Personal training has evolved with technology and now offers something we never could before- Virtual Training. What is it, and how does it work? Virtual training takes advantage of our ‘wired’ society and allows personal trainers to make private lesson plans for clients without ever training them in person. Using tools such as YouTube, Kinect or other video-gaming systems, or a Webcam, a trainer can create a workout routine for a client, email or post it onto the internet and the client can follow the routine at home in privacy and on their own time. This is particularly helpful for clients who are unavailable during normal business hours, or for those who live far away from their trainer of choice. As a trainer, I personally offer this service and find mixed results- it is not my preferred means of working with a client, but it is not a waste of a client’s time and it most certainly can benefit someone dedicated to working out and improving their health.
So does virtual training work? Well, as I briefly mentioned, there are pros and cons to this type of training. On the cons list; as a client, you lose the ability to ask on-the-spot questions and minor (or major!) form corrections cannot be fixed- meaning there is more chance for you to hurt yourself. For the trainer; it may become very difficult to find the proper way to motivate a client with whom you can not interact. But, new studies are showing the pros seem to be outweighing the cons.
This article from the National Counsel on Strength and Fitness had this to say about Virtual Training:
Virtual Training Partner MotivationThe increasing presence of technology in our lives is driving more and more virtual interactions. These virtual relationships can range from social networking to education to business management to…exercise? Virtual exercise does not suggest simulation, but rather interaction with virtual trainers and engaging video activities. A recent article published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology (2011) by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) reveals that working out with a virtual partner can effectively improve motivation. This might be a potential ‘fix’ for individuals who cannot find a viable exercise partner. The study, led by Deborah Feltz, chairperson of MSU’s Department of Kinesiology, specifically investigated the Kohler effect on motivation in exercise-themed video games. The Kohler effect is essentially a description of the phenomenon seen where inferior team members in a group setting will perform better when surrounded by superior team members than they would if engaging in a given endeavor by themselves. “Our results suggest working out with virtually present, superior partners can improve motivation on exercise game tasks,” said Feltz. She explains that the incorporation of design features based on the Kohler effect could increase the ability of health video games to motivate participants to vigorous-level exercise. This would be a very beneficial development as one of the key hurdles people specify related to training attrition is a lack of motivation. Previous research has clearly and repeatedly illustrated that a workout partner increases motivation – and with a virtual partner, social anxiety and other potential issues related to traditional exercise can be averted.
As a component of the study, Feltz and her research team utilized the Eye Toy camera and PlayStation2 to measure if a virtual partner could motivate participants to exercise at greater intensities, for longer durations, or at a greater frequency over a given time period. A series of plank exercises were used and observed for nearly all 200 participants. The participants first performed a series of five plank exercises, holding each position for as long as they could without any external motivation. After a rest period, they were informed that they would have a same-sex virtual partner for the remaining trials. The virtual partner’s performance was manipulated to always be superior to the participant’s. Results showed that task persistence was significantly greater when performing the plank exercises with a more-capable virtual partner (time to failure being 24% longer on average) than when performing the same activities alone. “The fact that this effect was found with a virtual partner overcomes some of the practical obstacles of finding an optimally-matched partner to exercise with at a particular time and location,” states Feltz. It is also interesting to note that researchers have found live exercise partners to sometimes be less beneficial for enhancing motivation than one may quickly presume. Basically, individuals can become discouraged if they perceive that they are slowing their training partner down, while on the other hand, superior partners can become bored from a lack of competition/motivational-related challenge. (Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2011)