I Did a Virtual Workout Almost Every Day for the Last Year — These Are My 9 Favorites

published Apr 2, 2021
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Back in March of last year when stay-at-home orders started, those experiencing this new reality dealt in their own way. For me, I plunged headfirst into the world of virtual workout classes to keep my body and mind busy, and I haven’t looked back since.

Prior to the pandemic, I got my weekly movement through in-person classes and running outside (when it wasn’t winter), with the occasional YouTube video or P90X DVD (yes, DVD) sprinkled into the mix. But when in-person classes came to a screeching halt, and it was still too cold to run outside for me, I quickly fell into a rhythm of doing at-home workouts via Instagram that served as a gateway into all the apps and Zooms that were trickling in as quickly as I was finding them.

It all started with the founder of Rumble, a boxing-inspired fitness studio, who posted an IG Live workout on March 18 saying that they would be posting virtual workouts for a week. That week turned into months, turned into a year, but they and the fitness community continued to offer a boatload of free IG workouts, affordable Zoom classes, and trial-to-subscription apps. I’ve been doing one almost every day for the last 12 months, a journey that led to my own self-discovery of wanting to become a group fitness instructor, which I became certified in earlier this year.

I’ve posted strictly-for-fun workout reviews on my Instagram (which you can still find in my Highlights), but I figured it would be worth sharing my favorites. My biggest hope is that it can bring happiness to those seeking virtual workouts as we continue to do so from the comfort of our homes.

Here are my personal favorite workout platforms that I’ve used over the last year and some of the classes I like most.

If you want a constructive total body program: Dale Santiago

I’ve been doing Zoom workouts by Dale Santiago — a fitness trainer and Rumble instructor — three days a week almost every week since the pandemic began, and I can happily credit his weekly program for getting me to a stronger place. Each workout is different, and he’s constantly switching up the moves and format, so you’re always kept on your toes and your body feels like it’s constantly being challenged. Not to mention he can put together a killer playlist, which is crucial to a successful class, in my opinion.

All of his virtual classes are 50 minutes; Tuesdays at 8 a.m. ET is cardio and core, Thursdays at 8 a.m. ET is glutes and arms (keep those bands and weights nearby), and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. ET is what Santiago calls “Big Dogs Gotta Eat” aka heavy lifting day. They all happen live on Zoom, but if you can’t make it, you can head to his on-demand library to do it later. Having your camera on is completely optional, but I will tell you that Santiago only sends positive vibes through the screen.

Platform: Zoom
Classes start at $20 per session

If you’re looking for a spiritual workout : Rodrick Covington (Core Rhythm Fitness)

I can’t remember how exactly I stumbled across Core Rhythm Fitness, a fitness company based in NYC, but I can tell you how glad I am that I did. One week, on a whim, I decided to join a 50-minute Tabata HIIT workout class taught by founder Rodrick Covington, and I’ve never experienced a warmer welcome — over a screen, no less.

Covington invited people to introduce themselves in the chat and set intentions connected to a monthly theme for class. (For my first workout, the theme was “Saying Yes.”) Then, we got to work in his 50-minute Pilates-style HIIT class, which consisted of everything from weighted goblet squats to plyometric bodyweight moves. Let’s just say, it didn’t take me long before I broke into a sweat. But perhaps my favorite part was the meditation and reflection portion at the end of the workout, which is too often rushed. Covington put emphasis on being intentional and bringing powerful, positive energy cultivated in class to the outside world, which he proves to do on his Instagram.

Platform: Zoom
Classes start at $20 per session

If you want a good arm workout: Barry’s At-Home

Barry’s might have been my favorite workout studio pre-pandemic, but that has nothing to do with why they made this list (although yes, it did inspire me to try their at-home workouts in the first place). Known for their treadmill-meets-strength in-person classes, the fitness chain transitioned to their at-home platform that requires no additional equipment (although it is optional for some classes). While I’ve tried a range of workouts from various instructors, there’s one thing that comes to mind when thinking about them collectively: arms.

The first Barry’s At-Home I ever did was basically a pushup workout with the occasional burpee. While that might sound daunting for some, for those who are looking to focus solely on your arms (and don’t have access to equipment), this is a dream. I’d recommend taking the bodyweight classes for a chance to burn out your arms, but if you’re not picky about where your burn takes place, any of the classes will get the job done.

Platform: Zoom
Price: Classes start at 2 for $20

If you need something quick but effective: FitOn

Some days, you’re running on a tight schedule and feel like there’s no time to squeeze in a workout before the day starts. In these moments, I turn to FitOn, a free app that has an extensive on-demand workout library that’s easy to navigate through filters like time, intensity, target area, category, equipment, and trainer. And with 17 different types of fitness categories to choose from, they most likely have what you’re looking for — from meditation and yoga to kid-friendly workouts and work break stretches.

FitOn existed well before the pandemic began but has continued to grow and expand with options that keep at-home workouts exciting, with some celebrity instructors thrown into the mix, like Jonathan Van Ness’ yoga flows and Gabrielle Union’s mobility sessions. And even though they don’t have live classes, the app puts together a daily schedule made up of pre-recorded workouts that you can sign up for in advance — and they encourage you to invite your friends to join, too.

