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Even though it’s safe to use the gym in Phase 2, some of us may find ourselves staying at home with limited access to fitness equipment simply because we can’t get a slot at our regular gym. But with the click of our mouse, the staggering variety of online fitness videos saves the day.

Working out at home is not only low-cost, but it also offers privacy as well as protection from the crowds. You get to save time travelling to and from the gym, and there’s the convenience of working out at your own time.

However, the convenience and accessibility afforded by these free online workouts could have its cons.

Popular fitness influencer Chloe Ting – who had over 10 million YouTube subscribers at the point of this scandal – was unflatteringly thrown into the limelight for her questionable exercise form and inaccurate fitness, as well as unfounded health claims.

Yet despite all this, Ting’s social media following continued its growth and subscribers to her YouTube channel have since hit a whopping 12 million. This may be credited to her ability to inspire those new to fitness, especially young women, to simply move from bed to mat. 

That said, influencers who claim to be fitness instructors may inspire you to start an exercise routine, but is that workout worth your time (or your dime if it is a paid subscription)? Even worse, without the help of a certified fitness instructor to correct an improper form, your workouts may cause an injury on top of being ineffective. 

So how can you tell if your favourite home fitness instructor is legit? Here are some tips to suss out the ones who actually know their stuff.

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1. Do background checks

When choosing a fitness instructor, you should read up on their background for past and present successes and/or failures, as well as testimonials from existing or former clients. You’ll also want to choose someone who specialises in your fitness goals. For instance, it may not be wise to choose a yoga master in backbends to coach you in handstands. 

“I believe in leading by example. If I can’t do it or have never done it before and don’t know how it feels like, I won’t ask you to do it. If I can’t lose fat myself, who am I to teach you? That’s what I subscribe to,” says personal trainer Nian Kang (@dinokang), who recommends that one should look for fitness instructors who are able to walk their talk. 

His Instagram post The Final Blacklist is a compilation of recommended fitness YouTubers based on their legitimacy and level of ability. For example, tier 1 features elite fitness trainers who boast worldwide recognition, such as Natacha Oceane and Greg Docette, and tier 2 comprises the likes of Pamela Reif and Kayla Itsines.

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2. Look for credentials

No doubt, it is every fitness instructor’s social responsibility to present accurate information. Yet, as someone new to fitness, you wouldn’t know what you don’t know, would you? There is no guarantee, but trainers with solid fitness credentials would be deemed more credible than those without. 

Certification boards exist for a reason. Aspiring fitness professionals have to study their craft – both theory and practical – to pass a rigorous exam that assesses not just their knowledge but the application of their programming and instructional skills. In short, the experts do the job for you – at least at the point of certification – to ensure that these fitness professionals are credible and current.

Some established fitness institutions and credentials are the American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) Personal Trainer Certification (CPT) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

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3. Watch out for the details

There is no one-size-fits-all fitness workout; we are all unique individuals with different body types, metabolism, health conditions as well as fitness goals and needs. Hence, one should be wary of fitness influencers who make claims such as spot reductions (think: six-pack abs in two weeks).

Instead, look for videos that give details or descriptions of their difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advance) and intensity levels. On this note, you will need to be objective about where you are in terms of your fitness levels. Your instructor may be legit but it could be a case of “too much, too soon” if you choose the wrong difficulty or intensity level.

You’ll also want a variety of workouts that consist of compound movements – multi-joint movements that work several muscle groups at once – for they are more functional and cover a greater range of motion. This means you’ll get a full-body workout and burn more calories. 

One gripe professional fitness trainers have is the bad form that some ill-qualified fitness influencers demonstrate in their videos. While the risk of injury is pretty low as most of these workouts require no equipment, it is crucial that we perform the exercises in proper form, for them to be effective and safe. 

“HIIT is one of the best ways available to get results in a fraction of the time. But we know it’s equally important to help users develop good exercise habits so they can continue to progress, injury-free, in the long term,” says Ian Tan, co-founder of Ritual Gym. During the circuit breaker period, the popular HIIT studio launched the Ritual Anywhere app to offer customised 20-minute workouts. The app is free for Ritual members and costs $12.99/month for non-members.

Said Ian: “We included an introduction video, detailed cues and videos of how to do each exercise, custom recommendations depending on how you feel, and a strategy for each session.”

The Intro Session in the app features warm-up and fundamentals. All those new to the app are encouraged to go through this mini HIIT session first. Soon, Ritual Anywhere app will receive a major update that includes personalised audio coaching, so you’ll get technique tips and motivational messages as you’re doing the workout.

This brings us to our final point…

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4. Find your muse

While celebrity power may not translate to actual competency, you would want to choose someone who inspires you to get moving. One of the greatest challenges of working out at home is that you are strictly accountable to yourself. Hence, motivation is key. 

There’s no point in following the most credible instructor if you are not inspired to keep up with a disciplined routine. Likewise, it would be foolhardy to follow in the footsteps of someone who claims to be an expert, but dishes out dodgy advice that may cause you harm instead.

Text: Laine Ng / Shape