The Pros and Cons of Online Training

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I started utilizing distance coaching back in 2005 before “distance coaching” was a thing. Hell, Facebook was barely a thing at that point in time, but I managed to survive.

Come to think of it I didn’t get my first cell phone or laptop until 2006, so it’s any wonder how I was able to turn distance coaching into a viable source of income for myself.

 

It’s taken years, of course, to turn it into a viable source of income, and, admittedly, there are innumerable coaches out there who have built online training empires that would make what I have built seem like an anthill compared to their Taj Mahal.

Fuck those guys…;o)

Just kidding. It’s altogether impressive to see how successful some people have gotten with their online training businesses. Kudos, and well done.

Nonetheless, I wanted to take today and discuss my experiences with distance coaching: Why I do it, the pros and cons of doing it, mistakes I’ve made along the way, and whether or not you should considering dipping your toes in the water.

Copyright: warrengoldswain / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Above all, when it comes to online training, you need to ask yourself this question:

Are You Doing It For the Right Reason(s)?

There’s a fairly naive notion that those who do online coaching are living the high life. They’re traveling the world on their hovercrafts writing programs and answering emails while sipping Pina Coladas. Indeed, for some, this is very true. I mean, hovercrafts are awesome.

However it’s not the norm.

If you’re entering the world of online training under the guise that that is normal, and that you’re going to be making between a metric boat load and metric shit load of money without any effort, let me say this:

“HahahahahaahahahahaahahahahahaahahhwytZARWQEtwqEagfhagtawrhdAFr5HAHAHAHAHA.”

Personally, I’d make the argument that online coaching is more time consuming and more of a grind than people are led to believe. Then again, those who believe otherwise are the ones who think all you need is a YouTube page, a smart phone, and nice smile to build a bonafide fitness business.

Basically it comes down to this:

  • If you decide to enter the world of online training (only) to make a bunch of money, good luck. I doubt you’ll last long.

  • If you decide to enter the world of online training to actually help people (first), to offer a good service with integrity, and then yeah, eventually, maybe make some decent money, now we’re talking.

Those Who Do Online Training Gooder: A Huge Caveat

I didn’t take on my first online training client until 2005. I had just moved from Syracuse, NY (where I had been working in both corporate and commercial gyms for the previous three years) to Danbury, CT where some guy named Eric Cressey convinced me to move to to start working with him at a local gym in the area.

A client of mine (back in Syracuse), Bobby, emailed me after a few weeks and asked if I’d still be interested in writing his programs? I like to think he couldn’t live without my witty personality and incessant GoodFellas quotes.

Until he had asked it had never dawned on me to write programs in a distance-based fashion. I was like, “uhhhhhhh, sure.”

I had a digital camera, a desktop computer, a sick bicep peak (<– very important), and an Excel spreadsheet.

I made it work.

But how?

Looking back my systems were terrible. But that’s also comparatively speaking. What I had access to back in 2005 in terms of technology paled in comparison to what is available today. I might as well, proverbially speaking at least, have been shucking corn with a scythe. Or, I don’t know, playing video games on an Atari 2600.

Bobby would send me a check via snail mail, I’d write his program, email it to him, and then if he had any questions I’d either have to write a Tolstoy’esque email back explaining every step of every exercise, or attempt to send him an impromptu video, which, honestly, back then, was more of a pain in the ass than writing everything out.

There was no such thing as YouTube. How did we survive?!

But it worked because of one thing, and it’s something I can’t repeat enough: I had years of experience training people in REAL LIFE.

To that end……

I think the best online coaches are those coaches who have experience training people in-person for a few years and then transition to some degree of distance coaching.

“It’s only when you work with people in person, gain a better understanding of their diversity and how to properly cue and coach different people with varying goals, current/past injury histories, and ability levels, and then have experience APPLYING what you read and watch to an actual individual, that you’ll (likely) be more successful virtually.”

In the years since I have developed better systems and my online coaching business is loaded with my own required desiderata – my laptop, PayPal account (to accept and send payments), DropBox (t0 receive and critique training videos), set of questionnaires, intake info, and screens (sent via vide0) to better ascertain prospective clients’ needs, a relationship with Exercise.com and their use of their sweet platform, not to mention my baller Spotify chill mix for optimum program writing prowess and badassery.