Platform: FitOn app
Price: Free

If you want to laugh while sweating: Danielle Pascente

Speaking of great instructors on FitOn, Danielle Pascente is one who inspired me early on to pursue my own fitness certification during the pandemic. I started taking her classes on the app, most of which consist of advanced HIIT classes, but it wasn’t until I started following her on Instagram that I really got to understand her uplifting personality.

While she doesn’t do as many IG Lives as she used to early on last year, you can check out her past workouts on her IGTV tab that are filled with jokes, sweat, and cameos by her goofy husband, Matt. She isn’t afraid to laugh at herself while motivating others to challenge themselves to do the best they can in every workout — but her total body workouts aren’t a joke. You can also check out other free workouts in her “Live Workouts” highlight on Instagram, head to FitOn, or check out her workout programs and training guides on her official website.

Platform: FitOn, Instagram
Prices: Free (unless you do her workout programs/training guides, which vary in price)

If you’re missing a feeling of community: bande

You can’t fully recreate the experience of going to an in-person class, but bande, a new platform that describes itself as a virtual boutique fitness studio, is dedicated to maintaining a similar sense of community.

The first class I took was a 45-minute Cardio Sculpt class by Todd Allen, a fitness instructor with a dance background. I signed on right when the class was scheduled to start, but Allen still made time to greet me personally by name, asking me if it was my first time on the platform, and welcoming me to the group. Throughout the workout, Allen watched my form and provided proper adjustments, doing the same for his regulars. I got the sense that most of the attendees knew each other, too, who threw encouraging messages in the chat from time to time. Even after we finished, Todd stayed on the call to say hello to my dog Fenway, who made a guest appearance during our floor work.

In addition to Cardio Sculpt, I’ve taken live HIIT, barre, and boxing-inspired cardio classes on bande, and they’ve all left me feeling that similar giddy way after you meet a new friend in class. Of course, this kind of virtual fitness experience isn’t for everyone — many have expressed they don’t miss the small talk part of in-person workouts — but if you’re craving human connection through a fitness community, bande is worth a shot.

Platform: Zoom
Price: Packages start at $30 monthly

If you want to dance like no one’s watching: Matt Armendariz

When the pandemic hit, like many other fitness instructors, Matt Armendariz — a professional photographer and Zumba instructor — started offering free classes on Zoom, which he promotes on his Instagram. But unlike other fitness instructors, Armendariz still offers these Zumba classes three days a week, entirely free of charge (donations accepted via Paypal and Venmo though!).

It was last fall when my manager messaged me about Armendariz, describing his class as “the most fun I’ve had in Zumba.” So, I decided to throw myself into the Zoom room, which happened to be a neon lit space where Armendariz, front and center, danced his way into my heart (cheesy, yes, but this man didn’t stop smiling and projecting energy for an hour straight, so it’s not an over-exaggeration). Great music, great energy, and great if you need a mid-day dance break to shake off any worries.

Platform: Zoom
Price: Free (check Armendariz’s Instagram for weekly schedules)

If you want to put your mind at ease: Clementine

This list wouldn’t be complete without giving love to the app that got me through some of 2020’s toughest days. Like so many others, I had a hard time sleeping due to stress and anxiety early on in the pandemic. My best friend recommended downloading the free app Clementine, and while I had never tried hypnotherapy before, I figured it was worth a shot to get some shut-eye.

The app is broken out into six sections: Sleep, Confidence, De-Stress, Body, Mantras, and Care Workers Support (which was added later on). I toggled around in the Sleep section, where there are different episodes for various scenarios — from needing a power nap to falling back asleep in the middle of the night. I gravitated toward the “Deep Sleep” session the most, and for months I played that 25-minute soothing audio that rocked me to sleep almost every night.

I also switched on “Mantras” on my phone that bubbles up inspirational words once or twice a day, which seems to always give me mental peace when I need it. You can let the app randomly choose the mantra or insert your own.

Platform: Clementine app
Price: Free

If you want your workout schedule set for you: Aubre Winters (Sweat Sessions)

I love the flexibility that an on-demand library gives me, but the one major downside is that there are too many options. Unless my body is signaling what kind of workout it needs, I’m left aimlessly scrolling for so long and, by the time I pick a class, I only have 20 minutes to squeeze it all in. But Aubre Winters’ Sweat Sessions program curates a weekly schedule for me, no planning required, which makes it a great option for an indecisive person like myself.

Called the “Weekly Sweat Schedule,” the online program selects two videos every weekday and three videos for the entire weekend. The daily class combos usually work different muscle groups, like a 27-minute glider session followed by a 30-minute arm workout. It takes the stress out of having to pick from a long list of programming — plus, you know you’re working a little bit of everything by the end of the week.

In addition to on-demand classes, Winters also has a live schedule and occasionally hosts a free workout. But by no means does complimentary mean easy (seriously, I took a total body class and can confidently it’s one of the hardest I’ve ever taken).

Platform: Zoom
Price: Packages start at $74.99 monthly

Do you have a favorite virtual program and/or class? Let us know in the comments below!