Fitness Programming: Where do we go now?

Fitness Programming

Steven Trotter dives into fitness programming terminology that encompasses virtual and in-person movement experiences.

I think we can all agree COVID-19 hit our industry like a brick wall.

The recreation and well-being industry as a whole had to stop in their tracks, and when allowed, slowly begin to crawl into a new reality of standards and guidelines while meeting the needs of our members and guests, some of whom had a low confidence level of returning to recreational facilities. We all began to navigate uncharted waters together, and although our ships were unique with some better equipped than others, the sea gave no quarter.

So here we are today. What’s next? We have students and faculty/staff starting to return to campuses and we have our members and guests starting to trickle back into our open, and modified, recreation and well-being centers. What is their expectation and how can we deliver on our brand promise?

Many of us have been delivering virtual programming throughout the pandemic and we will continue it beyond. But should we continue virtual programming in the post-COVID-19 world? Absolutely. Virtual fitness programming existed long before COVID-19, and it will 100% continue afterward. Let’s explore virtual movement experiences over the next two articles.

To Start: Terminology

Throughout this two-part series, we will be covering three categories of programming. Each category will have sub-categories or granular level details that have caveats that make it unique to the ideal client.

In-Person Fitness Programming

In-person programming is what we consider to be our traditional and original movement experiences. Examples include your live in-person group fitness classes, one-on-one personal training, and small group/team training. A live certified group fitness instructor, certified personal trainer, or certified/licensed small group coach (hereinafter “instructor”) is in the same location as the client(s) or participants (hereinafter “participants”) leading and instructing the experience. Feedback is delivered to the client and participants on the spot.

Virtual Fitness Programming

Virtual programming, put simply, is the movement experience that takes place from anywhere with the instructor being in a different location. All virtual programming takes place in one of two delivery methods: synchronous or asynchronous.

  • Synchronous movement experiences happen when the instructor is actively delivering the experience while the participants are completing the workout at the same time. You may also hear this referred to as live streaming. To dive deeper, your synchronous fitness programs will be classified as either a one-way broadcast or a two-way broadcast.
    • A one-way broadcast occurs when the instructor instructs the workout via a platform in which the participants can see the instructor but not vice versa. This commonly occurs through Facebook Live or YouTube Live. There is limited to no interaction with the participants. If any interaction does occur it typically takes place by the participants providing feedback or commentary to the instructor by way of emojis or comments in a chat if enabled.
    • A two-way broadcast occurs when the instructor instructs the workout via a platform where both the participants and the instructor can see one another. Some platforms will also allow participants to see and interact with each other while others will not. This commonly occurs through Zoom or web conferencing platforms. Interaction does occur and is encouraged. The instructor is also able to see the participants performing the exercise and can provide feedback directly and on the spot.
  • Asynchronous movement experiences happen whenever the participant wants it to happen. You may also hear this referred to as on-demand. The experience may include video, audio, text or a combination of all three. The instructor develops and records the workouts in advance and prepares all necessary instructional materials to accompany it. These experiences are most often delivered in a more polished style. Think of it as the Instagram highlight reel because it allows for editing to be completed in advance so the participants only experience what the instructor desires them to experience. If the instructor makes a mistake or someone unexpected shows up on the recording it can be edited out.

Virtual personal training is commonly delivered in an asynchronous environment with some synchronous opportunities sprinkled in. A certified personal trainer will typically program an exercise program through an app such as Trainerize or My PT Hub and assign it to the client. The trainer can attach app provided video instructions for the exercises or can upload custom videos of their own. Although the client has the program assigned to them on specific days, the client completes their workout on their own time and provides feedback and completion statuses via the app. Two-way communication will happen via in-app messaging. A client may also film themself performing the exercise(s) and the trainer can review, providing feedback at a later time. Synchronous opportunities can be sprinkled throughout if the client and trainer agree to a scheduled two-way broadcast Zoom or FaceTime appointment.

Hybrid Fitness Programming

You are probably thinking that hybrid fitness programming is a combination of both in-person and virtual experiences. You’re on the right track, but it’s perhaps more specific of a track than you are thinking.

Hybrid programming is when a movement experience is delivered both in-person and virtually in a synchronous environment at the same time. Peloton is a classic example of a hybrid environment. The instructor is teaching a live in-person cycling class at Peloton Studios in New York City while thousands of people from around the world are taking that same class from their own homes or hotel rooms from around the globe. Perhaps you are doing this already by live-streaming some of your in-person classes as you started to introduce in-person programming.

It may appear that the hybrid model gets you more bang for your buck since you can use one instructor to reach two target audiences at the same time; however, it does come at a cost. The cost is that you will most likely only have a few instructors who can do this really well. You see, when an instructor is teaching an in-person movement experience they are totally present in the moment and their focus is 100% on the participants in the same spaces as them. When an instructor is teaching a virtual movement experience in a synchronous environment, they are totally present in the moment and their focus is 100% on the participants on the other end of their video screen. When you put these two together, it is easy for the instructor to forget about one and prioritize the other, thus leaving one of the two audiences with a less desirable experience which, in turn, could cause them to not return to the program or class again.

Although knowledge and skill can be taught, it will take a true talent combination of stage presence, a captivating personality, and thriving on multiple spinning plates for an instructor to do this well. But if done well, the bang for your buck will truly pay off!

Hybrid fitness programming can occur by blending the live in-person experience with the virtual asynchronous experience. Les Mills OnDemand is a classic example of this combination. Les Mills will host live filmings of their programs at their Les Mills Auckland City clubs where the instructors are there to teach to the members on-site, but also to the camera because that filming will be put through editing then released to LesMills OnDemand members via the app from around the world. You can further manipulate the variables here by taking the asynchronous virtual experience and scheduling it in a studio for in-person participants during low-peak times throughout your operating hours.

For example, 3 p.m. may not be a heavy-traffic period at your facility and it’s not fiscally responsible to pay a live in-person instructor to deliver an experience that could yield a high cost per head or run the risk of an instructor preparing an experience then commuting to the facility and no participants show up. If external groups are not reserving your spaces during those times, you can schedule the asynchronous virtual experience on your schedule. Les Mills Virtual and Fitness OnDemand is a classic example of this. You can schedule an experience such as BODYPUMP(R) at 3 p.m. on your schedule. At 3 p.m., the TV or projector will turn on and a virtual instructor will appear on the screen to teach the class. This allows you to still provide an opportunity for those who want to move but doesn’t require you to pay an instructor to be there and teach.

Now you have a pretty thorough understanding of the terminology that encompasses virtual and in-person movement experiences, take a moment to let that digest. In the next segment, we will cover who these delivery methods are best suited for when it comes to fitness programming.

Steven Trotter, MS, is a consultant, continuing education provider, adjunct faculty member in health and fitness science, and principal for Globetrotter Wellness Solutions. He also serves as the associate director for wellness and fitness at East Carolina University. His expertise is rooted in university rec programs with a repertoire in leadership and organizational development, fitness facility design and management, behavior change, and program management. Steven is a 2017 IDEA Program Director of the Year finalist and presents at numerous conferences across North America each year. He is a subject matter expert and blogger for the American Council on Exercise and previously served a 3.5-year term on the industry advisory panel. Steven has a master of science in health in physical education from Virginia Tech and bachelor of science in exercise science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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