I’m a true believer in online training. As head coach of the Online Trainer Academy, it would be weird if I wasn’t. But I’ll be the first to tell you it’s not uniformly better than training clients in person.
Nor is it an all-or-nothing choice. While a majority of Academy students want to work exclusively online, a lot of them plan to continue training clients face to face.
Which is best for you? Which is best for your clients? If the answer to both questions is “some of each,” you’re in good company.
According to our 2020 personal trainer salary survey, the highest-earning coaches are most likely to train clients online.
Those who combine online and in-person training have more experience than average, and charge higher fees.
So how do you do it?
You can run two parallel businesses—one online, one in the gym. You get all the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Or you can try a more structured approach:
The hybrid personal training model integrates online and in-person training to give you the best of both worlds. You continue to meet with, assess, and coach clients in person, but deliver programs and support online.
Let’s take a look at how it works.
- How the hybrid model works
- How to price hybrid training, part 1
- Advantages of the hybrid model for the trainer
- Advantages of the hybrid model for the client
- Drawbacks of the hybrid model for the trainer
- Drawbacks of the hybrid model for the client
- What to do with clients in person
- What to do with clients online
- How to price hybrid training, part 2
- Final thoughts
How the hybrid model works
You meet with clients face to face at regular intervals to do assessments, teach new exercises, review and correct form, and answer questions. Just as important, you maintain a familiar, personal relationship with each one.
But you deliver your programs and the majority of your coaching and support online.
How often you meet with your clients in person is up to you. Some OTA students put all their clients on the same plan, training them at the gym once or twice a month. Others let each client’s needs determine the frequency.
For example, you might train a novice in person twice a week at first, and then scale back as the client gets more confident and comfortable in the gym. But for a long-term client with a crazy schedule, you might only get together a few times a year.
All clients get their performance plan online. It’s individualized for each client, same as it would be if you were training entirely in person.
The value to the client is that the performance plan goes far beyond exercises, sets, and reps. You can think of it as a concierge service for your clients’ health and wellness. Their fitness is a crucial component, but it’s not the sole focus it might be with in-person training.
How to price hybrid training, part 1
I recommend having two fees:
- A fee for each in-person session
- A monthly rate for the performance plan
This is the formula I recommend for the monthly rate:
Start with the number of weekly sessions you give the client. Multiply by your normal session fee, and divide by two.
Let’s say your standard fee is $100 per session, and your performance plan calls for three workouts a week. If that person trained with you in person, he would pay $300 a week. But because you deliver the program online, you charge half that: $150 a month.
Then you add $100 for each in-person session. Someone who trains with you twice a month would pay $350 a month. A client who trains in person twice a week would pay $800 a month for those sessions plus $150 for the performance plan, a total of $950.
Now, if you’re an experienced trainer, you probably look at that formula and think, “That’s way too simple.”
Just to pick one problem:
A client may choose to save money by training just once a month in person. But while he pays $250 a month, he requires as much coaching and support as any three clients combined. It’s a bargain for the client, but a terrible arrangement for the coach.
So think of this formula as a starting point, and adjust your prices up or down to account for individual clients’ needs and demands on your time. We’ll talk more about this later.
Advantages of the hybrid model for the trainer
You can help more people
Each client you book for in-person training commands 100 percent of your time and attention during the time they train with you.
When two clients want to train with you at 7 a.m., you have to choose one. You can’t schedule the other for a later slot if they prefer to work out at 7, or if that’s the only time they can get to the gym. They’ll find another trainer, and you’ll lose a client.
With the hybrid model, you can provide programs to a dozen people who work out at the same time. And you can still train one of them in person, or perhaps even do your own workout.
Then there’s the client with the crazy, unpredictable schedule. If in-person training is the only option, their chaos becomes your chaos. The hybrid model allows the client to train on her own when her schedule allows, and still join you in the gym from time to time.
You take control of your schedule
An in-person trainer has to train clients when they want to be trained. Your first client of the day could be at 5 a.m., with your last client at 6 or 7 p.m. In between are hours of open slots.
A hybrid trainer may still have to show up at the gym before dawn. But probably not every day. And you may still need to do some client-support calls in the evening. But you do them from your home or office. And those dead slots in the late morning and early afternoon? That’s when you write programs, create content, answer emails, and do anything else that’s valuable to you and your business.
You take control of your programming
Speaking of time slots: Why is every session the exact same length? Who decided the perfect workout is exactly 60 minutes long, no matter who the clients are or what their goals may be?
In reality, a novice client may need just 30 to 40 minutes. Much of your one-hour workout will be filler. At the other extreme is the competitive athlete, who may need 75 to 90 minutes. You have to cut exercises and drills you think the client should do to wrap it up in exactly 60 minutes.
