With the rise in the use of smartphones, more and more people are turning to online coaching. But as a personal trainer, is it something you should incorporate into your business model? To help you answer that question, I’m going to explore benefits and pitfalls of both.

Face-to-Face PT

The original form of personal training, I still believe that any good personal trainer should at least some of their time training people face to face. Whilst there’s a lot you can learn from Skype chats and video calls, there really is nothing like getting hands on to really develop as a coach. Not only does face-to-face PT allow you to manipulate your visual perspective of an individuals training, the constant unfiltered interaction allows you to constantly refresh your mental perspective of them as a client.

In person training also allows you to build rapport far more effectively than you ever can otherwise. Subtle verbal or physical cues are far easier to spot and act upon. Whilst some may argue the need to befriend clients, stating that our job is simply to get them fitter, bigger, slimmer, etc. I’d argue that more open and relaxed channels of communication, (achieved through better rapport), allow us to do our jobs better.

Some people need a little more coaching than others. Training on a one to one basis can give them an immediate opportunity to ask questions as needed, rather than in retrospect.

All the above said, one-to-one training takes up more of your time as a coach than online training and requires your physical presence. Not only that, but there’s only one of you, which means unless you move to a semi-private/small group training model, there’s a limit to the number of people you can train.

6-9am and 4-8pm are almost always going to be the most popular timeslots as the majority of the working world enjoys a 9-5 job. That means that you could feasibly have a working day that spans 14 hours, with a big chunk of time unused in the middle.

Online Coaching

Online coaching is the future for many coaches, or at least a big part of it. That said, there are many ways to do it, some better or worse than others. Likewise, there are some distinct pro’s and con’s too.

No fixed hours. This is great for clients with erratic or varied work schedules and a great way for trainers to put those off-peak hours to good use.

No geographical limits. Unless you’re a mobile trainer, your potential client list is limited to the members at your particular gym. Whilst this can be fine in some gyms if there’s a good personal training culture or a large enough membership base, in others it can be a challenge. Online coaching makes the world your theoretical client resource pool.

More time to consider your communication with clients. When I first started as a personal trainer, I was training for my potential officers course for the Royal Marines. My communication style was blunt, direct and unfiltered. Whilst this was fine in the gym I started in, I had to change my approach drastically when I moved in to more mainstream facilities. Even today, there are still occasions where a little more time for thought would save the awkwardness that follows a well intentioned, but ill-chosen or poorly phrased piece of feedback. Training clients online means most of your communication will be written, meaning you can phrase things with some forethought.

Social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all done wonders for Personal Training as they allow more interaction than conventional email alone. Provided they’re used appropriately, these can not only be a great source of business, but also a great opportunity to build rapport.

Even video is 2D. I use Skype and video calling with my online clients and it still takes me longer to get a feel for how they’re doing than if they were in front of me in person. To make up for this, I have to have a much more in depth communication process than I do with the clients I work with face to face.

While the cat’s away… Clients who are intrinsically motivated are great candidates for online coaching. Clients that aren’t can often feel left adrift or slacken off when there’s no-one there beside them to cheer them on. Good systems can help with this and many online coaches use automated software solutions to send prompts and motivating messages to clients. The challenge can come if the client realises this is happening and becomes concerned as to exactly how invested their coach actually is.

Monkey see, monkey do. I see members in my gym, going through programs their online coaches have written for them and butchering otherwise great exercises. Without that immediate correction, some people are frankly a danger to themselves. I’ll typically encourage these people to find a good local coach rather than take them on as a client. We write programs based on the exercises being performed correctly. If a client’s technique isn’t on point or they can’t get their head round a given exercise, the program probably won’t deliver the results it was designed to.

The last drawback isn’t inherent to online coaching, but rather one that I’ve seen and heard more often than I’d like. Generic programs. Whilst I’m a huge fan of systematising your business and I recognise the value and allure of programs that seem to consistently work well, I’ve also seen four members of drastically different demographics given the same program by their online coach. Now this can happen in face-to-face personal training as well, but it’s a lot easier for clients to recognise the fact that their personal program isn’t actually that personal after all. The geographic spread of online clients makes this less of a risk.

Both face-to-face and online have their benefits and I’d encourage trainers to explore all their options. It’s worth being a little more selective with whom you take on as an online client, both for your benefit and theirs, so take the time to ensure they’re right for you and your services are right for them.