But what about the pros and cons (for both client and coach) of online training? What are they?

The Client

Cons:

Since I like to get bad news out of the way first (like, I’m writing this post with no pants on) let’s start with those, in no particular order:

  • Your coach isn’t actually there with you: That’s sort of the point of distance coaching right? But unless you’re highly motivated, you’ll find this as an excuse to not make it into the gym or skip certain parts of your training session. Lame.
  • Feedback comes later than you need it: Since you’re (hopefully) sending videos to your coach you won’t know until after you’re done with your lift if you performed things up to their standards.

 

  • It’s really easy to find a shit coach: If you spend 10 minutes browsing the fitness related hashtags on Instagram, I bet you could find about 50 random guys and gals who just finished training for their first show and are dying to offer you one of the limited spots in their online training group. Who knows what this person knows and where they learned it. If you don’t do your research you’ll end up wasting your money on some random jabroni.
  • It can be tough to form a relationship: If you found your coach online, it can sometimes be tough to form a relationship with them. Really, who wants to keep spending money on someone that they don’t have a great relationship with? And if you haven’t really bonded with them or trust them, why would you keep killing yourself in the gym for them? This is why I always make it a point to send random pictures of my cat here and there. Because it builds rapport, and because she’s awesome.

Every morning I sit on the living room floor to eat my eggs, watch the local news, and catch up on emails. And every morning Dagny keeps me company. #crazycatgentleman

A post shared by Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore) on

Pro’s:

Enough of the Debbie Downer talk! There’s a lot to love about working with a coach as a distance client!

  • It’s cost effective: This is just a fancy way of saying cheap! The cost per session of working with most distance coaches is substantially less than paying for them in person and is typically even way cheaper than paying for an atrocious trainer in person. For just a few bucks per lift you can have a great coach write your programming for you; it’s awesome.
  • Low stress: What do I mean by this? I mean that you don’t have to worry about schedules nearly as much as in person. You work weird hours and want to train at 2 am? Sure, pyscho, go train at 2 am.
  • You can work with just about anyone: As long as a coach is taking clients and you can afford them, you can work with just about any coach in any realm of fitness. It doesn’t matter where they are located; you can get a Chinese weightlifting coach, a Brazilian booty coach and a Turkish get-up coach if you want.
  • It can last a lifetime: If you’re lucky enough to find a coach that you have a good relationship with, trust and see results with you can train with them essentially forever. Regardless of where either one of you moves, the training relationship can remain solid.
  • A good community: I’m lucky that my coach (yes, I have a coach) had done such a good job with his distance coaching prior to me hiring him. When I started working with Greg, The Strength House had a vibrant online community where people are able to post videos to get feedback from Greg and Tony B. as well as other clients who may know what they are talking about. It makes a huge difference with staying accountable to my program.

The Coach

To be truthful, a lot of the points that are true for clients are true for coaches. It can be tough building a relationship with someone that you’ve never met.

Cons

  • There is a world of shit out there: People move like crap, and it’s hard to “manage” people from a distance unlike you can in-person. Being able to instantly provide verbal and tactile feedback is what gives in-person coaching a more than slight edge over online training.

  • More challenging to keep clients accountable: Are your clients really doing what you tell them to do? Are they really doing their deadbugs and dedicated warm-ups or skipping them in lieu of extra bicep curls in front of the mirror?
  • It Can Get Weird – Like that one time I started with a new male client and while on a bus on my way to NYC to visit friends I opened up all the postural pics I had him send me. Sorry random woman who looked over at me looking at half-naked pictures of a man. #awkward.
  • There’s a lot of moving parts: To be an effective distance coach means having a few systems in place that work really well and those can be difficult to manage.
    • A good way to track programs and ensure clients get them in time.
    • An effective means of communication, or else you’ll end up with an abyss of emails and texts to answer. Personally, though, I rarely give out my cell phone number for this very reason.
    • A good video library to pull demo’s from.
    • A solid network of coaches and trainers in other cities to be able to reach out to for help (Hey, I’ve got a client in your city, they’d like to meet with you for an hour and work on their hip hinge)
    • A strong system to collect and track payments.

