There’s no doubt that we live in a digital age, a fact so ingrained in our daily lives that it doesn’t really bear mentioning anymore. The fact that you’re reading this is a testament to that.
So prevalent are our digital lives that the internet has now permeated every conceivable aspect of our lives. There’s an app for whatever you want or need or can even imagine.
The world of fitness and personal training hasn’t been left untouched by this reality, or rather, virtual reality. This is where online personal training and online programs come in. Now, from the comfort of your home, you can engage your health and fitness goals with trained professionals or a suite of pre-packaged workout plans through an electronic interface.
But what are the true benefits of this new age of consumer fitness, if any?
In the box or on the screen? The evolution of consumer fitness
Now let’s jump right into it and break down the differences, benefits, and disadvantages of online coaching vs. online training programs vs. the more traditional, hands on approach.
As a client, it’s important to know what you’ll get out of each, and as an individual, with unique needs, you’ll find different reasons to approach each training format. Hopefully, we can help you determine the best for you.
Here at PT Pioneer, our modus operandi is to help up and coming trainers get their feet wet in the industry. This time we want to turn the tables and focus on the end user, the person who all this will ultimately affect. That’s you, the client!
Traditional Personal Training: 1-on-1 in Real Life
Your typical training setup goes like this: you find a trainer at a local gym or in some form of classifieds, whether that’s an online ad, brochure, word of mouth, or through a system of looking and booking.
Most personal trainers will present a set of credentials such as an accredited certification or higher learning qualification in the field of sports science, fitness, or sports medicine.
Connecting with a living, breathing human trainer allows you to build a genuine connection and asses value and authenticity on an intrinsically human level.
A real life trainer-client relationship also has the added benefit of in-depth assessment and monitoring of progress in real-time. Your trainer can get right into the issue with hands-on assessments such as a skinfold test for body fat, heart rate, blood pressure, coordination, balance, mobility, flexibility, and strength.
On the flip side, a real world trainer, restricted to the parameters of a one-on-one client-trainer relationship, won’t always be available and on-demand to offer the guidance you require. They most likely have many other deserving and paying clients who have come to expect the same level of care and consideration as you.
That being said, let’s break down some pros and cons of having a real-world trainer at your beck and call…or at least that’s what you’d like.
- Hands-on approach to your needs and goals with a direct set of eyes and ears.
- Ability to provide a comprehensive assessment of physiological needs and areas of weakness.
- Able to create a fully customized program by extrapolating your client data against your goals.
- Available with the presence of mind and able to react to needs in real time and adjust the program accordingly.
- Able to provide psychological support in real time as an added value and results oriented stimulus.
- Access to real-time, expert guidance on equipment use, form, and technique correction while your physical state is constantly being monitored.
- You can assess the authenticity and validity of their trainer credentials through observed characteristics
- Not always available at your beck and call. No one personal trainer, especially a good and reputable one, will be exclusive to you as a client.
- You will not be able to receive quality training whenever you feel like it. Your access to the trainer will require both of your schedules to sync.
- Having a personal trainer is location dependent. You will have to be in reasonable proximity to their base of operation to use their services.
- Life happens, and trainers are human too. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances mean they won’t be available when you might need or expect them.
- In person trainers tend to fetch a relatively higher price, so it will definitely cost you more than the online variant.
Online personal training: bridging the Digital Divide Through Fitness
Today, online personal training is gathering massive momentum. People are way more conscious about their fitness. At the same time, people use and function through the internet more, if not predominantly.
Put those two factors together and you have a recipe for today’s state of affairs regarding the rise of digital fitness.
The rise of smartphone applications, e-commerce, and an on-demand culture have all fused into some unique and attractive health and fitness services. From workout trackers to calorie counters and now digital fitness training.
Not only are individual personal trainers offering their services through e-commerce packages, but you can now access trainers through portals on downloadable apps.
Online training also eliminates many obstacles when it comes to getting some in-person training done. Firstly, it’s hard to initially assess the validity and authenticity of a real world trainer until you’ve actually consulted them. Online Trainers often have a slew of reviews to give you a good idea of what to expect credential wise.
