Tips for taking and teaching virtual fitness classes

All about tips for taking and teaching virtual fitness classes today!

Who knew that we’d all need to equip ourselves with skills to work out properly from home, whether we were gym people or not. Well, we do. It’s the wave of the future, so let’s get good at it.

While I’ve already covered how to get the motivation to work out at home and tips for safety, I thought today, I’d talk about best practices for making things more effective from the instructor and participant perspective, because I’ve been on both sides.

Tips for taking and teaching virtual fitness classes

Tips for taking and teaching virtual fitness classes by A Lady Goes West

Tips for how to take a virtual fitness class

If you’ve never been into group fitness classes before, now is a really good time to get started. With virtual classes, you can take away the nerves of having other people watching you (if you don’t have a two-way camera going on, of course), and you can see what it’s like to do a workout run by a coach who is motivating you while you exercise.

Not to mention, taking a class coached by someone else removes some of the pressure from you to count and come up with moves. And I also think it’s awesome to jump into virtual classes that are at scheduled times, because it will keep you consistent with your routine, and you’re less likely to put your workout off once you’re signed up and it’s in your calendar. Here are a few best practices for taking virtual fitness classes …

The bigger, the better for your viewing device.

If you can stream your workout on the TV, do it. If you can stream your workout on your laptop, do it. It’s not ideal to try to watch a workout from a tiny phone screen, because you’ll have to get up close to it and may have trouble seeing everything you need to do. Chromecast and AppleTV are just a couple of options for this, but you can investigate your own situation. I mostly use my laptop for streaming, which is big enough that I can see what I need to see from a standing position a few feet away.

Position matters.

Set your viewing device up on an elevated surface, not on the floor, for standing work. One of the biggest offenses I see is people looking all the way down at a phone on the ground to do their virtual workout. This is bound to cause neck issues and movement issues for you. Try to set up your viewing device at eye level. This can be tough when you’re on the ground and then transitioning to standing — so this is where a larger viewing device is helpful again. 

Do NOT look to the side while doing core work on the floor. Whatever you do, do not strain your neck to look to the side while doing crunches or other core moves on the ground. This is a recipe for an injury. You may need to move your device when you’re doing floor work, so keep this in mind. Here’s what I recommend: Stop what you’re doing, turn to watch the instructor demo the first couple of repetitions, then get into the moves and use your listening muscles to make your own body adjustments moving forward, without straining your neck to watch the screen.

Virtual classes - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

Own your personal warm-up.

Spend a few minutes getting your body ready before class begins. Even though a good virtual class will have a built-in warm-up, we all have different bodies and needs, and it’s great to take a little bit of time getting yourself ready. For me, I like to do a little foam rolling and some shoulder openers before logging into a strength workout, because I know I need it. Maybe all you need is a few jumping jacks, or some sun salutations, or hip openers, because you know you are tight there. Be responsible for your body and warm up before class. You’ll get more out of it if you’re warm and ready when the class starts.

Be mindful of impact.

Jump with caution. If you’re used to doing high-impact jumping workouts in a group fitness studio, you may notice that your knees start to hurt when doing the same workouts at home. That’s because group fitness studios have a little “give” for impact, and they are safer for a lot of jumping than the average tile or wood floor. I actually don’t like to jump inside my house, and certainly not on concrete, so I’ve saved all of my jumping workouts for the grass. It’s not great, but it works. Also, I highly recommend wearing supportive sneakers for any jumping. You can go barefoot for other workouts though.

Clear your space.

Move things out of the way so you have plenty of space for full-out movements. I get it: It’s a pain to move furniture. But it’s way better to give yourself all the space you need to complete a workout, rather than limiting your range of motion and risking kicking, punching or falling on a coffee table, because you didn’t feel like rearranging things. I also think it’s great to use a mat for all floor work too, so you don’t sweat on your floor, and you have a little extra grip under you to avoid slipping.

Virtual fitness classes - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

Be on time and stay through the end.

