How to choose an online exercise class that best suits you

Mental Health

With so much choice out there, how can you find an online exercise class that ticks all your boxes?

In an effort to navigate these challenging times, now, more than ever, our physical and mental health is of utmost importance. Keeping up with the government guidelines for exercise (150 minutes of exercise per week) can be a challenge when the gym is closed and outdoor space is limited.

However, studies show that sticking to these guidelines is widely proven to increase our overall wellbeing. The good news is, despite the restrictions of lockdown, we can still meet the recommended 150 minutes with the help of online initiatives such as Facebook Live, Zoom, Skype and Instagram Live.

That said, before you even begin your search, it’s worth considering the ways that different kinds of exercise can affect our bodies and minds. Sue Campbell, BACP accredited counsellor, explains: “In this time of uncertainty, our nervous system is on high alert. Know that classes such as yoga and meditation are a great option to soothe us, while high intensity classes can add to that feeling of agitation. On days when you feel like it, there are a wealth of online classes that can offer you a mini retreat from the world.”

You’ve donned your activewear and purchased an exercise mat – now what’s the next step? Here, Hannah Campbell, a qualified yoga teacher and sports psychologist, explores how to best choose a class that suits you.

What’s your intention?

Do you want to increase your fitness? Do you want to do something daily? Are you after something high intensity or just a little headspace? Do you want smaller classes where you can build a community or make friends with other class members?

Take a moment to decide why you want to exercise in the first place. Then, check out a few different instructors. Visit their social media pages or their website and see what their intentions are. Do they align with yours? Be sure to check that they hold the relevant qualifications for what they are offering. To get you started, check out the suggestions at the bottom of this article.

What do you like doing?

If you hate jumping up and down but you love a good plank, perhaps pilates is for you. If you relish a challenge and love music, dance could be the way forward. If you like the idea of movement and breath then maybe a yoga class is the best option. Take time to decide whether you want to do a bit of everything or just focus on one particular discipline.

How is your technique?

Safety is a huge factor to consider before exercising at home. Are you confident that you can follow visual and verbal guidance, or are you somebody who really relies on touch and feel? Remember that your instructor cannot have eyes on you for the whole class (even if they check on you at times). Perhaps consider getting a 1:1 session before diving into a group class. Think about how much space you have. You might need to consider moving the coffee table to one side and contemplate whether the exercise you’ve chosen suits the space you have available.

Woman stretching on a yoga mat

Are you nursing an injury?

Be mindful when you practice an online class. Not every form of exercise will be suitable for your particular injury. Be prepared to adapt exercises, to avoid further injury, when taking part in a group class. ‘Never push through pain and always rest when you need to’ say Mindful Physio duo, Bex and Julie.

Make sure to let the instructor know of any injuries you may have at present. If you are still concerned, lots of physios are offering free phone or facetime triage to assess and advise on injury. Have a look at the suggestions at the bottom of this article.

What equipment do you have access to?

Lots of the online offerings out there are all bodyweight based, and don’t require much space or any equipment. That said, you can always think outside of the box when equipment is required. Swap a pilates block for a book, a resistance band for a pair of tights, or a yoga strap for a dressing gown cord. Check with the instructor what equipment you may need. If you are using weights, be sure to observe the weight you are using versus the weight recommended. The old 20kg barbell weight may look smaller but will be considerably heavier than the giant 4kg kettlebell your instructor is demo-ing with!

How do I make the final decision?

Try a variety of classes and instructors. When you are considering your teacher, don’t be afraid of popping over an email with any of your questions. An instructor who cares for their students will be more than happy to get back to you with a heartfelt response.

Sarah, a key-worker attending online classes, said: “I found a warm and caring response on the other end of my first email.”

Some instructors are even offering free classes to all key workers or NHS staff as a way of thanking them for all their hard work. It’s worth checking whether you qualify for this before signing up. “The incredibly kind offer of free classes meant I was keen to try one ASAP. Online classes have provided the perfect balance: a space to retreat, relax, and dedicated time to stretch and strengthen. The online platform (Zoom) was easy to access quickly,” says Sarah.

Finally, be mindful of your energy levels. Know that there are many factors that can influence our usual capacity to be energetic. Never compare. You are different to your neighbour down the road and she is different to her sister’s boyfriend’s cousin, and so on. What you need at a particular point in time is very different to what others may need. Comparison is an unproductive use of your sacred energy. Honour the way your body is feeling on each day as it comes. Be mindful of this and enjoy a little movement medicine.


Don’t know where to start?

Here is a selection of tried and tested online classes from registered professionals. The kind of teachers that tell you to listen to your body rather than push on through!

Yoga and pilates:
Hannah Campbell
Christina Chung
Julie Brunton & Bex Clark
Suzie Fenn
Jen Holloway

Fitness:
Fiona Watson
Alice Hardy

Triage:
Sam Peek (Free)
Ricky Davis & Chris Lawlor (Free)
Jen Holloway (Small Fee)
Health Share Community Physio (Free)
NHS 111 (Free)

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