Small Business

Virtual fitness classes threaten gyms

A trend towards Australians watching online exercise classes has thrown fitness franchises a curve ball.

Sydney yoga instructor Jennifer Fisher sits calmly on her mat, waiting for her students to turn up to class. The only difference is that she's sitting in front of cameras, at home.

Fisher is co-founder of Mr & Mrs Pose. She turned to technology partly because she couldn't afford to lease a yoga studio, and also to reach those unable to attend a class.

Charni has introduced belly dancing to more than 5000 over the internet.
Charni has introduced belly dancing to more than 5000 over the internet. 

She's one of a growing number of people working in the fitness industry capitalising on the trend toward virtual exercise. While it's impossible to know how many Australians are attending virtual classes, there are plenty of examples of fitness gurus making money from them.

Fisher explains that each person logs on at the set class time to join a live session. Alternatively, classes can be accessed via a recorded version if you can't even make the virtual session.

“Yoga as a discipline is so hot right now that you've got to think outside the square to stand out. Offering interactive online classes has been a huge success for us.”

Fisher offers up to 15 live interactive classes via Citrix GoToMeeting, and now earns around 70 per cent of her income via her online classes. She charges up to $19.95, with payment made via direct debit.


She's not alone.

Sydney-based Nat Carter is one of the new-age fitness instructors garnering a following online. She runs four-minute workouts delivered via YouTube and runs personal training classes via She worked in the traditional fitness industry for more than a decade.

“It's just so much easier to record and put my class on YouTube these days, which I do in addition to face-to-face workouts with clients. It's created a much larger online following, which in turn grows my client base. It also allows people to see what I'm all about before hiring me.”

Carter hopes to monetise virtual classes in the near future. “I hope that virtual fitness classes revolutionise what it means to get fit. This is where our industry is heading. It's a huge fitness trend.”

The pair are among those in the Australian fitness industry looking for new ways to monetise fitness online.

IBISWorld's Gyms and Fitness Centres Market Research Report, released in January this year, reports that the overall structure of the gyms and fitness centres industry has changed over the past five years, steering the industry towards healthy growth.

Yoga as a discipline is so hot right now that you've got to think outside the square to stand out.

While spending on fitness centres plunged at the onset of the global financial crisis, spending on fitness has since increased. Industry growth has been largely stimulated by the advent of budget 24-hour gym chains, which have popped up all over the country over the past five years. These factors have contributed to the industry being worth an estimated $1.31 billion in 2013/14 after annualised growth of 4.8 per cent over the past five years.

“As the health of Australians becomes more complex, particularly as the incidence of physical inactivity-related and obesity disease increases and the population ages, the capacity for the fitness workforce to be able to contribute to the management of health issues is growing,” according to the IBISWorld report.

However, centres face particularly high equipment expenses for exercises like weight lifting, resistance training and cardiovascular training equipment, it adds. However, these costs drop considerably if you take your fitness offering online, of course.

Offering online classes has worked wonders for Melbourne belly dancing instructor Charni. She's says she has introduced belly dancing to more than 5000 people around the world from her home studio in Melbourne since launching three years ago, via

“I break down the movements in a way that is clear to understand, and the students can rewind to practice as often as they wish, without the fear of holding up the rest of the class.”

She also provides unlimited email support and a closed Facebook group so students can talk to each other. “Members often post questions or a video for others to comment on, which gives a wonderful sense of community.”

Virtual classes are even hitting the fitness chains.

In a bid to accommodate members unable to attend scheduled classes, Goodlife Health Clubs recently began offering fitness classes accessed via a touch screen within three of its 68 clubs across the country. This allows members to turn up any time, set their track and begin working out in the designated studio.

Operations manager Ross Thursby says early indications are good, with 300 plays a month recorded. Virtual classes will be rolled out to a further five clubs, he says.

Virtual classes are no threat to fitness clubs, he says.

“If anything, I think it grows the overall market. People can start activities in a way that they're comfortable with, and that may inadvertently lead them to our door.”

However, not everyone agrees. Virtual exercise is great in theory, but terrible in reality because it doesn't come with motivation and accountability, according to Scott Hunt.

He owns Queensland's largest personal training company, Fitness Enhancement, which he's just franchised Australia-wide.

“Not to mention the dangers of being given personal advice from a person who has never met you. The fitness industry has already been there, with the likes of Aerobics Oz Style on TV in the morning, which was axed many years ago due to bad ratings. Then there's the VHS exercise tapes and now DVDs, which are rarely watched to the extent that people actually get results.

“Workouts on your computer may add a few nifty bits of technology, but it doesn't solve the underlying flaws of the idea, and will ultimately see 99 per cent of viewers fail,” Hunt says.