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Streaming fitness feeds next step up from exercise DVDs

| Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Wendy Bach of Hamburg, N.J., taking a fitness class using www.EMGLivefitness.com as her daughter Charlotte and dog Coco look on. EMGLivefitness
Wello.co, a streaming website, allows live one-on-one sessions with personal trainers. Credit: Wello.co

When she can't make it to the gym, Donna Grote boots up her laptop and streams a live yoga class into her Uniontown home.

She finds a quiet spot, sets up her mat and logs on to www.yogatoday.com. Point. Click. Namaste.

“I enjoy it for those times that I can't fit a class into my schedule,” she says. “It's a nice way to get instruction from a knowledgeable source while practicing at home.”

Streaming fitness can be a cheap and convenient alternative to the gym. Time-crunched commuters, stay-at-home moms or shy newbies can boot up their laptop or PC and take Pilates, yoga or step in their living room or basement. The online instructor or trainer urging them through the motions could be 1,000 miles away.

Live-streaming sites such as www.EMGlivefitness.com and www.wello.co let people take a class from a remote location. Those who can't make the live class usually can access the on-demand feature.

Wello offers live one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer or instructor. Founders Leslie Silverglide and Ann Plante, who met in business school at Stanford University, created the site after they became frustrated trying to cram an off-site workout into their busy schedules.

While they're based in California, Silverglide points out that geography is irrelevant, as they have trainers across the country who teach yoga, step, boot camp and other classes. Wello sessions start at $15 and average $20 for 30 minutes and less than $40 for 60 minutes.

Personal trainer or instructor profiles include their specialities, qualifications, even their temperament. Newbies might want to choose a trainer who is “an encourager,” while hard-core enthusiasts may opt for a “drill sergeant.”

“It's not just one-way streaming,” Silverglide says. “It's live two-way so you're actually doing the workout together. It's completely interactive. You can see each other and hear each other.

“There's just a ton of people who really hate going to the gym,” she says. “This is a completely new way to get an incredibly effective workout in the privacy of their home.”

EMG founder and CEO Joyce Wells is a professed fitness fanatic. She worked as a vice president at Citibank and most recently as a manger for Microsoft.

“Microsoft did a lot with video conferencing,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why can't I just do it with fitness and put a camera into the gym class?' ”

Wells, who lives in New Jersey, designed group classes for www.EMGlivefitness.com with the help of her former Pilates instructor, Liz Clingham. Online at EMG, Clingham teaches a live streaming Bosu class at 9:15 a.m. Fridays and a “Jersey Kick” kickboxing class 9:15 a.m. Tuesdays. Other workouts include Piloxing, which incorporates standing Pilates, boxing and dance. The classes are saved for those who want to use the on-demand option.

Wells says that EMG is unique in that they offer pay-per-view in addition to charging on a subscription basis. The cost is $5 per class.

Since the launch in May 2011, EMG now has 4,000 members.

“I consider this to be the Wild West,” Wells says. “Everybody is trying to figure out how to use video conferencing to connect people.”

Another streaming site, www.Balletbeautiful.com, offers body sculpting and cardio through a dance-based technique created by Mary Helen Bowers, a former dancer with New York City Ballet.

Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, health and wellness expert at UPMC, has taken yoga classes using the streaming format. It won't replace face-to-face workouts, she says, but it beats inertia.

“We've gone from one-on-one training to group training to, ‘OK, I've got to do this at home both for time and expense.' (It's) sort of the next step from DVDs that people used to get, even 30 years ago from Jane Fonda.”

Fernstrom says it's important to be cleared to exercise by your physician and not to bite off more than you can chew. Before they take a streaming class, beginners should learn proper technique by taking a class in the same room as an instructor who can correct bad form.

“The only downside is that people get overly ambitious and overestimate their ability,” she says. “Yoga is good for core strength but if you have a very weak core you've got to take introductory yoga.”

Tim Schilcher, president of Myofitness personal training in Cheswick, says he prefers the video format, since people don't have to adhere to the schedule of a live-streaming workout. Latecomers might take shortcuts, he says.

“If someone knows there's going to be a live video feed at 8 o'clock and they miss the warm-up, they're going to pull muscles and strain themselves.”

William Loeffler is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wloeffler@tribweb.com or 412-320-7986.

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