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Bande virtual studio reminded me how much I miss group fitness classes

The social features on this virtual platform mimic being in a group fitness class.
Bande offers everything from yoga, Pilates and dance cardio to HIIT, boxing and strength classes.
Bande offers everything from yoga, Pilates and dance cardio to HIIT, boxing and strength classes. TODAY Illustration / Danielle Page
/ Source: TMRW

I've tried my fair share of virtual workouts over the past 15 months. From platforms that promise to whip you into ballerina shape to state-of-the-art rowing technology to a popular celebrity workout to even an OG cardio workout from the '80s, I've been willing to try just about anything to keep myself motivated while working out from home.

Every workout I've tried has had their own unique perks, but none have been able to fill the void of sweating it out alongside a friend at an in-person class — something I loved to do before the pandemic hit.

So when I heard about Bande, a virtual fitness studio created with the goal of fostering those fitness class connections I've been missing, I had to give it a try.

The basics: cost and equipment

The platform offers live classes taught in real time by an instructor with morning, afternoon and evening classes scheduled seven days per week, as well as on-demand classes that can be taken at your leisure. There are several different subscription options available. A monthly $30 Bande pass gives you access to four live-stream classes and unlimited on-demand classes per month. If you want unlimited live and on-demand classes, you can have it all for $180 per month. Have commitment issues? You can test drive Bande with this free seven-day trial. Drop-in live classes are also available for $15 each. And if all your dad wants for Father's Day is a good sweat, the code BANDEDAD will get him a free workout.

If something comes up and you can't make your scheduled workout, cancelling at least two hours before the workout start time allows monthly members to retain their class credit — non-members paying per class will be refunded. There's no advanced window required for booking a class, so if you find the motivation and free time you can sign up minutes before class starts.

While there are classes available on Bande that can be done with just a mat, you'll need to invest in a decent amount of equipment in order to participate in all the classes offered. A set of light, medium and heavy dumbbells, resistance loops, yoga blocks, a playground ball and gliders are frequently listed in the "equipment needed" section of each workout.

Navigating the platform

When you log on to the Bande platform (either on desktop or through the app) you'll see the live schedule laid out for the week, which you can explore and filter by class type, instructor, intensity, fitness level, equipment and duration of time. Once you click on each class, you'll see a full description along with notes about the intensity of the class and what equipment you'll need. Instructor bios are included for each class, and you can read reviews from other members as well. The platform also allows you to add connections so that you can see if other friends who are on Bande signed up for a particular class. The on-demand section offers the same filters along with category and body focus, with new releases populated at the top.

Bande's platform has a solid variety of fitness genres from which to choose. There are traditional yoga, Pilates, HIIT, cardio dance, boxing and strength and conditioning classes, along with fun hybrid options. Barre + HIIT combines the slow burn of signature barre movements with high-intensity movements, Cardio Dance & Sculpt incorporates light weights and toning sections for all parts of the body, and Cardio Barre combines full-body movements to get your heart pumping with Barre's small, signature toning moves. Slide & Sculpt mimics moves you'd do on a Pilates reformer, with a focus on stability and strategic muscle engagement. Every Sunday, Bande offers a 30-minute gentle yoga class called Sunday Reset, where you can invite a friend for free. There are also advanced options offered for HIIT and Barre classes, which move at a faster pace.

Class durations come in 30 minute, 45 minute and hour-long options.

What the workout entails

One of the first things that stood out to me about the Bande platform was how easy it was for me to choose which class I wanted to take. While other workout apps have hundreds of options to scroll through, the live schedule made selecting a class that fit within my schedule a simple choice.

I signed up for Cardio Dance, and received an email with the link and instructions on how to join. The email invited me to join five minutes early for introductions, which I did. The link opened to a Zoom class, where the instructor and a few class members were chatting before class started. I received a warm welcome, waved hello to the other five or so members who had joined and listened to the instructor talk about the class we'd be taking. The dance moves were fun and accessible, and it helped to have them repeated throughout.

The instructor made it a point to correct participants' form when necessary — something I haven't had the luxury of experiencing since Covid-19 hit. At the end of class, everyone gathered near their screens to say goodbye. One class member even complimented me on my cat-themed workout shirt.

It was so helpful having an instructor correct my form in real time, especially with weighted exercises.

Right now, most of Bande's classes are taught via Zoom. Their new virtual video platform, Bande Live, is in beta testing and will be fully launched at the start of July. If you book a class that's taught through Bande Live, you'll be able to access more of the platform's social features (which I had a chance to try ahead of the launch). The "whisper" feature allows you to choose a friend you want to speak to during class. When one of you says something, the instructor's audio volume decreases so that you're able to talk the way you would during an in-person class. After class ends, selecting the coffee cup icon on the platform allows you to select a friend to meet with in a separate video chat after class is over, so that the two of you can hang out virtually together afterward.

I haven't worked out with any of my friends in over a year, so having the chance to not only see one another and sweat it out together, but be able to collectively groan at having to do another set of mountain climbers the way we would in an actual class was a huge advantage.

I knew I missed the social element of working out in a class setting — but I didn't realize how much these interactions meant to me until I went without them for so long. Having them back through Bande's platform motivated me to continue booking classes that week; I actually took four in a row! The live schedule is versatile enough that you can select a different type of workout each day. For the rest of the week, I decided on Strength and Conditioning (which focuses on weighted movements), Cardio Boxing Advanced (which, in retrospect, I should've saved for later in my trial after Cardio Boxing) and HIIT. In each class, the instructor corrected my form in a way that I wouldn't have caught on to on my own, and by the end of the week I was feeling stronger without the soreness of improperly working out to slow me down.

I knew I missed the social element of working out in a class setting — but I didn't realize how much these interactions meant to me until I went without them for so long.

The pros

The social component of this workout absolutely stands out. Being able to interact with and speak directly to the instructor — whether it's to fix your form, recognize improvement from the last class or cheer you through a round of burpees during class — is a huge motivating factor. Just about every class I took started with class members and the instructor chatting casually, which set the tone for the rest of class and made it feel like a fun hangout rather than a drag.

The live schedule takes the decision fatigue out of working out. There's no scrolling through endless options — you're presented with the class list for the day and need to make a choice based on your own schedule and workout preference for that time frame. As someone who has spent over an hour scrolling through other workout options without ever landing on an actual workout decision, this was a huge time saver.

This is the only workout I've tried where I haven't eventually had to force myself to do it. With other platforms, the novelty wears off in about a week and I start to see the workout for what it is — me, alone, staring at a screen, pushing myself to move along with the instructor. With Bande, I actually found myself looking forward to working out for the first time since before the pandemic. That's really saying something.

The cons

The price tag that comes with investing in the amount of workout gear you'd need to be able to take every class offered on Bande might give you sticker shock. Particularly for fans of Pilates, classes usually require 4-5 different items, and most classes suggest at least one set of weights.

The cost of an unlimited membership for live classes also comes at a cost that may not be feasible for everyone. Compared to other platforms, the $30 monthly option for four live classes and unlimited on-demand classes is a steal. But the live classes are really where this platform stands out — and once you try them, you'll want to be able to take as many as you'd like.

I would recommend this workout to:

  • Anyone who misses connecting with others during a workout
  • People who enjoy in-person, group fitness classes
  • Those who have trouble deciding which workout to do
  • Anyone who wants to improve their form while working out from home