How to Do Online Personal Training
Being an online personal trainer is a great way to expand your training business, reach more clients, and have more flexibility in your schedule. However, virtual training is very different from in-person training, and running a successful online training business will require different strategies from those you would use for a gym-based training business.
There are also a lot of strategies, attributes, and approaches that are universal to both online and in-person training (e.g., being certified, staying educated in your field, and connecting with your clients), but I’ll save that discussion for another post. This article will focus on the unique things to consider in order to be a successful online personal trainer.
Whether you’ve been personal training for years or you’re just getting started, this article will help you develop—or adapt—strategies to help your online training business succeed. The first part will address several considerations that will be essential to conducting successful online training sessions. The final section will address the pros and cons of going virtual with your fitness trainer career.
Online Training: Things to Consider
Less Is More
Since your clients will likely be meeting with you from their homes, they won’t have access to all the fun toys that you can normally find at a gym—or even that you might have in your home gym. This means you’ll need to design your online workout programs to be effective even with minimal equipment. This is a great opportunity for you to start getting more creative with your workout plans.
Most people who plan to do online training will likely have at least a couple of sets of dumbbells. But check with your client before your first session to see what they have so you can plan accordingly. Some clients might be willing to purchase a lot of different equipment. For those that want to keep it simple, it would be good to keep equipment limited to a few sets of dumbbells (light, medium, and heavy) and perhaps a set of resistance tubes and a mat. You can do a lot with just those.
Coaching in Two Dimensions
When you coach in person, it’s easier to correct improper form and technique, because you can demonstrate for them and even make physical adjustments as they’re doing it. You don’t have this luxury online. Your demonstrations of proper technique are limited to a two-dimensional image on your client’s screen, and you can’t reach through the screen to make adjustments to their posture.
Yes, you can—and should—still demonstrate movements, which will probably be enough for your clients who are visual learners. Even so, your clients may be watching on a small screen, so it might be hard for them to see you well. Plus, kinesthetic learners, those who normally learn by doing and by having you make adjustments, will need all the extra help they can get in terms of good visual demonstrations and verbal descriptions. So you’ll want to get good at your verbal cues, since those will translate the best on a virtual medium.
Consider practicing your cues on friends and family. Try demonstrating and describing different movements/exercises/poses for them to see if your cues are clear enough for them to do the movements properly. If you need ideas or inspiration, watch some fitness tutorials on YouTube to see how they cue certain movements.
Set Up Your Space
Working from home, your space will probably be more limited than what you would have if you were training out of a gym, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t work. Set up a dedicated space in your house (or garage, perhaps) where you’ll conduct your sessions. This should be a clean and professional-looking space that’s free from distractions, noises, and interruptions.
You may need to get creative with ensuring that this space doesn’t get disturbed (e.g., putting a sign on the door when you’re in a session so your family knows not to bother you; scheduling a babysitter to watch your kids while you train a client), but doing so will help give your sessions a professional quality that will give you credibility in your clients’ eyes.
Make sure that your space is big enough to allow you to do the movements you’ll be doing. Also, be sure to have all the equipment you’ll be using at-the-ready. It may be considered somewhat disrespectful of your client’s time if you go into another room to grab a piece of equipment. Lastly, have a spot in your space where you can sit and observe your client (while still being in your camera’s frame), and have a device (or notebook) for taking notes on their performance (e.g., reps, weights) that you can share with them later.
Make sure your space is well lit, because it’s important that your clients can see you clearly. If you have a bright light source behind you (e.g., windows), you’ll appear dark and silhouetted, making it hard for your clients to see you. For best results, your brightest light source should be in front of you. Ring lights aren’t too expensive and are a great way to illuminate a space for filming.
Position your camera/recording device far enough away from where you’ll be working so that it can capture the full extent of the movements you’ll be demonstrating. You’ll want to be sure to stay in frame the whole time. You can always move in closer when you’re just talking to your client or observing them.
At the same time, make sure that your device isn’t so far away that the microphone can’t pick up what you’re saying. Do a sound check with your device so that you know how well it picks up your voice from that far away. It may be worth considering buying a microphone to improve the audio.
When it’s show time for your sessions, make sure you have a stable Internet connection that’s fast enough to handle streaming. If your feed is constantly cutting in and out, that’s not only going to be frustrating for your client, but is really disrespectful of their time. Depending on your Internet setup, you may want to consider buying a Wi-Fi booster.
Relatedly, ensure that your device is ready to go without disruption: make sure that it’s charged or plugged in so that the battery doesn’t die during the stream (the low battery warning could also disrupt the stream); make sure that there are no pending updates that will start during your stream; and if you’re streaming from your phone, it would be good to turn it on silent and/or “Do Not Disturb” mode so that incoming texts or calls don’t disrupt the audio feed.
