Working out at home is something I’ve never really been into. I totally see the time- and money-saving appeal, but the thought of getting sweaty in the same space that I cook, sleep, and otherwise chill in just doesn’t entice me. I also find that when my couch is 2 feet away and my legs are burning, it’s very easy for me to stop what I’m doing and crawl onto it. And on top of that, unless I’m going for a run or a bike ride, where the surrounding scenery sufficiently distracts me, I pretty much hate working out alone. I get bored, and it’s hard for me to push myself.
So call me a slacker or maybe I’m just an exercise extrovert, but whatever the reason(s), working out at home just isn’t my jam.
Or rather, that’s how it was…until last Monday night, when I did something out of character and took an hour-long, tough-as-hell Tabata-style workout class. In my bedroom. Alone.
OK, I wasn’t really all by myself. Thanks to the magic of Google Hangouts, I was with 15 strangers and Nashville-based celebrity trainer Erin Oprea. We were taking part in one of the virtual interactive training sessions that Oprea, trainer to Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, and Jana Kramer, among others, has been hosting weekly since February for anyone on the internet—famous or not. Since everyone in the class is viewable via video chat, Oprea guides the group (typically 15 to 30-ish people), step-by-step, through a 50-minute workout, giving live feedback on form and personalized encouragement throughout.
Virtual training sessions like this one—whether they're via FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, or another platform—are popular among celebrities, who are often traveling and on-the-go. (Oprea does virtual sessions with many of her famous clients); trainer Kira Stokes regularly FaceTimes client Candace Cameron Bure.) But they're not just for the rich and famous. Many personal trainers and group fitness instructors have started to add a variety of virtual training options to their own lists of services. Google “virtual personal training” and you’ll get literally millions of hits.
So when Oprea invited me, At-Home Exercise Loather, to join a class (she comped the $ 42.50 single-class cost for me), I swallowed my distaste and decided I should at least see what these virtual sessions are all about.
The verdict? It was weird and wonderful and the best damn workout I’ve done in a while.
Before the class, I felt weirdly nervous and awkward about the fact that everyone could see me on their screens.
I registered for the class via email about a week in advance, and at that time, was pointed toward a list on Oprea’s website of everything I’d need for the class: a yoga mat, a set of light weights, a sweat towel, water, and “party pants and a great attitude.” Then, a few hours before the designated time on the day of, I got an email from Oprea with detailed instructions for how to log onto the Google Hangout platform and tips for properly setting up my computer (I could have also used my iPhone) so that Oprea could best observe my form.
Reading the instructions made me oddly nervous, especially the parts that reiterated how visible I would be, like “Center the camera on your hips so floor and standing exercises are in view all the time,” and “Turn the lights up!! If possible, use lights that shine on your face. This will make the picture more clear.” Of course I can be seen in an IRL workout class, too, and the thought of that doesn’t freak me out. But the whole working-out-on-my-bedroom-floor-while-broadcasting-that-footage-to-strangers-across-the-internet thing really just didn't sit well with me.
At any rate, I ignored the butterflies battering my insides and several minutes shy of 6 P.M. CST, clicked the link to join the class and flicked on my camera. The main screen lit up with a clear view of Oprea’s living room, which you’re probably familiar with if you follow her on Instagram. Several sets of dumbbells sat alongside a yoga mat, water bowl, and sweat towel, as Oprea’s Bernese Mountain Dog padded in and out of the screen. A friendly, omniscient voice—which I later learned belonged to Oprea’s adorable husband Sean—welcomed me and gave a few tips for how to best position my camera so Oprea could be “sure to see me.” (Cue nervous butterflies again.) On the side of my screen, I could see a tiny video of myself, sitting anxiously on the carpet next to my bed, workout tools at the ready, along with tiny videos of all the other attendees, who seemed to be similarly tuning in from their bedrooms and living rooms. The screens were too small to discern if they, too, were feeling awkward.
Soon enough, I got super sweaty and forgot about the strangeness of it all.
At 6 P.M. on the dot, Oprea literally bounded sideways onto the screen, wearing American flag-print shorts in honor of the Fourth of July and greeting us with her signature enthusiasm and pep. She wasn’t a scary drill sergeant instructor like I imagine some famous trainers may be, but an instantly likable, extremely energetic goofball, jumping and down on screen and pumping her arms to rally the group. I instinctively laughed, and quickly forgot about the oddness of this unconventional situation.
Today’s class, Oprea then explained, would be a full-body Tabata workout—20 seconds of high-intensity effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times for a four-minute long burst of exercise. The class would be comprised of various four-minute bursts that together target nearly every major muscle group. Oprea turned on an early 2000’s-inspired hip-hop/R&B playlist (think: Nelly and Ginuwine), and we started with a quick cardio warm-up of jumping jacks, high knees, and butt kicks, which got me sweaty within minutes.
