Your Complete Technical Guide to Setting Up a Virtual Fitness Class

Apr 29, 2021
 

“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”  - Robert Frost

I got really comfortable teaching fitness in person. I had my regulars, my room setups, my volume levels perfected for ultimate “dance on the mat” vibes, and I had confidence.  This is why when the world shut down last year, I was NOT ready for it.  

As fitness instructors, we have a special kind of passion for creating an environment for our students. We want them to love our workouts as much as we do. We want them to feel confident and powerful. We want them to come back! When you take away control of that physical environment, sometimes we are left with uncertainty, anxiety, self criticism, and self-doubt.  When the world told me I had to go virtual or go home... I was not ready. But don't worry - YOU will be.  

Let me tell you about my very first “virtual” class. I created a Facebook group and invited EVERYONE I knew to take classes with me, I ordered a tripod for my phone, set myself up in my living room, put a Bluetooth speaker underneath my phone, and projected as much as I could.  I decided to go live via Facebook. 

Here’s what went right:

  • I was visible and audible! 
  • People actually showed up to the live stream! 
  • The lighting wasn’t terrible. 
  • My cat made a guest appearance and lightened the mood. 

Here’s what wasn’t so great: 

  • Facebook immediately sent me a copyright claim for using mainstream music. 
  • The music and visual quality were nothing like they would be in a live class setting. 
  • I had no idea what my students’ experience was. 

Over the next few weeks, I slowly spiraled into an anxiety-ridden state trying to create some sort of consistency with all of my virtual classes. Sometimes my music was overpowering, sometimes you could barely hear the music, sometimes my internet cut out, sometimes Facebook would cut  out my stream mid-class, sometimes I would teach an entire class only to find out afterward that I hadn’t actually started the livestream.  

Suddenly, teaching, this thing that had brought me so much joy was eating away at my self-confidence and frustrating me so much that I often shed a few tears after each class if it wasn’t “perfect”.  

First, I want to tell you that the frustration is OKAY.  This is new and we as individuals do not have immediate access to a flashy camera and audio crew. Seeing corporate studios with flawless video and sound quality was one of the biggest triggers to my frustration.  So… I created my own personal video and audio crew with JUST myself.  

Second, take a moment and a sigh of relief.  You are not fated to the drama above.  I got you! I have spent the past year trying ALL of the audio equipment, reviewing most of the streaming platforms, and trial and error-ing my virtual classes for months before finally finding exactly what works for me. 

And now, I’m about to give you everything you need.  

Your first step is choosing a platform that will work best for you and your needs. I have experience with ZOOM, Facebook Live and Vimeo Live. Below, you’ll find my pros, cons, and preferred setups for each platform.  

Navigating the Instructional Video

0:00 - Introduction
0:42 - Preparing for Zoom
6:53 - Inside Zoom
9:27 - Bonus: Including a Mixer

ZOOM

Pros: 

  • Allows you to see and actively communicate with your students in real time. They can also see each other, which can create a better “community class” feel. This is something a lot of people are really missing in quarantine, so ZOOM can be great for reconnecting you to your students. 
  • Gives you the option to share your computer audio, creating a better “dance on the mat” experience for your classes.  
  • It is affordable at around $15 per month.  Free if you plan to do the 30 minute class skeleton! 

Cons: 

  • Zoom was originally created as a conference call platform for people to be able to communicate visually together. It acts more similarly to a shared phone call rather than a “live streaming” service. So far, I have not been able to create the cinematic virtual class experience that I like to provide for my students. That doesn’t mean I didn’t work dang hard to make it as good as I possibly could though! 
  • It requires higher quality fast internet, preferably with an ethernet direct connection to provide the smoothest class experience.  
  • You cannot share your music or use an external mic to improve quality if you choose to stream from a phone or iPad via ZOOM, so it limits you to having to do your classes from a laptop or desktop.  
  • The good news is, you can create a pretty good, high-quality class with this platform with a little extra patience and equipment. 