Lastly, to respect your client’s time—and to deliver a wow experience—be ready with everything a few minutes before the start of the session. This will ensure that you’re ready to go when they join. Plus, it will help you feel more calm and less frazzled once things get going, meaning you can deliver a better, more focused experience.
Online Training: The Pros and Cons
I think it’ll be nice to end on a positive note, so let’s start by addressing the cons so that we can finish with the pros. As you’ll see, most of these cons aren’t major issues that would make online training an impossible endeavor; they’re simply challenges that might need a little extra attention. As for the pros, while we are admittedly a bit biased, we think they can substantially outweigh the cons.
Fitness companies often handle a lot of the legal aspects of personal training, such as taxes, liability insurance, and music licensing. By working independently as an online trainer, without the coverage of a gym, you’ll be responsible for reporting and paying your own income taxes (and/or self-employment or other taxes; see our “How do I report my income for taxes?” help article), for getting your own liability insurance, and for making sure you have the right to use any music you play during your sessions (see our “Can I play music during my sessions?” help article). These things can be a little tedious, but they’re definitely manageable.
When you’re a trainer at a gym, you have access to their infrastructure and software for scheduling sessions and collecting payments. Working on your own, you will have to manage these logistics. There are numerous software systems out there that help with this.
However, when you list your instructor profile with ZentasicFit, we manage all that for you. Our online platform allows you to message clients, book sessions, collect payments, and stream your sessions. That’s a lot of logistics that you won’t need to worry about!
Similarly, without access to a fully furnished gym, there will be startup costs associated with your online training business in terms of setting up your training space. This will require having equipment not only for the workouts themselves, but also for recording the workouts. As mentioned in the previous section, you will need to have good technology and an appropriate setting for your sessions.
This may mean you’ll have to buy some things (e.g., light, microphone, Wi-Fi booster). Thankfully, these things aren’t too expensive and will be a worthwhile investment. You may also need to invest in some workout equipment. This stuff can get expensive (another reason to keep equipment minimal), but could also prove to be worthwhile. And the same can be said for the time and effort it’ll take to set up your space: it might consume a good chunk of your energy and attention for a short while as you get it all ready to go, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.
Lastly, being a successful personal trainer, whether online or in person, requires good networking and marketing. At a fitness club, you have easy access to members, but you still need to recruit members to be clients. This recruitment process can be even harder online.
Without a member base to pull from, how are you supposed to attract clients? It will require good marketing, social media, and networking skills. However, again, if you train online through ZentasticFit, we cover most of this for you. Yes, you can still market your business and use social media to drive clients to you, but ZentasticFit does a lot of the advertising and marketing work of pulling in potential customers to the site. From there, as long as your profile looks appealing and matches their criteria, you can easily connect with clients.
Arguably the biggest benefit of being an online fitness trainer is that you can work from the comfort of your own home (or, really, anywhere you have Internet) and on a schedule that works for you. No more commuting to a club; no more having to work within a gym’s open hours. You can work when you want. (That being said, we recommend scheduling your availability around times when your clients will be available to work with you.)
Working online, you also have the benefit of working with a wider network of clients. You’re not geographically constrained to the gym and the people who live within driving distance of it. You have access to literally the whole world (well, anyone with an Internet connection). You might be based in Kansas, but, because all that’s required is an Internet connection, you could work with clients in Kentucky or California, or even Canada, France, or South Africa.
Similarly, because you’re based online, it can be easier to keep clients and appointments. When you train in person, if a client moves, that’s often the end of the working relationship; if a client travels, that’s time you can’t meet with them. But when you can train clients online, you can keep working with them even if they move several states away or even when they’re on a business trip.
Lastly, by working as an independent online fitness coach, you have the flexibility to train and teach how you want. Big gyms and corporations might have various requirements for how you teach, how long sessions can be, and even how you should dress; they want you to be “on brand”. But when you work for yourself, you get to determine what “on brand” means.
You can teach the types of online workouts you want, you can use the approach/style that feels most natural to you, you can dress in attire of your choosing (though we recommend that it be professional and appropriate), and you can even choose how long you want your sessions to be. As we like to say at ZentasticFit, you can train on your time and your terms.
There is no perfect scenario. There are benefits to training at a gym, but there are also benefits to training online. The choice is ultimately up to you. And when you follow the aforementioned considerations for adapting your coaching to an online environment, we’re confident that you’ll find success.
At ZentasticFit, we have one mission: to provide coaches and clients a platform to connect with clients anytime, anywhere. We welcome yoga, nutrition, dance, fitness, beauty, and life coaches to ZentasticFit platform, which handles the logistics of connecting, scheduling, billing, and streaming. We want the world to be your workplace, no matter what type of coaching you do. You worry about pursuing your dreams; we will handle everything else. We’d love to have you on board!
By Dustin R. Meriwether