Is it impossible to maintain a high quality of coaching when training clients online?

The answer is no for almost all cases.

In this article I’ll discuss everything that you need to know to decide whether you can become an online personal trainer.

Following that, I’ll discuss why online training is actually better for the client in many ways.

I’ll finish by leaving you with some systems to ensure that you offer the necessary direction, support, and accountability that a client needs online. In particular I discuss aspects of your coaching that can’t be overlooked like monitoring exertion, keeping track of recovery, and adequately assessing.

From a business and personal standpoint training clients online is great for you. But for the purposes of this article, I’m keeping it client-centric. Here I focus solely on giving your client what they need to succeed.

Without being able to spot a client or watch them train, can you still do a good job?
Without being able to spot a client or watch them train, can you still do a good job?

Who Not to Train Online

The one type of client whose training might suffer if not done in person is somebody who is extremely high-performing or an athlete.

Even with video it’s hard to manage the intricate details and tweaks of his or her programming. The plus side is that if an athlete is high-level enough where the difference between them making it or not is a few milliseconds or points then they are likely in a position to travel to you.

99% of Clients Will do Great (or Even Better) With a Good Online Coach

Be honest, most clients don’t need the perfect program. This isn’t to say that they should be exercising with bad form or the coach shouldn’t strive to be perfect, but an online coach, with the right systems, can certainly provide them with everything that they need to succeed.

A reason so many new trainees fail is not because they didn’t have a good program or coaching. The failure is due to a lack of adequate self-efficacy (the belief that one can achieve).

Here’s where it gets interesting. Self-efficacy is largely dependent on believing that what you’re doing is actually going to work.

Human beings are addicted to immediacy. We’re procrastinators.

Fitness success is an activity that provides a supposed reward far in the future but forces us to incur a lot of work (or perceived punishment by many). In addition, many clients that will come to you have already failed one or more times trying to get in shape.

The unfortunate reality is that your prospective client will have already been promised a six-pack in 4 weeks while eating cupcakes riding a Unicorn. Fitness marketing is what it is. We’re all fighting an upward battle. So get into your clients heads.

Why are you different? Why should they trust you? And most importantly, why is your program or coaching going to be any better than the one that they just did where the other guy or girl said that they’d get in shape and get a Unicorn.

why is your program or coaching going to be any better than the one that they just did where the other guy or girl said that they’d get in shape and get a Unicorn?
why is your program or coaching going to be any better than the one that they just did where the other guy or girl said that they’d get in shape and get a Unicorn?

Put yourself in the mindset of a new client that walks into a gym. She’s finally gotten over her fear of the gym and has met with a salesperson that’s told her that she’s out of shape and needs training. She is matched up with a trainer who was chosen because he’s got space available in his schedule at the right time.

She has no reason to trust him or his program.

The fitness industry has evolved. It’s important for you to keep up because now a client can choose to work with anybody, anywhere in the World.

Our friend in my example above can now do some research on a trainer she found or was recommended to online and become comfortable with him before they meet. She can literally search for the perfect trainer for her. Or, and more importantly, what she believes is the perfect trainer for her.

Client self-efficacy is often stronger from the get-go because he or she has the option to seek out the best. Location, cost, and availability become irrelevant.

Along with increased levels of self-efficacy, a client needs a combination of direction, support, and accountability to be successful.

For a trainer to offer this using conventional or even small group training takes a lot of time outside of the regular session to plan, provide email / text message support, and build in enough accountability systems.

You can’t provide all of these things well and make a reasonable living unless you charge a ton for your training.

This is why many amazing trainers and coaches that I know are struggling financially.

You know what a client needs to be successful and how to provide it. It takes up all of your time. And you feel like all of your time is being spent answering text messages and phone calls and sitting at your computer at night type type typing away at your email.

So you used to have two choices:

1) Charge a lot (not possible for most client types)

2) Offer a lesser quality service.

Now if you were to train clients online (or better yet mesh online and in-person training), you can offer everything that a client needs affordably because it takes you less time. All that you need are solid systems.

How to Mesh Online and In-Person Training

Babying clients is a huge problem. Most clients don’t need to see you multiple times a week. People aren’t delicate. They can withstand. They can take responsibility for themselves. They can, and should, figure stuff out by themselves.

The best coaches empower clients to become self-sufficient.

When you’re trying to fill an hour session that your client has paid for it’s hard to empower him or her to be self-sufficient. Your job isn’t to count reps or tweak form every set for every exercise for every workout. It’s to guide your client to whatever balance they desire of health, vitality, and everybody-wants-to-have-sex-with-them-a-ness.

Take a simple and common example of a client who can afford 10 sessions. Obviously dependent on starting point, but this client will get a lot more out of your training by doing 3-5 sessions clumped together at the beginning to get a strong base. Beyond that, the client will benefit from meeting with you 1-2 times a month for a form check, quick assessment, and update in programming.