ZOOM TOOLKIT

  • Laptop with a webcam or built-in camera
  • Ethernet cord 
  • Ethernet adapter (if you’re using a newer Mac that doesn’t have an ethernet port) 
  • RODE GO wireless mic
  • An external speaker so that you can hear your music. You will not be able to hear your music with just built-in computer speakers. The linked speaker is my preference because I can also use it for live/outdoor classes when needed. If you have traditional computer speakers that you can plug into your laptop, those will work fine!  You just need speakers that connect to your computer that have a SEPARATE volume selection. 
  • USB connector/adapter to use the RODE with your computer. Or THIS, if your laptop has the smaller USB-C port. (It will not work via your computer’s aux/headphone jack) 
  • An aux cord to connect your external speaker to your computer
  • *Optional: RODE lav attachment for even smoother audio
  • *Optional: Ring light for a bright and clear visual for your students

ZOOM STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS 

  • Connect your external speaker to your laptop via the aux cord.  
  • Connect your RODE receiver to the USB adapter and then plug the USB adapter into your laptop. 
  • Turn on the RODE! 
  • Log into ZOOM, select your class and start the meeting. 
  • Once the meeting is in progress, click on “Audio” at the bottom, left of your screen. 
  • Select Audio Settings. 
  • Set your microphone to the USB adapter connected to your RODE.  
  • Set your speaker to “same as system”.  
  • In “advanced” audio settings, select “aggressive” for Suppress Persistent Background Noise and Suppress Intermittent Background Noise.  Select Auto for Echo Cancellation. 
  • Leave audio settings. 
  • Click the “Share Screen” button at the bottom of your screen. 
  • Choose “advanced” 
  • Choose “Music or Computer Sound Only” - This will allow you to share your playlist for smooth music quality! 
    • In your music app/source (Apple Music, Spotify, etc. ) turn your volume about halfway down. Do this ON your music app, NOT on your computer’s volume.  Leave your general computer volume all the way up.  This will make the music pretty low on your end, so here is where your external speaker comes in!  Now, turn the volume up on your external speaker to a level that you can clearly hear.  
    • From here, you should be good to go!  Talk into your mic and ask your students if they can hear you and the music.  

 

  • If you are running version: 5.5.4 (13130.0228) or later of zoom, when setting your audio levels, leave your computer and music source volume all the way up and set your rode mic level on the receiver to level 1 (one notch up on the little triangle on the bottom left of the screen)

 

Tips for using the RODE Mic Successfully

  • You will not need to yell into this mic or project as you would in a room full of people. Make sure that you are speaking audibly and clearly, but yelling will cause distortion in your voice for your students.  
  • Your external speaker volume should be loud enough for you to hear, but not so loud that it resembles a dance party. I love a good dance party, but with the RODE, if your music source is too loud, the mic will cut in and out with the competing sounds from your voice and the music in the background. You may have to test this out a couple of times to find the right volume.  
  • Clip the RODE mic onto the outside of your clothing (unless you are using the lav adapter). Avoid clipping it on a high-cut top that comes up to the collar bone. The Mic needs a clear open path from your voice to the input, so blocking it with your chin, clothing or anything extra can impact the quality. 

FACEBOOK LIVE

Pros: 

  • With a decent internet connection and a functioning iPhone or iPad, Facebook Live Streaming video and audio quality is great.  
  • Facebook Live does not distort audio or create the warbly, phone-like audio that ZOOM does, so you can use a simpler setup for music if you are not in the market for a ton of new equipment. 
  • If you are planning on using POP Pilates® licensed music, you will dramatically cut down the chances of your class getting paused for copyright infringement.  HOWEVER, even with POP music, the streaming Copyright patrolling is done via AI and they don’t always know what you do and don’t have permission to use, so your classes could still be interrupted.  
  • Facebook Live is FREE! 

Cons: 

  • You won’t be able to see your students during classes, but they can still comment! 
  • Facebook is notorious for pausing or canceling live streams because of copyright infringement with mainstream music use. This made it one of the MOST stressful and inconsistent platforms I used for live streams. BUT IT CAN BE DONE! 
  • You can’t integrate Facebook as easily into scheduling services and the task of setting up your weekly events, inviting attendees and keeping track of your roster will fall on you manually.  
  • Facebook Livestream video and audio quality does not perform AS well via laptop/desktop.  If you are not using a mixer to connect your audio, the computer is not ideal.  
  • There are TWO ways you can use Facebook Live for your classes.  One is budget friendly and one will step up your quality with a bit of investment.  I started out using Facebook live with the budget-friendly method and slowly built up my equipment to improve my overall sound quality.  

