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Teaching Virtual Fitness Classes.  

A whole new world!

    Author by Ashley Bishop

 

If you had asked me at the dawn of 2020 if I would start teaching virtual classes from my home office – I would have likely laughed at the idea.  Fast forward to April 2020, many of us were weeks into COVID lockdown and were witnessing how quickly the world went virtual.

I wasn’t planning on teaching classes virtually.  I had recently moved to a new area of town and had only just started teaching weekly classes when my facilities closed.  I only knew a handful of my participants by name, I certainly didn’t have their contact info and they likely weren’t following me on Facebook (FB) or Instagram.  As the weeks went on, it was clear the gyms weren’t going to be reopening anytime soon, and with everyone going virtual, I didn’t want to get left behind nor be unprepared.  I put my fears aside, created a flyer and, boom, posted a virtual Zumba® class with Zoom.

Weeks of research (shared by instructors who jumped on the Zoom train early) allowed me to run a pretty successful first class.   I have since held bi-weekly classes (primarily attended by my dearest friends and family) and it has brought such joy to my world.   Obviously, we aren’t able to re-create the pool experience virtually, but I’ve seen many Aqua Instructors sharing fun, at home workout classes applicable to their populations to keep them moving! 

Read on to learn some of the tips and tricks that helped me create a fun experience for myself and my participants.   Note, my set up isn’t perfect or professional grade, but I’ve been able to lead successful classes with minimal additional purchases.    We’re all doing our best with what we’ve got!

Application

There are many options out there to teach virtual classes.  A few of the most popular are Zoom, Dacast, FB Live, FB Groups, Google Meet and Demio.  I opted to use Zoom and signed up for the  Pro Version.  The free version of Zoom allows you to host meetings up to 40 minutes with up to 100 participants.  The Pro Version of Zoom costs $14.99 / month (at the time of writing this article), can host up to 100 participants and the maximum meeting duration is 24 hours.

Internet Connection

Know your internet speed.  Use websites like https://www.speedtest.net to find your “mbps – megabytes per second” number.  According to Zoom, one will need 1.5 mbps in order to host a group meeting.  If you know your interest speed is 30 mbps, then it would make sense that you have enough bandwidth to support the meeting. 

Note that many things active in our household at a given time can take away from your total available bandwidth.  For example, Netflix can take up to 5 mbps for HD quality streaming and 25 mbps for 4K.  If you only have 30 mbps available, your cutting it close. 

  • Try to be the only one connect to WI-FI during your class
  • If you can, used an ethernet cable to connect directly to your modem
  • No ethernet cable? Ttry to host your class as close to your modem as possible
  • Turn off any unnecessary WI-FI devices (e.g. extra iPads, iPhones, laptops, etc.)

 

Set Up

  • Space – Try to find a space with room to move, that is well lit and allows you to set up your camera far enough away from you.    For my classes, I lift my desktop computer to shelf that is about chest height and I’m able to stand about 10 feet away.  
  • Lighting – if you have a window, or strong lamps – set them up in front of you (either directly in front or off to the sides).   I face a window for my classes and have lamps set up on both corners.
  • Flooring – If you’re lucky enough to have wood, tile or another smooth surface, that’s the best option.  Movement on carpet can be tricky and is something to be mindful of when creating our class content or choreography.   My office has really thick carpet, so I ended up purchasing some rectangular office chair floor mats.  They aren’t like a group ex studio, but they are absolutely easier on my knees and help me be mindful about my movements for my participants.
  • Backdrops – Depending on your space, you might set up sheets, green screens, fun lighting or decorations behind you.  Just make sure to preview how it looks before you start class.   I have dark grey carpet, light grey wall and chose not to include any decorations behind me.
  • Air Conditioning – If you can, lower the temperature in the room for your class.  It’s amazing how hot it can get!

 

Your Costume! 

For the most part, you don’t have to think of an extravagant outfit for teaching.  That being said, here are a couple tips that I’ve encountered along the way:

  • If you have dark floors, dark shoes and a dark wall – your lower body will be hard to follow.  Try to wear bright shoes or bright pants to help visually.
  • Avoid outrageous patterns, but don’t be afraid of bright colors.   My “go to” outfits are usually bright leggings with black shoes and a black top or bright shoes, black pants and a bright/minimal patterned top.  I will also wear shorts from time to time because (as mentioned above) it can get hot in here!

 

Zoom Privacy Settings

You can decide how your share the Meeting ID for your class (post on Facebook, private email, etc.).  Passwords are encouraged as an extra layer of protection from “Zoom Bombers” – feel free to look that up if you’re unsure!  This is my Zoom Workflow:

  • I email my participants the Meeting ID & Password
  • I do not enable the waiting room for classes so that I don’t have to stop teaching to let them in.  If I’m teaching a workshop, I do enable the Waiting Room so I can confirm they are registered participants.
  • I select “Mute Upon Entry” so that if someone does enter late, their microphone sound won’t take away from the music I’m sharing

 

Communicating About the Class

Below is an example of what I post on my website and/or email my participants about the class.  Try to encourage new students to log on early so there is time to trouble shoot.  If you are conducting your class on your computer, understand how to troubleshoot not only on a desktop/laptop, but also on a Tablet, iPhone, iPad etc.  If you don’t own all of the various devices, a quick google search will yield some helpful results.