Now here’s where the meshing online part comes in – set them up on your recurring “program maintenance” plan. This can include a bunch of things depending on their needs but the most basic is access to you to ask questions, report concerns, and send you accountability reports. I’ll get into how to do all of these pieces in a minute.

Here’s an example of how this all might play out.

For simplicity sake I’ll assume that you charge $100/hr and would take $1,000 for 10 sessions up front.

With 3 initial sessions in month one and two sessions per month moving forward your client is covered for 4.5 months of training.

Along with the sessions, add $100/month for the maintenance plan that includes email support, a 30-minute assessment each month, and accountability reports.

Your client now has a more affordable service that lasts longer and suits his or her needs better. Oh yeah, and you’ve got a reliable and consistent source of income.

The program maintenance plans can be altered for every client individually if you like.

A brand new exerciser might need in-person training 2x/wk for the first month and 2 sessions a month moving forward.

Somebody coming to you more advanced might start right into program design and maintenance where you see them 3x in one week to go over all elements of a new program and then they’re on their own for the length of the program (which will vary: 4 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, whatever).

The point is that now training will dictate business and not nice-versa. The conventional 30-minute or one-hour session that’s become synonymous with in-gym training is absurd. It does not have the client’s goals in mind. Instead of trying to organize a workout to take precisely 1hr, now you can coach for an hour.

A session with a client is best spent teaching movement patterns, educate and practicing form, explaining physiological processes, and ensuring complete understanding of the program.

The results are intelligent and empowered clientele. With meshed online and in-person training the client’s goals can be the #1 priority. The payment model can be molded to fit the needs of the client as opposed to every client having to fit into precisely the same package regardless of experience, goal, or need.

With meshed online and in-person training the client’s goals can be the #1 priority. The results are intelligent and empowered clientele.
With meshed online and in-person training the client’s goals can be the #1 priority. The results are intelligent and empowered clientele.

I hope that both individual trainers and gym owners reading this can see the opportunity. Imagine being able to offer another service to your clients that serve them better and results in automatic monthly billing that you can anticipate. Cash flow becomes less of an issue and a lot of business stress is relieved.

Note: Your client will be ecstatic when you propose this by the way. An added benefit is the extra trust in proposing a training schedule that doesn’t involve you sucking as much cash as possible from them up front. Being able to alter the plan specifically for the client makes for a much easier sell.

Systems to Ensure That You’re Just As Effective of a Trainer

If you’re still with me than I hope that you agree that online or meshed online / in-person is just as good or often better for the client.

But can you still offer a good service?

The biggest difference between training clients online and offline is that with online you must be proactive in your approach. Below are systems that anticipate all major issues and deal with potentially difficult aspects of training clients remotely before they come up.

How to Perform a Remote Assessment: You can build your packages a number of different ways. One of which is to include an initial Skype movement assessment along with follow-ups every month, 3 months, or whatever you like. Here you’d watch and instruct them over Skype performing whatever movements you require. For strength-based assessments provide them with a form to fill out.

How to Send the Program: If you’re not physically present to teach the program then include an exercise library. Ideally this is one that you film (here’s how it can be done in an afternoon) or you build one using existing YouTube videos.

If the client were brand new to training then I’d recommend attempting to find them a qualified trainer in their area to spend 1-3 sessions simply teaching form on the exercises. Go onto Facebook and search “people who are fans of the Personal Trainer Development Center and live in {CITYNAME} if you’re looking.

How to Monitor Effort: I advise teaching your online clients the RPE scale out of 20 to monitor intensity. You can provide guidelines like “if you’re at a 16 or lower, increase the weight or move to a progression (i.e. deficit deadlifts). Include a place on your workout templates for them to note this in.

In order to monitor effort you need to teach your clients how to self-report.
In order to monitor effort you need to teach your clients how to self-report.

How to Monitor Recovery: Recovery is an important indicator and it can be monitored by soreness, sleep, and mood among other things. Send your client a template report to fill out and return weekly that includes daily checks on these 3 indicators (and any others you want to check). This will help you determine if anything is awry, if you need to alter diet, or if it’s time to progress the program.

How to Periodize: At the beginning of every 3-month cycle ask your clients a series of questions to identify any pre-planned breaks or events. This way you can plan to ramp up training the week before a vacation or know that your program will have to be toned down during tax season if your client is an accountant.

Note: I’ve actually laid out this system in full and produced a chart for you to track all of your clients in one place. You can read more about planning programs and download the chart to track clients here:

How to Offer Support: You want to avoid client dependence both for your sanity and for the sake of your clients. It’s important to train them to be self-sufficient and organize their thoughts just as much as it is to give them a great workout.

