Because of technology, Internet-based exercise has been a long-time option for exercisers and could be delivered either in real time (livestreaming) or via prerecorded videos viewed in various platforms (e.g., social media). Obviously, “digital fitness” was not the primary choice of gym members who participated in supervised gym classes nor the primary way of leading exercise programs for fitness professionals. However, because of the lockdown of gyms in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, livestreaming programs have gained popularity by offering an alternative to working out under the direct supervision of a fitness instructor.
Although this situation will sooner or later change, it has created a new reality and a new target group of exercisers who realized that livestreaming is an alternative option to work out in the comfort of their homes. By contrast, fitness instructors also have been familiarized with this method of delivering fitness classes, and it is possible that a proportion of them will continue to stream workouts through the Internet even after gyms and other fitness facilities reopen.
Taking into account that Internet-based exercise programs differ significantly from a program that is delivered in the gym, the aim of the present article is to provide fitness instructors with guidelines for broadcasting livestreaming programs in free one-sided platforms so that they can make their programs more effective, safer, and more appealing, especially when the workouts are streamed from their personal residences without the support of technical staff and without professional equipment.
PREPARATION BEFORE GOING ONLINE!
To design a successful digital exercise program, fitness instructors should pay close attention to the preparation of the content of their program and to the anticipation of technical issues. Some key points to take into account are presented in the following sections.
Preparation of the content of the program
Considering that livestreaming workouts in open platforms are free for all, fitness professionals must recognize that virtually anyone can follow their classes and that viewers may easily lose interest if the programs are not applicable to them or they do not offer something new. With a view to creating an exercise program that will satisfy the needs of the majority of participants, it is advisable that fitness instructors:
- Always include a proper warm-up and adequate cool-down, even if the duration of the livestreaming class is short.
- Choose exercises that are applicable to a large proportion of the population. In more detail,
- ➢ Avoid exercises that would be difficult or risky to be executed without direct supervision (e.g., handstand).
- ➢ Choose exercises that can easily be modified to be suitable and safe to exercisers of different levels (primary, elementary, intermediate, and advanced) and of different musculoskeletal conditions.
- ➢ Prepare progressions of the selected exercises, always starting from their easy execution and then progressing to the next levels.
- ➢ Include quick guidelines for participants with common musculoskeletal disorders (e.g., “if you have low back pain, keep your knees bent”).
- Find ways to facilitate participation. For example, if a workout is built around a movement theme or if specific instructions will be given repetitively throughout the entire session (e.g., “draw the navel toward the spine”), identify the “basic steps” and “key points” in relation to the correct execution of these movements, and find a cue for each one of them (e.g., “belly inside”) that will be explained at the beginning of the session, will be used throughout the class, and will be easy for the exercisers to remember (1,2).
- Remember that the program should be easily applicable/safe to be executed in a home environment even if limited space is available.
- Aim to deliver a creative and refreshing class, including interesting exercises, and at times use ordinary household objects (i.e., a towel, a chair, bottles of water, a broom, etc.) to offer variety and new challenges.
- Do not forget that the class also should be enjoyable and entertaining. For example, this could be accomplished through the creation of an inspiring music playlist.
Anticipation of technical issues
Apart from designing workouts, fitness instructors also should anticipate technical issues. When the workout class is intended to be livestreamed from the instructor’s residence through a mobile phone, without proper equipment and the support of specialized technical staff, the quality of the video could be compromised. For this reason, trainers should do their best to create a professional environment. Some key points to remember are as follows:
- Check Internet connection. Without a good Internet connection, a livestreaming program will be significantly compromised and may fail.
- Follow the recommended livestreaming settings of the platform being used, as these may affect the quality of the video (e.g., 1080p resolution at 30 or 60 frames per second). Such settings also are dependent on the potentials of the camera.
- Select the background for the video (i.e., where the video will be shot and what is going to appear on camera). Try to empty the space, removing, if possible, furniture and items that remind the viewers that this is a house. The background also should permit the body and associated movement to be easily distinguishable from it (e.g., shoot in front of a wall).
- Select the right clothes in order for the movement to be easily distinguishable, according to the background (i.e., dark clothes in front of light-colored wall and vice versa).
- Adjust the camera angle/position (i.e., where the mobile phone will be placed), rehearsing different possibilities and making sure that viewers, when necessary, will see their entire body.
- Set the desirable music volume and adjust the instructional voice volume to be heard clearly over the music.
- Pay attention to the lighting. Some key points to remember when adjusting the lighting using nonprofessional equipment are the following:
- ➢ If the livestream is held during the day, then natural lighting could be used with the camera placed in front of a window or balcony door facing the instructor.
- ➢ If artificial lighting is used, the blinds/curtains should be closed to create a controlled lighting environment.
- ➢ Overhead lighting (ceiling lights) could be used as the main source of illumination. However, instructors should not be placed directly below the overhead light as this creates shadows on the face.
- ➢ Additional light sources found at home (e.g., floor lamps or desk lamps) could be positioned with one light to the right of the camera and another one to the left, each at a 45-degree angle in relation to the camera.
- ➢ In case the wall/surface in front of the instructor is not white or at least light-colored, it is advisable to cover that surface with white material (e.g., hang a white sheet, large white cardboard sheets, etc.). This homemade reflector will bounce the existing light back at the instructor’s body.
- Dedicate as much time as is required to rehearse the technical issues of the livestreaming session: do multiple rehearsals, experiment with different options, note every time the mobile phone screen result is inadequate, and find the best solution.