Thank you for signing up for my class!  Here are some tips:

  • Class will be held via Zoom. Classes are best viewed on your computer/laptop. There is app to download (free) for iPads/iPhones.
  • For an optimal audio/video experience, try to set up near your modem and limit the number of devices using your Wi-Fi.
  • All audio will be muted upon entry.  This creates a better audio/visual experience. Feel free to turn your mic on pre and post class! I love to chat and catch up!
  • Have your cameras on if you like! If you find your video quality is being affected, try turning your camera off for class.   Also try “Leaving Audio” and “Re-Joining Audio”, we’ll practice this together just before class.
  • Make sure to “Pin” my video when we start class!
  • Log in early in case you have any troubleshooting to work through! I’ll be online too so we can hang out!
  • Have fun!!! I miss dancing with all of you!

 

Pre-Class

As mentioned above, the majority of our participants may not be exercising in the most ideal environments.  Keep this in mind when created your content.

  • Test your sound and your video before your class starts.  Each instructor will have a preference of how loud they want their music to be (more on that below).  I also have my computer at a different angle if I’m doing a Zoom meeting from my desk or leading a class.  Make sure that is set up before your participants log in.
  • Close out of any apps that have notifications on your computer.  Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or Silent.
  • Be online and available early.  Encourage your participants to do the same.  Using Zoom is simple once you’ve figured it out.  If it’s someone’s first time, there could be some issues to work through.  Here are some common ones (see image below for visual aid):

 

“I can’t see you!”

  • Is the instructor supposed to be Spotlighted?   This is important if you have more than one host in a meeting, make sure you Spotlight the person who’s leading
  • Are they in Gallery or Speaker View?  Speaker view will ensure the person/host speaking is the “larger” image
  • Have they pinned the instructor?   If they are viewing from a phone or tablet, they can do this by double tapping the instructor’s image.  On a computer, they can click the top right corner of the instructor’s image and select “Pin Video”.

 

“I can’t hear you!”

  • Is the instructor muted?  Make sure to unmute yourself.
  • Are they connected to audio? Often when joining from a phone or table, the participant has to take an extra step to “Join Computer Audio”.
  • “The music sounds funny!”
  • Is the instructor sharing their sound?  More on that below.

 

  • Here’s an example of my “Pre-Class Speech”

Hi everyone!  My name is Ashley B and I’m SO excited you’re here!  A couple of things before we get started.  I have muted everyone.  Even though we may not intend to have a noisy background, we can never be certain.  Having everyone muted means the only sound everyone will here is my music.   There may be times where my video and audio will look off sync.  If this happens, try “Leaving Audio”, wait for 4-5 seconds and click “Re-Join”.  You can find this setting near your microphone.  Let’s walk through it together!  You can also try turning off your video.  I’m going to test my music, please give me a thumbs up if you can hear this.  Speaking of thumbs up, if you’re video is off, you can use the “reaction” buttons at the bottom of the screen to give me an emoji thumbs up!  Awesome! Just like an in-person class, listen to your body!  If something I’m doing doesn’t feel good, make up something else up!  No one can see you! ;)  Make sure you have water, room to move – and let’s go! 

Sound

  • There are so many ways to set up sound!  This website (catered for Zumba® instructors but applicable for all formats) has lots of great information on setting up interfaces, mics, external speakers, etc. https://zeeksquad.com
  • For my own sanity – I keep it simple.   Since virtually, I primarily teach formats where I don’t need to speak during the class, I choose to “share my computer sound”.  To find that, go to the “Share Screen” option at the bottom of the Zoom window, select “Advanced Settings” and hit “Music or Computer Sound Only”.  This allows me to use the iTunes or Spotify on my computer to hear my playlist.  By sharing computer sound, the participants hear the music clearly and can control the volume on their end.  If you forgot to share sound, the music can sound “tinny” and fade in and out.  The same can happen if you’re using an external speaker that isn’t set up through your computer/zoom.  If music isn’t the core of your class – playing it on an external speaker can be totally fine.
  • NOTE: I find that to have the best sound experience on my end (for a class where I don’t have to speak), my iTunes volume has to be WAY up before I hit share sound. (We’ll get to mic sound a little later.) Then, once I share my sound in Zoom, the volume goes way down.  If I test the levels before the class starts, I’m able to tweak the Zoom speaker settings on my end and I leave the “Share Computer Sound” setting on.  One time I didn’t have my volume levels correct and the music was SO quiet for me, but it was fine for the class.  It made the class that much harder to teach however I didn’t want to stop my class to mess with my settings.  Lesson learned! 
  • If you have any other Bluetooth devices in the same room as you, either disconnect them or put them in another room far away.  Occasionally my air pods will magically take over as the “Main Speaker” which means I can’t hear anything.  