One fantastic way to do this is to offer office hours. Here’s how it works:

Instead of offering unlimited email or text message support, offer them access to you via your office hours. Once or twice a week for 2 hours time you’ll be logged into Skype.

During that time your client can login and ask you whatever questions they have or let you know how they’re doing. If they can’t make the hours but still have a question, they leave you a message in Skype and you answer it during your hours.

This is nice because you can hop on a call directly through Skype if needed and can provide one-on-one support to many people at once. If you’ve got too many people on at once during office hours, simply split your training clientele into two groups.

I know that this article is client-centered but imagine the freedom that this will bring back into your life. Being able to plan for and block off a two-hour period and never have to worry about answering emails is a great way to introduce a layer of freedom into your life.

If you do still want to offer email support, be organized. Here’s an example:

Clients can email you once a week on a Friday. Each email must be:

  • Point form
  • No more than 3 sentences per point
  • One question a point

This way you know that every Saturday morning (or whatever day you choose) you can allot a few hours to turn on some old school hip hop beats, pour a mug of coffee, and work through all of your emails.

Either of these two methods (or both combined) make for a more livable experience for you, allow you to train more people at once (therefore making more money and being able to offer a more affordable service), and I’d even argue that you will likely provide better support because you won’t be as overwhelmed answering emails. Another win-win.

Controlling the inflow of emails allows you to focus more on offering a great service (as counterintuitive as that may sound)
Controlling the inflow of emails allows you to focus more on offering a great service (as counterintuitive as that may sound)

How to handle follow-ups: It’s important that you keep on track of your clients. The system that I’m about to be described can be used for in-person training as well. 

You can easily put all clients onto an email auto-response sequence using a service liked Aweber. In this sequence you can pre-write follow-ups to send to clients to check in at pre-determined times during their training.

For example, and you can organize this however you like:

Day 5 after they sign up a message goes out asking them how they’re finding their training.

Day 12 sends a “gift” or a recipe book.

Day 17 checks in, congratulates them on their progress so far.

Day 22 asks them how they’re mood, sleep, and soreness are doing.

Day 30 congratulates them for finishing the month and reminds them to renew.


All of this is automated and all starts the day that a new client signs up.

You set it up once and never touch it and use it for all of your clients regardless of their training goal. When they stop training, you take them off of the list. Hell, you could even program upsells into this sequence and reminders to renew their training a week before their 3-month pre-paid package is done.

How to Provide Documentation: All systems above are simple and effective. They all cost $0 to implement (except if you opt for the email marketing option). However, they’re all contingent on having good documentation.

Provide a package to a new client when he or she starts with a booklet to fill out once a month with things like:

  • Important workout considerations
  • Common questions asked, or an F.A.Q.
  • How the program works (i.e., how your support system works).
  • A bi-weekly report monitoring recovery mechanisms for them to fill out.
  • Forms / waivers

Here’s What it Comes Down to …

All people are different and thrive in different environments with various stimuli, guidance, and support.

In-person one-on-one training is perfect for some, a terrifying experience for others. Small group training is perfect for some, and a terrifying experience for others. Group exercise, magazine programs, etc., are good for some, not for others.

As a whole the fitness industry is still not doing a good enough job helping make fitness attainable. There’s a plethora of reasons why but I believe that one solution is to have offerings for all types of people. And for many of the reasons I outlined above, online training is the perfect solution for some and as long as you’ve got the proper systems in place, it represents a win-win for all parties.

My higher purpose is that there are large subsets of the population that are still struggling with their fitness goals. Obesity rates are rising. Health care costs are becoming a crutch to society. Exercise as preventative medicine is our only weapon to offset and hopefully reverse this scary trend.

There are a lot of reasons why people procrastinate from starting an exercise regime and have trouble sticking to their program. I believe that online training provides an option to clients who want a more affordable solution that still provides direction, support, and accountability complete with the belief that they’re hiring the best trainer for them.

In full disclosure I have a vested interest in promoting online training because my most popular course teaches step-by-step how to build, grow, and scale an efficient and profitable online training business. It's called the Online Trainer Academy.

The reason I took 2.5 years building and evolving the course and having hundreds of trainers and gym owners go through it (it’s in the third iteration now) is because I feel so strongly about the benefits of it both for clients and trainers. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The unfortunate reality is that it’s exceptionally difficult to support a family as a conventional personal trainer in a gym. You’re an entrepreneur -- act like it. Innovate. Evolve. I don’t care how good of a trainer that you are. If you fail to innovate you will die off. Do I have to remind you what happened to the biggest, baddest dinosaur?

Online training is the next stage of evolution in the fitness industry. You don’t need to be tech savvy or even have a website. All that you need is to know how to operate an email account and have tight operational systems.