A pilot study from the Les Mills Research Lab compared exertion and enjoyment levels between a live class in the gym and two digital formats (livestream and on demand) of the same workout, with surprising results.

We’d all like to think that members work harder in our class than they do by themselves at home – and with good reason. The powerful combination of a great Instructor, pumping studio and a group of peers going hell for leather, should be no match for a computer screen in a living room, right? Well now we’ve got the science to back it...

Taking a class at the gym brings better results and more enjoyment than doing the same workout digitally at home, according to new research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Conference in June 2022.

Believed to be the first of its kind, the pilot study from the Les Mills Research Lab compared a traditional fitness class in a gym setting with home-based livestream and on demand sessions performing the same workout. Participants’ average heart rate was 14 percent higher during the gym class compared to the livestream and on demand sessions, despite being the exact same class format and release.

Participants found live classes more enjoyable

As well as motivating them to work harder, the gym-based workout was rated by participants as being 13 percent more enjoyable and 14 percent more satisfying than the two digital workouts.

Researchers believe the greater intensity and more positive perceptions of a gym-based class can be attributed to what they call ‘Groupness’. The term was coined after previous research from Penn State University found that people in live group exercise classes experience increased levels of individual exertion, enjoyment, and satisfaction as a result of exercising together in a studio, particularly when their movements are synchronized.

Video: Groupness explained

Dr. Jinger Gottschall, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Colorado and Lead Researcher for the study, said: “When considered with previous research, our findings show we really are social when it comes to working out – being together brings out the best in us.

“The combination of exercising as a group, led by an Instructor, in a gym studio setting, results in a more impactful and immersive workout than doing the same class at home via livestream or on demand. Having more fun and feeling connected also increases the likelihood of maintaining an exercise habit over a sustained period of time.”

Livestream (live classes on screen with both the instructor and other participants visible) and on demand (non-live, previously recorded classes on screen without other participants visible) workouts exploded in popularity during the pandemic, leading many to speculate that such digital fitness offerings could render gyms redundant.

People are returning to live experiences in droves

But gyms across the world have made a strong recovery since lockdown restrictions eased, with many leading chains having already exceeded pre-pandemic occupancy levels as fitness fans flock back to live workout experiences.

“Although live classes are best for maximizing both physiological intensity and psychological perceptions, our research shows livestream and on demand fitness class formats are viable options for maintaining regular physical activity routines,” adds Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research and co-author of the study.

“In fact, study participants reported feeling less self-conscious and worried about their performance during the on demand workout, highlighting its potential as a gateway into regular exercise for newcomers who may not yet feel confident enough to join a live gym class.

“A live class at the gym remains the pinnacle experience, but the rise of digital fitness and flexible working reinforces the notion that hybrid fitness habits will become the norm. The 2021 Global Fitness Report found the majority of exercisers now favor a 60:40 split between gym and home workouts, so it will be interesting to see how fitness habits shift as the world learns to live with Covid.”


Fifty-four regular BODYCOMBAT™ participants from five different gyms across the US wore a Bluetooth heart-rate chest transmitter during three experimental conditions (live in gym, livestream, on demand) for the same version of the workout in random order.

The live class was completed in a gym or studio, with all study participants from that facility present. The livestream class was completed at home with all study participants from that facility visible on screen. The on demand class was completed at home watching a previously recorded video with no participants visible on screen.

After each session, participants completed a survey containing questions related to rate of perceived exertion, enjoyment, and satisfaction.

What does this mean for Instructors?

This study brings hard data to back up what we’ve always known! Namely – while on demand options have their benefits, nothing can replace the premium experience of working out with a live Instructor. Not only does this research show that people find the workout more enjoyable, but they’re also likely to get better results due to the higher intensity of the live environment. So the next time someone asks you what’s the difference, give them an invite to your next class and a side serving of science to hammer home the point!