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Shutdown prompted us all to improvise how we worked and how we maintained our connections. Here, aqua and group fitness instructors Lianne Tiemens and Dominic Gili share how they approached the challenge.


Lianne Tiemens, Group Exercise & Aqua Instructor



What did you do during shutdown? 

On Monday 23 March 2020 I finished delivering my last gym-based group fitness class around 11:30am, a team teach with a friend to launch Les Mills BODYPUMP 113. When we left the gym around midday the gym closed its doors. Earlier that morning I received the first messages from my regular gym participants with requests to continue training them, and that’s exactly what I decided to do – take my classes virtual. That afternoon I sent out an invite to another bunch of regulars who have become friends and set up some trial classes with them for later that week. To make myself stick to it, I posted an announcement on my socials. 


How did you facilitate it?  

During a trial week I researched booking systems, payment systems, the technology side of things and how to integrate them all so I could offer a long-term and sustainable solution with efficient processes eliminating as much additional admin work as I could. I listened to webinars, did research online and connected with colleagues who were going virtual too. I also checked insurance for coverage and organised updated legal terms & conditions for my services. I settled on booking system Calendly which allows for integrations with payment system PayPal and video conferencing software Zoom. I also ran tests with booking, payment and video conferencing through these systems with my trial squad.

What sound and music system did you use?  

During the trial classes it turned out that the standard microphone and camera of my laptop were not fantastic. One of my friends offered his external camera, resulting in a much better sound and image quality. During the classes I share my computer sound through Zoom, playing my virtual class licensed music on my PC. 


How regularly did you do it? 

The business of virtual group fitness from home is a combined effort from all members of my young family. Before each class the living room gets transformed into a makeshift studio and the rest of the family is temporarily relocated. My schedule is very much dependent on our family schedules. 

I started with 3 evening classes and 2 morning classes. After a couple of weeks of running classes I wanted to see whether the aqua fitness communities were game for this form of training as well. Much to my amazement in these first trial classes up to 40+ participants dialled in! Some were a bit nervous about it, but in the end they all managed to join in. This included a number of 80+ years old participants. The feedback was that they wanted more. I then added 2 morning classes to the timetable catering for these communities. I reached the point at which I was delivering 2 evening and 4 morning classes per week. 


How did you promote it? 

Word of mouth as well as Facebook and Instagram – though, frankly, I haven’t quite nailed the socials yet (because how many hours can you spend on your devices whilst you’re trying to teach your kids to get off them?!) 


How did people respond? 

Participants have shared that they appreciate the fact that someone is coaching and motivating them, rather than them looking at a screen and following instructions from a trainer they don’t know in a video. Offering individual options is another thing they greatly appreciate. As a trainer, having participants that you already know in the virtual classes has been very helpful, because you know how they move and what they can and can’t do, which makes coaching easier and more effective. Participants are grateful to have the option to continue training with a trainer they know and trust. Having to book in and pay actually works also, as it commits them to the workout. 

What’s your approach to pricing? 

All my classes are on a pay per view basis. The Virtual Group Functional Movement Sessions are at a reduced rate, as these are aimed at seniors. 


Did you gain any new participants? 

During the first month of virtual classes I picked up a handful of new participants, all family members or friends from my regular participants. Some even located in Colombia! One family member starts doing the classes and the others see them do it and then the next session they are joining in too. It’s great to see sons, daughters and/or partners join in, who otherwise may have not done a workout. We love seeing dogs, cats and young kids in our classes too. They tend to either chase participants or steal their mats, which can result in some hilarious footage and definitely adds to the fun. Added bonus, it makes us feel normal and proves that we are all trying to make things work. 


How many people are getting involved? 

Saturday mornings are my busiest classes. The 9:30am Virtual Group HIIT Class has been booked out every week and numbers of the 8:30am Virtual Functional Movement Sessions on Saturday morning as well as Wednesday mornings are close to capacity and still climbing. Initially I capped my classes at 10, but I increased capacity, it varies between class types. I have now capped each class at a capacity at which I can comfortably support participants and offer some form of personalised coaching and add elements of interaction. 


Is participant technique an issue with remote virtual sessions? 

By capping my classes, I’m aiming to ensure I don’t have more participants than I can coach. Participants set their cameras up in a way that I can watch their form. I demonstrate the exercises and the options in the first rounds and then move towards the laptop/camera to coach, correct form and, where needed, offer modifications or alternative moves. I prefer to use gallery view on both ends (participant’s screen and mine) which allows me to add elements of interaction between participants. For my groups, I believe it’s important to see others move, as it’s motivating and makes you feel like you are not alone. 


