Zoom Workouts Are Filling the Void of Empty Studios One Video Call at a Time

Photo: Getty Images/filadendron
"Zoë, get those hips up!"

I let my form drop for a split second during oblique crunches, and had gotten caught. Even though I was technically alone in my kitchen, Solidcore coach Lisa Marlier (along with the 19 other students in the class) could see me slacking off via Zoom, and she wasn't going to let me quit that easily.

As the world has moved into full-blown social distancing practices, the daily routines that used to take place out in the world, around other people, are now limited to screens. People are using Zoom for everything from work meetings to digital happy hours, and—yes—workouts. According to MarketWatch, Zoom, which currently tops the marketshare of web conferencing platforms, had 200 million users in March (the first month of social distancing), which marked a significant jump from its prior monthly record of 19 million users.

When studios across the country were forced to close their doors last month, due to the risk of Covid-19, trainers (many of whom suddenly found themselves without a job) scrambled to bring their offerings online. Some did so via apps, while others shared their sessions on Instagram Live or YouTube. But Zoom—which allows trainers to see students in a Brady Bunch-style collage—has a unique edge over the other options, and studios (including 1,500 on the Classpass roster) have flocked to it.

Solidcore began sharing at-home workouts on their Instagram page last month, but quickly realized that they were missing the client connection that has traditionally made people gravitate towards their in-person classes, and so, they took their workouts to Zoom. Now, they're hosting 50-minute digital classes that are totally interactive, which means coaches can correct form (like Marlier did with my oblique crunch), and highlight people who are doing the moves successfully. "The ability to see people in the grid is what makes this so special," says Solidcore's director of field talent Sarah Buie. Students are encouraged to log in 15 minutes early to have the chance to properly setup their space and chat with the instructor and each other, which Buie says helps them feel "really connected to their community again."

"The coolest thing with going online is that even though we have this dark shadow over us right now, people are finding light within fitness, and are able to feel a small spark for 60 minutes a day," says GRIT master trainer/founding trainer Anthony Crouchelli, who started his ACFIT training program via Zoom within days after the studio closed on March 16th. "This gives people the opportunity to come together in a time of isolation." Buie notes that many of Solidcore's clients stick around after class to hang out and chat.

During at home workouts, it can admittedly be easy to half-ass it—I know I'm personally guilty of skipping out on the last few burpees if I just don't feel like doing them. But with Zoom workouts, there's a level of accountability associated with knowing your trainer (and the entire rest of the class) can actually see you quitting early. "You can see people, and have the opportunity to cue and coach so it feels a little more personal, as opposed to Instagram live where people are only able to see you," says Crouchelli. This adds a level of accountability that you just don't get elsewhere—you have to show up on time, and not give up until it's over.

The classes also add an element of structure to these endless work from home days that don't inherently have much of it. "It gives you some normalcy again," says North Carolina-based trainer Melissa Yun, who has also brought her teachings online. "I think the struggle for most people right now is not having their routine be there, but you need that normalcy where you know you're going to work out with these same people at a certain point in your day."

While Zoom classes come at a paid premium, at a time when trainers are struggling financially, this model gives them an opportunity to make money in a way that other formats, like Instagram Live, do not. According to Crouchelli, the eight trainers he's working with are making more from their digital classes than they were in the studio. And though Solidcore was forced to lay off 98 percent of its staff last month, the popularity of its Zoom classes has allowed the studio to hire back some of its most valuable trainers. "We can't add classes fast enough," says Buie, noting that the studio had to up its class capacity from 16 to 20 students to within the first three days after going onto Zoom to meet demand. "It's our goal to have 50 coaches by the end of the week."

Though Zoom workouts may have found their footing during social distancing, it looks like they could be here to stay. "We don't want what we've built in this digital community to all of a sudden go away as things start to go back to normal," says Crouchelli, who plans to continue offering interactive digital classes after all of this is over. Which means we'll all be having our form corrected in our kitchens for the long haul.

Where to find Zoom workouts

ACFIT: $10 for 60-minute strength training, Pilates, and HIIT classes.

Classpass: Offerings and prices vary across studios.

LoveYoga: $6 for 50-minute yoga classes.

Lubbdubb: Offerings and prices vary.

Kati Baki YogaDonation-based yoga classes.

Melissa and Brooks Sweat Squad: $16 for 50-minute HIIT, sculpting, and cardio classes.

Solidcore: $15 for 50-minute slider-based Pilates classes.

The ness: $15 for 50- or 60-minute sculpt and trampoline classes.

Here's how digital fitness is giving us the communities we need in the time of social distancing. Plus, the best online workouts you can do at home

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