Site Turns Personal Trainers into Virtual Trainers — On the Cheap

A peppy personal trainer sprawled out on a hot pink yoga mat tells five students lying on their backs to extend their arms and legs into the air — and to keep them there.



Inspecting the students as some flail in their fight against gravity, she encourages one fading participant to maintain her form for just a while longer.

“Don’t drop your right leg; keep it extended for another 30 seconds,” she stresses.

It was a keen observation from the instructor, who was based in California. The struggling student was following along from home — in New Jersey.

The Pilates instructor, Kate, is one of 200 trainers nationwide who have signed on with Wello, a personal–training website that uses a video platform similar to Google Hangout or Skype to deliver live streams of fitness classes to anyone with an Internet connection and a webcam.

Wello seems ideal for people who have a hard time making it to the gym, or who feel intimidated by working out alongside fitness junkies. Private user profiles listing height, weight, fitness goals and other information help trainers customize workouts as much as possible.

The wide range of offerings includes lunchtime yoga and late-night interval training. Prices for classes also vary. Group workouts cost $10 to $15, while one-on-one sessions with top-tier trainers cost $19 for 30 minutes. So-called celebrity trainers charge $199 for an hour. There is no monthly fee.

The idea for Wello was born out of a practical need.

Co-founder Ann Plante, fed up with going to the gym, found success with the Insanity program, a 60-day exercise regimen and nutrition guide on DVD that features hundreds of equipment-free workout moves.

Plante realized she could replicate the Insanity experience in a way that would also hold people accountable for working out. The revelation led Plante to launch Wello with her Stanford University business school friend Leslie Silverglide two years ago while they worked together at an AOL incubator.

They saw virtual personal training as an untapped niche.

“There are a couple of entrepreneurs trying to start up, but no one has video training like us,” Plante said.

Group classes might feel voyeuristic to some — users from across the country can see you sweat and you can see them. But the small-group experience, with three to five people, might feel less overwhelming than large classes at a gym.

“Most people are pleasantly surprised by how intimate the sessions are,” Plante said.

The platform’s design is simple and user-friendly. A live feed of the trainer occupies the right side of the screen. The user’s feed is positioned in the upper left. Smaller boxes show classmates during group sessions, while another houses a chat feature that allows users to write messages to each other.

Initial worries about the feeds freezing or lagging led Wello’s creators to require all aspiring trainers to hold a try-out session before working with clients. These trial runs allow Wello to assesses whether a trainer’s Internet connection — and presence on a web cam — is good enough.

Wello’s video platform, designed by Add Live, reduces the chance of an interruption by automatically adjusting the resolution based on the strength of the Internet connection on both sides of the workout. This technology also allows users with poor connections to participate.

Users must download plugins from the website and test their computer’s audio and video settings before getting started. Wello also recommends adjusting any settings for screen savers.

Additionally, the platform is echo-cancelling, using technology similar to one used by Skype.

Some reviewers, however, have reported technical issues during sessions, citing instances of video feeds freezing, needing to refresh feeds and not being able to hear the instructor right away.

Wello is backed by Rock Health, which owns a slew of digital health startups for consumers and professionals.

Plante said the next step for the company is developing tablet and television apps to help users track their progress and achieve their goals.

“We still think Wello doesn’t work for everyone, and we want to improve that,” she said.

Megan Anderle is a journalist based in northern New Jersey who writes about technology and food. Follow her @megananderle.

Megan Anderle
Megan Anderle is a journalist based in northern New Jersey who writes about technology, business, and sustainability. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Forbes, and The Record.
Megan Anderle
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