15 Challenges with using Zoom for Your Workouts

Music & Video

Zoom is an amazing tool.  I use it every day, and in our tests the video quality is better than any of the other video chat platforms.  Here are some positives on using Zoom to stream your live workouts:

  1. Quality:  The video quality rocks compared to other video chat tools.
  2. Price:  It’s either free or cheap (like $15 per month), especially given the workload that some gyms and studios put on their Zoom accounts.
  3. Cross Platform:  There are mobile apps and desktop computer apps, and workout participants can cast to a TV.
  4. Works:  It is reliable, both in terms of their service on the internet and it running on everyone’s smartphones, tablets and laptops.
  5. Familiar:  During Covid, Zoom has become as much a household name as Google and Facebook, so most people have used it already.
  6. Music:  So far, there aren’t any music licensing trackers on Zoom, so unlike say YouTube or Facebook, with Zoom you can still play your Spotify playlist.  Of course, this breaks copyright.
  7. Virtual Backgrounds:  If you want to, you can use virtual backgrounds (even without a special green screen), and they can be static or animated.
  8. Latency:  Again, the Zoom engineering rocket scientists have done an amazing job at keeping the latency to sub 150 milliseconds, so it feels like you’re all together.
  9. Participant Video:  Members can see the coach, but can also see other people in a group class (assuming other participants have their cameras turned on).
  10. Integration:  Via partners like FitGrid, you can hook up Zoom sessions to your existing gym and class management software, like Mindbody.

So what’s not to love?  Well it turns out that none of the new breed of digital fitness companies use Zoom for their workouts.  Peloton, Tonal, Tempo, Mirror, Hydrow, Fiit, Neou, Apple Fitness+ (once out), Obe, Fiton … none of them use Zoom.  Why?

Here’s the top 15 challenges with using Zoom for your fitness workouts:

  1. No Metrics:  For Peloton, Apple Fitness+ and most other digital services, there’s some type of metrics like heart rate, calories, cadence, power expended - something - that brings some light competition and accountability.  Using Zoom by itself doesn’t have anything like that, because Zoom isn’t set up for fitness workouts - it’s just a generalist software tool for video chats.
  2. No Overlays:  You can't easily overlay elements like leaderboards, countdown clocks, sets, workout timelines, heart rates / zones, calories burned etc.  Some software providers and fitness studios have tried this with showing a TV behind the coach in the camera, but it looks amateurish.  For digital fitness providers like the ones mentioned above, overlay elements are a critical part of the user experience.
  3. Audio Sync:  Zoom is set up for video calls, so it is designed for extremely low latency (sub one second) and prioritizes audio over video.  What that means is that the audio and video can often get out of sync.  If you’re doing a general HIIT workout it may not matter that much, but if you’re doing movements to the music (like Zumba) it’s a big problem because the movements aren’t in sync with the music when the participant sees them.
  4. Video Quality:  Again, Zoom is optimized for video calls and extremely low latency, so that means that the video quality is generally not as high as say Netflix or Peloton.  The digital fitness companies mentioned above all have higher quality video than is attainable over Zoom, because they use platforms like Amazon’s broadcast video stack that optimize quality over latency (magic to do with caching data to deal with network dropouts).
  5. Participant Video Privacy:  Coaches and participants can love the two way video feature, but each participant gets a binary decision - everyone can see his or her video, or no-one can see it.  If a sketchy guy spends the whole of an in-studio workout class staring at a young lady’s butt he’s going to get kicked out, but in Zoom nobody knows if some sketchy guy pins the video feed for an attractive lady working out.  And they can record it.  Think about that.
  6. Seeing Friends:  In a spin workout, people tend to ride next to their friends, but in Zoom the ordering of participant video is kind of random.  This can mean that if a member has 4 friends with video turned on among 50 other people, there’s no way for the member to see all their friends on screen at the same time (they can see one or two friends and then other random participants).
  7. Messaging Friends:  Zoom has limited access controls for participants being able to message each other - it’s generally just “anyone can message anyone” or “participants can’t message each other”.  Zoom can’t limit this to each participant being able to message his or her friends in the workout, because Zoom doesn’t have any concept of friends.
  8. Participant Name Privacy:  In a real world in-studio workout nobody is wearing full (first and last) name badges, but in Zoom each participant’s name is often a default setting on his or her computer, so again it can be easy for some stalker to see the full name of another participant and then go look him or her up on Facebook.
  9. Limiting Access:  Zoom doesn’t always limit how many people can access with a single meeting ID or link, so one of your members could share the link or meeting ID with one of his or her friends, and that other person could join the group workout for free without being tracked.
  10. Music:  The recording industry in the US is kind of litigious - just ask Peloton.  YouTube and Facebook have already implemented checks for copyrighted music and they then mute the whole audio on the stream, it has to be a matter of time before Zoom gets to the same position.  Most digital workout platforms do include commercial pop music, Peloton has the best music options (Apple likely will match it), because people love riding to Bieber and Beyonce - Zoom has nothing for this.
  11. No Audio Channels:  Audio in Zoom is kind of limited - the host can force everyone else to be muted, or he or she can allow participants to turn their microphones on, but then there’s always that one person who doesn’t know how to mute it and sound bombs the session.  In an in-studio workout, talking with friends during a group workout is a key part of the experience, there’s no option for audio channels in Zoom.
  12. Single Camera:  Zoom is built for video chat, which typically means a single web camera per participant.  Workouts with a single camera angle the whole way through tend to look a bit more boring and amateurish compared to the studio set ups of the digital fitness companies mentioned above.  How to get round this?  You can hook up an external video mixer to a laptop running Zoom, but they typically require a live production technician, which most studios can’t afford.  Zoom does have support for multiple cameras (see this video), but it requires the coach to keep hitting the “Switch Camera” button, which would be very disruptive to the flow of a demonstrated workout - there’s no automation.
  13. No Camera Controls:  Digital services like Peloton use broadcast quality cameras that have remote “Pan, Tilt, Zoom” (PTZ) controls, which means that someone (e.g. the coach or production crew) can realign the camera during the workout.  Zoom doesn’t have these controls, it just allows switching between cameras.
  14. No Dashboard:  Most of the digital workout services (Peloton, Tempo, etc) have special user experiences for the coach that help the coach bring live interaction to the workout without overwhelming the coach so he or she looks frantic and distracted juggling different applications at the same time.  Zoom doesn’t have this, because it wasn’t designed for digital workouts.
  15. No Content Management:  Regular Zoom accounts don’t have any content management built in, so if you want to be able to make the live workouts available on demand, you have to go download the recording from Zoom and then go push it to Vimeo or some custom built system where you can tag the workout by coach, type, equipment needed, difficulty, length, etc.  This can become very time consuming as a manual process.

At Tribe, we’re focused on building a platform specifically for digital workouts, so that local gyms and studios as well as other grassroots fitness creators can compete on a more fair playing field with the likes of Peloton, Apple, Neou and Fiit.  If you want to take your digital fitness program to the next level, come talk to us - we are vested in your success.

Justin Marston

Thinker, writer, innovator, runner, Star Wars fan

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