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How to increase your virtual presence by offering fitness classes remotely.

Community recreation centers are committed to serving their members inside and out to ensure they can maintain healthy lives. 

To achieve this, many facilities started offering remote classes in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. One of those facilities was the Parker Colorado Parks and Recreation Center in Parker, Colorado. 

“We have tried to bring a well-rounded schedule to our virtual group fitness platform and offer something for almost everybody,” said Todd Panik, the recreation supervisor of fitness and wellness. “There are strength classes, HIIT classes, cardio classes, dance classes, mind/body classes and even some senior-focused classes. The only thing we weren’t able to add were aqua and cycle classes, even though we did try.”

Prior to Parker Colorado Parks and Rec going virtual, many classes had bodyweight and minimal equipment exercises. According to Panik, they just had to find ways to make that the primary focus in a class, not knowing what equipment people had available at home. “Our instructors have done a great job getting creative with exercises and using common household items to supplement standard gym equipment,” he said. 

Having the right instructors can make or break your members’ experience with remote classes. In order to make this offering successful, your facility should focus on finding an instructor who can easily translate to virtual and maintain their enthusiasm and effort. 

“So many instructors thrive on the patron interaction and large class numbers and use that as their motivation,” said Panik. “To do a complete 180 and be alone teaching to a computer — many times without music and where you can’t see the participants easily — is almost like losing one of your senses. You have to go off of instinct, and reenforce verbal cuing and communication to ensure participants are performing the exercises safely and effectively.”

Additionally, it is important your instructors are cognizant of camera angles, lighting, sound and equipment to ensure participants are able to follow along and participate to the best of their ability. While offering classes remotely is an adjustment for both instructors and members, it’s important to provide them now more than ever. 

Shalen Scheltgen, the YMCA 360 talent and content director for the Greater Wichita YMCA with locations throughout Kansas, said before COVID-19 people already had a desire for virtual options of what they enjoyed at the Y. “Their lives are busy,” she said. “So now it’s an expectation. Members have figured out how to make-do at home and how to fit in a video class when it works for them. It’s no longer a perk; it’s a necessity.”

The Greater Wichita Ys offer their remote classes through YMCA 360. During the Y’s strategic planning last year, they decided there was a need to increase their virtual presence and began filming content in November 2019. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, the Y decided to put their content on a website that is free and open to everyone. 

“The response was amazing,” said Scheltgen. “We’ve had over 10 million pageviews. Our goal is to create the full breadth of what the Y offers: fitness, Group X, youth sports, nutrition, community development, chronic disease support, etc. We have banded together with several other large YMCAs and continue to add more associations to our project. YMCA 360 launched more content in an app and a web channel in December 2020.”

Taking pre-existing classes and offering them online allows members to continue their fitness routine when they can’t make it into your facility, and stay connected to their friends and favorite instructors. 

In addition to reaching current members, Parker Colorado Parks and Rec has been able to connect with other people in the community who weren’t members or who felt uncomfortable coming to a recreation center previously. Panik said they have even had participants from out-of-state participate in some of their virtual offerings.

2020 was an interesting year that created the perfect environment to introduce remote fitness into the community recreation industry and increase virtual presence. It provided new platforms for programming and the ability to stay connected with members.

“We’ve proven we don’t need to be in-person to provide a service to our patrons, and we’re just as valuable virtually as we are in the studio,” said Panik. “The virtual group fitness classes have made us step up our game and the patrons who utilize it definitely see that, appreciate it and know we will continue to be there for them. The virtual platform is something I anticipate keeping around for a long time to come.” 

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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