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The Virtual Realm of Risk Management


Industry experts share what risks to keep in mind when offering virtual fitness classes.

As clubs shift to a hybrid approach of both in-person and online classes, there is one thing many operators have failed to consider: the new risks that come with it. 

According to Brian Rawlings, the practice leader for FITLIFE, the toughest part of online fitness — from a risk management perspective — is the lack of control of the environment. Rawlings explained when a staff member is personally training someone or overseeing a group exercise class within the facility, they can maintain the environment so it is safe. And they can redirect those individuals who may be doing an exercise incorrectly. However, you don’t have that capability in most mediums of virtual fitness.

“This needs to lead to a different mindset when it comes to instruction to the consumer,” explained Rawlings. “A personal trainer or group exercise instructor may need to provide some more specific instructions than they would in the studio such as, ‘Make sure you have three feet of space all around you’ or even more specificity as to how to do the exercise movement and demonstrations.”


For Max Goodman, a partner at the law firm SmithAmundsen, LLC, clubs need to do more than extra coaching. Your facility’s liability waiver may be drafted in a way that only encompasses risk of injuries that occur on premises. This could cause problems for you down the road.

“You should carefully review your waiver to determine if it also explicitly applies to virtual training,” said Goodman. “It is critical to speak with your insurance provider to confirm in writing your current policy covers liability risks stemming from virtual classes. So, risk management for virtual fitness programs will involve a conversation with your attorney and insurance provider.”

To ensure your facility is fully protected when offering virtual classes, Goodman recommends club operators to describe to their attorneys and insurance providers exactly what they are offering so they can evaluate the potential risk and provide advice to address those new risks. He also advised having all members sign an updated waiver with these changes.

Rawlings echoed the importance of waivers as a form of protection against risks.

“The most important item, as I see it, is the waiver/hold harmless component,” explained Rawlings. “Clubs should certainly consult with their attorney as to the specifics of the wording and how it is delivered. Pending the medium utilized — livestreaming, video, an application, etc. — clubs can provide a click-through type sign off, scrolling words and/or can physically warn the individual of the dangers and concerns.”

Music Licensing

A common point of concern seen across many industries — including the health and fitness industry — is music rights and licensing.

According to Rawlings, a public performance license (PPL) is needed when using music you did not personally write or record for an online class. “There are vendors that can assist with this process and assist in securing the needed licensure to insulate yourself from those legal battles,” he said. “You can also go through associations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).”

Most music you would want to play at your club is protected by copyright. Copyright law requires you to obtain a license to be able to play that music for your members, because a portion of the proceeds from those licenses flow back to the musicians/artists.

Goodman said identifying who specifically owns each individual song is incredibly complicated so performance rights organizations — such as ASCAP, Broadcast Music, Inc., SESAC Performing Rights, etc. — will sell you a license to use their music. “The rate they will charge depends on the size of your space,” he said. “These performance rights organizations have local representatives that can advise you on what license you need for your space. Note, it is the club’s responsibility to obtain the required licenses, not the instructors.”

Privacy and Data

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to potential risks that arise when offering virtual fitness is protecting your members’ privacy and data.

To aid in this, Goodman suggested clubs should have an updated “privacy policy” posted on their website that describes exactly what data the club collects and how it is stored. “Do not store more data about your members than is necessary and wherever possible, limit who within your organization has access to that information,” he said. “Any paper files with member information should be stored in locked file cabinets. Multi-factor authentication, consistent employee training and keeping your software updated can help keep your network secure. A data privacy attorney can also help evaluate how you are storing member data and suggest improvements.”

As your facility navigates a hybrid approach of in-person and online classes, it is vital to consider the risks that may arise. Keeping these tips in mind can help your facility best serve members, while protecting your business in return. 

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor for Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com

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