In the pandemic era, online workouts are booming. In fact, some people have loved the convenience of working out from home so much that they’ve ditched their gym memberships in favor of a fully virtual workout habit. As gyms start to close again in many parts of the world, it’s become clear live and pre-recorded online workouts are here to stay.
The thing is, there’s such a wide variety of virtual classes out there, it can be tough to figure out which workouts are most effective in an online format. There’s equipment, safety, space and more to consider. That’s why we’ve ranked popular virtual workouts from worst to best, with the help of expert trainers.
CrossFit often requires equipment: barbells, plates, kettlebells, a pullup bar, and more. If you have access to these items at home and are already experienced with the sport, it can be a great virtual workout. Most people, however, don’t fall into these categories, and there are exercise equipment shortages at the moment, points out Steven Mack, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Simple Solutions Fitness. What’s more, exercise selection will likely be limited due to lack of equipment at home, which means the workouts could easily get boring, leaving you less likely to keep up with your routine.
Though it’s possible to do a boxing workout with no equipment, exercisers may not find it as fun or challenging as heavy bag workouts, especially if they’re used to taking boxing classes. If you happen to have a boxing setup (and a jump rope) at home, it can be an awesome virtual class option.
Lifting weights is one of the best workouts out there, period. But it can be tricky to execute well in a virtual class. “A big challenge is that the coach is not there to spot lifts or physically correct students if their form is way out of line,” explains Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness trainer. That doesn’t mean virtual weightlifting workouts are a complete no-go, though. If weightlifting is newer to you, be sure to skip any exercises that cause pain or that you’re concerned might lead to injury. “I recommend lighter weights for safety in this environment,” DePatie adds.
This category is tricky. On one hand, bootcamp and HIIT workouts are well-suited to virtual classes. You often don’t need any equipment, and all you have to do is listen to the instructor’s cues. The problem is, this is the type of workout where you’re most likely to get injured due to the high intensity and lack of in-person coaching. “I’ve had two dear friends — group fitness rock stars who take classes in real life all the time — get bad injuries taking HIIT classes online,” says Jonathan Jordan, a certified personal trainer.
That’s not to say you should avoid these classes completely, though. Instead, it’s important to choose an instructor who really knows what they’re doing and perhaps opt for a live class over a pre-recorded one. “The best virtual classes are ones where the instructor still finds ways to help you and check your form versus just doing the class with you,” Jordan notes.
“The popularity of Peloton shows how much people are willing to spend to enjoy the music and motivation of organized classes,” points out Lashley A. Pulsipher, a certified fitness instructor and running coach. Overall, spin classes are ideal for the virtual format, whether they’re recorded or live, and the safety concerns are minimal compared to other types of exercise.
The fact that you need a spin bike at home creates a barrier to entry. Still, there are a lot of options if you’re interested in getting a spin bike and looking to keep your purchase under four figures. “During the pandemic, some cycling studios rent out their bikes for members to use at home,” Pulsipher says, “And with the unfortunate rise in gym closures, die-hard spin fans have more opportunities to purchase used bikes.” Plus, there are many lower-priced options on the market that you can buy brand new.
Zumba and other types of dance cardio have the advantage of not requiring any equipment. Even when done in person, these classes are often follow-along style, meaning the virtual experience is essentially the same, minus the presence of other exercisers. In terms of space, as long as you have a few feet free in every direction, you should be good to go.
“Running is the ultimate virtual workout,” Pulsipher says. All you need is a pair of running shoes and a pair of headphones. As for classes and coaching, there’s a wide variety of guided audio workouts for all running levels. Most instructors use RPE (rate of perceived exertion) to structure their programs, making these workouts highly customizable based on your individual fitness level.
PILATES AND BARRE
Of course, most people don’t have a Pilates reformer in their house. But mat-based Pilates classes are both well-suited to a virtual format and effective. “You don’t need any equipment,” points out Lindsey Catarino, a certified health coach and virtual fitness trainer. “They are easy to follow along with, and nothing is confusing about the form or activity. You only need a small amount of space (I just move my coffee table and instantly I have a gym in my house) and you can get some killer results.” Years ago, Catarino lost 20 pounds doing Pilates from home, she says.
Barre workouts provide similar benefits, and while most people don’t have a ballet barre in their house, a chair or sturdy piece of furniture makes a great substitute.
The benefits of mobility work include reduced risk of injury, better workouts and fewer aches and pains. Add to that the fact you don’t need any equipment for these sessions (though a foam roller comes in handy) and it’s easy to see why these workouts rank near the top. Plus, the potential for injury is low, given that the focus of these routines is to prevent it from happening.
If you have a place in your house where you can fit a yoga mat, you have everything you need to practice yoga at home. What’s more, yoga instructors tend to be really good at offering options that make the class tailored to your level, whether the online class is live or recorded. “The yoga classes that I’ve taken have been very good about preaching the concept of making each flow your own,” Mack says. The benefits of yoga are plenty, so when in doubt about where to start with virtual workouts, this is a solid first choice.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.