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The Dangers of Taking a Virtual Fitness Class, Say Experts

Working out in front of your computer is all the rage. Here are some risks to know about.

It may feel like a lifetime ago, but heading to the local gym, fitness center, or YMCA used to be a daily habit for untold millions of people before the onset of the COVID-19. Today, many of the fitness enthusiasts among us have moved on to virtual in-home workouts out of sheer necessity.

Now, there's a lot to like about online fitness regimens. You don't have to waste precious time commuting back and forth to a physical gym, and many of these videos don't require expensive equipment in order to participate. Want to cue up a great 10-minute sweat session? Just search YouTube! And, as many trainers like to say, the best workout you can do is the one you actually do.

That being said, there are still some risks associated with virtual fitness classes that you should be aware of, if you're considering giving it a go. Keep reading to learn what they are. And for more great workout advice, make sure you're aware of The One Popular Exercise That Can Cause Lasting Damage to Your Body.

They can be way too hardcore for the average person

Young sporty slim woman coach internet video online fitness training instructor modern laptop screen. Healthy lifestyle concept, online fitness and sport lessons.

One major problem with some virtual fitness classes, especially really intense HIIT classes, is that they're catered to people who are actually super fit in the first place. "Be extra careful of ones that incorporate a lot of plyometrics and burpees—or a combination of movements that aren't coached and cued for you," says Tim Liu, C.S.C.S., an LA-based trainer. "A lot of them just get you tired for the sake of being tired, and there's no progression for them." So be sure to choose a class that fits to your own fitness level, and you're not unwittingly trying to keep up with Navy SEALs.

They can lead to injury over time


Even if you're taking an online weight lifting class being taught by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, if he isn't actually in the room and watching your form and motions, you'll never be 100% sure you're performing the exercises correctly. Personal fitness levels come in many forms, and while some people can pick up a specific workout or exercise quickly, others struggle when it comes to proper footwork, posture, and body positioning. These are problems that can be easily addressed within an in-person setting, but go unnoticed during online fitness classes.

This risks may not be entirely evident after one class. In fact, they may compound over time—the more often one performs an exercise, routine, or stretch incorrectly, the more likely they are to eventually hurt themselves. "While fitness videos are a great alternative to in-person classes, particularly for those who have had experience and prior coaching in fitness, the risk of injury is high for newbies without supervision," explains Dr. Jerry Yoo, D.P.T, C.S.C.S. "There are many newbies who have the great intention of losing some of those 'pandemic pounds.' However, without any prior experience in fitness, jumping into a class can be potentially injurious."

You're at the mercy of WiFi

woman at home with an exercise bike

We all know how frustrating it can be when the WiFi cuts out during an important work assignment or pivotal moment during a movie. Now, the transition to online fitness means internet connection problems can also keep you from working out. Similarly, it's pretty hard to follow an instructors' movements and form if he or she is being displayed as nothing more than a pixelated blur. This could be problematic for yoga classes, in particular.

"Especially in more meditative practices or difficult asanas (the physical postures), the internet connection can be a real problem, when the signal cuts off and the teacher is not able to give full support in a crucial moment any more," says qualified yoga instructor Chiara Praller. 

What's more, your internet connection may not even be the problem. Everything could be functioning perfectly on your end, but if you're engaged in a live session with an instructor, any issues with their internet will cut your session short.

Your trainer isn't really a trainer

Focus on laptop screen with young woman in sportswear doing morning exercises, deep squats on yoga mat, staying fit at home. Interested girl watching online educational fitness workshop training. on laptop screen with young woman in sportswear doing morning exercises, deep squats on yoga mat, staying fit at home. Interested girl watching online educational fitness workshop training.

It's well documented that the internet is still very much the wild west when it comes to scams and people looking to make a quick buck. COVID-19 has forced everyone indoors, and that includes criminals. As such, cybercrime has skyrocketed since the pandemic began.

Be aware that just because someone calls themselves a "fitness expert" or "wellness influencer" online that doesn't constitute any valid form of accreditation. When you walk into a gym for a fitness class, you can at least assume to a reasonable degree that the instructor was vetted by gym management. Online classes do not offer the same degree of certainty.


young sports woman in fitness clothes at modern home using online streaming fitness site in laptop and doing circuit training on fitness mat.

Now, this one may be ultra-rare, but it exists. Last year, a trainer named Craig Barnes was hosting a virtual fitness class when all of his students were all of a sudden bombarded by violent and graphic imagery. "The first video I saw was an Asian girl who was tied up, and I wasn't too sure what was going on—I was a bit perplexed," Barnes explained to CNN. "Remember, I am trying to take a class at the same time—trying to stay professional, and obviously I've got to try and protect the eyes of my clients. So when I removed the video of the girl who was tied up … I thought that was going to be it." There was more.

Barnes' class was the victim of the unique form of cyber harrassment known as "Zoombombing." Though it won't likely happen to you, it certainly does happen. For more fitness advice you can use, see how This 2-Second Trick Helps You Build Muscle Faster, Says Top Trainer.


John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more about John
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