You might not be getting a lot of face-to-face time with your members lately, but here’s the good news: it’s 2020, and the internet is a powerful engagement tool, even from a distance. Fitness professionals can bring people together by offering live-streaming and on-demand exercise classes.
To help you get started with virtual classes, we reached out to a few members of the Gympass community for best practices, tips, and answers to their most frequently asked questions.
How to Set Up Your Studio
First things first: you don’t need to have a background in video or sound production. Delivering a high-quality experience is less about fancy equipment and more about finding the best lighting, camera, and sound options for your space.
Clear away furniture and remove artwork and personal knick-knacks while shooting. You also want to clean the area and eliminate anything that could be distracting. To create a sense of order and consistency, use the same room for streaming classes.
Your class needs to see you to follow along with the exercise program. Try to use a 12-inch LED ring light kit to brighten the set, or incorporate natural lighting from outside. If you use light from a window, try to shoot on a sunny day in the late morning or early afternoon—otherwise, the lighting could vary if there are clouds or the sun changes position in the sky.
To achieve this effect, G, a Master Instructor at Rush Cycle Denver, suggests using a 12” LED ring light kit.
“Right now, I have a flexible tripod wrapped around a lamp post as my set up,” Alex Lyons, an instructor at FlyBarre and Box + Flow, shared. “You have to try a bunch of options to understand where the light is coming from when you’ll be filming.” This is particularly important when working with natural light since it moves throughout the day.
Avoid shaky videos by using a tripod, or even a popsocket. If you don’t have any of these handy, get creative by stacking books and propping up your phone.
The sound quality can be the hardest part about setting up a home studio. To keep the sound from echoing in a mostly empty room, you need to add soft materials to absorb soundwaves. Position cushions, pillows, or blankets around the set off camera. You can also produce better-quality sound by using two devices: position the camera about 4-5 feet away from the instructor, and then use a smaller separate device for recording the sound. Whether you use a phone, headset, or mic won’t make a significant difference, as long as the instructor articulates clearly and stays within range.
Making sure your video has good sound is essential. Radan’s secret? “I use my wireless bluetooth headphones, and encourage class participants to do the same. This way, people are free to move along with me without having to worry about being connected to their device.”
When it came to tech, Radan’s most important tip was to keep it simple. “Using a barebones set up is absolutely fine,” he emphasized. “Your production value is far less important than the premise for streaming, that is, to connect with your community.”
A Note on Music
A carefully curated workout playlist is a beautiful thing, but using music you don’t have the rights to can backfire bigtime. While you may be an individual subscriber to a streaming service like Spotify or Pandora, that doesn’t mean you can stream songs for your class.
Companies that have the rights to songs, like ASCAP and BMI, have a reputation of being extremely litigious. Our advice is to encourage participants to use their own playlists during the workout or consider using royalty-free music.
Choose the Best Outfit
You should wear tight clothing so users can clearly see your instructor’s movements and copy their form. The instructor also needs to wear patterns and colors that won’t look distracting on screen—for example, it’s best to stick with solid colors that stand out against the backdrop. If they wear a pattern, make sure the print is large, otherwise it can make the image seem distorted.
Test, Test, Test!
Before going live or hitting record, test everything. Do a trial run and ask a friend to tune-in to ensure that your camera’s stable, the lighting is good, your sound is on. It’s also a good idea to run a free internet speed test to make sure you have a strong connection.
“There is no such thing as being over prepared,” Alex Lyons told us, “I cannot stress this enough – remember, you’re producing your own show!”
While it may take a few tries, be patient with yourself and remember Radan’s advice about prioritizing community over perfection.
What’s the Secret to Running an Online Fitness Class Like a Pro?
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
When we asked our contributors about the biggest difference between leading an in-person class versus an online class, all three agreed: connecting with participants is key. “You lose a lot of energy through the screen,” Alex Lyons told us, “so anything you brought into the studio needs to be amped up a lot. There’s really no such thing as [talking] too much.”
While you may not be able to give the same kind of feedback as you normally would in-studio, you need to communicate with your audience.
- Class Description: When you start promoting your class, it’s important to set clear expectations for members. Explain what type of equipment they’ll need, how they should dress, and what time the instructor will begin broadcasting. Participants will also probably want to know if their cameras will be visible after joining the session and if the recording will be posted online after the class ends.
- Broadcast Settings: Most streaming services let you choose a different set of permissions for audience members. Depending on the size of your class, you might want to consider muting attendees. Otherwise, you might be forced to contend with feedback, sound issues, or noise disruptions from audience members in the middle of your routine. If you decide to remove the mic option for attendees, let them know how to contact the instructor for questions—for example, through a chat feature or via text.
- Welcome Message: When you host a virtual class, participants will probably log in at different times throughout the session. To keep everyone on the same page, write a welcome message that displays in the video description or as a pop-up screen. In your welcome message, briefly describe the class and explain the video, audio, and chat features. You should also tell users what they need to do to contact the instructor and personalize the message with a warm greeting.
Verbal Cueing and Demo Best Practices
“Encourage people to turn on their webcams at the beginning of the class,” Radan suggested. “Not everyone will be comfortable doing this, but I often find it’s contagious. Once one person turns on their video, the rest tend to follow.”
Keep participants from feeling isolated by giving slightly longer exercise demonstrations and definitive verbal cues. Setting up the movements properly is essential—especially since you won’t be there in person to physically correct them. Prior to the class, pinpoint moves people frequently have trouble with and come up with various ways to describe the move while demonstrating it from multiple angles. Be creative—you never know what is going to click!
It can be a challenge to make video sessions feel personal, but you can create a more inviting atmosphere by referring to participants by name or opening up a chat feature. Most streaming services allow you to see a list of attendees—use that to your advantage by giving shoutouts and individual encouragement.
Finally, offer an optional progression to make it harder and modification to make it easier so the exercise is accessible to all skill levels.
Lead your Community
In these uncertain times, keeping your participants motivated and engaged is crucial. Before starting a class, spend 5 minutes having an informal conversation to go through any questions or doubts. It’s a great way to build a relationship and connect with your participants.
Bring everything you have to the table and tell people how amazing they are just for showing up. “I always like to remind people, especially now, that working out at home is much more difficult than exercising in a studio setting,” Alex said. “You are responsible for staying engaged with [participants] so they feel you. It doesn’t take much, but reminding them that you understand the challenges goes a long way.”