Is Online Personal Training Right For You? (Plus Giveaway!)

by Charlotte on May 26, 2009 · 20 comments


The efficacy of personal training can be distilled down to one factor: the person in the “personal” trainer. This was the downfall of April’s Great Fitness Experiment wherein I tried out Women’s Health Magazine’s online personal trainer. The problem was that other than me, there were no actual people involved and their computer wasn’t any better at “training” me than their magazine articles are. (I’m still waiting for the trained monkey option.) After that experiment however, I got several e-mails pointing out that I had lambasted the whole online personal training industry unfairly. And while there are many sites run like the one I tested out, there are a whole other type run by a living breathing human personal trainer who just does his or her business over the web. (Ten points if anyone else just snickered!)

One Reader in particular caught my eye – probably because she lives just down the street from me – but also because her amazing physical transformation has been a hot topic around these parts for months. How did Reader Beth go from being a mom of 5 (her oldest is 7, her baby is 2) and looking like it to looking like the 20-something nanny? An online personal trainer. Her old college buddy Lindsey contacted her last January and offered to train Beth and her husband Nate – all over the internet.

At first Beth and Nate were skeptical – “How does she know if I’m making real progress if she can’t even see me?” Nate wondered. In addition to not being able to see clients’ progress (or lack therof), online trainers also can’t check bodyfat percentages, weight lifting form and all of the little non-verbal clues from their client that would help them do their job better. But at a fraction of the cost of real world trainers – Lindsey charges $30 a month for her fitness or nutrition packages or $50 a month for both – the benefits can be great. Especially if you are the type who can be both very honest with yourself and honest in communicating with your online trainer. Bonus: they also can’t offend you with their foul breath, obsessive self-checking in the mirrors or their overly enthusiastic atta-boy butt slaps.

So Beth and Nate both signed up for the exercise package and went to work. Their results are so astounding that at Nate’s last doctor visit the doctor actually asked him for tips. Since January, Nate has lost 30 pounds and gained muscle. Beth managed to lose her pregnancy weight on her own but credits Lindsey with helping her drop an additional 10 pounds to reach her goal weight and also build muscle. I can personally vouch for how fantastic they both look.

Online Personal Training Vs. An Online Personal Trainer
Why was my Experiment such a boring failure while Nate and Beth’s was such a huge success? They both credit it to having a real live person behind the computer screen. They checked in with Lindsey every week – although they were free to e-mail her more often if they had questions or needed motivation – and Nate says this accountability made all the difference to him. It also helped him that Lindsey was a stranger (to him) and so he felt he could be completely honest with her in a way that he feels he couldn’t have been even with a real life trainer. “I hate lifting weights,” he says, “but Lindsey would change around the program until we found one I liked and could stick with. If I were with a trainer and he told me to do a machine I didn’t like, I’d probably just say okay and then not do it when he wasn’t there.”

In addition to the accountability factor, the couple also liked how varied the programs were (they received a new one every month), how easy it was to contact their trainer via e-mail, the recipes and other support they found on her site and, of course, the affordability. I’m guessing if I’d e-mailed Lindsey my (pretend) eating disordered food journal and workout schedule like I’d sent to the Women’s Health Mag program, she would have spotted the problem right away.

If you are looking for an affordable and more anonymous way to get a personal trainer – with an actual person involved – then this type of online personal training could be an excellent solution for you. As in picking a real-life trainer just be sure to check to make sure they are credentialed, have a legitimate payment method on their site (i.e. you’re not sending them money orders to a P.O. box), and offer references (and actually contact a couple of them!).

Bonus: On Lindsey’s site today, she’s got a giveaway going on as an incentive to check her and her services out! Let me know in the comments if any of you have used an online personal trainer and if so, how it worked out for you – feel free to link to their site if you recommend them! Also, if YOU are an online personal trainer, feel free to pimp yourself in the comments section as well.

Readers – are you the kind of person who needs a real-life Jillian Michaels all up in your grill or would you prefer the semi-anonymity of an online trainer?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Mackenzie May 26, 2009 at 8:01 am

It’s not easy to think of a topic that GFE has yet to bravely and humourously trek through (exhibit A, Flatulent Friday Fitness),but there is one aspect of health talk that I personally have never seen on a blog and about which I must admit a strong curiosity: sexual health and how it figures into the whole fitness/body image/eating disorders/exercise equation. This is no doubt an overshare, but when I was working out like a maniac, for example, my sex drive plummeted. Anyone?

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Sagan May 26, 2009 at 10:30 am

So interesting! thanks for letting us know about these different experiences that people have had. I kinda like having someone right there kicking my butt but I’ve never tried an online trainer, so that would be something to think about trying for sure.

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Crabby McSlacker May 26, 2009 at 10:37 am

While I think in an ideal world I’d prefer an in-person trainer, I’m too cheap to pay for one and have never gon that route–so this is indeed a tempting option.

I always think that since I have the entire internet at my disposal, that I’m going to do the research to put together a better, more varied training program than the one I have… but I never seem to get around to it!

So the notion that someone might take all my goals and concerns and craft something for me, then adjust and encourage on an ongoing basis sounds like it would be really helpful!

