Like many people, lockdown and the months immediately following have given me more time and energy to focus on my fitness. I’m very much a ‘hobbyist’ with regards to exercise – though I am strongly motivated by the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, I primarily choose forms of exercise which I find fun. This means I don’t tend to stick with one thing for very long, as I bounce between various forms of exercise depending on my mood and what I feel like doing that day. This would likely hinder my progress if I had serious fitness goals (I do have goals, but that’s another story), but when my focus is enjoying the journey, not the destination, the variety this brings works well for me.
Here, I will discuss my thoughts and feelings on three very different online fitness platforms I have experimented with during lockdown: Fitness Blender, Les Mills Body Balance and Blogilates. I will give a brief overview of each platform and my experience with it, and discuss my three favourite and one least favourite aspects of the platform.
Fitness Blender was created by husband-and-wife team of personal trainers, Kelli and Daniel. Their guiding ethos is that fitness should be accessible to everyone and focused on promoting good health and wellbeing. Available on YouTube an on their own website, a large amount of Fitness Blender content is available free of charge, with paid options (FB plus) also available. The FB website allows you to filter the videos available by length, calories burned, difficulty, body focus, training type, and equipment needed. You can also filter by male (Daniel) vs female (Kelli) trainer.
Three favourite things:
1. Being able to sort by difficulty.
Being able to sort by difficulty really makes these workouts accessible. Workouts are rated 1-5, with 1 including warm-ups, cool-downs, stretching routines and some low impact cardio, and 5 including longer, more advanced, or HIIT-style workouts. The majority of videos are in the 3 and 4 ratings. For me, the best thing about this means I can easily search for a workout depending on my ability or mood. If I am sore, tired or just not feeling 100% I can select a lower difficulty – perhaps 2 – and feel good about myself knowing I am still doing something active without overdoing it. If I have time, energy and motivation I can really challenge myself with a level 4 workout.
The videos themselves contain a good amount of suggested modifications to make the exercises easier/harder. Sometimes Kelli and Daniel will feature in the videos together, performing the exercises at different difficulties, and sometimes the video will show one trainer demonstrating the different levels. This makes it easy to follow along at a level which suits me. What I really love is there is a focus on performing a lower difficulty level but with good form, before moving on to a higher difficulty level.
2. The range of videos available.
Fitness Blender has a huge range of videos, which can easily be filtered by upper body, lower body, core, and whole body. You can also sort by a variety of workout types, including cardio, low impact, warm up/cool down, and more, as well as by time and calories burned. This variety, and the filters, means I can always find a workout to suit my energy levels, focus, and time available. This is great for busy, easily-bored people like me, as it gives me enough variety that I don’t get fed up of doing the same thing over and over again, and also means I can easily find shorter videos to slot into a bust day.
3. The minimalist style/tone of the videos.
There’s no background music playing in Fitness Blender’s videos, nor is there any chat from the trainers that isn’t related to performing the exercise. This allows me to stay highly focused on the video and is great for days when I just want to get my workout done without wasting time. A 10-minute video means a 10-minute workout, not 3 minutes of chat at the start.
My least favourite thing:
Sometimes I want a little more energy than Fitness Blender gives me. Now, I love the minimalist, highly focused presentation that allows me keep my attention on my workout, and it’s completely suitable on days where I have been able to motivate myself, but on lower-energy days it’s difficult to be motivated by the videos themselves.
On the other hand – sometimes exactly what I need on a lower-energy day is a minimalist video where I don’t feel pressure to push myself to 110% throughout the whole thing – so there’s always pros and cons.
I first discovered Les Mills at my local gym, who ran (pre-Covid, anyway) virtual classes. A virtual class is essentially where the gym plays an exercise video on a large projector screen, and class attendees follow this rather than a real life instructor. Les Mills does a variety of types of workouts, including Grit (a HIIT style workout), Body Pump (strength training), Body Combat (martial arts inspired) and others, but I’ll be focussing on Body Balance – a yoga-fusion type program.
Originating in Auckland with four-time Olympian Les Mills, his son Phillip Mills, and his wife Dr Jackie Mills, the company moved from a gym, to Body Pump classes, to the range of programs available today. Body Balance combines elements of yoga, tai chi and pilates, set to a carefully-chosen soundtrack, that is advertised as a way to “improve your mind, your body and your life”. Now, I’m not saying that my life has been changed since I found Body Balance, but I certainly enjoyed it. The format of each video generally consist of a tai chi-inspired warm up, a sun salutation routine, and then a number of different routines each with a different focus (flexibility, balance, hip openers, twists, hamstrings, etc.). Each routine is set to a carefully-chosen music track.