We followed Oprea through a 50-minute high-intensity workout, during which she gave feedback in real time.
Post warm-up, we dove right into our first Tabata round, a grueling set of one-legged lunge jumps. I consider myself to be a generally fit person, but something about those lunges set my quads on fire in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time, and the fire remained lit the rest of class.
Oprea explained each exercise by demo’ing it for us beforehand, and she also talked to us throughout the Tabata rounds, giving cues and tips for proper form as we moved through a series of arm, core, glute, and leg moves, including push-ups, one-legged glute bridges, squat pulses, sumo squats, crunches, an especially brutal core exercise that she dubs “butterfly pulses,” and tricep extensions.
The fast pace of the class, and the live encouragement and feedback from Oprea—she addressed each person by name a couple of times throughout class, giving helpful, specific notes like, "Jenny, widen your stance on those squats," or doling out compliments on good form—made this feel very similar to the experience of an in-person class at a boutique studio. And despite the intensity, it was also just plain fun. During a particularly rough squat sequence, Oprea told us to “dance it out” with our upper bodies to distract us. The collective, obedient boogey-ing that followed cracked me up.
Because I knew in the back of my mind that I was constantly on camera, I was also much more motivated to keep pushing through the burn than if I’d been doing this same workout off an app or from a pre-recorded YouTube video, where no one would witness my mid-squat water break.
Toward the end of class, we did a descending push-up and shoulder press challenge where we started at 10 reps of each exercise, and worked our way down, rep-by-rep, to just one rep of each. By the end of this, the burn in my shoulders was on par with the burn in my butt and legs.
The class concluded with 10 minutes of stretching and chatting, where Oprea invited us to ask any health/fitness-related questions. No one had any burning inquiries (maybe, like me, they were all too tired to speak?), so Oprea instead told us about her Fourth of July plans and gave details on future classes.
I exited the class tired but proud, prematurely sore, and ready for a shower, which, conveniently, was two steps away.
After reflecting on my experience, I can see several big advantages to virtual training, along with a few drawbacks.
As cheesy as it may sound, what I enjoyed the most about the class that it expanded my definition of what is possible. As I wrote (OK, griped) before, I’m really not into the whole at-home workout thing, but the virtual classes showed me that a) it’s possible and b) not only that, but it can be fun and effective, too. I’m not saying that I’m going to be doing Tabata classes in my bedroom every night now, but I do have a newfound appreciation for what can be accomplished with limited space and equipment, as long as you have the right attitude, proper motivation, and quality instruction.
There are other major perks to virtual training, including time saved (I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes trekking to and from the gym), money saved (a semi-private training session at my local gym would have cost me upwards of $ 50, compared to the $ 42.50 Oprea charges per session) and convenience (what can be easier than working out from your living room?!). And unlike other forms of virtual fitness—like apps or pre-recorded videos—you get personalized encouragement and feedback from a real person on the other end of your screen.
All that said, there are a few drawbacks to consider. Although a virtual trainer can watch your form and give live feedback, they (obviously) can’t physically adjust you, which can be a super helpful way to learn proper form, especially if you’re a fitness newbie who may not yet understand the more technical verbal cues—like “tilt your pelvic floor” or “tuck your tailbone.” Also, depending on the quality of your tech set-up, it may be difficult for a trainer to notice smaller hiccups in your form that someone in person might catch more readily. Lastly, working out live with a personal trainer will likely be pricier than using a non-interactive app. After all, you are getting their time, attention, and personalized expertise.
If you’re interested in virtual training, there are a few things you should consider before booking your first session. First and foremost, do your research on the trainer.
You always want to make sure you're signing up for sessions with a reputable pro. There are lots of “fitness experts” out there, but not everyone has had formal training, which covers important things like injury prevention, exercise modifications, and safe technique. Look for someone who carries a certification from a large reputable organizations such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association, American Council on Exercise, National Strength and Conditioning Association, or the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Second, consider your goals and reasons for wanting a virtual personal trainer. Do you want to learn how to do specific exercises or new workout formats, like Tabata or HIIT? Are you looking for direct feedback on your form? Or perhaps you’re seeking the motivation and encouragement of a personal cheerleader? Whatever your reason, keep that in mind as you’re evaluating potential trainers to determine whose experience and approach to fitness may be right for you.
Lastly, think about the space that you have available at home, and evaluate if it’s actually feasible for you to work out there on the reg. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my session with Oprea, if I were to do it again, I’d opt for a different set-up that allowed more space, perhaps by pushing aside the furniture in my living room or setting up a mini station on my balcony. My bedroom floor, comfy as the carpet may be, was a wee bit cramped.
Here are a few resources where you can learn more.
If you’re interested in Oprea’s classes—they’re held Mondays at 6 P.M. CST—check out her website for more info and registration details.