Is virtual workout the future of fitness?

By Remiz Rahnas, Special Correspondent

Perhaps the closest approximation to taking a class at a gym is to attend a live one online. And local gyms have been offering just that for clients to follow along at home.
Fitness First, a health and fitness company that operates multiple gyms across the Middle East, is among the many offering live classes for free. Nicky Holland, a personal trainer based in Dubai, insists that 10 to 20 minutes of physical exercise every day helps increase productivity. His goal is to inspire people to move more. The transition online, however, has not been an easy one. “I do find talking to my clients through a computer screen a little strange,” he says. “I’m used to being there with them in person.” Munishwer Goswami, a freelancer and yoga trainer with Yoga Ashram, has been holding live yoga sessions on Facebook too. “It’s a need,” he says, talking about yoga in quarantine. He also notes that there are new people joining in. “This is the best time to get to know yourself,” he explains.

Most of these live courses focus on simple routines that do not require much guidance. “Equipment is a big factor,” says Nicky. Since the majority do not have access to gym equipment, it is wise to stick to less complex things like bodyweight training. “It is not as effective, but it still helps to keep people fit and active.” Nicky also makes things enjoyable for his clients by including their loved ones in their workouts. “We do partner workouts where we involve their daughter or son; it makes the session interactive and fun.”
Olivia McCubbin, co-founder and head coach at Best Body Co., says it is important to be careful when exercising without a professional trainer. “We provide modification exercises based on feedback. So, if a person says they cannot do any of the exercises, we provide alternatives.” As Munishwer puts it succinctly, “Everyone’s mind and body is different. You don’t have to twist your leg behind your neck, you can just raise it a little bit. Even that will have the same effect. There is no need to push it.”

A lot of us see exercise as a communal activity, something done with other people around for encouragement and accountability. The closing of gyms and other training centres has forced us to motivate ourselves in isolation. “Motivation does drop at home,” Nicky admits. “People see the gym as a place to work out and the home as a place to relax.”
Surprisingly, though, there is evidence to prove that online classes may fill this gap. “Everyone feels the pinch of the situation, and we are seeing more engagement now. There is actually a stronger sense of community,” says Olivia. Andrew Lockey, head of fitness and product at Fitness First Middle East, couldn’t agree more. “I’ve never seen so many at-home workout guides or tutorials across social media at a given time. It is fantastic to see people coming together and helping each other out.” Fitness First videos on social media are seeing thousands of views per post. Andrew believes this indicates these initiatives are working to help people stay fit at home. Munishwer, however, thinks the benefits of community engagement come from each individual’s mindset. “When others are around, people tend to get competitive with them. But in this situation, you can compete with yourself.” From this perspective, it seems as though isolation might just be more helpful than a community workout.

Clare Geeves, a communication manager, certainly qualifies as a fitness enthusiast. “I’m that crazy person who leaves the house at 6 AM, when it’s still dark and walks to my local gym and does a spinning class,” she says. When the virus hit and everyone was forced to quarantine, she felt lost. She admits that she can be lazy when it comes to working out, and likes virtual classes because they come with a sense of responsibility. Olivia notes you can hold yourself accountable if you make a commitment and a schedule. “It is so important to follow a routine, to wake up, exercise first thing in the morning and then go about your day.” Best Body Co is offering unlimited classes for Dh150 during this time. “This helps people with motivation and accountability to pay a nominal fee and get access to affordable fitness.” Nicky posts some workout routines on his social media for free, while offering reduced price classes online. “Because I’m not actually there with them, I don’t charge as much,” he says. As for Munishwer? He is not really worried about people showing up and committing. “I believe they will do their best.”


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