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Online workouts: The personal trainer you have never had

September 22, 2014

Jessica Smith often exercises at her Miami home because itís more convenient and affordable than hitting the gym. Several times a week, she also records her workout sessions and uploads them to YouTube, so thousands of her closest friends can sweat right along with her.

Smithís effort to spread fitness to the masses is gaining momentum. Her free exercise videos and programs have attracted more than 8 million views. More than 90,000 people, meanwhile, have subscribed to Jessicasmithtv.com and the rate is steadily increasing each month, according to YouTube. Her mostly female fans say they love her energy, enthusiasm and down-to-earth persona.

"It has brought my career to a whole different level because Iím able to connect with the audience in a personal way," said Smith, a certified wellness coach and fitness instructor. "I train millions more people than I did when I was a personal trainer, yet I only do one workout so Iím not exhausted and able to give more of myself to the audience."

As sales of exercise DVDs continue to decline, fitness professionals are increasingly putting their workouts online, either establishing YouTube channels and posting free videos or charging minimal fees for downloads or monthly subscriptions. Online workouts can help overcome one of the biggest obstacles to exercise: Getting to ó or being inside ó the gym. With a variety of choices and programs, the workouts can be accessed on demand in the comfort and privacy of home, with minimal equipment and cost.

But since anyone with an Internet connection can upload a video or create a website, the market is also flooded with amateur or unqualified trainers, posing as credible professionals, industry experts say. With online fitness, thereís no one to correct bad form or screen for risk factors or injuries. Home workouts often lack the palpable energy of a live class. Moreover, Smith and other fitness experts say itís difficult to give away content and still pay the bills, yet free programming is something consumers expect.

"The Internet has provided an opportunity for anyone with a good body to post a selfie, and consumers are buying into the hype," said master fitness trainer and educator Amy Dixon, who has had several workouts stolen and posted on YouTube. "It feels like the social media world is getting run over with Ďposers,í especially for those of us who can communicate how to do an exercise properly and design programs that are safe and effective."

Some experts say online workouts can be appropriate tools, especially if they help people get started. But they often arenít tailored toward an individualís specific needs. "Itís good to have a little more oversight and use them as part of a larger package with overall health screening," said Brent Alvar, a board member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which certifies personal trainers. "You have to be cautious. You often donít know the credentials of the individuals on the videos."

Still, with a little trial and error, consumers can find quality content, especially if they are willing to pay. Strength and conditioning specialist Leah Sarago, creator of the Ballet Body Signature Series, has produced more than 130 downloads in addition to DVDs. The workouts can be used individually or as part of a systematic training program called periodization, which was devised by Sarago and requires a three- or six-month commitment.

Sarago interacts directly with the clients who have invested in the periodization program as much as she can; if they have questions about form, she may ask them to send her a video of themselves performing the exercise.

"I didnít just want to throw out a bunch of workouts. I wanted to give people some structure," said Sarago, whose method is centered in dance, ballet, Pilates and yoga and uses body weight, isometrics and what she calls "resistive elongation techniques." "It is like being a trainer from afar, but more accessible for an entire group of people," she said.

Most of her downloads cost $3.99 and she has no plans to give them away. "I value my product," she said.

Dixon straddles the line. She charges for most of her content, but will also offer free single exercises, tips or programs, in part to help market her other work. "If you truly put together a full production for a complete program, it should be worth something," she said. "However, if I do a quick guerrilla workout shot on my iPhone, Iím fine with posting it for free."

On YouTube, fitness-related videos are among the fastest growing areas within sports, according to a company spokesman. Smith first posted short clips on YouTube in 2009 but hopes to one day reach a million subscribers, especially now that she is collaborating with YouTube to build her brand.

Like Sarago, Smith connects with viewers by using minimally edited videos and bringing them into her home. During some episodes, Smith carefully steps around her French bulldog puppy, Peanut, when he naps on her yoga mat. Women report that Peanut distracts their children, allowing them to get a workout in.

"When you watch DVDs, you see polished, amazing bodies," said Smith. "Real life isnít like that. Iím at home just like they are. My dog is in the way, Iím sweating and they can hear me breathing heavily. I think people like the reality aspect."

Chelsea Garcia, 28, started doing Smithís workouts after discovering her on sparkpeople.com. A former dancer who gained weight after having children, Garcia found gyms to be expensive and confusing because she never knew if she was using the equipment properly. Now she considers Smith to be the personal trainer she always wanted.

When Garcia feels like blowing off a workout, she finds the weekly schedule or playlist, turns on her computer and just does it. "Afterwards, I always feel it was so worth it. Even the hardest or my least favorite workouts, Jessica always has me smiling at the end."

Others make their home workouts a social event. Every Monday and Thursday night, friends and neighbors come over to Jan Shufeltís house in Hyde Park, N.Y., to do a Leslie Sansone Walk at Home workout. "I did join a gym at one point but this way, I can roll out of bed, put on my sneakers and start," said Shuflet, 70. "Iím often still in my nightdress, but Iím doing it."

Sansone ó who remembers when her classes were taped on VHS in the 1980s and shared ó thinks one live class, followed by three workouts at home is "the ideal combination for staying motivated, keeping on track and getting results."

"Whatís so exciting about social media is that people take the time to sit there and send love," said Sansone, who was recently inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame. "But when youíre in those live classes, moving and singing and screaming together, you canít beat it. You canít choose. Social media is just a fact of life."

 

 



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