 

During the Class

Lights, Camera, Sound – ACTION!  Even though we aren’t physically in the same space as our participants, we still need to connect with them:

  • Try to look and teach to the camera lens and not your computer screen.  This gives the illusion that you are making eye contact with your participants. 
  • Get up close!  There is no social distancing between you and your computer.  Just as you would move around the room/pool to connect with the participants, you can give the same effect by getting close the screen, smiling to your class and “playing” with them.
  • Cueing & Demonstrating
    • For in person classes, I will often “come out of my moves” to coach, correct form and play with my participants.  We can do similar tactics virtually, but I do tend to demonstrate more in this setting.   There is still time to come out of the move, re-emphasize form and show where the movement should be felt, but since I can’t see everyone clearly, it’s a little more challenging to make sure everyone “gets” it.  Also note that for you, your class will look like they are moving a beat behind you.  It’s just the way it is in Zoom.  
    • Put your class in Gallery View at the beginning of class but then Spotlight your video when class starts (right clicking on the top corner of your video).  Your screen will make you the “Big Picture” again, so hit Gallery View one more time.  When I see my video as the main video, not only do I find it distracts me from looking at my participants’ video, but it also flips the image, so I see myself leading on one leg, but I’m actually leading on the other.  Very confusing. 
    • Take Water/Towel Breaks – This encourages the class to do the same, but also gives you a second to take a peek at the chat box to make sure there are no major issues!
    • Non-Verbal-Cueing – Depending on your space set up, you might have to adjust your standard cueing techniques.  In my situation, I can’t hold a cue high overhead as my hand will be cut off.  All of my overhead cues have been brought down to a “bent elbow, hands by my head” type level.  Any cues that usually go straight out to the side I have to angle more to the front so that the camera can pick it up more clearly.  I will also paint my nails a bright red color in hopes to make any numerical cues more effective.
    • Verbal Cueing – similar to real life, try not yell or raise your voice during a virtual class.  By the time the sound comes through the participants computer, it can sound screechy or pitchy.  For this reason, it’s very important to test your levels with a friend or family member.  Here are the settings that have been working for me.  Remember I’m sharing my sound through my computer via iTunes, and if I’m teaching a class where I will be verbally cueing, I will use my air pods as my mic.
      • iTunes Music Volume – 50%
      • Zoom Speaker Volume – 75%
      • Zoom Mic Volume – 85%
    • Travelling – Be aware of when you will leave the frame for your participants, and at which point your feet may be cut off.  You may have to change the angle of your travelling movements (take it on an angle verses front and back) to make sure you can be seen the entire time.
    • Let loose and have fun!  I know, it’s REALLY strange teaching to a computer.  The more you can have fun and get in the groove of teaching; your participants will do the same.  And that’s who we’re here for!

 

Post Class

  • Plan to hang out for a bit.  While most of the participants may hop right off, there’s always a few who want to chat.  It’s been nice to “re-connect” with my participants, friends and family after class.  Selfishly, my Mummy is usually at my classes, so I’m able to introduce her to my friends and colleagues!  That’s been super special to me.
  • If you’re able to collect your participant emails (whether you have them already, or that info is provided when they sign up) send a quick post class email to thank them for being there.  This gives you a chance to brighten someone’s’ inbox, share the playlist from class and even promote your next round of classes.   If you use a system like MailChimp, they can opt out to receive future emails, but if they stay – it helps you build your network! 

And that’s it!  I am not a Zoom, Virtual Class or IT expert, but these tips have helped me along the way, and I hope you can find them useful as well.  Even though we are slowly opening up and returning to a “new normal”, it doesn’t look like this virtual world is going away anytime soon.    Teaching classes virtually has brought me so much joy over the last couple of months, and I hope it does the same for you and your participants as well.

Websites Mentioned:

Zoom - https://zoom.us

DaCast - https://www.dacast.com

Demio - https://demio.com

Zoom System Requirements - https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362023-System-requirements-for-Windows-macOS-and-Linux

Netflix Bandwidth Info - https://help.netflix.com/en/node/87

Internet Speed Test - https://www.speedtest.net

Tips for Virtual Zumba® Instructors - https://zeeksquad.com

 

AUTHOR

Ashley Bishop started out as a professional dancer and choreographer in Canada, Mexico and with Carnival Cruise Lines.  Now in Las Vegas, NV, Ashley is an Aquatic Training Specialist & Promotions Manager for AEA and Zumba Jammer™ for Zumba Fitness®.  Ashley absolutely adores teaching and sharing knowledge with others. ashley@bagelfit.com 

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