Whether your motivation to get up and move more feels nonexistent, you don’t know WTH to do at the gym, or you want to level up your workouts—technology has a way to help you out. Meet online personal training, which can give you a kick in the butt to break a sweat or provide a plan for your next big physical feat.
But is online personal training just as good as the face-to-face experience? Is it worth it to pay for a plan you follow from your phone or laptop? Let these trainers answer all your questions about online personal training, and serve as your guides to finding the best fit for your fitness goals—online or otherwise.
What does online personal training include?
Like one-on-one training in person, you can get workouts tailored to your goals and fitness level when you turn to online personal training. But how you actually find a trainer and interact with him or her depends on the method you choose. For example, apps like Trainiac ($50/month) and Future ($150/month) offer access to their own roster of coaches who create customized programs. You share your goals and experience with exercise in the app and a trainer will formulate a plan (often based on exercises in the apps’ library of moves). You can then send messages back and forth about how the workouts are, well,working for you, plus how your progress is going.
Another method of online personal training comes right from a coach. Many trainers expand their offerings outside of a studio or gym, allowing you to take their programs wherever you want. Think of it as the direct-to-consumer training model. The trainer will likely write up a month-long program of exercises, reps, and sets, and provide instructional videos on how to do each move in the program. They’ll then check in with your progress (virtually) throughout the month and answer any questions or concerns you have along the way. Some trainers also use an app like True Coach, which allows them to connect with clients and provide personalized workouts, without actually meeting face-to-face.
What are the benefits of using an online personal trainer?
You gain many of the same pay-offs you’d get from in-person personal training when you choose to go virtual, particularly an expert’s guidance on workouts that will help you reach your goals, says Frances Rinaudo, CSCS, a personal trainer at Focus NYC.
The catch? You have to make sure you’re signing up for a trainer or an workout app that actually provides personalized service, rather than those that just dish out standard programs to every user or client. The service or trainer should be upfront about this, but you should also be able to tell if the plan is catered to you after your share your goals and past performance.
One of the top advantages of online personal training, compared to in-person: flexibility. “There’s usually no set schedule for your workouts,” says Hannah Davis, CSCS, owner of the Body By Hannah training studio in Cleveland, Tenn. “So you’re really able to do [the workouts] from home or just on your own time in general.” That means if you’re traveling or busy with family, and only have 20 minutes to spare—you can still do a workout tailored to you.
And by creating your own schedule, you do become more self-sufficient, says Davis. Plus, since you need to report back to your trainer—you’ll become more in tune with your own body, and how certain exercises make you feel.
Okay, but how much does online personal training cost?
Virtual training can definitely be more cost effective than signing up with a coach in-person and actually gives you access to top-tier trainers, even if you don’t have one geographically near you. Most apps range from $50 to $150 a month and the majority of individual trainers will charge similar prices, sometimes reaching $200 a month, depending on the coach. Comparatively, trainers usually charge at least $100 per session when you train face-to-face. “If you don’t have the funds, it’s a good alternative,” says Rinaudo.
Want a workout from a certified trainer you can do at home? Try this foundational core workout:
Are there any drawbacks to online personal training?
As with most things, there are some cons to consider. Most importantly, if you’re looking for someone to correct your form in real-time, give you instant feedback, or offer encouragement through that set of plié squats, you won’t find that from an online training program, warns Rinaudo.
You also lose a bit of the accountability factor, Davis adds. You don’t have someone relying on you to show up for each sweat session, and you don’t necessarily get a financial penalty if you miss a workout. So, you do have to have your own drive to follow the program.
Another thing to consider? “There’s something about a one-on-one connection that you create in the hours you spend with your coach that you miss from online training. You have to hold yourself accountable and stay more connected on your own,” says Davis. “There’s no sub for having a good coach. I’m very particular about form, and I’m constantly looking for missteps and giving cues,” which you don’t get from a virtual session, unless you’re meeting on Skype, she says.
How do I know if online personal training is right for me?
Think about your motivation and goals—and your fitness level. If you’re super new to working out, you might benefit more from in-person training. “Sometimes beginners really need someone there to correct their form,” says Rinaudo. This helps you avoid injuries and gets you to your goals faster. Also, if you tend to only show up to workouts when you have a set appointment, then you might want to skip the virtual way and opt for a trainer at your gym.
But if you do have the self-motivation to get to the gym—but get overwhelmed when you’re there on your own—virtual training could be helpful. Also, if you don’t have a gym in your area, you’re having trouble reaching your goals even though you’ve been busting a move on your own, or you have a jam-packed schedule and need a workout you can easily squeeze in—then online personal training might be your best bet.
How do I find a good online trainer?
For starters, check their certifications. They should have a personal training certificate from organizations like American Council on Exercise (ACE), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), or the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). “If you really want to make sure [of their certs], ask them,” suggests Davis. “There’s nothing wrong with asking a trainer to send you their cert to prove it. There are a lot of influencers who aren’t certified, and it’s very important.” She says you also want to make sure they’re doing continuing education to keep up with that stamp of expertise.
If you have any special requirements (say, you’re pre- or post-natal or have an ongoing injury) or specific goals (like finishing a half marathon or getting stronger for a particular sport), you might also want to consider what your trainer specializes in, as many will have more in-depth knowledge in these areas, says Rinaudo.
Davis says you should feel free to reach out to trainers you love on social media, too (just make sure they have that cert!). She herself offers online coaching, but doesn’t necessarily advertise for it, so other trainers might do the same. And even if they don’t, they might have some referrals for you.
How do I make the most of my online personal training program?
The coach should always ask some in-depth questions about you, your goals, and your history with exercise. Be as specific as possible when you define your goals: Do you want to incorporate running? Learn a specific move like pull-up or jump squat?
After you get your program, make sure it matches (and continues to match) your goals and meets your fitness level, says Rinaudo—you want to make sure you’re getting the individual attention you signed up for. In general, you should see a balance of upper and lower body exercises, as well as core, and mobility work and variety within the program. Plus, the plan should progress each week. If you’re falling flat on what you’ve set out to achieve with an online coach, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your workout is what you make it, especially when you’re training virtually.
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