Hybrid training allows you to write the best program for each client. Each workout is as long as it needs to be, based on what you want the client to do that day.
Advantages of the hybrid model for the client
It’s more cost effective
Your efficiency is their savings. As long as the client isn’t a complete beginner, he should be able to take himself through a program you’ve provided and shown him how to do.
The prospect who balked at paying you $300 a week for in-person coaching is unlikely to have the same objection to paying $300 a month for the professional workouts, support, and coaching he wants but didn’t think he could afford.
It’s more flexible
You aren’t the only one who benefits from the flexibility of the hybrid model.
Think of the aforementioned client with a chaotic schedule. Maybe she travels for business, or faces all-or-nothing deadlines at work, or is the mother of a child with special needs or a chronic illness.
Imagine what a relief it is to know she can hit the gym when it’s convenient for her, and doesn’t have to worry about canceling on you—especially when it’s at the last minute and she gets charged anyway.
It’s more convenient
Clients can not only work out when it’s most convenient for them, they can work out where it’s most convenient. They can train at home, in a company fitness center, or at the $15-a-month gym in the strip mall around the corner.
Drawbacks of the hybrid model for the trainer
You have to find new clients
For a lot of the trainers I’ve worked with, attracting new clients is the number-one pain point. In the worst-case scenario, you’re working with the same number of clients for a fraction of the money.
Yes, you’ll free up a lot of time, and maybe that’s valuable to you for other reasons. It could give you more flexibility to deal with a complicated family situation, to produce more content, or to pursue a business opportunity that may have little or nothing to do with personal training.
But you’ll still need to replace the lost income, and for most of the trainers I’ve worked with, that means finding more clients.
READ ALSO: How Do I Get More Personal Training Clients?
You still have to meet with clients in person
That means you’ll have to deal with last-minute cancellations, early mornings and late evenings, and anything else that vexed you about gym-based training. Yes, you’ll have less of those things, but your clients won’t suddenly become model customers.
Online clients present new challenges
Like the client who ghosts on you. Do you keep sending him programs even when you don’t hear from him for months on end? There’s no playbook for handling a client who suddenly stops communicating.
Then there’s the client who does nothing but communicate. When you trained her in a gym, the end of the session gave you a cutoff point for her incessant chatter. But online, there’s nothing to stop her from hitting you with daily (if not hourly) questions or complaints.
Drawbacks of the hybrid model for the client
Some clients need more hands-on instruction
Athleticism, like intelligence, isn’t evenly distributed across the population. Some people are physical geniuses. You show them how to do something once, and they quickly groove the movement pattern. They make you look like the best trainer in the world.
At the other end of the distribution are, to put it unkindly, motor morons. Without your coaching and cuing, they’ll do even basic exercises with comical and potentially injurious form.
Some clients need the accountability of in-person training
Some clients rely on the structure and predictability of in-person training. They may also need a financial penalty for not showing up. Without those things, it’s too easy to skip their workouts.
That’s often the case for clients in recovery from addiction. Face-to-face training sessions may be crucial to their sobriety.
READ ALSO: 10 Tips for Training Clients in Recovery
Some clients need to be pushed or held back
Left on their own, many clients simply won’t challenge themselves. They need a coach to increase the reps or the load, or to prod them to move faster and work harder.
Then you have those who’ll push themselves too hard, who’ll go for the one-rep max even when it’s not in your program.
If you work with high-performance athletes, you’ll find a few at both extremes. Some won’t reach their potential without a coach to give them an occasional kick in the rear. Others will instinctively turn every training session into a competition, either against themselves or whoever happens to be nearby.
And that brings us to the biggest challenge for both trainers and clients:
In-person training is reactive. Online training must be proactive.
When you’re training a client in person, you can observe a problem, make an adjustment, see if your adjustment worked, and adjust again if necessary.
An online trainer has to anticipate potential problems and proactively coach the client through them. You have to be two steps ahead of your clients.
A great online trainer has to be, first and foremost, a great trainer. That’s why we strongly recommend that every Online Trainer Academy student have at least one year of hands-on experience before they enroll. It’s much easier to become a competent coach in a reactive environment.
What to do with clients in person
Initial consultation and assessment
This is a prime “best of both worlds” example. Ask any trainer with both online and hands-on experience, and they’ll tell you they prefer to assess clients in person. You can certainly do thorough assessments online. But when you do them in person, you answer questions you wouldn’t have thought to ask until you met the client face to face.
