A guest blog in which Powerhoop share some of their top tips for delivering great online classes.

While gyms and other group exercise venues must close during lockdown, or class numbers are limited to ensure venues are covid-secure during any relaxation of the rules, research suggests that online classes, or a blend of online and face to face, will continue as a popular option.

Holding live online classes is proving to be a great solution to the obstacles of time, distance and public health. Technical snags and small spaces can easily be overcome with practice and know-how. But is it possible to create a great atmosphere in someone else’s living room, and provide coaching on a small screen?

Powerhoop instructors have proven that the answer is yes. Taunton instructor Dianne Trower shares her secrets for successful classes:

Make technology your friend

My fitness journey started in the early 1990s after I set foot in my first Step class. Since 1995 I’ve taught a range of different programmes, and became a devoted Powerhoop instructor and trainer in 2013. During the COVID-19 health crisis of 2020, I realised that I was going to have to step up my game and master the art of teaching online.

I was quite relieved to find that I didn’t have to be a technology whiz. It’s a learning curve and might take you out of your comfort zone. However, learning new skills will help you to build your business and grow as an instructor.

Start by creating an account with a meeting platform such as Zoom, which allows you to view and interact with your class. The free version has some limitations, so I pay approximately £15/month for their Pro package.

Next, streamline your booking process. I use email and text, but some instructors sign up for a service such as Teamup. With Teamup, you pay for a monthly membership (currently £49). Your client sets up a free account, books a time slot, pays for the course and clicks on a provided Zoom link when it’s time to start the class. TeamUp also has a referral programme that will encourage your participants to refer new customers. You can get a 45-day free trial period for a professional TeamUp account at this link: https://goteamup.com/ref/7FFJF8/

Set up your space

Although you can technically use a phone camera, it’s greatly preferable to use a laptop or tablet with a webcam. You want to be able to see your class members and provide coaching.

Invest in a sturdy tripod with a phone or tablet holder, such as this one for under £30. The orientation should be horizontal (wide). Keep the lens pointed at your face, or slightly above. Tilt the camera so that your entire body is in view, without excess space at the top or bottom. Make sure your device is connected to a power supply and set to “airplane” mode with the WiFi on.

If you are filming indoors, remove personal and potentially distracting objects from the background, such as a purse, clothing, photos or toys.

Focus on lighting

Good lighting is key to a quality video session. Try to have a strong light facing you, and avoid overhead lighting or back-lighting. If you must have a window behind you, close the curtains and point a strong video light or pedestal lamp at your face. Filming in your garden may provide ideal lighting on overcast days. Just make sure your WiFi signal is strong and your neighbour isn’t mowing the lawn!

Set up your sound

You will want to play your music from the same filming device, rather than using a separate music player. Here are video instructions for setting up music on Zoom.

To make yourself heard clearly, you’ll want to invest in a mic system. Sound Dynamics, which offers custom packages for fitness instructors, recommended a specific lead to work with my MacBook and microphone. This has greatly improved the sound quality.

Be sure to arrange a test run with one or more friends, to get feedback on sound, lighting, background and framing. Test your system before every event. Technical issues during class can be embarrassing and look unprofessional. However, hiccups do happen and are easily overcome with some good humour.

Make it personal

Before class, take a few minutes to look over the class register and then open the session five minutes early. Greet each participant when they arrive: “Julie, great to see you!” “Hi Sue, glad you could make it!” “Helen, nice to have you back! It looks like you have been enjoying this lovely weather.” For your clients, this will make all the difference between taking an online class and watching something you’ve pre-recorded.

Praise and acknowledge the participants for taking time out of their day to focus on their health and fitness. Do a verbal screening for any updates/changes in their health/injuries and to ensure that their exercise space is obstacle-free and safe to proceed. A little chit-chat is great – just make sure you start the workout “on the dot.”

Next, recommend that class members “pin” you on the screen so they see only you, but you can see all of them. Then make sure all mics are muted except your own.

Tweak your technique

Teaching online is a little different than teaching in a venue, so you might need to adapt your routines. Remember that your class members are exercising in a tight space while squinting at a small screen. New class members may have trouble picking up on your visual cueing, and will appreciate extra reps so they can adjust to changes. You don’t want to change to the next move while they are still figuring out how to grapevine without stepping on the dog!

For this reason, verbal cueing takes on extra importance.  After the first track, ask for a thumbs up or thumbs down if they can hear your voice over the music. Make incremental adjustments to the volume if needed, and check with them again after the second track.

During the class, be sure to give your participants encouragement and feedback. “You guys are looking good!” “That was a challenging move, I’m pleased by the way you’re keeping up!” This really does make a difference. If you want to get a little closer to the screen and give individual feedback and encouragement, just instruct them to carry on while you do so.

At the end of the session: Un-mute all microphones, praise their progress and ask how they liked the class. Tell them you look forward to seeing them next time, and invite them to refer their friends by sharing your booking details. Paste the link or contact info into the group chat for their convenience.

Remember to relax and have fun. Nothing beats teaching in person, but it won’t take long to build up your confidence. After a few sessions you’ll feel just as comfortable teaching online as you do on location.