Focusing on your health and fitness is an investment in your time, energy, and money. And just like organic vegetables and well-constructed gear, it might seem like a worthwhile investment to get a professionally designed workout program from a trained professional. But is it absolutely necessary? Especially when the internet is overflowing with free workouts from people who, if their defined abs are any indication, seem to know what they’re doing?
Under the Influence(rs)
While it’s not necessarily a bad idea to copy a workout from your favorite Instagram or YouTube personality, you should proceed with caution before you get overcome by their influence.
Why? Because the thing that makes social media so powerful is the same thing that makes it potentially dangerous: anyone can do it. While most gyms and fitness studios require their trainers to maintain up-to-date certifications, anyone with a smartphone can post content and build an audience… whether they’re qualified or not.
How to find a good trainer
A good instructor (online or otherwise) should have some formal fitness training. Look for someone who has advanced degrees and certifications from organizations like NSCA or NASM. A reputable trainer will also know how to properly guide people of all fitness levels instead of prescribing the same rigorous routine to both a workout newbie and a weightlifting warrior.
Jonathan Jordan, San Francisco-based certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, recommends a few key things to look out for when vetting online experts. Start with examining how they explain how to do an exercise. “The trainer needs to include detailed descriptions of how to execute the movement with a clear explanation of what muscles you should use, where to feel it, and cues and demos of proper and improper form,” he says. Otherwise, you may not gain the intended benefits of the exercises, or worst case scenario, you could wind up injured.
But there are plenty of knowledgeable, conscientious fitness influencers out on the Internet, and dabbling in workouts from different trainers can keep your routine fresh and help you maintain your overall fitness level.
It’s OK to shake things up
Cody Braun, fitness expert at Openfit, explains that mixing in some one-off workouts into your routine can be a game-changer for anyone who trains regularly and has gotten bored or has hit a plateau. “Sometimes you need to add in new training modalities and methods in order to place the body under a new stress to inflict a change,” he says. “You never know what you might enjoy and what you can learn from trying different kinds of workouts.”
Convenience is key
Not only can workouts from a certified trainer shake up your routine, they can also be incredibly convenient. Singular workouts can easily be worked into a busy schedule, and it’s often not as overwhelming to think about doing a workout here and there, instead of committing to a daunting multi-week program.
Jordan says he often recommends specific one-off workouts to clients who are traveling or may be unable to meet with him for extended periods of time. “One-off workouts, group fitness classes, and app-based workouts can be great for just getting in some movement and burning some calories,” he says. If this is what’s going to get you moving, then it’s certainly better than nothing.
Get With the Program
While one-off workouts can be a fun and effective part of your overall approach to fitness, both Braun and Jordan agree that a comprehensive, customized program is still necessary for most people to reach specific goals and get significant physical results.
“Workout programs are designed to build upon each workout in order to help you progress toward a goal by using the principles of overload and progression,” Braun says. A well-designed workout program also accounts for rest and balance — two vital components that can be challenging to incorporate when cobbling together a plan from online workouts, he adds.
If you’re just beginning to work out or it’s been a while since you’ve been active, it’s worth your time and money to meet with a fitness professional who can assess your current level of fitness and build a program according to your goals, lifestyle, and interests. And don’t think that just meeting with a professional commits you to long-term personal training.
“It’s a misconception that all trainers just want you to work out with them exclusively forever,” Jordan says. He explains that many trainers offer complimentary assessments and smaller packages designed to help individuals learn how to exercise independently. They may also be able to offer some guidance on how to incorporate online workouts into your overall training plan.
Once you know what to look out for, then you can figure out how to effectively incorporate workouts into your routine, whether that’s in the form of one-off workouts from a certified trainer or a longer-term program that will help you reach a specific goal.