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Skype, video-chat services make it easy to get trainer-supervised workouts anywhere

04/26/2013 7:46 PM

05/01/2013 2:52 PM

Some days, you know you should go to the gym, but things come up and you find yourself making more and more excuses to skip working out, especially during the warm-weather months.

There is another option for fitting exercise into your schedule. More trainers and fitness programs are turning to Skype and other video chat services to bring workouts to clients' homes, offices and even hotel rooms. Going on a business trip, but don't want to miss your morning workout with a girlfriend? No problem.

It's an option that celebrities such as Kate Beckinsale reportedly are using to stay in shape on set or on vacation.

Marc Thompson of VirtuFit.net, based in Del Ray Beach, Fla., started a virtual training program through his website. He now has more than 50 clients from all over the world, including two who have been with him for more than five years. Both women travel often for work but are diligent about meeting up for their biweekly Skype training sessions with Thompson.

Curious about how this high-tech video training might work, I decided to try it out.

To get started, I recruited John Thurmond, a personal trainer based in Fort Worth, to lead me through a Skypercise workout. Thurmond's educational background lies in general nutritional sciences, and he holds multiple certifications from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, including as a personalized fitness specialist. Knowing that I didn't have free weights on hand and had limited space in my apartment in downtown Portland, Ore., Thurmond worked with me to make sure I still got a good workout.

First things first. I hadn't used Skype since college, when I wanted to see friends who were studying abroad. I didn't remember my username and password from back then, so I had to download the application again and get my account set up. It was really quick and easy to do; it took less than 10 minutes to get logged in to the Skype session.

Then came connecting our call. With Skype, you can enable a video view and then the person you are chatting with can see you through the computer's built-in camera or webcam. Once Thurmond and I got the hang of what we were doing (and after a lost Internet connection or two), our call was connected. It took a little maneuvering at my end to get the laptop in position so my entire body would fit into the frame, but once I found the right spot on the floor, we were ready to begin.

I had already stretched out while waiting for the session, so we got started immediately. Thurmond led me through a brief series of pushups, planks, situps and squats. From his training facility in Fort Worth, he was able to watch me go through the movements and correct my form when I needed it.

"I think this is a great option for people that can't make it to the gym or outside for a workout," Thurmond said after the workout. "With Skype, you can work out from home while you watch the kids, or from your hotel room if you're on a business trip."

Once I finished my intro-to-Skypercise workout, I felt just like I would have had I gone to the gym. I didn't have to factor in travel time to Skypercise -- I could literally roll out of bed and onto the floor for my training session. Perhaps best of all, I got the workout done early in the morning, with ample time to get ready for work and enjoy my morning.

So why didn't I just get up early and work out by myself in the apartment or go to the gym? With my current schedule I'd have to drag myself from bed at 5 a.m. to work out, which just doesn't sound good.

Enter our good friend Accountability. Training with a partner is proven to result in better workouts and faster results. Knowing Thurmond was going to be waiting for me at a certain time got me out of bed. And lucky for him, our two-hour time difference meant he didn't have to get up at a ridiculously early hour to train me. Depending on where you, your trainer or your willing friend is located, you can work out with a professional or a buddy at just about any time of day.

I tested out a simple conditioning-style format for my first Skype workout, but the concept can be applied to strength training, yoga, Pilates, dance and even cardio-style workouts. Wherever you have an Internet connection and a willing partner or trainer, you can work out.

"I can see this being a great tool for people on the go or with busy schedules," Thurmond said. "It'd be an easy way to fit in a 30-minute workout from anywhere, and you don't even need weights or special equipment to get in a great workout."

Before you hire a trainer for your own Skypercising ventures, just keep a few things in mind:

Make sure you have a good Internet connection. A dodgy connection could mean more time spent just trying to connect to Skype than actually working out.

Save yourself time and find a spot before the workout begins to position either yourself or your computer so that you can easily see the other person's movements, and you can easily be seen by the trainer.

Be patient. It will probably take a couple sessions of Skypercising before you get to the point that you can just jump in and start your sweat session.

Downloading Skype is free (www.skype.com), but you'll have to create an account. If you're working with a certified personal trainer, check his or her rates before starting. For free, you can make video and voice calls to anyone else who is on Skype, and instant message and file share. For a fee, you can make calls to mobile and landlines all over the world at low rates, send text messages, and do group video calls with up to 10 people.

To find a trainer who will work out over Skype, it might be best to start with people you know. Local trainers already in your network of friends, or who are friends of friends, might be willing to hold training sessions via Skype. You can also run a Google search for "virtual personal trainer" or "personal trainer via Skype," and you'll see results for trainers across the country and around the world who are already training people via Skype.

And, as with any training program, you should consult your doctor before getting started.

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