By Elizabeth Wasserman
“This is for people who want to be held accountable for exercising but they don’t want you standing next to them when they work out,” Fisher says.
As the New Year looms, many people recommit to getting fit. You may be considering a new fitness routine to battle the bulge from holiday eating or to fulfill a long-awaited resolution. An online fitness program is the most convenient option for those who have busy schedules, are reluctant to exercise in public, or wish to avoid the high cost of gym memberships. In fact, the number of Certified Fitness Trainers working with clients online doubled between 2004 and 2005 and is expected to nearly double again this year, according to Sam Herschberg, director of business development for the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSAonline.com).
From downloadable aerobic routines to sites that let you track your progress toward fitness goals, the Internet offers ways to help you fit into a bikini, train for a marathon, or just improve your health. Here’s how to find the best workout with “virtual” trainers on the Net:
Step #1: Check out credentials
Before hiring an online personal trainer, or subscribing to an Internet exercise service, make sure that the people designing the program have experience — you don’t want to end up injuring yourself. The organizations that certify personal trainers include the ISSA, the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org), the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org), the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (afaa.com) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (nsca-lift.org). Look for one of their seals on any personal training web site. Some sites, like the ACSM, offer free look-up of certified trainers by zip code or city.
Step #2: Don’t lift more than you can handle
Whether your goal is to fit into those old jeans or to run a marathon, make sure the site provides a good fit with your objectives. Case in point: Marathon Rookie (marathonrookie.com) is great for new runners, versus being coached by Marie Murphy, who represented Ireland in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and runs MBS Fitness (mbsfitness.com). Similarly, if you’ve never lifted weights before, start out with the Women’s Exercise Network’s (womensexercisenetwork.com) routine for beginners instead of BodyBuilding4u (bodybuilding4u.com).
Step #3: Check the format
Online exercise programs are delivered in formats ranging from text to high-production video clips. Jumpy Bumpy (jumpybumpy.com) lets subscribers download original aerobic routines on their computer for $11 per month. A high-speed or broadband Internet service is required. There are a variety of podcasts about Yoga at Yoga Podcast (yogapodcast.net). To watch them, you will need a video iPod, laptop, or a similar device with a media player. Or for step aerobic moves, Alexey’s StepCenter (stepcenter.com) is optimized to work with a variety of web browsers so that you can choreograph your own step routines.
Step #4: Use it to lose it
If you’re paying $50 to $100 an hour to meet face-to-face with a trainer, that can provide all the motivation you need to stick to a diet and exercise routine. Online personal training sites can provide some of that same accountability. For example, some sites require you to log in how many repetitions you completed and when. Gym America (gymamerica.com) offers tracking programs to help you stick to a personalized exercise and nutrition plans and monitor your progress. My Exercise Plan (myexerciseplan.com), a site developed by Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, provides a 35-page personal exercise plan after you fill out an online assessment. The site also makes you follow up by logging what you have accomplished and sends a daily workout plan via email each morning. “We have some very creative tools to help you stick with your exercise routine,” says Cotton.
Even with the help of an online fitness program or trainer, doing the work, experts say, is still the only way to get results — unfortunately our computers can’t do everything for us.
Elizabeth Wasserman is a freelance writer and editor based in Fairfax, Va. She writes for a variety of publications including Congressional Quarterly, Inc magazine, and she edits the online publication CIO Strategy Center.