It’s super important to arrive for the warm-up and stay through the cool-down and stretch. While we are all busy or bored or ready to move on to the next thing, a proper workout has a beginning, middle and end. And you’re cheating yourself if you skip any of those portions. It can be SO tempting to turn off your virtual class and get back to life after the last working set, but I encourage you to stay through the cool-down every single time and even consider doing some additional stretching once class is over. Stretching helps bring elasticity back into the muscles that you worked, and it’s a very good thing for your body — it’s PART of the workout, not an optional track.

Seek variety.

Make sure your workout routine is well rounded and never skip your rest day. Once you find a workout that you like, I know it’s hard not to want to do that workout every time you exercise. However, it’s usually not a good idea to repeat the same type of movement every day of the week. Your body gets used to it, you get less results, and you risk overworking the same muscles and getting injured. It’s ideal to do a mixture of cardio, strength and flexibility each week, which may mean you need to find a couple of good virtual class sources. 

Take advantage of interaction.

If there’s a way to communicate with your live instructor, do it. People love group fitness classes because they like to work out with others and be seen — and it takes a little extra effort on your part in a virtual setting. If you find yourself doing live virtual workouts that involve some sort of a chat box or two-way video (like Zoom), or commenting feature (like social media), it’s so good to say hi, give feedback and communicate there with your instructor and the group. Don’t be shy. Participate, engage and be an active part of your workout community. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, let’s switch gears to the teaching side …

Tips for how to teach a virtual fitness class

Believe it or not, teaching virtual classes can be really fun for the instructor. But it’s also a lot of work and takes a slightly different approach than in-person classes.

Technically, teaching a virtual class usually means you are instructing in a live setting, via a live stream, through social media or another web-based service. But these tips can also be useful for teaching a video class that will be recorded and shared later as well. Here we go …

Setup is everything.

Use your smartphone, instead of your computer as your camera, as phones usually have much better cameras. And if possible, use the rear-facing portion of the camera, which has an even better resolution than the front.

Horizontal is better for classes, although Instagram Live prefers vertical, so depending on your medium, you may need to change how you position your camera.

Turn on do not disturb on your phone and any other device you are using, so calls and texts don’t come through. When you turn on do not disturb on your iPhone, be sure to disable everything, including repeated calls and calls from favorites. I made this mistake once, and a repeated call broke through my stream. Whoops.

Invest in a tripod. You never know what will happen to your phone if it’s merely leaning up against something else. Get a sturdy tripod to hold that phone in place, at eye level, so you can see your entire body during all of your movements both standing and on the ground. A great shooting distance from the camera to your body is about 12 feet, for reference.

Teaching virtual classes - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

Lighting is key.

A lot of natural light is ideal. It’s best to teach virtual classes during the daylight hours when you get the most light in your home, or wherever you are shooting. You don’t want to teach in front of a window, because your body will be hard to see from the light behind you, so set yourself up with a window in front of you or to your side. 

Get some extra lighting. Add artificial lighting if you need it, and ring lights are amazing. This is the ring light that I use, which has a tripod and a phone holder in one. Overhead artificial lights aren’t great, so be careful with that.

Dress in form-fitting solids. Make sure your outfit doesn’t interfere with your environment. As a rule: Solid colors work better on camera instead of busy patterns. And of course, wear form-fitting attire that lets your students see how your body is moving.

Sound matters.

Play your music from your laptop, but use an external speaker attached with an A/V hardwired cord, instead of bluetooth. Sometimes using bluetooth speakers can give a little feedback, and laptops don’t often have enough volume to make an impact. I queue up my music from my laptop, and use this JAMBOX, hardwired to the laptop to amplify the sound.

If you can invest in a microphone, do it. I will tell you from experience that participants will have a much better time if the instructor is using some sort of a microphone. That way, your instructions can be heard clearly above the music, and you don’t have to shout. Please do not shout throughout the entire class. It’s grating to the ears. I’m using this Rode wireless microphone, which is small, has a receiver that hooks into the phone and works great. (By the way, if you do choose to wear a microphone, make sure your hair, jewelry and clothes do not come into contact with it and interfere with the output.)