THE BUDGET-FRIENDLY FACEBOOK LIVE TOOLKIT

  • Tripod for your iPhone/phone/iPad
  • A working phone! 
  • A small external speaker (any bluetooth, small battery powered speaker, anything that projects music is great)

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS FOR BUDGET FRIENDLY FACEBOOK LIVE

  • Create a private event and title it your class name. 
  • Invite the students who sign up or people you wish to have access to the class. 
  • Set up your phone/iPad onto the tripod and make sure your whole body is visible. 
  • Set your speaker below your phone’s microphone about a foot away and facing you. 
  • DO NOT START YOUR MUSIC BEFORE CLASS. This is a BIG way to avoid copyright issues. Never play music in the background if you are not speaking over it.  
  • At your scheduled event time, go live INSIDE the private event. This way, only people invited can see your livestream.  
  • Ask your students to comment that they are there and ready to workout!  Encourage them to comment between tracks since no one can see each other. This can help bring up the energy of your classes and encourage a more “community” vibe.  
  • Give your introduction and set up the new move before turning on your playlist.  Make sure, when your music starts, you are ready to teach!  

PRO TIPS

  • Take some test videos for audio levels on your phone before going live in Facebook. Ideally, you want your music to be lower than your voice by about 25%. This allows for clear instruction and it reduces the risk of your audio being flagged.  
  • Take a photo of exactly where you put your speaker and where the volume is set on your external speaker and always set it the same way for the most consistent and stress-free class experience.  
  • IF your live stream gets paused for copyright or any other reason, usually you can resume with just a short interruption on your students’ end.  Tell them NOT to refresh their page if the stream gets interrupted. If your stream is interrupted because of Copyright infringement, refreshing the page can cause loss of access to the class.  
  • Have a second device that you can watch your own class on. It will not be obvious that your class has been paused unless you stream with your screen facing you or you are watching your class from a second source. I used my laptop to both watch my class (muted) and play my music from. 
  • You cannot use your streaming device for music, so either way, you will need a second device to play your music from.  

Are you set on Facebook? If so, this is my alternative setup to create a more professional audio experience for your students. The good news? This same setup will work for my final (and recommended) streaming service, Vimeo Live, as well.  

USING A MIXER

What the heck is a mixer? Short answer: An audio mixer is a little box that allows you to connect all of your audio sources (music, microphone) and directly input them into your streaming device for clear, professional sounding audio.  A mixer has adjustable dials that allow you to fine-tune your microphone and your music for your preferred levels.  

USING AN AUDIO MIXER TO LIVE STREAM - TOOLKIT

  • A mixer!  This is my preferred mixer that I and my cycle studio have used for years.  
  • A wireless microphone that is unidirectional (this protects you from that annoying whale/ringing noise that can happen with microphone feedback on external speakers)
  • An External Speaker 
  • IRIG to connect the mixer to your phone as your streaming device. 
  • 2 aux cords to connect to your irig and powered speaker
  • A usb adapter to connect your mixer to your laptop (only if you’re using a laptop to stream)
  • A dual aux cord to connect your music source to your mixer. 
  • An XLR cord to connect your microphone receiver to your mixer. 

ALL the cords, right? The good thing about a mixer is once you have all of these cords and they are plugged into your mixer correctly, you won’t have to unplug them or remember where they go in the future. Okay, so how does all of this work and HOW do you start a class with this mixer setup? Check out the video to see where you’ll plug all of these cords into and then you can get going with your livestream

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS FOR FACEBOOK LIVE WITH MIXER 

  • Set your iPhone up via tripod or place your laptop in a spot so that you are visible from head to toe. 
  • Connect your mixer to your phone via the IRIG or to your laptop via the USB converter/adapter. 
  • BEFORE turning on your external speaker, turn the MAIN MIX on your mixer all the way down. You can blow out a speaker if your knobs are turned up when connecting a sound device.  
  • Set your MAIN MIX dial pointing straight up (50%)
  • Set channel 1 (your mic) to 45% 
  • Set the GAIN under line one (mic) to 45%
  • Set channel 3-4 (your music) to 35-40%
  • Set PHONES (this adjusts how loud the main volume will sound to your students via the IRIG or USB connector) to 45% 
    • Avoid ever putting this past 50%. Although you may not hear it on your end, this starts to distort the audio for your students when set too high.  
  • All other dials should either be turned to 50% if they are in lines 1 or 3-4 or to 0 if they are unrelated to channels you are using.
  • Set up your external speaker so that it is not directly in front of you. About 45 degrees to your right or left and facing diagonally inward works best. When it is in front of you, you can pick up unwanted feedback that may force you to lower your volume.  
  • Turn on and test your mic. If you are hearing feedback, move your speaker around/face it away from you, or turn down your external speaker volume or alternatively your MAIN MIX  a little until you do not hear it. 
  • If you are using FB live, do not play your music until you are ready to teach once your live stream starts.  
  • The rest is the same as the original FB set up! 

So, what happens if you want the quality available with Facebook, but the music freedom and platform scheduling integration you get with ZOOM? My third and preferred platform for live streaming music-based formats is...