  • Distance coaching isn’t for everyone: Truthfully, some people really just do need one-on-one in person training. Maybe the client isn’t motivated enough, maybe their needs are beyond what you can provide via an email or Facebook message. While it will mean you lose their monthly fee, this is definitely a client you should help find a local trainer to help them with their immediate goals.
  • It’s not all butterfly kisses and rainbows: Despite what the internet tells you, most people who do online training also have another job. Very few can live off their online business alone. It can be a drag to come home after coaching (or working) an 8-hour day only to have an inbox full of client questions and inquiries. As I alluded to above: online coaching, I find, is more time consuming than people think – especially if you lack having systems in place.

Pros

  • You can work with anyone: This is by far the coolest part. Right now I do remote coaching with people all over the world. I have clients all over North America, Europe, and even the Middle East. Many people have limited access to quality coaching and online training allows me the opportunity to work with people I otherwise would never cross paths with. Note to Optimus Prime, I have a few spots open.

  • It’s a decent bump to your income: I’m not going to tell you it’ll make you a millionaire, but I remember when I first started I told myself I wanted online training to help me cover my rent each month (and maybe pay for my then Match.com membership). It did and has since. Pretty cool.

Note: Match.com profile was deleted when I met my wife….;o)

  • Clients for life: If you’re good at what you’re doing, you’ll have clients that you’ll keep around forever. Also, since we in the fitness industry know that word of mouth advertising is more effective than anything else, happy clients will tell their friends and family.
  • It’s honestly fun: I really enjoy this part of my job. It takes me out of the daily routine of local clients that I work with and gives me something else to think about. It has become another skill to try and master and I like that challenge. Figuring out how to get great results with someone training in their home gym in North Dakota is much different than having that same person in front of you in your gym. You learn how to broaden your horizons as a coach and try to always get better and improve your systems.

Ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether or not online training is your cup of tea. I think when done well, for the right reasons, and with the right systems in place, coaches (and clients) can do very well. However, when taken for granted and with little attention to detail, it can be more detrimental than helpful.

Register for the Online Trainer Academy

 

My good friend, Jon Goodman, has developed what I believe is one of the best resources out there with regards to becoming a bonafide online trainer. If I had something like this back in 2005 my systems would have been much more organized, and I’d probably be married to Jennifer Lopez. True story.

Enrollment is extremely limited and only happens twice a year. Enrollment for early birds will begin February 21, 2017 (tomorrow!) and will close a few weeks thereafter. If you hurry, you can go HERE to download the Lasting Laws of Online Training and get onto the early bird list to save $200 off registration.

Do it.

DO IT.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Chris Baiata

    Thanks for this fantastic article man. It definitely speaks the brutal truths about the pros and cons of working with people online. I think overall the positives outweigh all the negatives as long as you do it for the right reasons and not some generic instagram coach. Keep up the great work!

    March 19, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Completely agree Chris. We live in a digital age and when it comes to developing another revenue streams, online coaching is a great option. There will always be shady characters that muck things up for everyone else, but I truly feel the cream always rises to the top.

      March 20, 2017 at 8:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Nick Kong

    Jesus fuck, dude; I love how you looked at assessing these pros and cons... You looked at it not only from the trainer's view, but also from the client's view as well, and it is THIS that is most important! Thank you for writing this. This is just what I needed to help me figure out if I wanted to get into this sort of business at all.

    June 30, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • R.S.

    How long do your online training programs run (how many weeks)? I just started using a remote trainer and they put me on a 5 week program...and then extended it by 2 weeks! I told him I was getting bored, but is 5 - 7 weeks of the same routine normal for online training?

    July 24, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Tony Author

      Generally I go with 4-week cycles. I think you "can" do the same program for 5-7 weeks and be fine, but ADHERENCE is important. What good is a program if you're bored to tears and don't want to follow it anymore and/or half-ass your workouts?

      July 26, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Reply to this comment

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