But let's be honest, having a trainer watch you work out via your phone is not only unrealistic (and like a tad creepy), it makes verbal cues trainers give even more important. "I think that programs have to start from the basics and really explain techniques and modalities, and explain the exercise from beginner to the most advanced level," says Bergen Wheeler, national director of mind body innovation and talent at Exhale. "There should be different level classes, and each class should offer explanations and modifications for more challenging moves." If apps are going to be offering classes for anyone, they have the responsibility to offer them for everyone, too.
A lot of this comes down to hiring talented instructors, who can coach students into proper form without actually having to see them do the moves. "When you're a great instructor, you know the top five things in any position that your client is going to hit," says Brynn Putnam, creator of The Mirror, adding that the app's trainers offer corrections for mistakes they know students are most likely to make. "We have members who say: 'I thought the trainer was looking right at me because they told me to lift my butt, and I did need to lift my butt in that moment.'"
If apps are going to be offering classes for anyone, they have the responsibility to offer them for everyone, too.
Thanks to the personalization that apps can offer—and the fact that they're usually only instructing one person rather than an entire class—digital fitness can teach proper form, but it needs to be a priority for each and every platform to assess the level people are at before they ever start to sweat or offer modifications for every level. "For Mirror, technology has done all the heavy lifting of telling users which version of the exercise to do at what level of intensity, and that frees up the instructor to focus on inspiring the user to want to be a part of the experience." That means that, for example, if you have a knee injury, the workout will serve you stationary squats instead of jump squats, or if your heart rate gets too high, your program will tell you to take a break.
As digital fitness apps get smarter, so too, do their potential to help ensure you're doing things the right way. Until then, there are a few things you can do to ensure your form is on fleek. Work out in front of a mirror, so that you can assess your form. "This way you can see what your body looks like in space, because the first thing a person needs to recognize is whether or not they're in the proper position, which usually the teacher is telling them," says Wheeler. "You can listen to someone say 'your knees need to be over your toes' or 'drop your shoulders down and spread your shoulder blades wide,' but if you can listen to that and actually see yourself in the mirror, it's a helpful guide."
Since you don't have eyes on you the way you would in a fitness class, start a little slower than you normally would and let yourself build to max capacity. "Be patient, and don't jump into it—take the time that it takes to learn what you're doing," says Wheeler. And as with all exercises whether you're doing them digitally or in-studio, listen to your body, because as Wheeler puts it, "your body is going to tell you if you're doing it wrong."
And of course, you can always brush up on the right way to do moves before you jump into a workout, and allow the muscle memory to guide you throughout your sweat sesh. To get a head start, here is the right way to do some of the most popular fitness moves around:
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