The Pros and Cons of Virtual Workouts

Can you really get the same benefits from a virtual workout versus in-person?

Photo: GettyImages

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

With the world slowly moving closer to a new normal in this post-pandemic era, one can’t help but wonder what to do about a gym membership now that they can actually leave the house. Gyms were hit hard during the height of the pandemic, and while many faithful members have flocked back to their favorite spots, others have embraced their workout-from-home lifestyle with virtual fitness classes. 

After all, virtual fitness subscriptions and communities not only cost us less, but have a lower barrier of entry. And nothing is shorter than the trip from our home office to our home gym

But like anything else, there are pros and cons to virtual workouts and things you should consider as you choose your path in the fitness world. Here are some of the key differences between in-person and virtual training. 

1. Accessibility

This has to be the most enticing factor for working out at home. It is so convenient. No need to get in the car, plan around any schedule but your own, or even dig out your best workout wear. Therefore, the argument has to be made that virtual workouts are the most accessible — especially programs that require minimal equipment or provide the cardio tool needed to drive all the workouts. With a virtual program, you can roll out bed or log off for the day and  be steps away from getting your workout in. 

2. Accountability 

Working out at home on your own requires the accountability of no one but yourself. This requires a fair amount of discipline, because motivation will for sure wane throughout the year. This is a real argument for staying in a brick-and-mortar gym, because you’re likely paying a premium to be there, coaches generally know everyone and are excited to see you, and people miss you when you’re not there. That community vibe can be a huge driving force in keeping you on a solid routine.

3. Cost 

Generally speaking, working out from home costs less overall. While there may be some initial investment upfront to build up your home gym or pay for a virtual subscription, it typically pales in comparison to the cost of an in-person membership. 

4. Coaching Style

Another big issue with virtual memberships is that you are usually not getting any one-on-one coaching. No form correction, no injury modification, no direct feedback. Personally, I think this is the biggest drawback to virtual workouts. For anyone who is newer to working out and jumps into a virtual program, this will be a huge hinderance. 

Doing things wrong for a prolonged period of time can really create a recipe for disaster when it comes to injury. In person, you can work with a coach either in a group setting or individually that can load you appropriately, correct your form and gain a deeper understanding of your goals. 

5. Community 

This also falls under the umbrella of accountability, which I discussed above — but it’s a concept worth fleshing out. You can have community both in in-person and virtually. Virtual classes can foster community though Facebook groups, virtual real-time coaching sessions, and private chat groups. But in my opinion, it doesn’t replicate talking to people face-to-face.  

It can be hard to read body language, tone, and get a good sense of someone’s mood over a screen. Don’t get me wrong: Virtual communities can be amazing for the right kind of person (read: introvert), but for those who are now fully working out of their homes as a new way of life, leaving that environment purely from a socialization standpoint has become more important than ever. 

How do you decide? 

Ultimately, you need to have a clear understanding of your goals. If you’re new to exercise, the best route would be in-person instruction before totally branching out on your own. It’s important to understand proper form and technique to avoid unnecessary injuries. And if you’re limited on space, it’ll be hard to acquire adequate equipment that doesn’t take up too much room. 

Is your schedule very busy or unpredictable? I would lean toward virtual if this is your situation because you can do your workout whenever it best suits you. Do you need the accountability of someone working out next to you to stay motivated? Are you an extrovert who needs socialization? 

Ask yourself some of these questions before jumping into a program. When you do commit, give it more than three weeks and stay with it for three months before deciding if it’s right for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best fitness program is the one that you can stick to and one that is going to create sustainable change over the long term.