Three favourite things:
1. The moves
It’s that simple – I just love the content and moves of the Body Balance videos. Now, I was neither a yoga expert nor complete beginner when I first discovered Body Balance – casual yoga has been a part of my fitness routine for a couple of years now – but the content and style of the videos is like no other yoga I have done before. It’s the perfect mix of energetic and relaxing, with strenuous abdominal tracks that leave me sweating, challenging but fun balance tracks (seriously, I LOVE these), and relaxing hip openers that bring my heart rate down. Each full length video ends with a meditation track, which is a lovely way to relax and cool down after an intense workout.
2. The music
The music and choreography of Body Balance are carefully curated to complement each other, and they do so perfectly. The description of each video includes a tracklist, and you can also find a full tracklist of all music on the Les Mills website, which is perfect if you hear your new favourite song and want to listen to it again later.
3. The range of lengths available
As well as full length 55-minute videos, there are also slightly shorter 45-min workouts, as well as a range of 30-40 and roughly 12-18 minute videos. These shorter videos tend to have one main focus (e.g. strength, balance or flexibility) rather than a mix as is found in the full length videos. This is brilliant as it means if I want the energy and style of a full class without the length, there are options available.
It is worth noting, however, that the shorter videos are taken directly from the longer videos – they’re not different content. This could either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view!
My least favourite thing:
Honestly, if I have a criticism of Body Balance, it’s that the free trial is only 2 weeks and after that prices jump to £12 per month for one month, to £28.70 for three months (this works out at about £9.50 per month) to £95.60 for a year (just under £8 per month). This is definitely good value, especially for the range of content and quality available (and it’s certainly cheaper than a gym membership), but I wish the free trial had been longer. As it happens, I forgot to cancel my free trial and ended up subscribing for a month, during which I did as many workouts as possible to make the most of my subscription!
This is a minor complaint overall as I’m really struggling to think of any other criticisms – I certainly feel it was worth the money.
Blogilates is a popular fitness channel on YouTube, created by fitness instructor / personality Cassey Ho. Similar to Body Balance, Cassey’s videos are set to a lively soundtrack, but there the similarities end. POP pilates, Cassey’s mix of pilates and pop music, is now an “internationally recognized instructor certification program”, and Cassey has also launched POPFLEX, her own brand of sportswear.
I don’t remember when or how I first discovered Blogilates, but the videos have featured in my workout routine sporadically for several years. Without exception, I find them challenging. Fast-paced and focussed, each video leaves me in no doubt which muscles have been working, and I am frequently sore the next day! My current favourite videos are the 25 minute extreme abs workout (yes, this is extreme, and I love/hate every second of it!) and 20 minute glute-enhancing workout. The first time I did the latter, I could hardly walk the next day.
Three favourite things:
1. Focus on strength and health, not looks
Cassey is highly motivating and energetic throughout each and every one of her videos, and I am impressed every time with her strength and ability. Compared to something minimalist and sleek like Fitness Blender, the aesthetic of Blogilates is powerful (think lots of bright colours, crop tops and tight leggings) but what really comes through is a focus on strength and health. In a world where so many people are so focussed on image to the exclusion of health, it’s refreshing and positive that Blogilates is able to focus on both.
2. Good range of videos available
With videos targeting different areas such as abs, thigs, glutes, arms and back, as well as lifestyle videos, it’s no wonder Blogilates has over 5 million subscribers at time of writing. Her videos also vary in length, with 30-40 minute workouts as well as quick 10 minute routines. There’s even a few 3 minute videos, perfect for squeezing into a busy day. Most of the videos tend towards a shorter length, which for me personally makes them perfect to pair a couple together to do in a row – I did a 20 minute glute video followed by a 10 minute ab video earlier this week, for example. For low-energy or low-time days, or when the video is particularly challenging, one on its own is perfect to get me moving and get in my exercise for the day.
3. Cassey’s razor-sharp focus on her brand is admirable
Cassey’s videos display a highly honed presentation of her image, which means everything – the video titles, the music, the clothes she wears, and the video thumbnails – are entirely on-brand. This consistency and focus is clearly the output of someone who knows her niche, knows her brand, and knows her audience.
Least favourite thing:
1. Lots of chatter reduces repeatability of the videos
Cassey’s high-energy presentation and personality is motivating and engaging – when I’m in the mood for it. This is why Blogilates is not the main staple of my fitness routine but something I enjoy dipping in and out of sporadically. Cassey’s bubbly, enthusiastic chatter is energising and a great distraction from how sore my muscles are, but when I already know exactly what she is going to say, it naturally holds my attention less. This means I tend not to do the same video over and over again, but might repeat it once every few weeks instead. However, with the range of videos to choose from, I’m certainly not going to run out of videos with which to switch it up.
These three fitness platforms all offer very different workout experiences and have different strengths and weaknesses. I love (almost) everything about Les Mills Body Balance, but it’s not always what I want, so on the occasions when I want something shorter and more focused on a particular body area, Fitness Blender and Blogilates offer a welcome change. I couldn’t say that any one of the three are any better or worse than the others, as my experience of each and the ways in which I use them are very different.
I hope this post has been interesting and informative! What’s your favourite fitness platform? Let me know in the comments below!