My Pilates-via-Skype instructor, Jennifer Pilates, looked so much like an exercise DVD playing in my computer that I had an urge to stop for a drink of water. Exercise instructors on DVD never know when you cheat -- but Pilates could see me, so I stayed put.
"Curl up a little farther," she urged from her Scottsdale, Arizona, Pilates studio. I did as she asked, dutifully tucking first one, then the other knee toward alternating armpits as I lay on the floor of my apartment in Anchorage, Alaska.
"Can you feel that in your abs?"
Google "Skype exercise class" and you’ll come up with a handful of fitness or dance studios that offer virtual classes. But there was nothing virtual about the burn in my abs as I extended my legs, then brought them back in toward my body, under my instructor’s tutelage.
Offering Pilates classes via Skype "was a fluke of an idea," Pilates said, once the class was over. It started when she was closing her Boston and Cape Cod studios as she relocated to Arizona, but wanted to bring clients with her -- online, if not in person. Skype became the perfect venue for both one-on-one sessions and teleconferenced small-group workouts. "Clients can see one another and interact just as if [they were] attending an in-studio class," Pilates explained. "There is the same encouragement and great workout."
"The transition from in-studio to the online studio came very naturally for both clients and myself," Pilates said. I’d been expecting a few hiccups in the technology, but aside from making sure we could see each other at first, then repositioning webcams as we moved from standing positions to lying on the floor, it was just a normal video call.
Pilates still has her clients back East, but her client list has also expanded all over the world. People Skype her for workouts from home, from the beach, from their hotel rooms -- and the flexibility of the wired world means she can deal with them from almost anywhere, even if she’s traveling herself.
There are plenty of psuedo-interactive ways to work out online, including exercise-video-on-demand services like YogaDownload.com, WorkoutsOnDemand.com and The Gymbox. But Skype exercise classes give you the variety, inventiveness and accountability of a real human on the other end of the line, someone who’s working to keep your sweat session both interesting and effective. You never get bored with the same old routine, or get tempted to fast-forward through an especially challenging part that you've never liked. As Pilates puts it, "You don’t know what to hate because you don’t know what’s going to happen."
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