What pros and cons have you noticed? 


It is fantastic to be able to stay connected with my participants and share the physical and mental benefits of fitness. I am grateful for the opportunity and the push it has given me to put myself out there. There is definitely a place for virtual classes in our world, during and post COVID-19. 

I love how the fitness community is supportive of all its members and has really rallied together. There is a real sense of community from within this community and employers and peers have been very supportive and generous in sharing knowledge and experience.


Someone compared it to listening to a playlist at home or going to a live gig. It’s very good, and much, much better than you think it may be, but nothing really beats the energy of a group fitness studio with real-life participants. 


Would you continue with the virtual sessions beyond shutdown? 

I started with the basics, as soon as I could. I am continuing to improve my systems and offering. I do believe that we, fitness professionals, are in a position where we can flip our situation. I believe that we won’t just go back to where we left off. We won’t be able to return to the normal that we used to know just like that, because, for one thing, gyms are reopening at a reduced capacity. 

We need to be aware and we need to be prepared. On the other hand, more and more people are getting active and moving. There will be an emphasis on health and fitness post COVID-19 

This situation allows for creativity and an opportunity to change, and I will certainly continue to challenge myself to continue to adapt to the evolving situation both in the virtually spheres and in real-life. 


Dominic Gili, Aqua Instructor & Educator


What did you do during shutdown? 

After not teaching for several days I noticed I was keen to listen to music at home (which I don’t normally do, as for me music=work). Then, when I played a fun dance song and shared it on Facebook I thought how much fun it would be if I could dance with all the people that commented. That was the brainwave for #ZoomHouseParty. I posted about the idea and others seemed interested, so we tried it the next day and continued every morning throughout lockdown, for 20 minutes. 


How did you facilitate it? 

My friend and colleague Claire Barker-Hemings took on the role of host for the Zoom meetings, while I’d DJ and post a link and passcode each morning. 


What sound and music system did you use? 

I go into advanced setting in Zoom and share computer audio. I’ve been asked so many times how we do it that I made a video tutorial! 


How did you promote it? 

I spread the word via several groups on Facebook, as well as on Instagram, through my regular AquaFitnessOnline newsletter and word of mouth. 


How did people respond? 

People love it. I get messages regularly thanking me saying that it’s the only reason they get out of bed. It energises them throughout the day and gives them a sense of connection with others. Everyone is smiling, dancing and laughing as many participants allow themselves to get silly, dance with their kids, pets and stuffed toys. When I played Madonna’s Vogue, one dancer got two funnels out and danced with them on her chest! People seemed to let loose, dancing like no-one is watching. People often log in 5-10 mins early and we say hi, chat and welcome new people. 


How many people are getting involved? 

We’d get around 25-35 dancers each day. Some dance everyday, others a few days a week. Everyone was welcome. Most people are aqua instructors or participants, or friends of one of the regulars. Most are from around Australia, but we have regulars from the USA, New Zealand and a friend travelling in Costa Rica even joins us when she can get good WiFi. I even got a special request from an aqua instructor from Perth and hosted a 60th birthday #ZoomHouseParty for her, her friends and participants at 4:30pm Perth time! 


Is participant technique an issue with remote virtual sessions? 

For our sessions, there’s no technique required because it’s freestyle dancing! People can do whatever they like, whenever they like. Some do the first 10 mins and then leave for a work meeting, some dance a little and then sit a little. Others go crazy for 20 minutes. One dancer regularly uses her watch to count steps and often does up to 2,500 steps in 20 minutes. 


What’s your approach to pricing?

This party is free!


Would you continue with the virtual sessions beyond shutdown? 

Probably not as regularly, though it might be fun to do it occasionally. 



Dominic Gili 

Dom is an award-winning aqua fitness specialist with a reputation for offering innovative, engaging and challenging water workouts. The owner of, he also delivers aqua fitness workshops and masterclasses worldwide. In 2012 Dom was named ‘Author of the Year’ by Australian Fitness Network. /


Lianne Tiemens

Lianne is a Group Fitness Leader, PT and aqua presenter. A passionate, motivating and in-demand instructor and mentor at leading gyms and aquatic centres across Sydney, she specialises in land- and water-based group HIIT workouts. In 2019 Lianne received Fitness First’s Q3 National Group Fitness Instructor of the Quarter Award. /


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