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The coronavirus has forced us to learn the extent to which we can live our life online. Working, going to school, and even exercising remotely have all become not only normal, but essentially our only option. Especially during the current public health crisis, exercise and physical fitness are as important as ever. Just because your local gym or favorite class has shut down, now is certainly not the time to stop moving your body. Exercise, in fact, actually helps your immune system by flushing bacteria from your lungs.

In just a few short months, individuals and businesses have moved everything online. So, how exactly is that going? We surveyed more than 1,000 people across the U.S. to find out. They shared their recent experiences with online workouts as well as the equipment they’re buying and even the exercises that they prefer remain online. If you’re looking to start or improve your at-home workouts, you’ll want to hear what these participants had to share.

Pandemic Practices

The first part of our study looked at the most common ways people worked out at home. We asked participants to share which applications they used to get their sweat on, as well as the types of exercises they found best suited to a digital platform.

Digital Exercise

In spite of the massive toll the pandemic took on people and businesses, exercise was not forsaken. In fact, 70% had already exercised virtually during the pandemic to substitute their normal gym routines. Most commonly, they chose an app (59%) to do so, the most popular of which was Fitbit (31%). But this app actually goes far beyond just the workouts: It also tracks your sleep rhythms and goals, providing an around-the-clock health monitoring system.

YouTube workouts were also incredibly popular: 55% of respondents worked out this way. Even before the pandemic confined people to their home, most anticipated using YouTube significantly more. Even already-popular YouTube trainers like Fitness Blender have seen an enormous uptick in their user base. And other health-oriented channels, like cooking and nutrition, are also gaining traction among quarantined audiences.

As far as specific exercises were concerned, yoga came up the most often. Forty-nine percent of respondents said yoga was their primary form of at-home exercise during the pandemic, but it was ranked as neither the most effective nor the most enjoyable. Instead, respondents felt HIIT exercises gave them the best workout, but they liked doing dance the most. According to psychologist Dr. Peter Lovatt, “You appear to get a much bigger release of endorphins when you dance than during other forms of exercise; it also connects with the emotional [centers] in the brain.” He adds “dancing prompts an emotional release” –a concept that becomes particularly relevant during a global pandemic.

Most Popular Workout Apps

Pandemic Purchases

While exercising virtually may be the wallet-friendly option for many, there are persistent costs involved even if you do choose to move your workout to your home. Most respondents had to purchase equipment in order to perform the exercise of their choice, so we asked them to share exactly what they bought as well as how much they spent.

Investing in Digital or Virtual Workout

Yoga may not have been the absolute most effective for people, but 72% still rated it as such. It was also the most common workout that required a purchase: 53% of participants had already invested in a yoga mat. This item may continue to come in handy even when studios open their doors again, as renting mats from the studios themselves is likely a thing of the past. Instead, classes will likely require personal mats spaced six feet apart and possibly even mandate masks being worn.

Dumbbells, though likely more expensive to ship than a yoga mat, were the next most common purchase at this time: 45% said they had purchased dumbbells already. And another 36% brought hand weights home. Kettlebells had found their way into 12% of respondent households, and items like stationary bikes and ellipticals had been purchased by nearly 1 in 10 people.

When all was said and done, between yoga mats and foam rollers and sneakers, respondents had already spent an average of $204. Thirty-six of these dollars were spent on apps alone. Considering the economic turmoil the pandemic left many in, expenses over $200 may sound higher than they otherwise would. That said, respondents also shared that they had typically spent $65 monthly on gym memberships before the pandemic struck. By this math, pandemic workout purchases should have paid for themselves within four months of forgone memberships.

Compare and Contrast

The last part of this study ended with a simple question: Which workout is better? Respondents who chose each type of virtual workout shared whether they preferred the in-person or digital version, as well as whether or not they anticipated continuing virtual workouts even when gyms and studios reopened.

Better Than the Gym

Most felt cycling was better online: 56% of participants claimed they preferred this exercise virtually over an in-person class. Peloton, one of the most acclaimed (and expensive) at-home cycling options has seen its stock reach record numbers due to the pandemic. Especially for those who have made such an expensive investment, it makes sense to continue using it. That said, only 15% said they would cycle at home once their gym reopened. Instead, yoga was the most likely to continue as a digital workout, even when other options resurfaced. Thirty-five percent wanted to continue their yoga practice sans gym, compared to just 9% who wanted to keep dancing at home.

Overall, women (72%) were more likely than men (62%) to continue working out digitally once gyms reopened. Men were also seven percentage points more likely to have already gone back to the gym to exercise. That said, women are less likely than men to get sufficient exercise, and severe gender gaps exist at many gyms globally. Perhaps at-home workouts present a more equal playing ground.

Keeping It Moving

The resilience and dedication of respondents was both startling and encouraging. More than 70% had already started working out online, with many even enjoying the practice enough to continue doing so when gyms reopened. And movements like dancing and yoga were providing more than half with a much-needed emotional release. And those who had already returned to the gym indicated a small sense of a return to normalcy.

If you do choose to bring workout equipment home, you’ll need to know where to look. FitRated offers consumers the chance to compare and research a wide variety of workout equipment, from treadmills to bikes and weights. If you’re looking to improve your at-home workout game, or if you’re just getting started, head to FitRated to read hundreds of reviews and find the best home gym setup for your lifestyle.

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,002 respondents who exercise regularly in order to understand their use of digital/virtual exercise apps or platforms during the COVID-19 lockdown. We asked respondents about which digital platforms they used most for exercise, as well as which exercises they participated in. Ages of respondents ranged from 18 to 73, with an average age of 34. The standard deviation was 10.5 years. Fifty-five percent of respondents were male, and 45% were female. Certain limitations apply because of the self-reported nature of survey data, including but not limited to telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. We did not weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses.

Fair Use Statement

Workout motivation and information deserve to be shared. If you know anyone that you think could benefit from the findings of this study, please share this information with them. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page so its contributors can receive proper credit for their work.