Unless you’re one of those people who fully embraced home workouts and backyard marathons, chances are that the past year or so hasn’t been the best for your overall health and fitness. Maybe you also swore that things would be different this year, but haven’t quite gotten round to those resolutions yet either? No excuses necessary, however, because the best time to start your fitness journey is right now.
You might well believe the best place to get started has to be at your nearest gym, or even the activewear department of your favourite clothing retailer. In reality, you’re probably better off starting with a simple internet search.
Around the globe, everyone (from personal trainers to ordinary people alike) has turned to the web to kickstart, reboot, or remix their fitness journeys – and they’re achieving amazing results.
A surge in online fitness
While there has long been a significant presence of fitness content online, there can be no doubt that COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns prompted an online fitness explosion. In the early stages of the pandemic, people were simply unable to go to the gym or even leave the house for a run. So to beat the boredom, they turned to online workouts.
Virtual cycling platform Zwift, for example, saw a 200% increase of kilometres cycled per day in April 2020. YouTube searches for “no equipment” exercise videos, quadrupled at one point.
Similarly, a look at Google Search trends in South Africa, from the beginning of March 2020 to mid-April 2021, reveals that South Africans have joined the hunt for information about home workouts and workout videos, being responsible for periodic search trend spikes on the platform.
Even as things begin opening up, and the vaccine rollout gathers force, it’s unlikely that the situation will ever return to what we knew as “the norm” previously. At the very least, people have become more comfortable with using online tools for their fitness needs, and will likely build them into their future endeavours.
Whether it’s looking for instructions on how to do a workout set safely, using tools like Google Lens to identify healthy foods and shop for workout gear, or simply doing a YouTube workout when you’re travelling, online will become an integral feature of how we approach health and fitness.
An ongoing journey
For Calvin Fisher, a freelance multimedia professional from Cape Town, online tools are proving critical to his fitness reboot.
“I began my fitness journey nine years ago, but am currently experiencing my second wind,” says the 42-year-old father of three. “At the end of 2011 I weighed 136kg. I realised I wanted to see my kids grow up and, on that trajectory, it wasn’t going to happen without some changes. I bought a bicycle and did my first Argus (Cape Town Cycle Tour), and lost 14kg in six weeks. With riding, gyming and dieting, over the course of three years I managed to drop below 100kg for the first time since I was a teenager.”
Fisher eventually dropped down to 97kg, before slowly gaining weight again.
“At the end of 2020 I was back up to 124kg and miserable,” he recalls. “I decided to get back into my routine and am currently at 110kg, with a clear idea on how to lose the rest.”
Fisher takes a holistic approach to fitness, balancing diet with exercising four times a week. He uses the web and online tools to supplement this approach.
“I constantly seek out better information and often cross-reference multiple sources to ensure I’m getting the right information. A common use of the internet is researching meals, training fundamentals etc. I use MyFitnessPal on the Android store as my main accomplice in calorie-counting everything I consume. This has made my goals so much easier to achieve.”
Fisher also follows a number of fitness-centric YouTubers, includingBuff Dudes, Greg Doucette and Jeff Cavaliere.
He also uses YouTube as a motivational tool: “There’s no greater motivator than music. That means my favouriteYouTube playlists or, if I’m in the mood, I’ll stream the music videos straight off the main platform.”
Meet the professionals
But ordinary people aren’t the only ones using online tools. Fitness professionals are increasingly doing so to stay on top of their game and grow their audiences.
“In terms of knowledge and research, the internet is vitally important as the world changes every day and new information is constantly emerging,” said Phelo Mfini, a personal trainer from Johannesburg.
“It’s very important to stay in touch with the latest developments in the industry to help grow your knowledge and value, so using the internet is very important to stay relevant.”
Mfini also has his own self-titled channel which he started in 2016, to “help as many people as I can and reach a bigger crowd, while also documenting my personal journey”.
That journey started out as training with a friend to “look good for the ladies”, and to stay in shape for sport. Soon he realised that he was “more interested in training and bodybuilding than sport”, ultimately leading to a new full-time career.
Someone else who has blended their journey with their career is Reabetswe Lesego Sechoaro. The 27-year-old, better known as Rambi, has always been fit, having been a provincial hockey player.
“Once that stopped, I had to find ways to stay in shape because of the beauty pageants I was part of,” she said.
Having built a name for herself in the world of beauty and style, Sechoaro recently started adding wellness and fitness content to her social media platforms. She is, however, more than willing to lean on the expertise of others.
“I believe that I don’t have all the answers, so I definitely do my research and use platforms like YouTube to broaden my knowledge on fitness and wellness,” she said. “I also ask my trainers and friends in the industry for advice.”
A change that sticks?
Sechoaro has noticed a change in the past few months as people seek out more health and fitness content.
“I’ve found that people are now very interested in bettering their health and living a balanced lifestyle, both internally and externally. I believe I have been able to help people on their wellness and fitness journey, by not only looking at the physical outcomes but having an holistic approach. I believe that the internal work (eating right, having the right mindset and healing yourself emotionally) has an effect on your outward appearance.”
Whether that change sticks remains to be seen, but it’s a near certainty that anyone looking to embark on their own fitness journey can do so more easily and at lower cost than ever before, all thanks to the web and other online tools.