By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

IHRSA 2013 demonstrated a major increase in club owners”™ interest in virtual indoor cycling classes — rides led by a virtual coach or voice-over using Forward Motion Video (FMV). No instructor present. It was apparent at the IHRSA Trade Show that many club owners are now considering technology-based workouts.

Fitness companies have picked up on the benefits of virtual indoor cycling, chronicled by ICG in past posts. Some companies are investing millions of dollars in creating compelling content, geared to presenting a virtual experience that competes with live instruction. And an increasing number of clubs are realizing the economic benefit of offering and marketing virtual classes. These clubs range from budget clubs that have no intention of hiring instructors to major chains that support strong instructor programs.

Les Mills International (LMI) announced the launch of LES MILLSâ„¢ VIRTUAL at this IHRSA convention. LMI virtual workouts are based on master class content and demonstrated by their top instructors. These workouts will include virtual RPM classes, their brand of indoor cycling. Their filming and editing techniques are Hollywood quality. They have invested a great deal of money in making virtual classes that replicate the actual experience and energy of the master classes they present to their instructors all over the world.

The importance of LMI”™s decision to provide virtual classes should not be overlooked. With their move to virtual and the high quality of their production, LMI, the industry leader in group-fitness programming, is indicating a shift in the industry”™s acceptance of virtual classes.

Could virtual change the nature and economics of the fitness industry? The technology is fairly simple and getting better and cheaper. The content is improving. And the problems around maintaining an instructor staff are legendary. Ask any Program Manager: training instructors; making sure they stay current, show up on time, and fill out their timesheets properly; and much more. Virtual classes might just work in a major way.

So, speaking as an instructor, what are my options? If I support the use of virtual classes, and they keep improving, I could lose my job to a video of an instructor who”™s much better than I am. If I don”™t support it, my club owner may think that I”™m not staying current in the industry, or that I have only my personal interests in mind. The owner may let me go, thinking I was the kind of instructor he/she wanted to get rid of, anyway. If I do nothing, I may suddenly be faced with a large screen and projector in the cycling studio and told to promote virtual rides to my students. Worse, I may be told that the club is scaling back its instructor-led classes because virtual is the future.

Here are the facts. Club owners see virtual classes as: a cost-effective way to boost class capacity and use the cycling studio at off-peak times; a way for members to fit classes into their busy schedules; a great way to introduce more people to group fitness and grow overall attendance; an effective marketing tool for enticing member prospects to join; a trend that”™s here to stay.

To be proactive, I need to keep my instruction better than a virtual class. What can I do that video cannot?

1. I can learn people”™s names and compliment them daily.
2. I can introduce them to others in the class and create a sense of camaraderie and group effort.
3. I can change my workouts and music for every class. (Some virtual programs are currently able to do this, but there”™s likely to be greater repetition.)
4. I can get off my bike and provide individual coaching during class, as needed by the students.
5. I can improve my skills as an instructor, class leader, cyclist and dedicated employee so that, no matter who”™s on the video, my abilities deliver a better class experience.

Having been a Program Director for over 30 years, I know that everything on the list above has been told to instructors in countless ways without large-scale success. The five items make you not only a better instructor, but also a better employee.

The industry is changing. I encourage everyone who is resistant to technology to change quickly. Invest in learning to teach with FMV, power, an iPod, or Spotify. Accept, even welcome, the advent of virtual classes.

Most importantly, do everything you can do to remind the industry that what makes group training most enjoyable is the social atmosphere and human connection that only you, the instructor, can create.

Jim Karanas
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