How to Build Your Own Virtual Workout for You and Your Friends

Working out with others has proven benefits to boost your fitness, but what if you can't get together in person? Get-Fit Guy, a certified Group Fitness Leader, walks you through three ways to plan virtual workout sessions for yourself and your friends.

Brock Armstrong
5-minute read
Episode #518
The Quick And Dirty
  • Exercising with other people can make you feel more energetic and calm.
  • The competitive aspect of exercising with others can make you work out harder than you might alone. 
  • Group fitness has added health benefits that go beyond exercising alone.
  • Using online chat platforms to allow you to exercise with others is a great way to work out together apart.

Whether it is because one of you has moved across the country or because there's a global pandemic keeping you apart, you may miss gettin’ your sweat on with friends and fellow fitness enthusiasts. And while we all have access to a never-ending supply of online, virtual, or otherwise impersonal workouts, it’s just not the same without friends. 

Even if we are on opposite sides of the planet, we're still able to connect virtually.

That's where video or audio conferencing technology comes in. Even if we are on opposite sides of the planet, we're still able to connect virtually via apps like Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, Meet, Team, GoToMeeting, Connect, and the list goes on.

Yes, I know many of us already spend too many hours on those platforms for work. But that's all the more reason to use them to enhance our physical health and mental wellbeing rather than just as a way for your boss to make sure you are being productive and not playing Kwazy Cupcakes all day.

Social benefits of exercise

A scientific study published in the International Journal of Stress Management attempted to determine if the stress-reducing benefits of exercise are improved by exercising with others rather than alone.

Participants in this study exercised on a laboratory stationary bicycle for 30 minutes at moderate intensity either alone or with another person. A series of ANOVA procedures (analysis of variance) revealed that participants generally felt more energetic, calm, and less tired after any type of exercise (alone or with someone else). When exercising with someone else, the participants reported more calmness but also more tiredness.

The explanation the researchers came up with for the “more tiredness” factor was that there was a competitive aspect introduced when another person was present during exercise which led the participants to work out harder. So, more calmness and a better workout—sign me up!

More calmness and a better workout—sign me up!

Another study from 2016 found that “among older Japanese adults, although exercising alone and exercising with others both seem to have health benefits, increased frequency of exercise with others has important health benefits regardless of the total frequency of exercise.”

How does exercising virtually with friends fit into all this? I couldn't find any studies on whether or not exercising with a friend via a virtual portal conveys the same benefits as exercising with them in person, but I think it is safe to say that having your friends online to inspire and motivate you won't cause you any harm.

So, with this all in mind, here are some examples of how I, a certified Group Fitness Leader, think you can use these productivity platforms to make working out more fun and sociable.

Virtual Fitness Simon Says

When I was leading my group fitness classes back in the early 2000s, one of my favorite workout games to play was to get a group of clients together in a park or field and play a game of Fitness Simon Says. This is how we did it.

  • Everyone in the group is assigned a number.

  • Starting with person number one, cycle through the entire group for a specific amount of time (usually 20 or 30 minutes).

  • When it's your turn, shout out something like “Twenty walking lunges per side!” or “Forty jumping jacks!” or, if you want to be really unpopular, “Twenty burpees!”

  • The only rule is “no repeats.” If someone takes your exercise idea, you have to think of another one quickly.

It is amazing how fast time flies when you're doing an exercise, listening for the next one, and trying to think of something to shout out that hasn’t already been taken.

Mix it up! If you're up next in the game of Virtual Simon Says, try to choose an arm exercise if you are currently doing something leg-focused. And if you are doing something very aerobic, add something more strength-focused.

Adapting this activity to a virtual fitness group

You can easily adapt Fitness Simon Says to a virtual setting. Try it at home in your living room with cameras on so you can see and laugh at—I mean, laugh with!—each other. Prefer to exercise outside? Try this on a conference call with cameras off and headphones on for a fun and energetic boost.

Virtual Coach Tag

To mix things up in my group fitness classes, sometimes I would “tag” other members to lead the workout. They would have to come up with the workout, write it out, and allow me to distribute it to the rest of the group a day or so before the workout. That way, everyone could be mentally prepared. It also gave participants time to come up with exercise variations suited to their abilities.

Adapting this activity to a virtual fitness group

Let’s say you have a group that decided to meet for an online workout on Tuesdays and Saturdays. After the workout on Tuesday, as a group, you decide who is going to be the coach for Saturday’s workout. That person then has a few days to build their workout and send it out via email or text to the participants. Then, on Saturday, that person demonstrates the exercises and leads the group through their (perhaps grueling) workout.

The fun part is that everyone has their favorite exercises, which may or may not be your favorite exercises. This means you get pushed outside of your comfort zone and build some fitness you may not have gone for on your own.

If you have been tagged as the next coach, try to build a workout that is different than the one you did in the last session. Also think of ways to incorporate arms, legs, core, flexibility, and balance into your workout. And remember: I've seen a few people lose friends by making their workout a little too challenging. Also, keep in mind that what comes around goes around.

Walk or run together

A few times per month, my fitness group would get together and simply go for a run or a walk. The distance, pace, and terrain would vary, but we would all do it together and enjoy each other’s company as we logged our steps and kilometers.

Some weeks we would run hill intervals, others we would go for a long slow jog, or we would all go for a conversation-filled brisk walk.

Adapting this activity to a virtual fitness group

This is undoubtedly the easiest fitness activity to switch to virtual. All you need is a mobile phone and a set of headphones (or earbuds) with a microphone. (Although you could just hold your phone, if you want to maintain great walking or running form (as I discussed with biomechanist Katy Bowman), having your hands free can really help.)

For this one, you'll also need a good long-distance cell phone plan or an unlimited data plan since there's unlikely to be an uninterrupted wifi signal for your entire adventure. But as long as you have that, it doesn’t even matter if you keep talking the entire time. Just knowing someone is there on the line might be enough to keep you motivated, and it can also help to share a laugh as the hill repeats get harder and your legs start to feel heavier.

If you went for a flat virtual walk together last week, choose a hilly or more challenging texture to walk on this week.

Finding inspiration

If you are looking for some inspiration or you're unsure how to do an exercise, make sure to check out my YouTube channel for help. And if you don’t find what you are looking for, feel free to send me an email or leave me a voice message.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to mix things up. After all, variety is not only the spice of life, it's also the recipe for overall good fitness!

Citations +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.