Clear and quiet the room, and if possible, try to limit any other background noises and distractions, like a washing machine running or a TV in another room. And of course, if you live with other people, see if they can head outside or keep the noise level down. 

Energy up.

Give extra energy. When you are instructing people virtually, you have to give them a little more than usual, because they don’t have anyone else around them to feed off of. You don’t have to scream or be over the top, but be extra energetic for them in the way you teach, move and connect. Virtual teaching is NOT the place for the lazy, laid-back instructor with no pizazz. If that is you, it’s time to up your game a bit.

Connection is super important.

Make eye contact with the camera lens. Pretend that the little camera hole is the face of your participants and keep your eyes there when instructing or talking to them.

Use participant names, if you have them. If you’re running a virtual class and you know who is there, use their names, and use them often, when it’s appropriate. It makes people feel SO good and so connected to the experience. It’s such a difference. It’s also beneficial to check in, ask questions and make it a two-way feel, like you’d get in a real live in-person class.

Coach with precision.

Explain clearly, speak slowly and give options. You need to speak extra clearly, enunciate your words and instructions and give your participants plenty of levels for every exercise. If you can’t see them when instructing, it’s important to give even more options than normal, so that everyone can be successful and be safe too.

Demo every single move and do the workout with the class. If you’re used to teaching classes where you demo a move, then walk around, you’ll need to change that for virtual classes. You’ll want to do the entire workout along with your class, showing every single repetition and giving plenty of options. It doesn’t make sense for you to just stand there talking, while your participants are supposed to be moving. You need to do both at once, and do them well. This takes practice.

Set a schedule.

Shoot for under and hour. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked 30- or 45-minute workouts from home, and in talking to other people, this seems to be the key duration. If you’re an instructor, I’d highly recommend capping your classes at 45 minutes to keep participants’ attention and ensuring that they don’t check out.

Build in an introduction. Just like you don’t walk into a live group fitness room and immediately hit play on your music to begin the workout, you don’t do that with virtual classes. Build in some introduction time for your participants. Have some light background music, say hello, ask how they are doing, give a description of the class, explain the needed equipment and make people feel welcome before jumping into the workout.

Respect their time. Just because there isn’t another class waiting to get into the room after you doesn’t mean you can let your workout go long. People like to have their time respected, and that means beginning your introduction at the start of class, and ending the class at the scheduled time.

Teaching virtual fitness classes - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

Overall thoughts on teaching virtual or video fitness classes

It’s not easy to teach virtual or video classes, but it’s actually really rewarding. I’ve been doing it for a couple weeks now and have already learned so much. And as instructors, watching ourselves on video is the best feedback/professional development we can possibly do. You can’t hide from video. 

I think we will continue to see more and more people getting into virtual workout programs (even as gyms open again). So it’s a great idea to put your toe in the water to see what it’s like. I waited a while to do this and am so happy to finally be on board the live-stream bandwagon. But yes, I can’t wait to teach a real in-person class again one day too, but we must adapt to change, and this change is here to stay.

Where to find streaming online workouts …

There are so many great places to get free, effective, streaming virtual or follow-along workouts (not technically live, but streaming). Here are a few of my favorite places right now:

