Online vs. In-Person Fitness: What's Better?

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From smartphones to smart TVs to laptops to VR headsets, online personal training and fitness classes were a growing trend before 2020.

As far back as 2018, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) said that gyms such as Gold’s Gym and Crunch were offering their fitness classes virtually. Dozens of gyms have followed suit since then.

In 2020, the pandemic hit, and we know what happened next. The already rising online fitness industry had a massive explosion in growth. According to a survey of fitness professionals conducted in early 2021 by the American College of Sports Medicine, online training was the new top fitness trend for 2021.

Today, most gyms are open.

Fitness enthusiasts are returning to their old habits. However, online training options have continued to increase and have become the preferred training method for many people.

People can find online personal training through gyms, stream workout programs from their smart TVs, do VR workouts on their headsets, run or ride on treadmills or indoor cycling trainers, to name a few.

“Other events, such as races, have provided virtual options - where you can set up the race on your own or with a few friends - and still submit your results to ‘compete’ with others,” says Carolyn Marie Kienstra, M.D., a board-certified pediatric and young adult sports medicine physician at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute.

Some professional fitness associations, such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), are even offering personal trainers guidance on building their business by providing their training services online.

online training man taking a boxing classWhat are the advantages of online training?

For many people, online training can provide opportunities that they may not have at their local gyms or through their local athletic organizations.

“They offer the advantage of allowing people to try many different things to find what is fun,” says Dr. Kienstra. “It is also more convenient to do whenever you have time or from any location. Many of these options may also be free or less expensive.”

In addition, the IHRSA says that one of the other key advantages of online fitness classes is variety. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you can probably find more options online than in any local, in-person fitness class. The whole world of fitness classes is now at your fingertips.

Personal training still has its place.

Despite the many virtual options, the American Council on Exercise says that in-person fitness classes and personal training still hold an important place in many people’s fitness journeys.

The significant advantages, of course, include the high level of expert guidance you can get from an in-person instructor or personal trainer. Though virtual trainers can now watch you over a camera online, in-person training still holds an edge when it comes to how the trainer can observe and instruct you to perform new movements.

Other advantages that the council notes are accountability and social support. Simply put, you are more likely to show up and keep showing up if you have another group of people that expects you to be there.

You’ll also receive the social support (and even friendship) of the others in the group.

“Going in-person allows for a coach, teacher, or trainer to give you help and guidance as you progress,” says Dr. Kienstra. “It also allows you to make friends and build relationships around staying healthy and in shape.”

When it comes down to it, there’s really no wrong answer.

“I think both have advantages,” says Dr. Kienstra. “The best activity for a person to do is something they enjoy and stick with, so having more options allows people to choose what they prefer and help get more people active.”


Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.


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