How To Build a Virtual Studio at Virtually Any Price

One of the things we have learned from COVID-19 is that smart trainers can maintain—and grow—business in a virtual environment. Several pros who recently shared their experiences during our weekly TRX Roundtable events said their revenue has exploded since they shifted from brick and mortar operations to virtual training. What kind of equipment do you need to find similar success? There are loads of gadgets that can improve video quality, but anyone can get started with a decent phone camera.

Mobile phonePhoto by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

The Phone (or Laptop) Studio

According to Niko Algieri, founder of London’s Equilibrium Total Balance, a new-ish mobile phone has a good enough built-in camera to deliver a high-res virtual class, personal training session, or video. “Honestly you can get away with very high-quality delivery of a one-to-one [session] or a class with a really decent mobile phone and a window behind it,” he said.

Many trainers have been sharing behind-the-scenes looks at their home studios, which will include a ring light and a microphone. (We’ll discuss those later.) But Algieri says you don’t actually need all of that equipment. No ring light? Use the windows or natural light that you have; just be smart about your setup. If you record standing in front of a window, with your camera facing the window, you will be backlit and look like a shadow. When filming, you should be facing the window or light source. Your camera should be in front of the light source.  (Think:  light source → camera → subject.) 

“If you're smart enough and you have the right view and the right height for that camera, it will look like you've got a Sony DSLR plugged into your laptop...but really it's just a very high-quality mobile phone. Most mobile phones—even if they're two or three years old—have the capability to deliver a very good virtual class. You don't need all the flashy stuff that [we] have; it's only because I’m an electronics geek. I want all that best stuff, but you don't need it.” 

If money is tight, don’t worry about spending your savings to buy a fancy camera. You likely have a good enough camera in your hand right now.

Now that we’ve established that you don’t need to spend thousands on new equipment, let’s discuss what gadgets deliver the most bang for your buck if you decide to invest in gear. 

Microphones

According to Algieri, a microphone is the best virtual studio purchase you can make. Whether it’s for a group class or a personal training session, you’ll lose your clients if they can’t hear you. For a basic portable mic set-up, Algieri recommends the Rode Wireless Go. (Algieri and his brother/business partner, Jay Brockway, both wear Rode mics in their TRX LIVE videos.) The model they use is a wireless, clip-on microphone with a transmitter that plugs into the phone or camera. Pro-tip: depending on the model of phone or laptop you own, you may need an additional converter to connect the transmitter to your recording device.

TRX Master Trainer Chris Cygul's virtual studio in St. Augustine, Fla.TRX Master Trainer Chris Cygul's virtual studio in St. Augustine, FL.

Ring Lights

Beauty bloggers and selfie lovers have sworn by LED ring lights for years, and now the fitness world is wising up to this portable magic. 

If you’re holding your phone or sitting in front of your computer using your front-facing camera, a basic clip-on ring light will eliminate shadows on your face and make you look better instantly.  If you’re going to be further away from your camera, as you likely will be when demonstrating exercises, you need something with a little more power. Consider getting an 8” to 10” ring light with a tripod and a phone mount for your videos or training sessions. Prices can vary, but you should be able to find these kits starting around $40 and running up to $200. 

Cameras

Let’s say your camera phone isn’t up to the task of capturing your videos. Perhaps you dropped your phone while demonstrating burpees, broke the camera, and you can’t afford to replace it. Buy a webcam. 

An external webcam needs to be plugged into a computer, but it’s a relatively cheap way to record video without spending a fortune. You can find a decent webcam for less than $100.

If you’re itching for all the extra gadgets, or ready to take your content services to the professional level, you can invest in a DSLR. (Algieri shoots with a Canon.) Just remember: camera phones are more forgiving for amateurs, so budget time for a learning curve if you don’t already know how to operate a camera.


Creating virtual fitness content for the first time is intimidating. No one expects you to nail a virtual class or video right away, but you might be surprised how quickly you can learn. While he’s only been in the online training business for a few months, Algieri quickly hit his stride as virtual trainer, “Zoom is still extremely new to me, although that doesn't take much practice,” he said. 

Whether you’re a fitness industry veteran or just getting started, this is your opportunity to reimagine your business. If you’ve ever thought about dabbling in online training, why not give it a try? It could be the best career decision you’ll make.

Looking for more tips on filming fitness content for social media? Check out Algieri’s Instagram tutorial video on the subject, in which he breaks down all the equipment and editing software he uses. For more business insight from TRX professionals, check out the TRX Roundtable Series —presented via Zoom— each week. You can watch previous Roundtables and sign up for future ones here. 


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