  • Les Mills On Demand: This streaming service has so many diverse workouts, ranging from BODYPUMP to BODYATTACK to HIIT to core to more, all of which you can also find in a live group fitness studio. These workouts are so well done, and many of them are choreographed exactly to the beat of the music. You can get 30 days for free of the service using my special referral link. Fun fact: BODYPUMP is the first program I ever became certified to teach.
  • Peloton: While most of us think of Peloton as just the at-home bike and treadmill, the Peloton app actually has yoga, strength, bodyweight, running, bootcamp and stretching workouts too. And you don’t need a bike or a treadmill for them either. The Peloton app has a free 30-day trial. I have the bike too and am loving it.
  • Orangetheory Fitness: Right now (this could change at any time), Orangetheory Fitness is offering free at-home workouts each week, and they are quite good. While you work at your own pace, the streaming program has music, counting, repetitions and everything. Fun fact: I used to be a coach at Orangetheory.
  • Corepower Yoga: I love CorePower Yoga classes, and they have new free streaming classes each week on their website right now. You will probably sweat, but not as much as you would in the studio’s heated rooms.
  • POPSUGAR Fitness: I can always find great follow-along workouts on the POPSUGAR Fitness page, although some can be a bit cheesy. But I love that they provide so many free ways to get moving for all levels.
  • Blogilates: The creator of POP Pilates has one of the best fitness YouTube channels, with super short bodyweight workouts focused on specific parts of the body and whole body. Check out her YouTube channel here.

Here are a couple of my favorite local studios offering fee-based virtual workouts right now …

  • MNT Studio: I absolutely love the owner of this San Francisco-based studio, Elaine, and she and her team offer incredible Pilates and barre classes for all levels. These classes are fee-based and available every day of the week via Zoom, all live stream or recorded. Check out the schedule here.
  • The Catalyst Fitness Studio: This East Bay studio has a variety of barre and yoga classes, and you can catch them most days of the week via Zoom live steam or recorded. The owner of this studio, Anya, is an amazing instructor, and she comes up with super creative moves. Check out the schedule here.

And we’ll end this one here!

Taking virtual fitness classes - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

Thanks for reading, friends! I’ll see you over on Instagram until we meet back here.

Other posts you may like …

Questions of the day

Where do you get your workout inspiration?

Do you like to do follow-along workouts or do your own thing?

What’s your favorite way to exercise?

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  1. Thanks so much for all these tips. I’m loving live-stream classes from my local Pure Barre studio, and for some reason I find it easier to connect when I’ve had experience taking the instructor in the past. We also have a Peloton so I LOVE the bike and yoga classes. One random question – where is your top from? It’s so adorable? Thanks for all the great content – I hope you are faring well at home. I have a 5 and 2 year old with me so things are… interesting 🙂

    1. Hi Allison! I LOVE to hear that you are supporting your local studio where you already know the instructors, because that’s important to do during this time. And YAY for the Peloton! We are doing fine over here, although totally ready for more normalcy soon. My top is from Athleta. Here it is …

  2. Burn Boot Camp continues to stick to a weekly schedule, putting out new videos Monday through Saturday. This has included live workouts from Burn Headquarters, as well as Zoom and recorded workouts from my location, and they’v even provided the Zoom passwords for different Burn locations each week should we want to experience a different instructor. My local Burn offers 4 different Zoom times a day, as well as Facebook live recording that you can watch at any time so it’s really given me a chance to continue to move without any excuses while we are at home. It’s definitely been great for my sanity, too!

    1. Hi Ashley! Wow, that’s so great that Burn is offering you so many options. I love that you’re taking advantage of it too. 🙂 I would agree that workouts are helping with my sanity right now too!!

    1. Hi Heather! I can’t wait to get back to in-person classes, but the virtual ones have been so much more fun than I expected! 🙂 Thanks for reading, friend!

    2. Hi Ashley, I really enjoyed reading your post! I have a question regarding streaming your class as an instructor!
      When using your iPhone to cast, where do you place your laptop so you can see your students?
      Thank you and hope you have a nice day!

      1. Hi Lara! I don’t actually have to watch my students for my online platform, but I do watch the chat box, and I place the computer directly under the camera, so when I watch the computer, my eyes aren’t too far from the camera. I place a stool under the tripod, and put the computer on the stool. Hope this helps!

  3. Great tips! Especially about respecting people’s time! That is always my biggest pet peeve in classes. If I have a meeting, I need the class to end when it was scheduled to end so I can get cleaned up 🙂

    1. Agreeeeed, friend! It’s always important to start and end on time — in person or virtually. 🙂 What virtual classes are you doing these days, Jessie?

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