Online personal training is also not constrained by time or place. You can engage with your trainer and work on your goals anywhere and whenever you see fit.
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Because of this, online training tends to have a lower price point, widening the access of fitness to more population groups in diverse social settings.
One drawback of not having your fitness needs tended to in a hands-on fashion is the lack of attention to detail. You are a unique individual with very specific needs, no matter how similar they may be to others in a general sense.
This is where online PTs fall short. They aren’t there to firstly assess your condition in real time. They can’t check your imbalances, or weaknesses or correct your form. They also can’t provide that unique psychological boost that comes from having a pro push you toward success.
So let’s break online personal training down to its vital pros and cons.
- Easy to access and assess the authenticity and quality of a trainer through reviews before the initial consult.
- On-demand access that doesn’t require scheduling or location proximity. Able to train at any time in any place. Trainers can provide prerecorded instructions.
- Multi platform access. From smartphone apps to computer browsers, on-the-go access is now a reality when it comes to fitness goals.
- Not constrained by hefty up-front costs associated with in person trainer fees and gym access.
- Detailed stats, calculations, infographics for precision goal tracking, and automated services that let you know what you need and when you need it.
- Some online personal training providers offer a digital one-on-one trainer experience through video and voice-call, and live chat services.
- Easy to refer back to previous training and work done at the click of a button with video and other multimedia resources.
- No interpersonal benefits such as in depth assessment, real time analysis of performance, technique, and form.
- No real time feedback on what you’re doing right or wrong.
- Psychological motivational component is limited due to the remote nature of online coaching.
- Some trainers are hard to authenticate due to the facade of an online platform.
Online Fitness Programs: Easy Does It
Online Fitness Programs are like online personal trainers without the actual trainer. So you’re really getting a somewhat dynamic reference guide on how to be fit.
This sounds very limiting and in some aspects, it is, but it can also be beneficial in many ways.
Fitness can be very specific, but it can also be very general. Online fitness programs aim to captivate a desire for the general benefits and methods of achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Because of this, online programs and plans tend to be very cost efficient, at least in a relative sense and depending on where you’re getting yours from, this can be an amazing option.
But this convenience of cost also obviously means the quality correlates in proportion. That is to say, what you pay for is what you get. This has led to the rise of relatively generic programming protocols. This is because online programs intrinsically operate on little and sometimes no unique personal data. The rise of the “cookie cutter” program can be attributed to this.
Another issue with online fitness plans is one of authenticity. Due to a lack of regulation regarding what services are offered online it terms of fitness. It’s pretty easy to get away with flogging some substandard drivel to the masses with thus the right amount of sparkle behind it. You can avoid this by ensuring your online fitness plan source is legit offline as they are online.
- The most cost efficient option available. Online programs won’t pinch your wallet to badly in most cases
- Easy to access, use and refer to. The best online fitness plans provide a decent insight into the evidence based fundamentals of real health and fitness
- On-demand access that doesn’t require scheduling or location proximity. You can view it online or print it out.
- Multi-platform access is the name of the game
- No pressure to meet objectives around a busy schedule.
- Easy to refer back to previous training and work done
- The best ones are often accompanied by a multimedia rich experience, such as video tutorials, infographics and more
- Zero interpersonal communication in many cases, with a general degree of limited interaction after purchasing the plan
- Plan provider does not need to provide any form of industry credentials since no regulation exists for programs implemented through an e-commerce system
- Many online fitness plans, even the ones that claim to be custom programs, offer a very generic prodcut that doesn’t consider specific needs and influencing factors such as age or sex.
- Fitness facilitated through an online program presents the least accountability of all from both the trainer and client side of the deal
So that gives you a basic rundown of the differences between In-person, online training, and online plans. In all honesty, no one is better than the others. It all really boils down to your needs, wants, liberties, and constraints. So let’s examine what factors would influence which training format would be the best for you.
First thing first. Since training is a commercial service, the initial consideration is how much you will pay for it. The pricing structure is extremely multi-varied across the board, but generally, an in-person trainer costs more than an online trainer or fitness plan.