You also establish a stronger connection, and do it faster. You can read the client’s body language and develop a rhythm in your conversation. A client who’s comfortable with you is more likely to trust your advice and adhere to your program. (Although “more likely” is a long way from “guaranteed.”)
No surprise here: It’s easier to teach a client a new exercise in person. And of course it’s the only way to correct form in real time.
One benefit of the hybrid model is that you can time your in-person sessions to coincide with new exercises or techniques in the client’s program.
Ideally, each face-to-face session will be a normal workout in your client’s plan. You don’t want to schedule a session just to demonstrate exercises and answer questions. A client who’s paying you for a workout should get a workout.
Here’s what you want to accomplish by the end of an in-person session:
- Demonstrate and coach new exercises.
- Check the client’s form on key exercises that carry over from previous stages of the program.
- Perform any recurring assessment you deem necessary.
- Answer questions, address concerns, clear obstacles, and leave your client feeling confident about the road ahead.
What to do with clients online
Deliver the program
How you deliver the program is up to you. Most coaches use online personal training software, like Trainerize (a popular choice among trainers who use the hybrid model) or PT Distinction (a great program for coaches who emphasize habits and lifestyle). Others do fine with Google Drive or other options.
There’s no “best” choice, just the one that best fits your business. Any online training platform will help you create and deliver programs, track your clients’ progress, facilitate communication, and handle billing.
It’s not my goal here to tell you how to write programs. So I’ll just note that for any exercise you include, you need to have a clear video demonstration and any instructions and tips you deem necessary.
Remember what I said about being proactive. Don’t just think about how you’d like the client to do the exercise. Envision how the client is most likely to perform it. You may decide to include a regression or two, or perhaps go with a different option—one that uses the same movement pattern and activates the same muscles but is easier for most clients to do safely and effectively.
Support the client
It’s crucial that you check in with your clients in between your in-person sessions. Just because they don’t ask questions doesn’t mean they don’t have them. If nothing else, you can give a client a thumbs up for completing workouts and making progress, or offer encouragement and perspective when it’s not going as well as you hoped.
Weekly check-ins work well. They’re typically 15 to 30 minutes long, which gives you plenty of time to answer questions and prepare the client for upcoming workouts. They can be voice or video calls, whichever the client prefers.
Another option is to have the client fill out a weekly check-in form. Most online training software allows you to create custom forms, although you can also make your own and email it to your clients.
How to price hybrid training, part 2
Near the beginning of this article, I described a two-part pricing structure:
- A fee for each in-person session
- A monthly rate for the performance plan
But that’s not the only way to do it.
Some trainers charge a flat rate monthly fee. It’s a model that assumes each client wants the same number of in-person sessions and a similar level of support. It works best if you have a lot of clients and a well-developed system for delivering and supporting your performance plan.
But for someone just starting the transition to hybrid training, it probably leaves money on the table. For starters, you probably have plenty of time for in-person sessions, so there’s no reason to turn down clients who want more of them.
You also don’t know how much support clients will need, which means you don’t yet know the right price for your performance plan. You may be charging too little for the amount of time you give your clients. Giving your higher-maintenance clients more in-person sessions solves two problems: The clients get the support they need from you, and you’re compensated for the time you give the clients.
You can also add another service, like nutrition coaching, if you have the appropriate qualifications.
If you do, you can offer three options:
- Fitness training only, using the hybrid model
- Nutrition coaching only
- Combined fitness and nutrition coaching
Typically, the first two packages cost the same. You can price the combination package anywhere from 1.25 to two times the price of either one by itself. Again, it depends on how much time it takes to deliver and support the services. If providing both services is twice as much work as either one on its own, then you want to charge the full price for both, with perhaps a small discount to encourage clients to consider both.
Another consideration: If you offer in-person nutrition consultations—and some clients will ask for them—you should charge your normal hourly rate for that service, in addition to the fee for the online nutrition plan.
I want to finish where I began by emphasizing that neither online nor in-person training is inherently better or worse. They’re just different.
The hybrid personal training model gives you an opportunity to thrive in both, taking advantage of their strengths and mitigating their downsides.
But that doesn’t mean hybrid training is right for you or your clients. Your clients may not be good candidates for the hybrid model. Some may require or prefer hands-on instruction, especially if they’re older, less experienced, or need to work around injuries and other limitations.
It’s also possible that they train with you because they like you, and enjoy your company for two or three hours a week. If you take away your presence, you may diminish your value to those clients.
That’s why we call it personal training, and why there’s no single model that works best for every trainer and client. The advantage of the hybrid model is that you aren’t forced to choose one or another. You can mix and match until you have a fitness business that works for everyone.
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