Donavan Cox, co-founder of gymGo, does a virtual workout with client Megan Crouse at her home via her television and computer. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
Megan Crouse stood on a black yoga mat spread across the floor of her family room in Monrovia and pushed two 5-pound dumbbells above her head intoan overhead press.
Personal trainer Donavan Cox chided Crouse a bit from the flat-screen television on the wall in front of her. Cox, who was directing Crouse from his home studio in Columbia about 35 miles away, noticed that the exercise seemed a little too easy for his client.
"Those weights are too light," he said, telling her she needed to use heavier ones for the next set.
Cox is training more of his clients this way — via live, two-way video streaming. The concept is a growing one in the fitness world, where both trainers and clients are looking for more flexible and convenient workouts. In May, Cox and a partner launched the company gymGO, based in Columbia, to bring live workouts to more people's homes.
The 600 subscribers who have signed up for the service so far have virtual access to dozens of live trainers around the world. They simply log into their accounts and choose a trainer and time to work out. They can use their laptops, high-tech televisions or even their tablets and smartphones to connect with the trainers.
At-home fitness is nothing new. People have long done aerobics, Pilates and boot camp from their basements and bedrooms. The '80s introduced leg warmers and VHS aerobics tapes, and the '90s Tae Bo workout DVDs. More recently, cablecompanies have brought on-demand workouts that subscribers could access at any time of the day with a couple of clicks of the remote control.
But all these incarnations of the home workout involved mostly previously recorded routines. gymGO and companies like MyBOD Wellness, Daily Burn, Peloton and Gixo are bringing live workouts to people, including many in Maryland, that they say are more motivating and give the feel of being at a gym without actually having to go to one.
"There is human interaction and accountability because it is live," said Cox, who has worked as a personal trainer for 24 years, including more than a decade training Baltimore police officers. "You have somebody pushing you and making sure you are working out hard enough and doing the exercises correctly."
Live training is also more convenient for both the trainer and the client, who don't have to get into the car and drive to a gym, Cox said. Trainers can fit in more clients and can charge less because they don't have the overhead costs of a gym. A one-on-one session at gymGO costs $28.50, compared to $60 or more at some gyms. You can also work out in a group session through gymGO; one costs $15.99.
Crouse learned about gymGO when her company did some branding for them and has kept up the training even after the business relationship ended. The 28-year-old, who works in advertising and marketing, has a 2-year-old son and can squeeze in an intense 30-minute workout before he wakes up. She works out mostly with Cox because he doesn't let her slack, she said.
"It was really hard to get to the gym after my son was born," she said. "Now I don't have to drive to the gym and come back. I can just stay home and work out. And for 30 minutes, you're working hard."
Christie Hargrave, who lives in Hanover, works out twice a week with a trainer using gymGO. The 54-year-old, who works in commercial construction, does strength training with the trainer, who is based in Los Angeles. She then does cardio five days a week on her own. Hargrave is not a big fan of the gym, so she never really felt motivated to go. Now, she looks forward to her gymGO workouts.
"It is just so lovely. You can do it at your convenience," Hargrave said. "I just have to go to the gym in my basement."
Joy Keller, a personal trainer and editor of a fitness journal produced by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, said that live virtual fitness started in the grass roots with individual trainers using Skype or other live apps to offer people workouts. The tech platforms used to air these workouts have only become larger and more sophisticated. gymGO uses a platform developed by engineers who once worked for Advertising.com.
"It's convenient to work out from anywhere as long as you have a good internet connection or plenty of data on your smartphone," Keller said.
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But Keller, who is also a personal trainer, said she wouldn't recommend the live workouts for those new to exercising.
"Beginners are the hardest people to teach," Keller said. "You really have to watch them and give them instruction. A beginner would need to get a good base with a personal trainer one-on-one and then they can do virtual."
Most people also don't have all the weights and other workout equipment that a gym does. But the fitness trainers said you can get just as good a burn doing exercises that use a person's own body weight. The trainers also said they can still correct form virtually. Those who use gymGO can connect their heart rate monitors so that they pop up on the screen and the trainers can track how hard they are working out.
Marylanders are turning to other companies like the Daily Burn, a New York-based company that offers live classes streamed from a studio in SoHo every day at 9 a.m., for virtual workouts as well.
A few thousand people a day work out virtually with the instructor and class doing the exercises from the studio, said CEO Tricia Han. A new instructor teaches each day and the classes are a mix of strength-training, cardio and body building.
There is a $14.95 membership fee to take the classes and members also get access to a library of workouts. The company is looking at whether to add more live sessions.
"We see people are really engaged," Han said. "There is something about live workouts that is compelling and motivating to people."
Baltimore resident Kathy Barbour uses the Daily Burn five days a week. She is taking care of elderly parents and finds it hard to leave the house for a gym. In addition, she is not the biggest fan of private gyms, preferring to work out at home. The Daily Burn offered her more of a variety of workouts, she said.
"I have an in-home gym, but using that treadmill is boring as all get-out," said the 47-year-old, who edits legal documents for a living.
"It's really hard for me to go back to the pre-recorded video because I feel like I lose that personal feel," she said.
And it's not just personal training that fitness fanatics can access live and virtually. MyBOD Wellness, out of New York,offers Pilates and yoga at $45 to 55 per 45-minute session. The going rate can be as high as $125 a session at some private studios.
Owner Denise Posnak Gaffney said the virtual workouts are also good for people who travel for work and want to keep up a fitness routine.
Peloton, also based in New York, offers live cycle classes with as many as 1,000 people participating virtually some days. Participants buy the bike and pay a monthly fee. There are 20 rides a day, the first at 5 a.m. and the last at 11:30 p.m.
The company Gixo offers live fitness classes every 30 minutes for subscription fees of $19 or $24 a month.
Representatives from the companies say that they give people the option to work out at times that work best for their schedule. Want to work out at 10 p.m. when everyone in the house is asleep? There is a workout for you.
gymGO has hired celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson as chief training officer. Peterson — who trains singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, reality star Khloe Kardashian and the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team — said he sees live virtual training as the next evolution in fitness.
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"People will be able to get a good, solid workout along with motivation from a trainer right from their homes," he said.
gymGO co-founder Cox said that with obesity hitting epidemic proportions, companies like his remove barriers for people who may be embarrassed to go to a gym because of their size or may not be mobile enough to get to a gym.
He added that he is there to make people stick to an exercise plan.
"It is easy to fall off," he said. "A trainer is like a doctor or therapist. We keep you on track."