The Digital Burn

Streaming exercise classes are mushrooming, offering fun, convenient alternatives for home exercisers.

Until recently, fitness-minded folk have had to choose between convenience and stimulation. Working out at home is certainly more convenient than traveling to a gym or studio and working scheduled classes into your routine — and then still having to deal with finding parking, changing and showering. On the other hand, a constant diet of the same home-exercise videos can be a bore, not exactly conducive to getting you off the couch. That’s why many people prefer the stimulation of a live class, with fresh moves and other people working just as hard alongside you.

But digital technology is starting to change the home-fitness landscape. Consumers can now stream live classes (or tap extensive libraries of videos) using their smartphones, TVs, tablets and computers. Some fitness companies have devised streaming services that even enable home exercisers to interact with instructors and other students.

Bryan O’Rourke, a fitness consultant and president of the Louisiana-based Fitness Industry Technology Council, believes the rise of digital technology, combined with the growing number of people who work from home, will spur future demand for home-exercise programs. In a report titled “The Club of 2020,” O’Rourke and Greg Skloot, a vice president of Netpulse, which creates mobile apps for gyms and health clubs, predict that by 2020 exercise services ranging from virtual training and coaching to on-demand trainers dispatched to customers’ homes will be commonplace. “More and more of the fitness journey will likely happen outside the club’s wall,” they conclude. Health clubs, they add, will also rely on a hybrid of “digital and physical” experiences to attract members who are willing to pay more for the convenience and experience of exercising at home.

Some online companies offer both live interactive online classes and prerecorded videos. Peloton (peloton.com) is one of the more successful, boasting on its website that its New York facility is “the first and only cycling studio to marry boutique fitness with live home streaming.” Peloton requires a hefty upfront investment of $2,000 for its own home spinning bike (a different animal from traditional exercise bikes), which can purchased online or at a showroom — the L.A. showroom is located at the Santa Monica Place mall. The bike comes equipped with a 21.5-inch sweat-resistant screen on which thousands of cyclists can stream live classes at any one time. Other features are designed to make the cycling classes an interactive experience. Cyclists can video chat with other users while they ride, use the activity feed to check the performance of fellow riders and view the real-time leaderboard to compete with other cyclists. And once clients invest in the bike, unlimited classes are quite reasonable at $39 a month, which also includes access to a library of 3,000 videos. Peloton’s monthly cost compares to SoulCycle’s price of $30 for one in-studio class, although first-timers pay $20 and discounts are offered on bulk purchases.

Several other companies infuse live, interactive classes with dance. New York–based Ballet Beautiful (balletbeautiful.com), for example, is a ballet-inspired exercise program created by Mary Helen Bowers, a ballerina and trainer who coached Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan and claims Taylor Swift, Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss among her adherents. Customers access online instruction, which includes toning exercises, stretches and high- and low-impact cardio workouts. Another site, sleektechnique.com, was founded by two London-based ballerinas, Flik Swan and Victoria Marr; Sleek Technique offers live ballet-inspired courses in addition to prerecorded instruction. And the Powhow platform (powhow.com) streams live fitness, dance and yoga classes, enabling its professional instructors — dancers, musicians and artists — to connect with students via webcam, to broadcast and stream their in-studio classes live or to upload recorded videos for students to train at a time convenient for them.

Also in the mix is Yogaia (yogaia.com), which offers more than 100 new live and interactive classes each week. Its live-streaming yoga classes allow teachers to see students and offer instruction in real time. Monthly membership rates start at a wallet-friendly $9.99. Another exercise chain, Barre 3 (barre3.com), which teaches a technique combining Pilates, barre and yoga, allows members to choose from an array of more than 250 online workouts ranging in length from 10 minutes to one hour. More expensive options permit members to receive exclusive workouts and real-time guidance from instructors. Memberships range from $15 to $55 a month. At EMG Live Fitness (emglivefitness.com), you can stream live or recorded classes in cycling, barre, kickboxing and more from numerous gyms and studios, promising variety in instruction without having to travel for it. Clients pay for only one class at a time.

Easypose (easypose.com), a Los Angeles–based yoga instruction company, goes a step further: the firm makes house calls, in addition to offering prerecorded lessons. Clients can use the company’s website or mobile app to schedule yoga sessions in their home, office or hotel, selecting the date, time, and style of yoga instruction for one to 20 people. Easypose offers a first-class deal of $40; after that it’s $60 for up to four students. The year-old company has hired about 1,000 certified yoga instructors in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay and New York metropolitan areas. Cofounder Ruben Dua says Easypose was created because “people were very frustrated with doing yoga in a studio. The yoga studios are crowded and they are very intimidating to some people, more like a fashion show. We make it accessible and affordable; it’s easier for people to participate.”

While health clubs generally expect you to show up for their live classes, some clubs maintain libraries of recorded videos for home exercisers. Crunch, for example, was the first national gym chain to offer its group fitness programs online. Members can access Crunch Live (crunchlive.com), where they can stream 85 workouts — yoga, barre, dance cardio and total-body bootcamp — for a monthly fee of $19.99. Crunch Live also offers customizable workout plans and what its website describes as “playlists to keep you motivated, on track and having fun,” as well as 15-minute “quickie” workouts for people short on time.

O’Rourke estimates that streaming exercise programs account for less than 10 percent of the current U.S. fitness market, but he expects these services will expand in the future. He adds that health clubs and other fitness providers will be challenged to “create a seamless and relevant complete-user experience for gyms or studios. Just offering streaming isn’t enough; it’s about creating a contextually useful blend of in-gym and digital experiences that are enjoyable to member customers. The bottom line is that people want personalized, engaging brand experiences in all markets.”

Customers, he says, want “enhanced experiences” to be conveniently delivered via “omni-channels” – a wide range of different platforms and devices. “What this will mean will evolve through experimentation.” But while digital home fitness continues to evolve, there already are several ways to use new technology to exercise at home. So if your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more in 2017, there’s no excuse to procrastinate. Get off the sofa and start streaming so you can feel the digital burn.