The internet has revolutionized virtually every industry, including the fitness industry. In recent years, the availability of training via online platforms has vastly increased. So how does online personal training stack up against in-person workouts?
This is a question a lot of folks have been asking in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, when accessing workouts remotely has only grown in prevalence. But it’s not the right fit for everyone, says Jessica Mazzucco, an NYC-area certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit. “An online personal trainer is best suited for someone at an intermediate or advanced level of fitness.”
An intermediate level trainee has some experience with the particular kinds of workout they’re executing and has a good understanding of proper goof and modifications that can help them reach their goals. An advanced trainee is someone who’s consistently worked out a lot and is looking to increase strength, power , speed or intensity. They know well how to execute exercises correctly and how to adjust the variables to meet their goals.
“For example, suppose someone is experiencing a strength plateau or a weight loss plateau,” Mazzucco explains. “In that case, an online trainer can provide tips and new exercises” that can help you find new strength gains or get back to losing weight. “Online training is also best for people who travel often or prefer to work out on their own schedule.”
When deciding whether to pursue in-person versus online training, a lot of it comes down to personal preference, your individual situation and what’s going to keep you moving for the long haul, says Dr. Larry Nolan, a primary care sports medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
For example, introverted people who “aren’t very comfortable working out in public may find that working with an online trainer fits their needs better.
Pros of Online Personal Training
Nolan says that an upside to working with a trainer online is the accessibility it offers individuals who might be the perfect fit for you but aren’t “geographically available” to you. “For example,” Nolan says, “you can work with someone in California” while you’re clear on the other side of the country.
“Some people truly enjoy exercise, others tie it in with social meet-ups,” says Natasha Vani, who is vice president of program development and operations for Newtopia, a tech-enabled habit change provider. But for most people, “regular motivation is hard to come by. This is where a personal trainer acting as an accountability coach can make the difference” in helping you get and stay motivated to work out.
Instead of having to race to make an in-person session at a specific time, working with a trainer online often means you have more flexibility in scheduling times that work for you.
“One of the best parts about hiring an online trainer is the flexibility,” Mazzucco says. “You can train where and when you want. If you work full-time or have a busy schedule, you don’t have to worry about finding time to drive to and from the gym.”
Vani notes that working with an online trainer offers “accountability with convenience and flexibility. This addresses the other major challenge to exercise — finding time for it.”
Mazzucco says an online trainer is also great for people who “don’t feel comfortable exercising in a gym. If you perform your online training session at home, you’ll probably feel as if you’re in a safe, judgment-free environment.”
Though cost can vary widely depending on the location, the trainer’s expertise and other factors, online training sessions tend to be less expensive than in-person sessions. Plus, “you’re saving costs in terms of time, your money, and transportation costs,” Nolan says.
Cons of Online Personal Training
Technique and Form
When working with a trainer remotely, it can be harder for them to ensure that your form in executing specific exercises is good. Vani notes that “if you’re a beginner, or if you’re trying new exercises, it’s harder to learn proper technique with online coaching.”
Mazzucco adds that this concern about form extends to people who are more experienced, too. “It’s easier for an in-person trainer to see if you’re performing exercises correctly than an online trainer, who’s watching you over video,” Mazzucco says. This is important because “good form when exercising is essential in reducing the risk of injury.”
For example, if your knees tend to cave in towards each other during a squat, that can lead to knee injury. Or arching your back when you’re performing a dead-lift can lead to spinal injuries.
Nolan agrees that it can be difficult for the trainer to pick up on poor form as it’s happening and correct it as you go along. And if you’re having an off day, your trainer may not be able to pick up on that remotely and instead of scaling the workout to your present needs, they might push you to do more than you should.
Consistency and Accountability
It can also be more difficult to stay motivated when working with a trainer remotely. “Having an in-person trainer keeps you accountable to show up to your session,” Mazzucco says. If someone is waiting for you at the gym, it’s harder to cancel. But “if your training session is online via video, you probably won’t feel guilty texting or calling your trainer to cancel.”
Nolan agrees that it can be tough to stay motivated when working out remotely, and “if accountability is important, going back to in-person sessions should be a consideration.”
While it’s entirely possible to complete all sorts of excellent workouts at home without specialized equipment, depending on what you’re looking to do, you may not have the right tools at home at home.
“In general, online platforms will be cheaper than in person. However, while there’s a lower per class cost, there may be some higher costs with equipment,” Nolan says. If you need to buy a spinning bike or treadmill, for example. And if you’re looking to do an activity like swimming but don’t have a pool at home, you’re going to have to find a place to swim.
Another downside of working out at home is the possibility of distractions, Nolan says. It might be really easy to find yourself sitting on the couch flipping through the channels when you should actually be working out.
Vani notes that you’ll be connected to a screen during online training sessions, and “it’s also worth considering the additional screen time, which is something many of us are trying to reduce.”
What to Look for in an Online Trainer
When you’re looking for a personal trainer, especially an online one, you should ask a few questions before you take the plunge.
Can they keep you motivated and on track?
“If they notice a pattern of cancellations, they should encourage you to make your sessions, even if this means they need to dish out some tough love,” Mazzucco says.
Ask the prospective trainer if they’re prepared to hold your feet to the fire if you start to flake out.
Does the trainer have the expertise you need?
Trainers certified in a particular area, such as yoga or Pilates, may have a little bit more knowledge or background in helping you achieve your specific goals, so find out what the trainer’s specific area of expertise is. There are a wide range of accrediting bodies out there and each offers its own approach to training and education.
Some top organizations include the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the American College of Spots Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American Council on Exercise, the International Sports Science Association, the National Federation of Professional Trainers and World Instructor Training School.
Look for initials such as NASM, ACE, CSCS, NCSF, NSCA, ISSA, WITS or CSCS after the trainer’s name as a sign that the trainer is certified by a certain organization or certified in a specific type of exercise training.
How do other clients rate them?
Nolan recommends looking at reviews to see how other clients have rated their experiences with a particular trainer. Review sites like Yelp can help you get started with finding trainers near you, and online sites such as Findyourtrainer.com and Fitnesstrainer.com offer detailed search functions to match you with a trainer who meets your preferred criteria.
Will they customize your workout around your goals?
“Your trainer should listen to you and help you get to where you want, rather than coach you through a workout you can find online that’s not personalized,” Mazzucco says. In addition, “an online trainer should also make modifications and changes to your training routine based on your journey and progress.”
Does the trainer have experience working with clients in-person?
Although you’ll likely be meeting with them online, “personal trainers who have more experience in working with clients in person tend to have better cues for form correction versus trainers who don’t have experience training clients in person,” Mazzucco says.
Can they teach you something new?
Varying your workouts is good for both your body and your motivation. “An online trainer should always teach you something new and keep you physically and mentally engaged,” Mazzucco says.
At the end of the day, the results from working with a trainer online versus in-person can be virtually the same, but you have to put in the work yourself. “Consistency over time yields the best results,” Nolan says. “So, whatever you can find for your personality, schedule and lifestyle that can get you the best consistency will give you the best results.”
Vani agrees. “It’s one thing to start an exercise routine, it’s another thing to maintain it. Building a consistent habit of regular activity only occurs when you have a constant source of motivation.”
Nolan adds that exercise should be part of your lifestyle. “This should be a commitment over the long term.” Looks for sustainability.” Consider whether you can work with this person long term and how this new program will fit into your overall life.
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