04/10/2012 04:54 EDT | Updated 06/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Live Streaming Brings Gym Exercises Closer To Home

TORONTO - A workout DVD doesn't have to be the only tool in your fitness arsenal when you're in need of a little motivation to get off the couch and exercise at home.

Web users can now access workout routines on demand as fresh online fitness content is helping to bring the gym experience to home users.

"The Biggest Loser" trainer Bob Harper recently launched his own interactive online fitness club, a paid subscription service which includes videos of Harper leading workouts.

And in addition to the steadily growing digital libraries of fitness videos, there are more interactive alternatives for online users seeking a taste of the live workout experience.

While a typical fitness class may accommodate a small handful or several dozen exercise enthusiasts, Flirty Girl Fitness can potentially welcome thousands of participants in a given day — even though they won't be stepping foot in the gym.

The women's only fitness and lifestyles facility live streams select classes from its downtown Toronto location, allowing paid members to take part in sweat-busting routines from the comfort of home.

Flirty Girl Fitness co-founder Krista Knee said the decision to go the digital route came following emails from women wanting to open a franchise or keen to know why the company wasn't opening a location in their home city. Given the challenges of opening a new gym, and the significant investment of both time and money required, deciding to broadcast classes live online offered its share of incentives.

"DVDs can get kind of boring. You watch them once or twice and then it's the same old jokes. The instructor always says the same thing to you," said Knee. "So we said: 'Why don't we start streaming some actual live classes so that girls can know what it's like to come to a Flirty Girl Fitness?'"

Tiny cameras dangle from the ceiling and butterfly decals on the studio floor indicate where instructors should position themselves for the best camera angle. A blackout zone demarcated by a thin pink line allows in-class participants who don't want to be on camera to stay off the broadcast.

While they may be out of the instructor's sightline, online participants still remain front of mind.

"If you watch a class, (instructors) always talk to the person at home as well, so it's not just about the in-studio members. They're also looking up at the camera and encouraging them at home," said Knee. The club eventually plans on setting up a blog to encourage greater interactivity with its online audience.

Since introducing the concept six months ago, Knee said they now have about 6,000 people using the service, which offers subscribers unlimited access to live classes. Flirty Girl members attending in-person classes have a web subscription included.

For online-only users, a monthly pass goes for $15, it's $10 for a 7-day pass or $5 for use within a 24-hour period. The convenience of online classes is also a factor and some women also feel self-conscious about exercising in public, she noted.

"A lot of women also don't feel comfortable going to the gym, especially if they're new to working out. So women that are overweight or haven't worked out before often feel really intimidated," she said. "They don't know how to use the equipment, they think that people are going to look at them, or they feel they won't be as fit as other people that are there.

"This way, they can work out at home with an instructor leading them through it, they feel like they're part of a community, but yet they're feeling comfortable themselves," she added. "Then hopefully, they can start going to a gym or running outside and doing things like that."

Heightened interest and use of online fitness tools doesn't surprise Rod Macdonald, vice-president of canfitpro, the largest provider of education in the Canadian fitness industry. The organization partnered with a Halifax company to create, which offers online fitness tools and resources, such as meal planning, fitness assessments and exercise classes.

"Because the technology has kept pace with the desire people have to get fit, you can consume all of this stuff either at home, at the gym, on the road in a hotel room, whatever the case may be," he said. There is even a slow movement among some fitness clubs screening streaming video of fitness classes instead of having a live instructor, he added.

Despite the benefits afforded by online access, the absence of face-to-face interaction means home users don't have someone to correct their form or offer immediate suggestions to modify routines.

Macdonald said in an ideal situation, he would recommend individuals work with a certified fitness professional who can guide them safely in exercises and make recommendations for modifications to workouts. But he realizes that isn't always a possibility.

"If they're more comfortable starting with a beginner program at home until their self-confidence comes up enough to get them into a gym-type of environment, or if they want to stay at home they can do that, too," he said.

"But we feel you can accelerate the benefits, you can accelerate your progress when you're working with a fitness professional because they can give you the tips and feedback to not only reduce injury but to get the benefits more safely and quickly."