That’s because a real world trainer is on a pay-as-you-train basis in most cases, whereas an online coach would charge on the same basis, but much less due to the limit in what they can offer. An online plan will garner a one-time payment for a program, with many options coming in the form of a digital app subscription.
So the numbers are out. An in-person PT will run you up from $80 to $125 per session. If you factor in the likely cost of gym fees, which sit around $50/session. The grand total for a real world PT comes up to roughly $500 a month, whereas most people would go for a 3-month program, bringing it up to approximately $1500 in total.
An online personal trainer would cost a once off fee of between $30-$300 dollars. This is usually for a long term program for, say 12 weeks (roughly 3 months). This means the highest average tier of online coaching services only costs about 20% of a real life coaching experience.
An online fitness plan as a stand alone product goes within the range of $50-$100 in most typical cases. It’s a once off fee for a 6 -12 week program. Price varies depending on value added perks and the perceived reputation of the brand or trainer offering the product
As I said, all this stuff is based on many variables, so getting a fixed price is hard to nail. That said, it is generally accepted that online coaching is much cheaper.
Another important factor is location. If you are settled in a busy, well-developed urban location, chances are you won’t have much trouble finding a decent, well credentialed trainer a mere phone call away. Most fitness clubs will have trainers on-call ready to help and assist with any training needs, and often the fact that they are in these spaces means that they have the right certs behind them.
If you find yourself in a remote location or are constantly on the go, traveling for work or as a leisure activity, a decent option would be to go the online trainer route. That way, you can engage and manage your fitness goals within a flexible framework.
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Some personal trainers offer a hybrid format. That means they can be available on the ground, in the gym, and transferring your working relationship to a digital platform when needed. This is an amazing way to maintain a deep founded trainer-client relationship while allowing you the freedom of location.
If you are constrained by time and/or budget to the point of being unable to look into either of these, then perhaps getting your hands on a custom online program is the way for you to go. It’s an easy reference guide, but be aware that you’re not getting anything in depth in terms of guidance, assessment, and feedback.
Our day-to-day lives are more demanding than ever in terms of time. Rushing between work, school, social, and family commitments while also trying to prioritize personal needs such as fitness is a chore on its own.
So depending on the flexibility of your schedule, you will find that one is better than the others. People with a generally busy day and not much free time outside of regular business hours will find the online options a bit more enticing.
Having an online trainer would be ideal for such a case, but settling for a pre-packaged program would be ideal if life is really that much in the way. Make sure it’s as tailored to you as possible. People with a flexible daily schedule will often be okay with taking an hour to get some good one-on-one training.
Training Goals and Background
Another factor often overlooked is the goals and background of someone embarking on a new training program.
If you are an absolute out-of-shape noob and have never set foot on a treadmill in your life, my advice would be to get personal. Someone who is inexperienced in exercise and training will often require some guidance in the form of a personal touch.
That’s because you’re not only on a journey to fitness but also discovering what fitness is for the first time. This also means committing to a drastic change in behavior and lifestyle, which doesn’t come easily from an online program.
If you have a bit of mileage behind you in the ways of fitness, then an online coach wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
If you’re looking for just an extra kick and expert reference to get you back on track or keep you there, a fitness plan can easily help. That’s because you already know what it takes. Your body is used to being physical and your mind and lifestyle are already adjusted to the fit life. Detrained athletes, generally fit people, amateur athletes, and even personal trainers themselves can benefit from an online fitness plan as an index to their existing insight and protocols.
The Big Takeaway
And no, I don’t mean fast food; that’s the furthest thing from what you should be thinking about right now. But what I strongly feel is that, ultimately, in-person training is the best option, and here’s why.
True Change Happens Through Inspiration and not Instruction
In personal training, there’s a thing called change psychology. This is the basic idea that behavioral change occurs gradually and over time through exposure to motivational pressures and positive influence.
When a trainer earns their certification, change psychology is a large component of what they are taught. This system of direct and subtle communication skills encourages a rewiring of habit and priority in a client. The aim of change psychology is to go beyond just offering a session to session physical experience, but is also a means by which a client gradually alters their perspective and lifestyle.
