Virtual Fitness Instructors – Good or Bad?
The 24 hour a day hi-tech, low budget Gym Group has recently been trialling a virtual fitness instructor programme in their Pilates sessions. In these sessions, class participants are instructed by a virtual Pilates instructor, who is projected onto the wall of the dance/aerobic studio. These virtual sessions are not live programmes in which the instructor can observe the class and their exercise technique; rather, they are pre-recorded sessions that are presented to participants in much the same way as one might play an exercise video at home. Instead of following the video in isolation however, class followers engage in the Pilates session alongside other health club members.
John Treharne, the CEO of the Gym Group states “our low cost model has been designed to embrace the fact that not everyone can commit to attending weekly set classes”. While measures have been taken by the Gym Group to ensure the technical accuracy of the sessions screened, they do represent a very one-dimensional approach to delivery that does not include any feedback or interaction between the instructor and the participant; thus any reference to teaching in this capacity should be used very loosely!
In the event that a class participant was not performing an exercise correctly, there would be few safeguards in place to remedy this situation, placing the class participant at risk of injury. In addition, due to the very precise nature of most Pilates exercises, even if the participant were not to injure themselves, there is a strong likelihood that the wrong muscles would be recruited, thus leading to movement-impairment syndromes and dysfunction.
Virtual fitness classes are quite popular in other European countries and there are a wealth of personal trainers and fitness instructors operating online with their own virtual programmes. The Gym Group state that “40% of their members have never used a gym before”, making these clients highly susceptible to training-related injuries, especially those arising from poor and incorrect exercise techniques. Since a virtual trainer is unable to correct exercise technique, or to provide real-time support, motivation and encouragement, are virtual fitness instructors really the way forward for the fitness profession? Let’s hope not!
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