Benefits and Drawbacks of Online Fitness Training

mobile fitness
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Online training is one of the fastest growing segments of the fitness industry. In fact, according to Flurry Insights, health and fitness app usage rose 330% between 2014 and 2017, and the app category grew 9% between 2016 and 2017.

A 2015 study performed by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine found that more than half of all smartphone users had downloaded a fitness or health app. That's a lot of downloads. If you're considering joining the online fitness community, consider these benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits and Drawbacks

It's not just fitness apps that are growing in popularity. Streaming programs, such as Grokker and Crunch Live, are popping up all over the internet, and full-length fitness videos abound on YouTube. Like any training format, there are pros and cons to consider when deciding if it is right for you.

  • Easy access

  • Less expensive

  • Broad class offerings

  • More private than the gym

  • Might be overwhelming for some

  • No group motivation

  • No in-person professional guidance


There are many reasons that online training may work for you.

Easy Access

As long as you have access to pre-downloaded videos and/or a WiFi connection for streaming videos, you can workout wherever you are. And instead of being locked into a specific class schedule at your local gym, online programs are almost all offered at your convenience. 

Less Expensive

Most online fitness programs are much less expensive than similar offline programs—most range in cost between $10 and $20 per month. This is due in part to lower overhead expenses, and in part to the wider audience and the greater opportunity to sell programs to more people. In fact, many programs are offered free of charge, particularly if you're not hoping for personalized, one-on-one attention.

Broad Offerings

You're no longer required to take a class from the one Pilates instructor at your local studio. When you head online, you have Pilates instructors from around the globe, all ready and willing to help you master your favorite moves. Same goes for different types of exercise. Just because you don't have a Krav Maga class in your area doesn't mean you can't go online to find a Krav Maga training program led by certified instructors.

Provides Privacy

If you're new to exercise, you aren't sure what types of exercise you like, or you feel intimidated when walking into a new workout environment, online training is an excellent reprieve from the traditional gym or studio. You can test different programs from the comfort of your living room, learning the basics before taking your practice into the "real world" of clubs and gyms.


All this growth is incredibly positive—it provides health and fitness resources to the general consumer wherever they happen to be, without requiring access to a gym or fitness studio. But it's not without problems.

Can Be Overwhelming

The sheer volume of online fitness possibilities can feel paralyzing. If you think it's hard to choose which gym to go to in your neighborhood, it's going to be a lot harder to choose which YouTube channel to follow when sifting through the millions of results you return after searching "fitness videos."

May Be Less Motivating

The first thing to think about when considering an online fitness program is "know thyself." If you struggle with self-motivation, you don't like exercising at home, and you prefer a social workout environment, online fitness may not be for you.

No In-Person Guidance

Very few online fitness programs enable the instructor to see you, check your form, and offer modifications or corrections based on your performance. This means you could inadvertently perform exercises incorrectly, or even unsafely, without knowing it. This is particularly concerning for beginners and those recovering from injuries, as they're more likely to perform exercises incorrectly.

There's one other major drawback for online fitness: nobody's there to check your form.

How to Get Started

If you've decided online training is worth giving a whirl, here's what you should think about as you get started. 

Choose a Program

This is the most important step. If you're hoping for more one-on-one, personalized help, look into workout programs led by a specific trainer that is held for a certain number of weeks or months. If, however, you require less personal feedback, organizations like Fitness Blender and Nerd Fitness offer a number of pre-packaged programs you can work your way through on your own terms.

If you're more free-flowing and simply want high-quality, full-length workout programs you can access and stream, Grokker, Sufferfest, or YogaDownload may be a better fit. And finally, if you're more interested in short video clips and exercise tutorials, you can't beat YouTube's search for its sheer volume of responses.

In selecting the best program for you, seek out referrals. It never hurts to see what other people are saying about the program you're considering. Other people's experiences can give you a good glimpse into what you can expect as well.

Once you've narrowed your search to a few key programs, don't hesitate to ask each company or trainer about the program's benefits, personalization, ongoing motivation and feedback, and anything else you're curious about.

Be sure to vet the credentials of the YouTubers you watch (or anyone you follow, for that matter)—it's possible for anyone to upload a video and pretend to be an expert without sufficient training or experience.

Determine Your Budget

You can pay almost anything for anything. While many streaming services are less than $20 per month, more personalized programs and one-on-one personal training services are going to cost more. Decide what you're comfortable spending before you start looking at options. As with much in life, you often get what you pay for. If you're hoping for higher-quality resources and care, you might want to ante up a reasonable budget.

And don't forget to take advantage of free trials and programs. Most online fitness venues and trainers know that the best way to land new clients is to let them test-drive their services. As such, there are lots of free and discounted resources available. Go ahead and take advantage of them.

Sign Up

Go ahead and let the rubber hit the road. Make a decision and give an online program a try. Very few programs require a long-term commitment, so you're almost always welcome to cancel if you decide it's not a good fit for you.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kesiraju L, Vogels T. Health & Fitness App Users Are Going the Distance with Record-High Engagement. Flurry Insights. 2017.

  2. Krebs P, Duncan DT. Health App Use Among US Mobile Phone Owners: A National Survey. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2015;3(4):e101. doi:10.2196/mhealth.4924

  3. Klossner D. 2013-2014 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook. Indianapolis, IN: The National Collegiate Athletic Association; 2013.

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.