Virtual workouts are here to stay. Here’s how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

By Julia Malacoff
Jul 09, 2020 @ 12:50 pm
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Though gyms are beginning to reopen, at-home, online workouts aren’t going anywhere. Even if you’re a dedicated gym-goer, it’s undeniable that reducing your trips to communal spaces reduces your risk of getting COVID-19. 

Luckily, there are plenty of amazing streaming classes and workout apps to choose from. But just like any other type of workout tool, it does take some time to learn how to use these virtual sessions properly — increasing their effectiveness and decreasing your risk of injury. Ahead, top online trainers and instructors explain what they most often see going wrong with online workouts — and what to do instead. 

Mistake #1: Turning off your camera

If you’re doing a live class with the option to turn your camera on, don’t skip letting the trainer see you, says Ingrid Clay, Senior Curriculum Mentor and Trainer at Barry’s

“Turning the camera off places limits on how hard you may push yourself,” Clay explains. “For one, the accountability isn't there. Secondly, it does not allow the trainer to correct your form,” she says. “I also want to see you to give praise! I find that a simple, ‘YASSS,’ or ‘get IT’ goes a long way and adds a pep in your step for the rest of the day.”

Mistake #2: A messy workout space

A cluttered workout area is a surefire way to throw your focus during a workout, says Rachel Warren, FORWARD_Space Master Instructor. There’s nothing like stepping on a dog toy or your kid’s Lego in the middle of your sun salutation, right? “Before working out, set yourself up for success,” Warren says. “It’s best to declutter your space as much as possible.” 

Mistake #3: Not taking your fitness level into account

“Online workouts are usually programmed for the masses at an intermediate-ish level,” Clay notes. So if you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to take things down a notch. “A lot of times what I see happen is clients will do an online workout and get discouraged because they try to go too hard.” If your workout has a live trainer, ask for modifications before the workout starts, Clay advises. If the class is pre-recorded, do your best to select a workout that’s right for your level. (For instance, if you’re new to circuit training or just getting back to exercising post-lockdown, don’t choose the workout labeled “Advanced Circuit: This will set your muscles on fire!!!”)

Also, the same rule applies to advanced clients. Clay recommends asking the trainer for ways to level up if the option is available, or simply adding weights to a workout to make it more challenging. 

Mistake #4: Ignoring form

“The biggest difference between online and streaming workouts and in-person workout sessions is that there isn’t an expert physically there who can watch you and make sure you’re executing the exercises properly to reduce the risks of injury,” explains Alissa Tucker, AKT Master Trainer. 

When you’re working out at home, you’re ultimately responsible for making sure you don’t get injured. One way to check your form: “Doing your online workouts in front of a mirror can be helpful so you can visually check your own body position and make sure you are getting the safest and most efficient workout possible,” Tucker says. 

Mistake #5: Always choosing high-intensity workouts

Lots of home exercisers love a quick, sweaty workout. But doing very intense exercise too often can make it difficult for your body to recover properly. “I love high-intensity training and higher impact workouts, but I recommend only doing those about two times per week max, while mixing in lower impact endurance training,” says Rebecca Kennedy, a Peloton Master Tread Instructor. “The lion needs to rest in order to hunt.” 

Mistake #6: Putting your neck in weird positions to see what the instructor is doing

Craning your neck to look at your screen is a big no-no, says Briohny Smyth, an Alo Moves instructor. One way to avoid this is to use auditory cues as much as you can. “At first you might watch and see what the instructor is doing, but then make sure to listen,” Smyth advises. “There are so many great instructors out there giving wonderful cues, and it’s important to listen and learn by hearing the direction they’re giving as well.” 

Another strategy that can help: “Place your screen in profile or directly in front of you,” recommend Erin Frankel and Alexandra Dantzig, founders of JETSWEAT. “Try to position yourself so that your back is never to the screen. This will help you maintain alignment by not having to turn your head too much when you need to see the demos.” 

Mistake #7: Only doing cardio workouts

“Strength training is the best way to keep your bones muscles and joints strong for life, improve heart health, and develop a strong connection to your body,” Kennedy says. But a lot of people are afraid to try it on their own at home, especially if they’re newer to weight training. If this sounds like you, know that bodyweight training and calisthenics (a subtype of bodyweight training) can be super effective, Kennedy says. 

Mistake #8: Bouncing before the workout is over

To get the full benefits, it’s important to stick with your online workouts all the way to the end, Frankel and Dantzig say. “It's easy to turn it off right before the final stretch or meditation because something is calling you. But those last few minutes can help you reap some of the most positive benefits on your recovery and help you transition back to your day.” 

Mistake #9: Skipping proper footwear

“I see a lot of people not wearing sneakers and going for socks or just barefoot when they’re doing cardio or high impact workouts,” says Megan Roup, founder of The Sculpt Society. “Even when you're working out from home, you want to make sure you're wearing supportive footwear for the activity you're doing.”

Mistake #10: Overlooking recovery

Back-to-back workout days without rest in between means not enough time to rejuvenate, says Cory George, Face of F45 Training. “Scheduling rest days is essential if you want to optimize your performance and results.” Home exercisers can run into issues when they avoid mobility work, stretching, and recovery techniques, such as foam rolling. If you’re not sure where to start, seek out online classes with the words “recovery,” “restorative,” and/or “mobility” in the title.