20 Tips for Better Online Fitness & Meditation Courses

Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate.” ~Charles M. Schultz

It’s not easy teaching online, but it’s especially tricky teaching fitness or movement classes such as yoga.

Woman lifts weights.

Photo courtesy of Eric Galler.

The audience experience is critical in these courses. If they can’t clearly see and hear what you’re doing, they can’t do it themselves.

Fortunately, it takes just a few improvements to make the online experience worthwhile. By the way, even if you’re teaching a different kind of course, these tips are still valuable!

How to Create Great Fitness Videos

  1. Make sure you are well lit on all sides. Have a friend take pictures of you in all your main poses. Is every part of you visible? Adjust lighting accordingly.
  2. Wear clothing that shows your movements. A long draping top might look charming, for example, but if we can’t see how you are bending, etc., we will be lost.
  3. Remember to cue in several different ways. Let us know when to breathe in and out. Alert us when we are about to change a move or that we have several repetitions to go.
  4. Remember that we are mirroring you, so don’t use directional cues unless they match how we are seeing you. If you are raising your right arm, we will be raising our left arm. It’s much easier to follow like we’re watching a mirror than to think about right vs. left.
  5. Fancy camera work is useless if it doesn’t help us see what you are doing. We don’t need shots from the ground or above or at an angle if they obscure what you are doing and therefore what we should be doing. Likewise, a fish-eye lens (wide angle) or other effects won’t help us.
  6. Make sure the color of your clothing doesn’t match the background. A white outfit worn against a white screen disappears. Likewise, a red shirt against a red wall, black pants in front of a black desk, and so forth.
  7. Let us know if a detail doesn’t matter. If you cross your right arm over your left but it’s fine if you cross them the opposite way, for example, let us know so we don’t think it’s essential.
  8. If you have us do an exercise on one side of the body, please balance us out by doing the other side! I can’t tell you how often (often!) an instructor forgets to do the same exercise for both arms or legs, but it leaves us feeling lopsided.
  9. It’s okay to keep up a running patter, make jokes, and so forth—IF you are also cueing us clearly about the moves we are making. I’ve been frustrated trying to follow an instructor who’s so focused on being entertaining that instructing us takes second place. If you make a move we’re not prepared for, we’ll be annoyed no matter how interesting you are.
  10. On the other hand, don’t talk for the sake of talking, especially in yoga, meditation, tai chi classes, and the like. We are trying to relax into each pose or with every breath. Constant chatter is distracting.
  11. Please don’t talk to us while sipping from your water bottle, snacking, rubbing your mouth, or anything else that interferes with your voice quality or looks unprofessional.
  12. Be aware of your “unconscious” movements. If you scratch your armpit or rub your aching shoulder, it will distract us. And it looks unprofessional.
  13. If a move turns us away from the screen (bending down, turning around, etc.), be sure to alert us to each step and when to finish the move. I have often found myself still breathing deeply in “Downward Dog,” for instance, when the instructor has finished the pose and moved to something else—but without alerting the class.
  14. Teach us as you take us through the moves. If a move is working the trapezius, tell us. If a move is called a certain name—such as “the bow pose” or “White Crane Spreads Wings”—tell us. If there is some history or physiology behind the name or the move, share it with us—but not if it distracts us from the next move.
  15. Give us tips that will help us know whether we are doing the move correctly. A simple pointer such as, “Are you feeling tightness in your lower back? We don’t want that. Adjust your angle so your back is straighter.”
  16. If you prerecord the lesson, film close-ups of any moves that are difficult to see, new, or complicated. You can edit the close-up in a small “box” in one corner of the screen. This way we can see the details while following the move. It’s okay to tell us not to worry if we don’t get something right, but it’s far better to help us get it right.
  17. If you are giving the class live (in real time), take a few minutes at the beginning of the class to demonstrate any unusual or new moves. You can simulate a close-up by simply getting closer to your webcam or smart phone, if that’s what you’re using. Encourage us to do it with you a few times and correct any problems you notice the students having.
  18. One advantage to giving the class online but in real time is the ability to see what students are doing. Be observant so you can make corrective suggestions as you go through the class. Don’t call attention to any individual as doing something “wrong,” however.
  19. Use what you have gleaned from teaching live, unrecorded classes to help students through problem areas. For instance, if you know that it’s common for beginners to do a roundhouse kick with the inside of the foot instead of the top, point that out.
    1. Help your students in the same way you would if they were in the room with you.
    2. You might make a list of common problems or challenges in the routine you’re teaching, and address them during the class at the appropriate time.
  20. The best way to improve is to try taking one of your own recorded classes. Can you follow yourself? Is the experience satisfying?
    1. Change what you can to make the class as close to the “real” thing as possible. For someone taking the class, it is the real thing.

Otherwise, all the usual tips about good content, organization, and delivery apply to teaching fitness, meditation, and movement.

For two great examples of fitness/movement courses that nail it, watch the workouts in these courses from The Teaching Company/The Great Courses:

Side Note: I’ve been writing a weekly blog about online courses for a year now, and I’ve covered everything that needs to be covered—sometimes more than once in an effort to convey the content better.

Therefore, this is my last weekly post on this topic. I’ll write additional posts about making online courses if someone has a question that I don’t think I’ve answered. Otherwise, I’m switching to other topics and will write as inspired.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series; feel free to peruse the archives at http://blog.marcymcdonald.com.

Thanks for reading!

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Contact Marcy for help crafting your online course. 

Marcy McDonald is an Online Course Producer. She helps Subject Matter Experts and Professors create online courses with better content, delivery, and production, for better teaching. She’s developed ~450 online courses for lifelong learners, worked in video and audio studios, and filmed in the field (literally).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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