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Fit Mama May 26, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I’m a huge fan of Beachbody, and they offer free “coaches” who basically give you support and motivation to keep going wiht whatever you are doing. The coaches are regular people who had success with Beachbody programs (DVDs like P90X, Slim in 6, etc), and they get financial benefits when the people they are coaching order products or become coaches themselves. My coach has been awesome at helping me tune up my nutrition and kicking me in the rear. It’s not a personal trainer, but just somenoe who knows how they got results and want to help others get results :) It’s primarily online over chat forums and email, but my coach also gives out her phone number for “emergencies”. lol

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Jody - Fit at 51 May 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Really interesting! I love to hear how different strokes for different folks works & the WHY behind it!

Me, I would love a Jillian & a Bob pushing me AND teaching me new things. Wish I could afford it!

I like the in person stuff myself but great to hear why others would not!

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Charlotte May 26, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Mackenzie – I just added it to the list! Should be some interesting comments that day!

Crabby – See I’m the opposite – I try everything I find on the Internet and then just end up confusing myself and my body. Sigh.

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Charlotte May 26, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Fit Mama – I had NO idea beachbody did that!! Interesting! I will have to check that out.

Jody – Yeah, ideally I’d get to try it both ways!!

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Tricia May 26, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I’ve debated becoming an online personal trainer, but I’m not sure if it’s something I’d be able to do well at.

But then, most of my clients do give me honest feedback, and a lot of them need help with their form, so it’s possible that I’m mentally picturing my clients working out with improper form (like they were when they first started training with me).

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Merry May 26, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Innnnnteresting. I think this idea would work well for agoraphobic gym-o-phobes. If you’re out of shape or overweight, you tend to think the other person is judging you. But online, I imagine it would be much easier to concentrate on following the program without wondering what people think of you.

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Tom Rooney May 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm

The skeptic in me says that if you have someone on-line to offer personal training wouldn’t garner the motivation necessary to improve the years of foolishness. For my money, you as a neighbor could be just as effective by giving snide remarks until they lost weight and toned up. I’m not sure I could be motivated by e-mail.

On the other hand, I just signed up for this great internet grass cutting service. I pay them $50.00 a month and upload lawn photos, they respond when it’s time to start the mower. Our property never looked better.

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Dr. J May 26, 2009 at 3:30 pm

There definitely are plenty of free on line trainers giving advice on the Internet. Probably, most of them are OK. Although, not being tailored to the individual can be risky. It’s probably an alright way to go if you have direct interaction with your trainer, take it slowly at first to see how you respond, and possibly get an opinion from Charlotte if you are not sure about them.

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Quix May 26, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Sounds like there are good apples and bad apples. I can definitely see how having a one on one connection with some real person who just happens to be reachable on the internet would be better than just some generated plans.

If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t mind trying out a personal trainer. Or hiring the services of a nutritionist to double check how I eat and tell me I’m a horrible person for eating processed food and white rice. However, I seem to be doing ok on my own, and I don’t exactly have cash growing on trees right now, so I’ll have to just wait for my check to come in the mail.

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SeaBreeze May 26, 2009 at 10:59 pm

I want a real-life JMP. I have my roommate and girl friends now trained to repeat the words “you’ve never felt this good” when i feel like crying, giving up, falling down, or going for ice cream mid-workout. My experiment for June? Pole Dancing… ya that’s right…

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Emma Giles Powell May 26, 2009 at 11:32 pm

I have nothing substantial to add as per my usual deep thought provoking comments, but I had to say that after accidentally navving to greatfitnessexperiment w/o the THE in front of it, I am suddenly remind just why I read you! Wait to visit that site until you think you suck, then it’ll be an awesome pick me up.

Never had an online nor personal trainer, but those where I’ve exploited their free trials are bigger wusses than I am. I prefer the drill sergeant type. I’ve never popped the big bucks for a reputable one, you know, like all those experts who advertise on figureathlete.com, which is why I’m still qualified to comment on frugal living topics.

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Amy May 27, 2009 at 12:16 am

I’m a personal trainer in real life and have also offered online personal training. Not only do I not care for the interface of the online personal training programs, but I find they lack the “personal,” which, duh, is why someone works with a personal trainer.

I recently started doing very personalized fitness plans with online “blogospheric” accountability. Imagine if the blog’s readers were tracking your weekly check-ins and even, yes, your before pictures.

The plans take me a crazy amount of time for each person and I have no autoresponder doing my weekly check-ins, but it’s been really fun so far and motivating to not just the trainee, but all readers and me, too.

Not trying to promote myself with this comment (sorry if it sounds like that), but the online training is something I’ve struggled with as a professional and have come up with a fun way to bridge the gap. I think of it more as “remote personal training.” Great topic and Lindsey sounds great!

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Becky May 27, 2009 at 12:41 am

You need to ask Beth if you can post before and after pics I want to see them!

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courtneyb May 27, 2009 at 2:40 am

I train with lindsey and love it. This is my second time, first before the baby and now after. Both times I’ve seen nothing but results AND I was living across the world in Italy, that’s proof that she is good!

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Gervase May 27, 2009 at 6:45 pm

That post was great! I myself am an avid supporter of my online personal trainer, Mel O’Keefe, and it was so nice to read an article that explored not only the downs, but the ups of an online trainer! If any readers were inspired after reading this and want some recommendations, try http://www.virtualfitnesscoach.com. There is a real live trainer on the other end of the internet connection, and he helps you plan your meals too!

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