Yes, you can train clients online without in-person experience.

I can’t say it’s ideal. Most of the successful online personal trainers I know started out like I did: training people in person.

But if you’re starting your fitness career post-2020, in-person training might not be an option.

Even after this pandemic ends, you have to be prepared for future shutdowns. They’re all but certain.

Two types of coaches can build a solid online business without working in a gym first:

  1. Young, newly certified trainers bursting with energy and motivation
  2. Aspiring coaches who have helped friends and family for years and are now ready to pursue personal training, either as a second career or side hustle

In this short article I’ll share four key tips to help you make it happen:

  1. How to train fitness clients online without in-person coaching experience
  2. How to build your knowledge base and expand into new client groups
  3. How to market online training without any in-person experience (or past client results)
  4. Why you must build your business and fitness skill sets simultaneously

1. How to train fitness clients online without in-person coaching experience

The best way to succeed as a new trainer is to avoid failure.

The best way to avoid failure is to stay in your lane.

This is why you must only accept clients you think you can actually help.

Counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s better to turn down business early in your career than to take on clients who would be better served by a more experienced or specialized trainer.

Refer them to that trainer, and both the client and prospective trainer will be grateful. That’s infinitely more valuable to you than a former client who got unsatisfying results.

When you do take on clients, be honest about your status as a new trainer.

As I’ll explain in point #3 about marketing, it can actually work to your advantage if you position yourself as someone who’s still figuring things out. For now, I’ll just say that one of the worst ways to launch your career is to pretend you have more experience than you do.

What you can talk about is your own transformation, especially if it was the reason you wanted to become a personal trainer.

Tell your prospects about how you developed a passion for fitness, and how helping others became your purpose.


A Trainer’s Journey: From Transformation to Passion to Purpose

Many fitness professionals start by having a personal transformation of some sort, which leads to a passion for health and fitness.

Over time, this passion changes their life so much that it evolves into a purpose: helping others achieve their own transformations.

Watch the two-minute video below for more on the passion-purpose continuum, along with the (kind of embarrassing) story about my own transformation.


Your first online personal training clients should be people like you who want to achieve a transformation similar to yours.

They may not be the clients you ultimately want to work with, but you should start with them for a simple reason: They’re the ones you understand best.

You know about them because you are them.

And some of the things you know are inside knowledge, things only an insider could know:

  • The deep-rooted insecurities
  • The negative self-talk
  • The specific challenges they have and the specific program they need to reach their goals

From a business perspective, that kind of information is gold. It’s what will make you an effective online trainer despite your lack of experience.

The success of that initial base of clients gives you a platform to expand to different types of clients, which brings me to tip #2.

2. How to build your knowledge base and expand into new client groups

You can’t learn how to train new types of clients until you accept one or two you are unfamiliar with and try to help them.

When you do, let them know you’ll be learning alongside them, and offer them a discount to reflect the experiment you’re both participating in.

Imagine how this looks from the client’s perspective:

  1. They came to you because they know and like you. You have a connection to them and/or you’ve helped somebody they know, and think you can help them too.
  2. They appreciate your honesty. When’s the last time someone who was trying to sell you something admitted what they don’t know about their product or service?
  3. They feel invested in your success. Because you’ve described your work together as an experiment, and offered it at a discount, they’ll feel like a partner as much as a client.

Your mission now is to learn everything you can to make sure your client succeeds.

Seek out coaches known for their results with clients like yours. Study their programs. Figure out why they do things that way. (Ask them directly if you get a chance.)

Focus all your self-study on this client so you do a great job and feel confident about training others like them in the future. (By the way, this is the exact same process you’d follow in the gym to expand your client pool.)

Once done, accept another in a different client group, and follow the same process.

Now let’s look at how to market your newness to your advantage.

3. How to market online training without any in-person experience (or past client results)

Let’s assume you want to recruit more clients even though you’re new. Here’s how to do it:

  • Tell potential clients up front that you’re testing a new program, and you’re inviting them to be part of the process.
  • In return for participating in this test, they’ll get a big discount. It’s a great deal you’ll never offer to anyone else.

This simple pitch gives you permission to take (im)perfect action while simultaneously giving you the most sensational elements you could ever include in a marketing promotion: a compelling offer with a limited number of spots and a fixed expiration date.

The upshot is that it’ll be easier to convert prospects into clients and continue to learn alongside them.

Not only that, but when clients become your partners in this journey, they’ll be invested in your success, as I explained in the previous section. That sense of ownership will lead many of them to act as your greatest fans and brand ambassadors.

Your success gives them bragging rights. It’s like being the first in their group to discover a great new band or TV show or podcast.

But this time, the discovery is you. How cool is that?


4. Why you must build your business and fitness skill sets simultaneously

COVID-19 has bankrupted a lot of experienced personal trainers for one simple reason: They never learned online business. They weren’t prepared when the pandemic hit, and they may never recover.

Moving forward, online business knowledge combined with fitness expertise will be absolutely essential to success in the fitness industry.

There’s no way to succeed without both skill sets.

Our industry does a reasonably good job of preparing you for the fitness challenges you’ll encounter training clients in a traditional facility. An entry-level personal trainer with a degree in exercise science or an accredited personal trainer certification knows enough to get started.

But colleges and certification providers do a terrible job of preparing you for the business of fitness.

That’s why you need a leading educational program like the Online Trainer Academy Level 1 along with your initial certification. It’s an investment not just in your present, but in your future.

You’ll learn how to coach clients online and run a business so that you’ll be prepared for the next disruption to come along after COVID-19.

The combination of fitness acumen and online business expertise will put you ahead of your peers exclusively training in-person. You’ll have successful clients and financial success.