For Bianca Vesco (aka Coach B), a certified personal trainer, fitness has first and foremost always been about community. “It wakes me up in the morning and keeps me on the path toward my best self,” she says. “Having others to show up for, watching others shine, and having space where I never feel alone does wonders for my mental health.”
Prior to the pandemic, Vesco found all these things through her work as a trainer at the gym Dogpound, as well as the now defunct boutique studio BFX, both in New York City, which had some of the tightest, and longest restrictions on in-person workouts due to Covid-19. So like many independent personal trainers and group instructors who found themselves out of work, she began to offer live online classes from her living room. “I think the pandemic forced us all to slow down and lean in to what really matters to us as individuals,” she says.
“No matter where you are, no matter what you need, you can open a screen and find a familiar face, or meet a not-so-familiar face, who changes your life, and that is a really beautiful thing.” —Bianca Vesco, CPT
What began as weekly Saturday Zoom classes (known to her clients as “Saturbaes”), quickly evolved into multiple live sessions per week, as well as recordings of said sessions, so that those who missed out could still enjoy to the group aspect of at-home workouts. “Having access to digital spaces 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world changed the game when we all had to stay at home,” Vesco says. “And here we are, years later, still navigating a world where some people want to go to a gym and some don’t.” According to a recent survey, more than half, about 56 percent, of people polled said they prefer at-home workouts. For those who prefer to stay remote, thanks to live streaming, “we still have community,” she adds. “No matter where you are, no matter what you need, you can open a screen and find a familiar face, or meet a not-so-familiar face, who changes your life, and that is a really beautiful thing.”
At this point, it’s harder to find fitness brands that don’t offer online live classes.
For independent trainers like Vesco, live online classes became a lifeline during uncertain times. Even now that it’s safe to go back to gyms and studios, many continue to offer live streaming workouts, embracing a hybrid fitness model, meaning they’ll continue to offer both in-person and remote training options. But they are hardly alone in ushering in a new era of live streaming. Several fitness brands have also embraced the medium for its ability to bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar and pre-recorded classes when it comes to building community.
Since the start of the pandemic, major digital fitness streaming platforms, have either finally entered or dove deeper into this space as well. This includes Tonal, which launched live classes earlier this year, Tempo, which made its live class offerings available on its more affordable Tempo Move at home gym in March, and Mirror, which started offering daily live classes led by Lululemon ambassadors in 2021 after being acquired by the activewear company. At this point, it’s harder to find fitness brands that don’t offer online live classes, either through their websites, over video conferencing platforms like Zoom, or social media.
“We know that the group effect—working out with others—is powerful,” says Rachael Babiracki, head trainer for Les Mills U.S. The New Zealand-based company launched its first omnichannel platform, LesMills+, last year in an effort to “bridge the gap between digital and live workouts,” according to a press release. “Exercising with others creates comradery and taps into your motivation through connection,” Babiracki adds. “When we know others expect us and we have a place in the group, we are more likely to show up consistently.”
In that way, online live classes can be incredibly encouraging. “A live class is a great way to create accountability with yourself,” says Ashley Mills, co-CEO and co-founder of obé fitness, which, along with Peloton, was an early adopter of live streaming classes when it launched in 2018. “Knowing you’ve added it to your calendar will help you show up, and the energy and shout-outs provide next-level motivation!”
“People come to group fitness because great instructors help participants go places they couldn’t go alone.” —Megan Cloe, Les Mills trainer
Then, there’s also the fact that working out together often brings out the best in people. It’s not so much about competing with the person next to you (or instructor in front of you), but rather about letting their performance encourage you to give it all you’ve got.
“People come to group fitness because great instructors help participants go places they couldn’t go alone; work harder, move better, get more out of the workout,” says Les Mills trainer Megan Cloe. “Online [live] streaming allows participants to feel seen—to hear their names, to still get that eye contact, coaching, to experience the motivation of a live instructor even when they have to, or choose to, be remote. This allows participants a sense of ‘groupiness’ that brings people back time and time again.”
Psychologists agree that group fitness—whether in-person or online—is incredibly beneficial for overall mental health.
“What I love about taking a group fitness class is that feeling you get from a room full of people working towards a common goal,” says licensed psychologist Alyson Nerenberg, PsyD. “It feels like more than just people working out alone—instead, it feels like you are part of a larger community working together to get stronger and healthier. That is the power of community.”
Now, is this to say that working out without a group aspect isn’t as beneficial? Not necessarily—just that being in a supportive environment where everyone is striving for the same goal can really up the ante in terms of motivation.
“The only bad workout is the one you don’t do, but let’s not kid ourselves, the environment we work out in plays a huge part in our performance,” says Rumble XPRO Julian Doan. “Although nothing beats a live experience, online live classes are the next best thing because you get to be educated, inspired, and entertained by your favorite trainers anytime and anywhere. That kind of freedom combined with commitment makes it easier to accomplish your goals in less time.”
At the end of the day, Cloe puts it perfectly: “Building connection is no longer limited to the walls of the studio, it’s virtually limitless.”