Online personal training: a contradiction
If you'd asked me 5 years ago what I thought of online personal training, I'd have said "it's an oxymoron".
For me, true personal training by definition requires live interaction to enable the trainer to coach the individual client effectively, both in terms of face-to-face communication and exercise performance. It's very hard to correct squat technique via email.
It’s also nearly impossible to instruct and motivate a client during workout a remotely as well as you can in the flesh. Can you imagine being pushed this hard via Skype?:
Although not everyone needs or wants this level of motivation, I still believe 'live' PT is the most effective form for most clients. However, now we’re a few years on, technology has advanced so much that we are closer than ever to the concept of a virtual PT that offers a highly effective alternative, for the right types of client (an important point we'll come back to).
The use of video, tracking apps, programme design and client management software, as well as communication tools such as Skype, means that it's now possible to provide a much higher level of support to clients remotely.
This means clients have much more opportunity to work with the person they think can help them best. Indeed this is one of the reasons I opted to work with Shaun Estrago online myself for Project Paul – I wanted to work with an Ultimate Performance trainer and this was the only practical way of doing it given the closest UP gym to me is 50 miles away (and that only opened a couple of weeks from the end of my programme anyway). From the PTs perspective, this opens up your potential client base to literally anyone with internet access the world over, but you have to consider the type of client you'll be working with.
To address this from the client’s point of view, they want a trainer to coach them through all the behaviour changes necessary to achieve their goal, whatever that may be. That's no mean feat for most people, let alone those that need a lot of support. What many inexperienced and unmotivated exercisers also need is someone physically next to them when they workout to coach them properly, and of course someone to be accountable to; for example it’s much harder and more costly to cancel a one-to-one PT session at late notice than simply not go to the gym to train on your own.
So online clients need to have an exceptionally high level of commitment and motivation to succeed, and/or careful management of goals and expectations to make sure they are realistic. It may be for instance that the first few weeks of someone’s programme simply consists of two or three easily achievable behaviours such as eating more vegetables and walking for 20 minutes every day because that is all they can manage, practically and psychologically. This alone could result in big improvements to health for many people, but drastic changes to body shape may be unlikely, so if that’s the ultimate goal it needs to be communicated well.
It would be interesting to see some statistics on what number of online clients achieve their goals compared to live clients, but I suspect it’d be very difficult to get genuinely valid ones as there’s too many factors to throw into the mix (client start point, level of competence, frequency of contact and length of programme to name but four).