6 ways to pick the right online exercise class

These days, just about any fitness class that can be done in a gym, can also be done from home. Like regular exercise classes, at-home classes are led by a trained instructor. And there may even be an option to join a live group class, for those who don’t want to miss out on the fun of working out with others.

The difference between being at home versus being in person? The convenience. The classes can be streamed whenever you’re ready to work out. Like in-person classes, online fitness classes may be a good way to get or stay physically active, no matter what the reason is for staying home, a recent study found.1 It’s also possible to get the same bone-and-muscle building benefits of exercise from home, notes Bahram Arjmandi, Ph.D., director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

However, sorting through all the types of live and prerecorded classes can be a little overwhelming. People want a class that meets their expectations, physical needs and abilities, but what’s the best way to pick the right one? Here are 6 things to keep in mind when going through the options and trying classes out.

1. Start with vetted programs

One easy place to begin the search is at a local gym. Many offer online classes. It’s also worth looking into some trustworthy national organizations, including:

  • Medicare. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer online fitness programs as part of the plan. 
  • The National Institute on Aging. They have a playlist of strength and balance classes.

UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members with Renew Active can download the UnitedHealthcare® app to find a gym, online fitness location and more.

2. Do a little homework

If the class isn’t from a familiar organization, it can sometimes be tough to know if it’s legitimate. A few things to check:

  • Recommendations. Ask friends and family for their suggestions, says Sivan Fagan, a certified personal trainer. It’s possible that those friends and family members have already done some research or tried a few classes, Fagan says. 
  • Reviews. Look online for reviews about the class and the instructor, to see if the class is safe and effective, Fagan says.
  • Credentials. Choose an instructor who has credentials, such as a fitness training certification. “That will show that they know what they’re doing,” Fagan notes. Chances are, if the online program is through a local gym or a Medicare Advantage plan, the instructors will be certified — and the classes may be safer for all levels of fitness.

3. Consider the type of class

Online fitness classes don’t all follow the same format. Before choosing one, think about the setup that might fit your needs best. For example, people who want a social experience might go for a live group class where all the participants can see each other. 

Those who decide to take a live group class should try to find one with just a few other people, suggests Fagan. “It’s important to make sure the instructor sees you,” she says, so that the exercises can be done safely.  

Already know the moves and feel comfortable doing them? Then a prerecorded class should be fine. 

Just don’t forget to choose activities you enjoy as you’re more likely to stick with them, says Fagan. But also keep an open mind, she adds. You might find that you love hip-hop dance classes after doing one or two. 

4. Take it slow

For those who are new to exercising or new to a particular type of workout, it may be a good idea to start at the beginner level. Usually, the level will appear in the class description. Fagan recommends bypassing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. Those involve a lot of jumping and quick, intense moves. 

Most online classes and videos will offer modified versions of every move. But if not, and if an exercise doesn’t feel right or is causing pain, don’t do it. When a class is full of these types of moves, it’s probably best to look for another option.

5. Put it on a large screen

When working out, the bigger the screen, the better. It may be better to use a laptop or TV than a smartphone. That way, it’s easier to see what the instructor is doing from a few feet away. It also means that the screen will stay at eye level while you are doing standing exercises or cardio.

6. Build in prep time

Treat an online class the same as an in-person workout. Show up to class early to make sure the technology is working on your end and theirs. And make sure to round up any necessary gear that may be needed. 

A good instructor should include a warmup and cooldown during the class, Fagan says. But doing them on your own may be a good idea as well. Dynamic stretches, such as marching in place and doing arm circles, can warm up muscles and help protect joints before a workout.2 After exercising, walk for 2 minutes, suggests Fagan. 

Before starting any type of exercise, online or in person, check with a primary care provider, says Arjmandi. Then you’ll be ready to begin this new journey. You may find that online workouts become an important part of your life.

Workout your way. Already a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage member with Renew Active? Sign in to your plan website to explore all your fitness program has to offer including a free gym membership, on-demand workout videos and live streaming fitness classes, social activities and more.

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