The popularity of Breakfree Movement’s virtual classes hints at a new norm for the fitness industry
The global fitness industry is believed to have generated US$100 billion in revenue every year before the outbreak of Covid-19. Then came the pandemic.
The coronavirus has had a catastrophic effect on this industry as fitness providers were forced to close their doors for weeks. Lockdowns and social restrictions since March have kept people at home and many have started looking for new ways to stay healthy and happy.
To meet this need, fitness providers such as Breakfree Movement by Natural Movement Sdn Bhd started pushing the boundaries of what they can deliver online.
Breakfree Movement’s digital services started with the intention of spreading cheer during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. “Some of our members were feeling down when the first extension to the MCO was announced. That was when we decided to do something positive and spread our message on the importance of movement,” says Imelda Yong.
Yong and Breakfree Movement’s operations director and head coach Dr Elaine Hong are the country’s first two MovNat (a natural movement method) certified coaches.
The MovNat training method looks at movements that a human body is designed to do but are compromised by physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. “Natural movements include crawling, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, jumping, vaulting and climbing. We encourage individuals to develop body awareness and enjoy freedom of expression through movement,” says Yong.
Many a times, when push comes to shove, the choice gets taken out of our hands. Such is the case for bricks-and-mortar businesses during the Covid-19 lockdown. It was either go online or close shop. Many chose to go digital, and though the learning curve is steep, they have begun to reap some benefits.
“Moving naturally also means that we have to adapt to changing environmental variables and different situations. Adaptability extends to businesses like ours and we had to quickly adapt to new circumstances and new lifestyles during the MCO.”
Breakfree Movement’s virtual services kicked off with two weeks of complimentary fitness classes via Zoom for existing members. To Yong and Hong’s surprise, the number of participants attending their online sessions exceeded the number participating in classes held at their physical premises before the pandemic.
“The number of participants for our online classes have increased over time and we have started seeing demand from people who have not been to our bricks-and-mortar facility. Within two months, we had online class participants from all over the world, including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UAE. About 95% of those who were not our members before the MCO have since attended our classes in our facility and/or continued with us online. Some are also our personal coaching clients now,” says Yong.
Delivering real-world results
The wealth of exercise information and online fitness coaching and classes has done away with costly gym memberships and the need to leave your house for a workout. The question is whether instructions and guidance delivered over a screen can deliver real-world fitness results.
Yong says clear progress can be seen among participants who consistently participate in Breakfree’s online classes. “Movement patterns, efficiency in executing these movements as well as mobility and strength translates into visible aesthetic changes. This is clearly seen among those who consistently attend our online classes.”
Delivering the best experience online, however, is a different ballgame for a fitness provider. “Being together with our members and clients in a physical space allows us to offer a combination of kinaesthetic, tactile, visual and verbal cues. Going online eliminates kinaesthetic and tactical cues so we had to ensure that our visual and verbal cues are extremely precise,” says Hong.
“This is the only way to deliver good experience and reduce the possibility of injuries, especially among those who are new to our training method. Initially, we thought this would be challenging, but our online participants have been receptive and responsive to the cues delivered through a screen.”
Both Hong and Yong are present in all their online classes. One watches participants and gives targeted feedback through verbal cues while the other provides visual cues and executes the movements along with the participants.
“This approach leads to high quality, mindful movements. We advocate mindful movements over performing a lot of repetitions quickly. Our online class participants move in sync and this has, somehow, created a bond among them even though they have not met face-to-face. This bond has since resulted in the Breakfree community,” says Hong.
Home workouts require the thoughtful use of common household items if a load is needed for a particular movement. “We have to be creative. But thankfully, it is not too difficult to adapt. Moving naturally is premised on adaptability and practically. We should be able to adapt to any environment and develop practical strength for life,” she adds.
Standing out in a crowd
More than 350,000 fitness instructors and trainers in the US are estimated to have started offering online streaming options during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Competition in the virtual fitness market is clearly fierce with big global brands and small boutique outfits offering a wide variety of home-based exercise classes.
But Hong isn’t deterred by the presence of countless other fitness providers online. “What we teach is not seen as conventional in an industry that prioritises exercising with heavy weights on a linear, singular movement plane. We prioritise building strength in our joints on multiple movement planes and reclaiming lost mobility,” she says.
“Furthermore, instead of working out to burn calories and achieve an ‘ideal’ physique, we prefer to focus on acquiring physical skills that demand the physical body to change out of necessity. This approach already differentiates Breakfree from mainstream fitness providers. Of course, there are others who offer similar movement-based training practices but we don’t regard them as competition.
“Breakfree Movement’s concept of fitness and movement is still new in Malaysia. Our peers may offer learning opportunities and we may even collaborate to offer a greater variety of movement practices to our members and clients.”
Hong says personalisation and attention to detail is Breakfree Movement’s competitive strength in the crowded fitness industry. “We ensure that all our members and clients progress over time. Personalised attention, localised movement cues and movements that are relevant to them highlight the value of our training method while enhancing their physical longevity.
“It is important to note that we don’t believe that our approach is the only way to get stronger or fitter. Breakfree offers a strong foundation in movement and the skills that are learnt here can be put to use in any sport and any training method.”
Home workouts or the gym — which suits you best?
It can be overwhelming to select an online exercise programme from thousands of livestream and on-demand options from providers all over the world.
Dr Elaine Hong, operations director and head coach of Breakfree Movement, a natural movement fitness facility, looks at things to consider in your selection process.
Understand your motivations and the training method
“Establish your goals and objectives before starting an exercise regiment. Ask whether the desire to exercise is a short-term compulsion or a long-term commitment and if the training method is realistic and sustainable as you age. Is the training method relevant to your daily life?” says Hong.
She prioritises safety and encourages aspiring fitness enthusiasts to consider their movement ability and capacity before embarking on any form of exercise. “There are many complimentary and paid fitness classes online. To pick one, take a look at your body and your ability to move. Every human body is different, so what the fitness provider portrays as possible ‘results’ may not apply to you.”
Consider your approach to learning
Training should be seen as a two-way street and based on needs and objectives. Hong says the consumption of online fitness content without engaging with the provider can demotivate you from pursuing your goals and may even result in injuries.
“Those recovering from an existing injury and those with a specific fitness goal should consider training in a physical studio and engaging with a fitness coach who listens to your needs. A fitness facility provides access to equipment that you may not have at home while face-to-face interaction with a coach will ensure that your movements are performed well with minimal risk of injury. However, those looking for general improvement in their mobility and strength can still opt to workout at home,” she adds.