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Virtual Training May Be the Future of Fitness
Keeping your workouts on track is easier when you have a little help. Online fitness coaches can get you into shape right in your own home—but how do you find one?
Before mid-March, your day may have kicked off or ended with a sweaty personal training session at your local gym. Suddenly, things changed, and for many people it’s been a struggle to stick with fitness goals and training routines without their usual gym routines. If you didn’t have a personal trainer before the world went upside-down, man, you could sure use one now.
Actually, you still can get yourself a personal trainer—of the virtual sort. All you need is WiFi and a screen. Is it the same as in-person? No. But you might just like certain things about it better. If you’re curious about the rising tele-training trend, take a look at the pros, cons and how-tos of finding an online coach.
Basic (Tele-) Training
If you’re not familiar with virtual training, here’s how it works. “Basically it’s a regular one-on-one private session that you would do with a trainer, except it will be over video chat instead of in person at the gym,” explains California-based Nerissa Zhang, co-founder of The Bright App, which connects trainers to clients. “Tele-training, virtual training, or online training are all names for it.”
After establishing a video connection, you’ll position your screen so it can capture you doing the moves as your trainer instructs you. You’ll get feedback on your form, encouragement to complete your reps and motivational mantras to get you through the session.
Sounds straightforward enough, but there’s a bit of an art to matching yourself with the right coach. “It’s about the relationship between a trainer—equipped with the appropriate knowledge and game plan—and a motivated individual who is ready to put the work in to make changes,” says Brian Makarius, a personal trainer in NYC. When the gym where he worked temporarily closed in March, Makarius pivoted, offering customized written workouts ($35 per plan) and virtual training sessions ($70 an hour). In general, trainers are offering their online services at a deep discount from what clients typically pay for in-person sessions (often $100–$300 an hour).
Perks of Online Training
The most obvious benefit of virtual training is its convenience. “Instead of commuting to a gym to see your trainer at 6 a.m., you can sleep in, wake up at 5:50 a.m. and get the same training,” Zhang says.
Stephen Pasterino, co-founder of New York- and L.A.-based fitness studio P.volve, agrees. “It is easier to pop into a workout online,” says Pasterino, who offers both in-person and online training options. “Many of my clients say they are working out more now than ever before!”
What’s more, your virtual trainer keeps motivation high at a time when you need it most. (You’ve been there: One minute you’re in leggings, holding a water bottle, ready for an online class to stream. Five minutes later, you’re overheated, on the couch, scrolling through Instagram.) Virtual trainers hold you accountable. “When there are two people involved, a commitment is forged,” says Makarius. “That helps with consistency and routine.”
“The ability to connect and have a conversation with a real person tends to be just as important mentally as the physical aspect of training,” adds Zhang.
Another perk: Access to a larger pool of trainers, some with more street cred than others. For instance, Pasterino has trained major Hollywood celebs; previously, you could only book an elite trainer like this in person in cosmopolitan cities. “Because there are no requirements to live near each other, you can train with an Olympian or a professional MMA fighter virtually,” says Zhang.
And of course, there’s the health and safety factor of minimizing physical contact right now. You can wear a mask if you’re taking your Zoom workout session to the park, but at home, going mask-less makes it easier to take deep breaths. “There is going to be a subset of people for whom virtual training is the only option they feel comfortable with,” says Zhang.
Challenges of Virtual Training
Paying for a trainer to watch your form through Zoom may be better than doing it on your own, but it’s different than having an expert physically there to make adjustments. “The crystal-clear communication in-person is irreplaceable,” says Makarius. Another drawback: Your trainer can’t stretch your tight muscles at the end of the session.
Many trainers also cite lack of equipment as a challenge. While body weight and basic items like dumbbells and bands work well, they represent just a sliver of the tools found at a gym.
Trainers also worry that the vibe isn’t the same through a streaming screen. “Without the gym setting of others working out around you, the energy level can be lower,” Zhang notes. “But a good trainer can compensate for this and keep you motivated.”
How to Find an Online Coach
If you’ve decided to try tele-training, the next step is to find a coach. Sites like The Bright App, Find Your Trainer and PEAR Sports vet personal trainers, run background checks on them and then organize the list by location and style of instruction. Instagram is also an easy place to shop around, as many trainers post videos of their methods.
“If you were looking for a trainer at the gym, you’d look at their physique, attitude and overall energy,” explains Kelly Abney, master trainer for PEAR Sports and owner of Abney Athletics in Dana Point, CA. “Most of those still apply when searching for a virtual trainer.”
Before signing up for a multi-session plan, request a consultation with your potential virtual trainer to discuss your goals and expectations. During the conversation, it shouldn’t just be you doing the talking. “Your virtual trainer should ask you questions, including what types of exercise materials do you have? What are you most motivated by? Do you have any injuries?” says Abney.
If your plans include returning to your local gym at some point, look for instructors who can offer you both virtual and in-person sessions. “Lots of people love the community or neighborhood feel that their local club provides,” says Makarius. “But if a client is jammed at work, or a child is sick or someone is on vacation, we can do virtual training, too.”
It’s likely that this hybrid approach will be the path forward. Pasterino plans to open two new studios this fall in Chicago and Los Angeles; still, he’s not giving up his virtual community. “Virtual training will only grow, as companies allow their staff to work from home indefinitely,” he says. “Flexible and convenient fitness is the name of the game. Going forward, I plan on adding a daily virtual class to my schedule along with my in-person classes. I couldn’t imagine not doing it.”