Baltimore Startup Puts Fitness Online

This screenshot shows four friends taking a recorded fitness class together through BurnAlong. (Provided)

It’s that time of year where the best of intentions to fulfill those New Year’s resolutions start to falter.

It’s not hard to guess that many of those resolutions revolved around fitness and exercise. Everyone wants to be healthier, but between work, friends and family, gym routines tend to take a back seat on the priority list.

One new company, founded by two Baltimore residents who both have backgrounds with startups and in the tech sector, is looking to help people keep their fitness resolutions through BurnAlong, a new site that aims to bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar gyms and online fitness.

Daniel Freedman and Mike Kott actually got the idea for BurnAlong from a joke. They were ribbing each other about being out of shape, despite each being previously very active and fit. Their problem-solving curiosity kicked in: Why weren’t they in shape? What was stopping them?

“It all started out in a jovially way, but it all got very serious very quickly,” Kott said.

BurnAlong first launched in beta — only those with an invite could join — in September and opened to the public the following month. The idea is fairly simple: Bring the gym to people at home, but maintain a sense of community. Freedman and Kott have partnered with a number of gyms across the country, nearly 30 so far with inquiries coming in from more, who provide filmed content of their instructors teaching a fitness class. Then users and up to three friends can take the class together, joined by a video chat platform where all are viewing the instructor.

Sue Sheain, a native Baltimorean and owner of Beach Barre Body in Bethany Beach, Del., was one of the early partners to sign on with BurnAlong. She described it as Facebook meets Skype meets YouTube for fitness. The idea of having her classes available to her students online seemed like a no-brainer to Sheain, especially since her studio is located in a very seasonal community.

“They gave me the way to do what I wanted to do myself but didn’t have the resources,” she said.

The partnering with existing gyms and studios is key, Freedman said. There are already many online fitness companies to compete with the in-person options. Their goal was to see how they could improve upon the fitness regimes people already had or remove the barriers that kept them from having one.

“We believe that people would rather work out in person than at home,” Kott said. “We’re not looking to replace the in-person experience, but supplement it.”

Also, people like having a consistency in instructors, and once they find one they like, often they will start to seek out in-person classes with that person, if they haven’t already.

“When people find a favorite instructor, they get really passionate about that instructor,” Freedman said.

Both Sheain and Charlie Bauer, a yoga instructor at fellow early partner gym Prana Studio in Annapolis, are already getting good feedback, especially from clients who weren’t able to make a class but were still able to work out with them.

A side benefit, they both said, is being able to reach audiences they may not otherwise. For both yoga and barre, Bauer and Sheain used the example of men who might feel judged going to the women-heavy classes but could try the classes out at home first.

“It’s getting people introduced to yoga who might not otherwise take a yoga class,” said Bauer, who, as the somewhat rare male yoga instructor, understands the challenge of getting other men to try classes like these. But once they do, he — and Sheain — said, they frequently find they enjoy it.

Freedman and Kott are optimistic about the next couple months. They’re adding more content as well as more gyms, and BurnAlong has already been benefiting from what Freedman calls its “viral quality.”

New year, new startup, new you!

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