Virtual Training

Dean Hodgkin | 01 Aug 2018

Does fitness online and on-demand training sound the death knell for the face-to-face trainer?

Having worked in the fitness industry for over 30 years, incorporating personal training, group exercise instruction, small group training, and management roles, I have a fairly unique viewpoint on this recent tech development that's beginning to re-shape our industry. Here are my brief thoughts on both stay home and in-studio virtual workout options:


Virtual training could never replace the live experience, and as fitpros, I know you'll be familiar with the list of reasons why. No Studio/Club Manager would be foolish enough to remove a good trainer with a loyal client base simply to reduce costs. This would denigrate the customer experience and result in dwindling attendance numbers. With this in mind, I'd recommend taking a glass half full approach and use the introduction of virtual training to spur you to improving your skills and range. It's vital to commit to constantly educating yourself and developing your one-to-one, small group training and group exercise sessions. By so doing, you will make it very difficult for anyone to remove you from their roster.


At the end of the day, it has to be remembered that clubs have to make money, and controlling costs is a primary KPI (Key Performance Indicator). It often isn't financially viable to bring in a freelance trainer to teach to a group exercise session for four members in the middle of the afternoon. So virtual training affords the opportunity for operators to broaden the class timetable without increasing the associated costs. This shouldn't be seen as a negative on the trainers’ earning potential, as classes like these simply wouldn't be there without the virtual facility.


Virtual training not only gives gyms the opportunity to schedule sessions in the traditional off-peak times, such as mid-morning and afternoon, but also late at night and very early in the morning. With the growing number of 24-hour clubs, this is the only way to service this need, unless you really do fancy teaching a 2 a.m. indoor cycling class to two members in their break on the night shift!


I think this is a moot point, as it suggests that all live trainers are 100% on the ball in issuing the perfect instruction, observes everyone all the time and corrects every participant, every time it's necessary. It could be argued that a virtual workout done in the home, if presented by an excellent instructor, carries a lower injury risk than a live session taught by a bad instructor, and as with any other line of work, we must accept there are always going to be good and bad practitioners.


A hugely beneficial feature of virtual training is the on-demand option that enables gym members to pick the workout theme and the time that suits them. At 2 p.m. in the afternoon, three ladies might decide they fancy a 15-minute butt, leg and thigh blast workout, and now they can have it. Clearly, the idea of a live instructor being available at the drop of a hat and armed with the ability to teach every possible class on the timetable for any duration, is a non-conversation.


As an operator, it kills me to know we have studios sitting empty in our clubs when we're paying for square footage. To have just one member taking a virtual class that keeps them coming back is a more preferable scenario.


Virtual classes enable those new to group exercise to dip their toe in the water. They may join the class for just 20 minutes, with the freedom to leave the class when they wish. I'm pretty sure that, like me, you wouldn't be too keen on members regularly walking out of your session whenever they feel like it, but this is clearly a more flexible, bespoke service, and therefore, one that many will appreciate. By allowing them to familiarise themselves with different workout flavours, we increase the likelihood of them becoming class regulars, small group trainees and/or personal training clients.


Like it or not, a significant percentage of the public view the studio as a fitness church with the trainers carved out of living marble barking bootcamp instructions or preaching from the gospel according to Zumba, Les Mills, etc. to a congregation of the already converted. We have to accept that, for some, whether we like it or not, trainers might be the barrier. So, the opportunity for individuals to start their fitness journey without us intimidating them (even when we really don't mean to) means they are more likely to stick with their journey and potentially end up in our live sessions once they have more confidence.

As a true advocate of personal training, small group training and studio classes, I wholeheartedly embrace online and on-demand training as complementary to live options and a route through which we can achieve our ultimate collective goal of getting more people, more active, more often.

I appreciate that not everyone will agree with me, but hey, a broad, rich, diverse range of philosophies is what makes our industry so exciting, so I'd love to learn your thoughts.

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Dean Hodgkin

About the author: Dean Hodgkin

A truly international fitness ambassador, having appeared at both consumer and trade fitness events in 36 countries resulting in being voted Best International Fitness Presenter at the 1 Body 1 World awards in New York. In addition, he recently received the Lifetime Achievement award at the International Fitness Showcase, Europe’s largest group fitness event. Dean has been teaching sport and fitness since 1981, is renowned for delivering a wide range of master-classes and seminars covering many themes and has accumulated a wealth of experience that reaches into several domains.

He has appeared as a guest expert on a large number of television and radio programmes both in the UK and overseas and in trying to preach the fitness gospel to as wide an audience as possible he has filmed workouts on a boat in the middle of Lake Windermere, on the set of Coronation Street, on the end of Blackpool pier, in Times Square, on the roof of a Mumbai skyscraper, in a busy hotel lobby in Taipei and in an Amsterdam park with a Dutch soap opera star. Leading a mass workout in London’s Battersea Park, standing in front of the accompanying Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is a particular highlight.

Dean has created two unique products for The Great Courses that combine education and exercise to help the viewer to better understand how the body works and how physical activity can positively affect it in so many ways. He has also co-authored two fitness books and regularly writes features for mainstream newspapers and magazines with a list that includes The Times, Sunday Times, GQ, FHM, Men’s Health, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Health & Fitness, Zest, Women’s Fitness, Slimming and Bodyfit.

His unique ability to create diverse lifestyle programmes also led to him working with major brand names including Reebok, Marks & Spencer, Weight Watchers, RAC, Nike, Remington, David Lloyd, British Dental Association, 3 Mobile, Boots, Aviva and Whitbread.

As a sportsman, he was 3-times World and 2-times European Karate Champion. Coaching experience includes working with basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and American football players.

Dean is currently retained as a consultant by both multi-award winning spa resort Ragdale Hall and Energie Global Brand Management, the leading fitness industry franchise operator.

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