Online training is a business that leaves many scratching their heads.

Less than a decade ago, the only "trainer" anybody knew was the type with a whistle and a stopwatch, urging clients to grind out "one more rep" at the top of their lungs.

The mid-to-late 2000's saw the emergence of a new kind of trainer -- the online trainer. The online personal trainer served a very specific niche: Those who are interested in fitness, are relatively self-motivated, and don't need to buy premium, in-house services in order to get fantastic results.

Purchasing online training services might sound confusing on the surface, but what the client is seeking is rather straightforward. The online trainee is looking for a few items:

  • accountability
  • transparency
  • support
  • motivation
  • buy-in.

These items are often difficult to manifest independently. And in an attempt to actively manipulate your psychology, someone can purchase services from an online trainer, which will increase the trainee's odds of success exponentially when compared to them devising a plan independently.

Sometimes, we need to pay someone to tell us to "do it" in order to ensure "it" gets done.

From the outside, being an online trainer appears to be a rather simple job. Set up some nutritional plans, give a training program, and wait until your client is 7% body fat. Snap the before and after picture...and profit.

If only it were that easy.

There is a dirty little secret in the online fitness world. Not every client follows the program they've purchased.

Occasionally, an online client simply pays for services, receives their program, and is never heard from again.

It's an unfortunate reality of the online training world. Their program and emails go the way of any other number of fitness products -- unused and collecting dust. The only difference is that the "dust" is virtual and it's on a hard drive as opposed to in an attic.

So how does the online trainer keep this from happening? If we aren't in front of the client, bellowing inspirational phrases at them, what components of an online training experience will keep the client engaged?

How can we "hack" the mindset of the trainee using the glow of the computer screen?

exercise adherence factors | thePTDC | improve compliance in fitness

Here's a list of best practices in order to improve your client success rate, and in turn, help your online training business be more successful.

8 Strategies to Improve Compliance With Your Online Clients

1. Have clear communication guidelines and expectations.

When you're sending your client their program, be sure you tell them exactly what is expected of them. And not in regards to their actual fitness plan -- a list of items which should be addressed in your program:

  • How often will the client be expected to contact you?
  • How prompt will your response times be?
  • What information should the client have prepared for you at checkpoints?
  • What level of accuracy will be required for all measurements?
  • What is the expectation in regards to email correspondence?
  • How many emails per week are acceptable?
  • When should they be sent?
  • How should they be sent? PC only, or are smartphones/tablets acceptable?

Being very deliberate and clear with the expectations you have for your client will ensure your client knows you mean business. If you do not attend to email on the weekends due to family considerations, be honest and upfront about it and communicate this clearly.

These expectations will subconsciously show the client how valuable your time is, and how seriously you take getting results for those you work with.

2. Use shared documentation software and "spot check" periodically.

Software that keeps you up-to-speed with your clients' workouts and/or nutrition is an invaluable motivation tool. With sites like Myfitnesspal available, you should have a very clear idea of what your client is doing, and not doing.

One of the simplest applications for this is the use of Google Documents. Using Google Docs and Google Sheets, the trainer can easily create a nutritional tracker, a training tracker, a body measurement/progress tracker, etc. and both the trainer and the client can have simultaneous access to it without the need to send documents back and forth.

Once these items are in place, a simple note such as "Great workout yesterday - you're really doing a great job improving your deadlift exercise" shows your client that you're paying close attention to them.

This won't be forgotten. If your client believes you will be watching them for the duration of the program, they will be much less likely to skip workouts or consume off plan. Never underestimate the "Big Brother Effect."


3. Do not be immediately accessible.

After your expectations for your clients are set up, be sure you have firm time guidelines for yourself. Communicate these guidelines to your clients before you begin. Have a system for email maintenance that works for you and your lifestyle.

It's unreasonable for anyone to assume they'll be responded to immediately. Choose a time of the day to respond to all of your emails and clean out your inbox. Once you complete your task, you're done with your email for the day. Keep to this schedule daily.

If you wish, be unavailable for the duration of the weekend. It's perfectly acceptable for the client to understand that you'll be responding to questions and inquiries on Friday morning, and the next time you'll check your email will be Monday morning.

Adhering to a schedule like this does a few different things. Firstly, it gives you a sense of peace. After you're done responding to emails, you're finished in that regard for at least 24 hours. This also helps your clients begin to think independently, a valuable asset to teach them.