READY TO GET ONLINE!
After the “rehearsal” comes the “performance” (i.e., the delivery of the workout to the viewers). This phase includes the last moments before going live with the livestreaming workout itself. Some key points that exercise trainers should keep in mind for the best delivery of the livestreaming class are shown in the following sections.
Before the live
Trainers are advised to do a last preparation before going live, as follows:
- Have their equipment ready.
- ➢ Reduce unnecessary noise from their environment and family. In case other individuals are in the house, it is not advisable for trainers to deliberately introduce them or make them visible to viewers; when we go to work (i.e., to the gym), we do not bring our families and friends with us. So even if trainers’ programs are broadcast live from home, it remains important that trainers act with absolute professionalism, stay focused on their job, and keep their personal and professional life separate. Other persons’ appearance on screen during livestreaming fitness lessons would not comply with professional standards.
- Be ready to start on time.
During the live
To guide an effective livestreaming workout in open platforms, instructors must keep in mind that the way that they lead the session and interact with the exercisers will differ significantly from the traditional exercise classes they lead at gyms for the following reasons:
- They cannot see the exercisers; they do not know the background of all of them, and they cannot directly correct their mistakes.
- There is no face-to-face interaction between the instructor and the exercisers nor between the exercisers themselves, which can easily create a sensation of social isolation/alienation.
The challenge here for instructors is to modify both their way of instructing and their way of interacting (offering social support), taking full advantage of the “tools” offered by the platform (e.g., chat messages) to establish a pleasant communication with their viewers.
Similar to the traditional workouts held at gyms, the digital sessions include an introduction (welcoming the audience, interacting with them, and providing information that is relative to the workout), a main part (the workout itself), and an “epilogue” (farewell). In a digital class, it is suggested that exercise professionals, during these phases, do the following:
- Ask for feedback and confirm that participants can see and hear clearly.
- Greet all participants, one by one, if this is possible.
- Introduce themselves.
- Provide basic instruction on safe participation especially for the beginners and for persons with common musculoskeletal problems.
- Give brief information about the content and the aims of the training session.
Main part (workout)
- Always provide physical demonstration of the exercises and verbal explanation of their correct execution.
- Sometimes it is appropriate to first demonstrate an exercise and then encourage the participants to execute it.
- In order for a movement to be more easily perceptible, indicate by using the hands on the body area in question (e.g., when saying “belly inside,” touch the abdominals).
- ➢ Take full advantage of the possibilities offered by the digital environment (i.e., changing the angle or the distance of the body in relation to the camera). For example, instructors can approach the screen when they want to highlight and emphasize that the foot should be in plantar flexion; they can approach the mobile phone screen and “fill the camera” with the foot in plantar flexion.
- Provide information regarding the aims of a particular exercise.
- Always provide an explanation of scientific terms in simple language because many viewers may be novices and inexperienced.
- Give continuous and detailed feedback on the right technique/correct execution of the exercise and on ways to avoid usual mistakes. The continuous verbal feedback also should permit the viewers to not be obliged to always look at the screens of their devices.
- Speak more than in a traditional class at the gym and try to avoid moments of silence.
- ➢ Instructors should frequently remind participants that they cannot see them and encourage exercisers to “listen to their bodies,” respect their own limits, and be fully responsible for controlling themselves.
- Based on past experience, instructors should predict usual/common mistakes on technique and correct the exercisers as if they could really see them.
- Encourage and motivate exercisers to work at an appropriate level and stick to the exercise even though they are not seen by the instructor.
- Respond to the chat messages. In this setting, it is easy for participants to feel isolated or that they cannot get in touch with the trainer. For this reason, the instructors should always pay attention to each participant comment as it comes in and respond as quickly as possible. Responding to comments shows the participants they are heard and “seen.” In addition, each comment could be a question or concern about safety of an exercise so the quicker the instructor reads and addresses it, the safer the workout will be and the faster the participants can get back to their workout.
- Engage all participants to use the chat function. To reduce the feeling of social alienation, instructors could find ways to challenge the exercisers to interact both with them and with their coexercisers. For example, they could use the chat as a way to motivate and make them feel they are supervised (e.g., “count how many reps and put it in the chat”), as a tactic of virtual team building (e.g., “say hi to someone you do not know in the chat”), and generally as a space of live communication and interaction (e.g., pose a question and ask the viewers to respond or to throw an emoji in the chat, etc.).
- Maintain the energy at a high level and display a sense of humor.
- Provide time for questions.
- Respond verbally to the chat messages.
- Thank all participants for their participation.
- Inform them about the next live (if date and time is already defined).
After the live
After the live session, and if the fitness instructors are not experienced in livestreaming programs, it is advisable to watch the whole lesson (in case they have saved it in the platform) to do their own personal evaluation and pinpoint possible problems. Also, reviewing all participant comments (because during the live they may have missed some of them) will be helpful in further understanding the effect of the lesson. All this information could be used effectively for the improvement of subsequent live session offerings, always aiming to achieve continuous progress.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Guiding exercise programs through livestreaming can be challenging. We recommend that fitness instructors pay special attention to the technical/technological details. We also suggest that they adjust their way of leading the programs and interacting with exercisers in order for their programs to be safe, effective, and appealing in a digital environment.
The research work was supported by the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI) under the HFRI PhD Fellowship grant (Fellowship no. 474).
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