VIMEO LIVE/ VIMEO PREMIUM

This platform provides the same (and better) quality of Facebook Live, allowing you to use the mixer without the stress of interrupted classes, copyright claims and having to create private Facebook events, invite students and manually keep track of your schedule. Vimeo does not let you see your students like ZOOM either, but similarly to Facebook, your students can comment throughout class in the comments box.  So, why isn’t everyone using it? Well, to put it frankly, it is EXPENSIVE. If you have an established client base and your primary concern is the quality of your picture and audio, Vimeo may be something that you should look into.  

Pros

  • With solid internet connection, you can stream up to 1080p for an HD live class! 
  • Vimeo does not currently pause or interrupt your streams with copyright claims no matter what your volume is, if you’re playing music ambiently before class or if you play popular music in your classes. Remember, just because Vimeo doesn't ban you does not mean it's legal to do so. Please check and research all copyright streaming laws to learn about what is and is not allowed. 
  • You can use the same mixer setup mentioned above and stream from your phone or your laptop. (I recommend streaming from a phone or iPad for the best quality, unless you have a separate HD webcam attachment for your computer)
  • You can ALSO use the budget-friendly external speaker setup with Vimeo live with the same results.  
  • Your classes are automatically recorded and added to your video catalog on Vimeo.  They will still remain private and you do not have to share them with your students, but this is a great option to have for utilizing pre-recorded class services, should you choose to offer them. But remember, it is policy that your POP Pilates® classes are not recorded and shared as we want to keep the focus on a live class experience. 
  • Similar to ZOOM, each live stream event has an individual link that you can add to scheduling services or share via e-mail/text with your students allowing them easy access to a one-time link taking them directly to the live stream.  

Cons: 

  • The price:  Vimeo premium will run you $900 annually.  
  • Like Facebook Live, you won’t be able to see your individual students or share multiple videos during your livestreams.  The chat feature is still available.  

Here are some tips for making this expensive platform a little more accessible: 

  • Share it with a small group of instructors.  If you have other instructors that you know and trust… You can easily share this app! Vimeo Premium has tons of space for video recording uploads, showcases that allow you to organize your videos by instructor, date, or type and many other features that allow for multiple people to use it efficiently.  
  • Share it with a studio. I currently share a Vimeo Premium subscription with a studio that I work at. They use it to live stream their classes and I use it to live stream mine! If you’re close with your studio or work in a smaller boutique setting, this could be an option for you.  
  • Charge. For. Your. Classes. If you are going to work hard and create THE BEST class environment for your students, they need to pay you for this quality. If you are using Facebook Live and you want to upgrade to Vimeo, you can and should raise your virtual class prices.  

STEP-BY-STEP FOR VIMEO LIVE

Follow the instructions the same as you would for Facebook Live. For Vimeo, you can play your music whenever you want, with or without talking over it. I like to play music as my clients are signing on about 5 minutes before the class start time, so they can jam out.  

READY, SET, STREAM!

Ready to take the leap?  Now that you have the tools, the instructions, and the confidence, you are all set to go live!

Remember, virtual teaching is still relatively new, so it will take practice, dedication, and a clear vision of what you want your students’ class experience to be like. What is your virtual brand? 

I’m so excited for you to launch your classes! I have used every single one of these platforms and all of this equipment, so I know how overwhelming this can seem!  

You can also check out my virtual class flow, audio quality and overall vibe IN ACTION by booking a class with me!  Head over to my website and let me know what you think! 

Jaimee Johnson is a POP Pilates® Master Trainer from Durham, North Carolina. Jaimee first heard about Pilates from her high school Drama teacher. She was immediately intrigued by the use of controlled movement and breathing to sculpt the entire body. With a deep distaste for cardio, this sounded like the perfect workout for her. She tried her first Pilates class during her freshman year at Savannah College of Art and Design and immediately fell in love. It was effective and it was a total mind and body experience. She found that she was drawn to the instructors who incorporated music into their workouts and after graduating in 2013, she found Blogilates and POP Pilates. Jaimee loved how POP Pilates mixed the fundamentals of Pilates with the fun energy of music and rhythm. This was exactly what she had been looking for! Pop Pilates changed her entire outlook on fitness. Workouts became fun and fitness became a lifestyle. She even developed a working relationship with cardio! Jaimee knew that she had to share the POP Pilates format, so she decided to become a certified member of the POP Army and currently teaches around the NC Triangle. She also teaches PIIT28, Barre, Mat Pilates, Cycle and Yoga.