Immediate responses create the expectation that the trainer will respond immediately in the future. Over time, this will be an impossible standard to adhere to. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to "keep up" and your client will only learn one thing:  If they need something, you will provide it for them.

client exercise adherence | thePTDC | how to improve compliance

4. Never subsidize yourself to make a sale.

Online trainer "sales" are a bit of a controversial subject. Depending on whom you speak to, opinions range the full gamut. Some claim sales are a game-changer, enabling you to reach a larger audience and grow your brand more effectively.

Others claim sales are a poor idea which shows others that your abilities are available at a discount. They claim this will tarnish your brand and public perception.

This item isn't about whether you should have "sales," though. This item is about never subsidizing yourself when in the actual act of selling.

Whatever you decide your pricing model is, that's your pricing model. And that's that. If a potential client states you are too expensive, tell them you understand, and you're more than happy to help them out once they are in a better financial place.

Playing "Let's Make A Deal" inadvertently tells your potential client that you aren't "really" worth what you originally stated you were, and causes the client to not take you as seriously as a trainer.

This philosophy is a large reason why "pro bono" clients have a dismal success rate. Without monetary buy-in, the motivation to do well decreases rapidly. Combine the fact that many "pro bono" clients are friends and family members, and you have the perfect recipe for wasting your time creating a plan nobody will execute.

5. Be professional with your documents and programs.

Nothing says "meh" like documentation full of grammatical errors and a shoddy appearance. Be sure your documentation uses your client's name regularly.

Be sure there are no typos. Be sure -- if you're using different workout templates -- that those templates look like they were individually created for your client.

You should be providing your client with documentation as well, not just an email full of reps, sets, and weights. Create something for them. Make it look nice. Put some time and effort into it. Jon has included a documentation packet ready for you to fill-in-the blanks and send to clients in his Online Trainer Academy. That'll save you some time if you're interested.

Showing your client you care enough to polish up a sharp-looking program for them will make them care about following through on the program just a little bit more.

6. Allow the client to see your face and hear you speak.

Ensure your clients see the real you, and hears your voice, your passion, and your expertise. The essence of your personality is lost when all the client sees are words on a page.

Online training is already a less personal endeavor than in-house training. Bridge the gap on the experience by letting the client feel the physical connection of hearing and seeing you.

A simple way to do this is to create a short series of Youtube videos and put together an email automation sequence using Aweber. With just a small monthly fee, you could increase motivation and accountability a great deal by providing your client with rationale behind their program, lessons on nutrition/fitness, or just short videos guiding them through their program.

The face time you give your client is extremely valuable. Be sure not to short-change this aspect of your program.

7. If a client does not adhere to your expectations, be sure to unemotionally call them out.

After you have set up your expectations, a big part of whether they're taken seriously is how you respond when one of them is broken.

Inevitably, this will happen. You can tell your client not to message you with a smartphone, but over time, someone is bound to shoot you an email with the infamous words "Sent With An iPhone" at the bottom of it.

When this happens, you only have one option. To respond with, "This email was sent with a smartphone. When you get home, please resend the email on a computer, following our guidelines that have been established. Thank you."

Remain unemotional but unapologetic. Simply restate the expectation and wait until the expectation is followed through on. The client will know you mean what you say, and it is highly unlikely you will have this issue more than once.

techniques to increase motivation in clients | thePTDC | intrinsic motivation and exercise adherence

8. Be sure everyone knows what an amazing job you do.

One of the biggest pieces to improving client adherence to the program is for the client to have a firm belief that you're an excellent coach and trainer. And nothing makes your awesomeness more evident than seeing it first-hand.

Collect before and after pictures whenever possible. Ask former clients for testimonials. Suggest that your clients also "rate" your Facebook business page.

When a potential client sees all the awesome transformations you have helped others make, they will be extremely invested in obtaining those results for themselves.

Pro tip: Never say "Look what I did.......", always say, "Look at how amazing my client is........" Any good coach will tell you to put all of the praise and adulation on the client. People will understand that you're a part of the reason they had such amazing results.

The ever-evolving world of online fitness training is a landscape many enter into, but few conquer. Those who learn to thrive in this business have a potent mix of fitness acumen, people skills, marketing savvy, and technological knowhow.

Utilize the above principles and mix them into your online training programs in the future. Individually, they each have their place. But if utilized collectively, the effect they have on improving client adherence could be quite extraordinary.