The Gymist guide to livestreaming gym classes and sessions – Part 1: Hardware

Virtual classes and sessions are here to stay. Rather than seeing it as a challenge, you can build it into another revenue source and a way to grow your audience. This three-part series will tell you how.

This is written for all fitness professionals from the technophobes that can’t get Zoom working to the people who want to take their setup to the next level. You’ll get a few options for each element and a few tips to make the most of your efforts.


If you’re serious about taking your business online you need to start by thinking about a few things:

  1. How professional do you want to look? – I’m talking about the resolution (1080 vs 480), your branding, your lighting etc.
  2. Is it chargeable? – how are you going to monetise your work or will you grow your audience with some freely available videos?
  3. Fit with your audience – are you running a 1-1 session, a 1-many class, or broadcasting to 1000 people? What devices are your audience using?
  4. Live or on-demand? – let’s presume you want to broadcast live, but you can also create a library of valuable video content.
  5. Cost – You aren’t likely to invest £3,000 without knowing you can make it back pretty quick. So how much does it make sense to spend?
  6. Space – do you have a little space or do you need to minimise the area you work in?

Alright! Now you’re thinking. You should have an answer to each of the above before you spend any money. If you have the answers, let’s dive into the first element of livestreaming your fitness classes.


The hardware

Video

The most obvious component is the video, it is also the most expensive part of your hardware setup. Depending on your answers to the questions you will now be able to see which of the various options below suits your situation, monetisation and budget.

  • Camera phone: cost £0
    • Straight to Youtube, Zoom, Facetime or GotoMeeting: Presuming you have a decent camera phone you can just live stream using the apps on your phone.
      • Pros: A decent camera phone and 4G / 5G mean you can broadcast excellent video quality. You should upgrade with a Joby tripod, some cheap lighting and a Rode mobile mic. Your audience will have these apps already and its a very cost-effective option.
      • Cons: You need a decent camera phone that can film for ~60 minutes so charging between sessions will be needed. Your reception and wifi can might be a concern. Audio and lighting upgrades are worth it but can only help so much. Anything outside of Youtube or Zoom can be a challenge to manage on your phone. Ending the class with a close-up of your finger hanging up the zoom.
    • Connected to your computer: With a bit of work or with an app you can use your camera phone as the webcam. This will open up the same apps as above but with better laptop controls. It will also allow you to start recording sessions and use the software that professionals use.
  • A webcam: cost £60 – £150
    • If you don’t want to use your camera phone, the next level is a webcam. There are a bundle of different options, and you will need to check that you buy works with the rest of your setup. Unless your audience is watching your PT sessions on a connected TV, you won’t need a 4k webcam, save the cash. The quality of sound and audio may be good enough in a very quiet studio but start to lose fidelity as you step away from the webcam mic.
  • The real camera: cost £300 – £3000
    • To get smooth and high definition video you need to use a real camera. This can be your old GoPro or a top of the line Sony Alpha. The more you spend, the more you get. However, your internet bandwidth will limit the output quality of your hi-end camera. If you want to record and livestream, then it’s worth investing in a DSLR or mirrorless with a capture card.
    • The camera
      • Clean HDMI out – this means that your stream will display what the lens sees, not what’s on the camera LCD screen.
      • Battery and overheating – you need something that has a decent battery and run-time. Check reviews for overheating.
      • Connectivity – as you upgrade your kit, you want a camera that can take an external mic or an external monitor.
      • Detachable lenses, depth of field and magnification can all help make your video look fantastic but that level of production might be overkill (unless you just want a really nice camera for images and video)
    • The capture card
      • This is the magic box that connects your camera to your computer giving your computer the live camera feed as a video or webcam source. There are loads out there but Elgato is a trusted name, they’ll even tell you if your camera is suitable.

Sound

I’m not covering how to put music into your Zoom call, just the sound you want to go through your microphone. The wrong sound setup can create that awful reverb/echo between your mic and computer speaker so test before you go-live.

  • Entry level: cost £0
    • On-phone / on-camera microphone: These are actually pretty good on modern cameras and phones. However, they may not pick you up as you move around or step further away. They will both need quiet spaces without background noise.
  • Mid-level: cost £40 – £200
    • Thinking about your activity should help guide your choice. A spin class isn’t going to need wireless but something with movement will. Capture your voice with a lavalier (lapel) mic or capture an area (you and music) with a directional (shotgun) mic. I would recommend going wireless if you have a lapel mic, tripping on a cable is hilarious but not ideal.
  • Top-level Cost £0
    • You won’t need anything more than mid-level.

Lighting and extras

The little lights that come in webcam bundles aren’t going to cut it, but the lighting in a studio might be ok already. A camera will tell you if it’s bright enough. If not, do a test recording and use your own judgement. There’s nothing worse than running a stream that looks like the Blair Witch Project.

  • Lighting: cost £70 – £300
    • To light something like a yoga class, you’ll need something large enough to justify its own tripod. Taking a look at the options of an AV specialist will give you an idea of what is suitable, even if you then buy £70 lights on Amazon.
  • Stands and tripods: cost £30-150
    • You will need a tripod for your camera but you won’t need a heavy-duty video tripod as you won’t pan and tilt the camera. A little Joby will work if you’re using a phone or GoPro. If it’s a mirrorless or DSLR, you’ll need to support the weight with a more expensive Manfrotto style.
  • Backdrop
    • Unless you’re filming in your bedroom, you shouldn’t need a backdrop. Just make sure to pay attention to what is in the shot.
  • Computer
    • You will need a laptop or desktop that can run the software. Most computers will be able to process video up to 1080 resolution but if yours starts making too much noise, drop the resolution or frame rate. You’ll see how in part two.
  • Bandwidth
    • Test your bandwidth upload (and download) to make sure you are able to send the quality of video you want. This is the limiting factor of your livestream. Are you happy with 720? Yes, if the framerate and resolution is stable and smooth. Connecting your computer to your router with a Cat5 ethernet cable will help maximise your bandwidth.

That’s it! You made it all the way through the hardware part and now you should have an idea of what setup will be the most cost-effective for you. In part two we’ll outline the software and content options that will make your efforts add value to your business.