Change psychology is aimed at providing a long term benefit where a client can now take on board a new and improved mindfulness towards health and fitness through the remainder of their life.
When it comes to online coaching, this component exists, but in a far less meaningful way, even with live webinar-type sessions or one-on-one Skype sessions. The distance makes it impossible to translate real, impactful influence and motivation. An online coach can’t assess your training methodologies from a 360 degree perspective. They can’t assess your breathing, heart rate, level of fatigue, mobility impediments, or psychological state.
Real results are best achieved through building a relationship where one feels accountable for the outcome of the other.
With online fitness programs, the return is even further diminished; the trainer, often with hundreds of requests, never feels the burden of responsibility for a client’s outcomes. On the same note, the client never feels the real level of accountability for meeting those outcomes.
Authenticity Can Only Be Determined in Reality
When meeting someone and interacting with them, the impression you gain sets the tone of what to expect and what can be achieved.
A trainer-client relationship is the same. You can only know whether this is the right person to guide you through your fitness journey by getting to know what they can offer. Likewise, a trainer can only really understand the subtle needs and areas of focus when dealing with a would be client face to face in a hands real-time manner.
One drawback of online coaching is that it’s not only hard to know if the trainer you’re booking is right for you on a fundamental level, but you also have no way of being 100% certain that their credentials are authentic or reliable.
This is more prevalent if all you get is a sheet with exercises you must do. There is no interfacing between the client and trainer beyond the transaction.
It’s very easy to present an over inflated or even false representation of credentials behind the facade of an online only presence when it comes to online fitness programs.
Recently, many online fitness professionals or personalities have been called out publicly for presenting ineffective and sometimes harmful fitness plans due to the lack of reliable verification or regulation behind e-commerce in fitness.
There is no control mechanism, and it’s easy to portray a positive status when all you need is some decent digital marketing and visual stimulus and a copy-paste attitude towards health and fitness.
That’s because online trainer services such as coaching, but especially program design, have a heavier leaning towards the money making component of the fitness industry.
Real life personal trainers are motivated to perform for many other essential reasons, such as maintaining a good reputation in their communities and the fulfillment of helping people become healthier. Online, the only career perk is the money in the bank.
Monkey See, Monkey Do!
When it comes to training effectively, one of the greatest ways to achieve goals is through modeling.
By modeling, I don’t mean looking fancy in the gym; I mean being able to mimic and emulate good and correct habits and do it in real time with the option to go over the key areas of weakness until it’s right with the rich foundation of constant feedback.
This doesn’t happen too effectively with online training. While many online trainer services will provide in-depth instructional videos and visual guides, even through live video, there is never a satisfactory chain of feedback and correction happening.
You could be executing a movement or exercise in a way you think is right and emulates the technique shown, but the subtleties of good form and technique can’t be addressed effectively if you don’t have the constant supervision of a trained professional during and after a session.
You can imagine how an online acquired plan will provide little relevance in this way also. You’re literally on your own once you click add to cart.
You won’t have anything to carry forward into the next session for the sake of continuity and unique personal development.
Helping someone achieve their goals requires patience and constant modeling and remodeling. The learning experience between a trainer and client is a two-way street which is next to impossible on an online platform.
So that’s my complete break down of Online Personal Training vs. Online Fitness Plans vs. Traditional Personal Training.
All have their benefits and disadvantages, but if you ask me, the most effective format for you as a client to achieve the best goals is with a real life one-on-one trainer.
Communication is key, especially during the training session; you won’t get much of that with an online coach and almost none with a fitness plan.
Having said that, I’m not trying to knock online coaches or the many effective fitness plans out there. Some of them are really legit and offer valuable services with proven track records.
All I’m saying is the online options should always be your plan B (online personal trainer) and plan C (online fitness plan) if health and fitness are a real priority. It’s a good way to have a back-up reference and a great way to get some training in if you’re faced with some of the constraints I mentioned earlier in the article.
If unrestrained, however, always book a trainer with the right certifications, working in a reputable facility.