating a dialogue with their clients.

“Don’t just tell them what to do and count reps; that will get very boring and demotivating after a few sessions,” said Moore. “Make it fun, laugh, joke and take screenshots you can later share with your client post-workout just to say congrats or point out a few extra form corrections.”

From making your clients comfortable with the virtual platform to deciding what technology to offer your service on, a lot goes into virtual fitness. And while virtual fitness took off this year due to the pandemic, it’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Selling the Service

“Virtual fitness isn’t going anywhere and will continue to gain traction even after the pandemic is over,” said Moore. “The gym member of the future is going to consume virtual content at some point and it’s a great way to supplement gym access when life gets crazy.”

On the other hand, Levine said they have members who are still waiting to come into the club, but are retaining their memberships because of the virtual offerings. Whatever they offer in the club, the gym is finding a way to offer it virtually. 

“We are keeping them connected with our livestream classes and on-demand replays,” said Levine. “We also plan to sell our livestream and on-demand offerings to non-members who may move out of state or travel. Our fee-based, online livestream boot camps are in high demand. Throughout the summer, we had members participating in-person while offering our livestream audience the same experience.” 

Some clubs may be wary on investing in the programming for fear virtual fitness will decline once the pandemic is under control. However, according to Maurer, if your club has a high-quality experience using the right technology, programming built for this specific purpose, and highly talented and well-trained instructors who are well compensated to avoid attrition, your members will continue to be interested in this offering.

Moore said one way to limit your worries is maximizing your return on investment by expanding your trade area.

A brick-and-mortar facility has a limited geographic trade area, but a quality virtual fitness product can turn your business into an international player. “Leverage your members by getting them to promote it to their out-of-town family and friends so they can take classes together,” said Moore. “Also, present it as an option to those members canceling their memberships because they are moving out of the area.”

Virtual fitness is just breaking the surface with the possibilities and benefits it can bring to your club and your members. Investing in the proper technology could prove to be a great investment. 

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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is a staff writer for Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com

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