Two years ago, Andrea Orbeck, a Los Angeles fitness instructor and former Canadian bobsled champion, noticed that a number of her high-powered Hollywood clients were missing workouts because they were simply too busy to go to the gym. Hoping to alleviate this time crunch, Orbeck designed a CrossFit plan that could be done anywhere and offered to beam herself, via Skype, into her clients’ SoCal living rooms, offices, and backyards. It was an instant hit, and she soon became one of a hundred or so pioneers in the world of webcam fitness—personalized online coaching in activities ranging from yoga and Pilates to kickboxing and circuit training. “Why go to the gym,” says Orbeck, “when you can maximize your workout with 25 minutes of high-intensity intervals in your living room?”
Indeed, the primary appeal of webcam fitness is flexibility. One-on-one sessions are easier to schedule, because both the trainer and the client can do them from anywhere. Trainers are not limited by studio costs or travel, so it’s often more affordable than in-person training. (A session can run anywhere from $5 to $75.) And in the bleak winter months, a virtual class in your climate-controlled living room is a welcome alternative to a post-work, subfreezing jog through, say, your Minneapolis neighborhood.
There are downsides, of course. The awkward pauses inherent to video conferencing can mean that long-winded instructions get lost in translation. And for complicated exercises where form is essential, especially in activities like yoga and Pilates, students don’t have the benefit of hands-on corrections from instructors. But as the popularity of online personal training increases, expect both the technology and the quality of coaching to improve. And don’t be surprised when the trend evolves from one-on-one sessions to full classes. Mary Helen Bowers, a former New York City Ballet dancer and founder of Ballet Beautiful—a dance-oriented online fitness studio that offers live and archived video workouts to its 25,000 members—recently began teaching classes using an interactive platform that allows students all over the country to see her as well as each other.
As for Orbeck, she now trains nearly a quarter of her clients via the Web. “This is the future of the industry,” she says. “It’s a natural progression of convenient, individualized training.”