Here’s How You Can Get the Most Out of an Online Workout, According to an Online Fitness Coach

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So you’ve made a goal to increase your movement this year. You decide you want to work out, but you also don’t want to leave the house (baby, it’s cold outside). Or maybe you’re not ready to return to gym life just yet.

Luckily, online workouts can help you achieve the same results you'd get from a gym right from the comfort of your own home. “Results are dependent on you, so you can get them with just about anything,” says Justin Borden, CPT, an online fitness coach and the owner of Precision Fitness Company in Nashville, Tennessee. One silver lining of the pandemic's industry-wide disruptions is that we now have more digital options than ever: You can hire a trainer to coach you one-on-one over Zoom, follow along to YouTube videos, or sign up for a customized online program.

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But where should you begin? And how do you make sure it's actually going to be worth your time?

How to find the online workout that’s best for you

To make the most of an online workout, the first step is choosing one that's solid. Because not all online fitness programs are created equal. Borden shares five things he suggests looking for.

1. Look up the trainer's qualifications

Possibly the most important thing is to make sure you’re following someone who has the proper training certifications. Unfortunately, being fit doesn’t always mean that someone can safely create a fitness program for someone else. “Do they have certifications, or just a lot of social media influence?” asks Borden. Look for a certified personal trainer—the initials CPT after their name will make it clear they’re properly credentialed.

2. Check the reviews

Just like you might look up a Yelp review before going to a restaurant, you can do the same thing for a trainer, or even the specific workout video you want to do. Browse through the comments to get a sense of other people’s experience with the workout.

Borden recommends looking up a trainer's Google page if they have one. "Those reviews are legit,” he says. “You can also get a sense of the types of clients this person has worked with to see if it’s the best fit for you."

3. Figure out what exactly you need 

To find success from an at-home workout, you need to assess your starting point. Maybe you love cardio but are clueless about strength training. Maybe your body is craving mobility work. Or maybe you have a habit of starting out hot but losing steam after a few weeks. “In my experience, it's the accountability that most people need,” Borden says. That can come from your trainer, an online community, or even just a group of friends.

Zero in on what's going to be most essential to you, then search for programs or videos that will offer that.

4. Understand what's included

If you are doing an online program instead of individual workout videos, learn what you get with your purchase. Borden suggests finding out things like, Is my program custom to me or a template for the masses? Is my trainer available 24/7 or what’s the turnaround window?

There’s a big difference between getting one-on-one sessions with a trainer, or just access to a library of pre-recorded classes. If you’re looking for something specific, like a nutrition plan, make sure it’s going to have what you want before you sign up.

5. Look for the right level and style for you

Borden suggests finding a workout program you can do consistently. “The tough, military-style bootcamp might look cool, but if it takes you three days to recover after a workout it might not be right for you,” he says. Not every workout works for every person. If you are a beginner, find something that caters to your level until you are ready to progress.

Different instructors have different teaching styles, and you might gel with some more than others. Try out different videos, or do a trial week if you can to find what feels right for you.

How do I stay safe working out from home?

Though being able to work out from home has many pros, one con can be the safety risks. When you’re exercising with a trainer in person, you have someone who can assist you with your form, making corrections and adjustments to help you avoid injury. At home, you don’t have that same benefit—especially if you’re simply following along to a pre-recorded session.

Borden’s safety advice for a home workout? “Stay in your lane! Most people get hurt because they do too much too fast. Be realistic with where your fitness level is, and don’t try to chase it all down at once.”

His golden rule: “If it don’t feel right, don’t do it.” If you’re ever unsure of an exercise, always play it safe and skip it or find an alternative.

Also be sure to listen carefully to the instructor’s form cues, and do your best to follow them. If you have a mirror nearby, check out the alignment of your body from time to time. One benefit of following along to a video is that you can hit pause or rewind to carefully inspect how the trainer demonstrates a move before trying it yourself.

How often should I do online workout videos?

For the average person, Borden says some sort of activity every day is huge. “My primary goal for all new clients is to learn consistency,” he says. That doesn’t mean you need to crush yourself every day. But try to find a way to work in movement regularly.

“Maybe our workouts are 30 minutes instead of one hour,” Borden says. In fact, research shows that working out frequently may actually be more effective for building strength than working out for long periods of time. Even short “exercise snacks” can have major benefits.

With that in mind, Borden suggests working every muscle group at least two times per week. “So that can be two upper and two lower body days, two full body days, or any other combination your heart desires, but get everything in twice,” he suggests.

Can I get the same results from online videos that I would at the gym?

The results you get from a workout depend on your efforts. Borden believes the hardest part of working out at home  is the lack of accountability. No one else will know how many sets you did; no one will see if you close your laptop early.

Try looking for online programs that provide a community if you don’t have a one-on-one coach. Feeling like you are part of a team can provide support on the days you need an extra push. Even something as simple as getting a virtual kudos could inspire you to get moving when the couch is calling.

Whenever his clients lose steam, Borden reminds them of their "why" to keep them motivated. Go back to the reason you first signed up for a program or started searching for online videos, and let it inspire you to keep going.

But understand that seeing results may take some time. “Find a program that can give you multiple ‘wins’ in a week, if not daily,” Borden suggests. A regular sense of accomplishment will help you stick with it. Which is exactly what will eventually bring you closer to your goals.

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