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Digital Fitness: Yay or Nay?

The music’s pumping, the sweat is dripping, and the high-energy instructor is yelling words of encouragement as you sprint, climb, and torch some serious calories on a stationary bike — all from the comfort of your home.

Streaming digital fitness classes is growing in popularity with everyone from busy moms to business travelers, with no signs of slowing down. Thanks to technology you can cycle at hot spots like Flywheel, get your cardio groove on with celebrity fitness guru Tracy Anderson, or try the newest Pilates or barre workout practically anywhere and anytime you want — and often for less than the cost of a monthly gym membership. But can online workouts really impart the energy and motivation of being present in a room filled with other sweaty bodies? Or is the experience just one more way technology is isolating us?

The Case for Yay

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the digital workout is convenience.

“I love that I can join a live class or choose from hundreds of on-demand classes that work with my schedule,” says Cathleen Lynch-Linkenauger, a working mom of two and avid Peloton user.

Peloton was among the first companies to offer a boutique cycle class experience from home and has since expanded to include a treadmill workout and strengthening and toning exercises. It offers a variety of class formats, instructors, and even class lengths for days when you barely have 30 minutes to spare. And though you can drop a couple thousand bucks on the official Peloton cycle, you can also simply download the app for less than $40 per month and use it with any stationary bike at your gym, home, or office.

“If I joined a gym or studio I know I’d be locked into a certain class length or class time,” Linkenauger says. “Peloton gives me the flexibility to choose the workout I’d like that day.”

Working out virtually also offers a certain comfort zone for people new to fitness.

“I’m one of those people who finds the gym to be totally intimidating,” confesses Gigi Rodrigue, who regularly works out at home with the popular SWEAT app from Bikini Body Guide (BBG) creator Kayla Itsines. “I don’t know how to use the equipment, and I find it embarrassing to try and figure it out while other people watch me struggle.”

The Case for Nay

If you’ve ever bought a treadmill for your home and watched as it became the catch-all for your not-exactly-dirty clothes, you understand the struggle of trying to work out at home.

“As a mom of two under the age of 4, I find it difficult to stay motivated, because there are so many distractions at home,” Rodrigue says. “There is always something else I could be doing, including sitting on the couch and resting after a long day.”

And even though many virtual workouts offer leader boards that measure stats for friendly competition and group social media pages to foster community, the reality is that you are not physically present with other participants even when you are streaming a live class. Not to mention that not all virtual classes allow for instructor feedback, so if you need form correction you may not get it.

“I do miss the fun and social aspect of a group exercise class,” says Rodrigue, adding that while the BBG community is supportive, it’s not quite the same as face-to-face interaction. “Attending with friends, you get to do something fun and good for your bodies together and hold each other accountable,” she says.

Cycle instructor Aissa Juergens recently joined the Peloton craze, and she agrees. “I am a high-energy person and I feed off of other people’s energies,” she says. “You can add friends and share your results with Peloton, which is inspiring, but the feeling of the floating energy in a room and sharing an experience together is something that you do miss.”

The Verdict

If you are pressed for time or intimidated by a gym or exercise class, virtual workouts can be great. However, if you thrive on competition and the social aspect of a workout, you might find that digital fitness doesn’t give you the motivation you need.

When you want to stretch out at home, try our favorite online yoga classes.

Photo: Courtesy of Peloton

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