The Online Training Myth – 3 Things To Consider Before Jumping In

Recently I became a member of a Facebook group dedicated to the discussion of online personal training. Within 5 days of the creation of this group, over 2000 people had joined and there was A LOT of activity. Very quickly, I realized that not only was online training growing exponentially in popularity, but also that many people have some pretty high expectations for what it can do for their business.

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Working from your home office while not wearing pants may sound appealing to many, but it’s important to realize that is probably going to require a lot more effort than you may think. However, if you think it could work for you than you should probably set the appropriate expectations.

Online Training is Probably More Beneficial as a Supplement, Not an Exclusive Entity

While it is not crazy to think that you could fully support yourself by training clients online only, it is certainly the exception and not the rule. According to the statistics, the median income of a full-time personal trainer is approximately 55K per year. You could probably count on two hands the coaches that are out there making that much exclusively from online training.

Most of the coaches that are making that much from online training are also creating income streams from similar products such as e-books, speaking engagements, membership sites, and even coaching clients face-to-face. The obvious benefit of this approach is that by having your income diversified it is also more stable, but the side effect is that all these endeavors end up feeding each other by increasing influence, reputation, and possible reach.

Due to having a thriving business already and needing a more efficient way to produce, these coaches began online coaching as a necessity rather than an initial plan. They weren’t simply looking for an easy way out; they were looking for a way to take on more work. Which, when done properly, is exactly what online training provides.

Building a Tangible Business is the Best Pre-Cursor to Online Success

Online training can be very alluring due to the freedom and flexibility it offers. You can do your work from anywhere with an internet connection and buck the traditionalism of balancing work days with vacation days. This appeal, however, has a habit of allowing would be entrepreneurs to forget that an online business is still a business and that building a business requires hard work, experience, and patience.

Too many people get focused on marketing, funnels and the like. What they need to focus on is creating work that speaks for itself. That means putting in the hours (years) of working with people in person and building a clientele that get results. While working early mornings and late nights doesn’t sound sexy, it is critical, because you can’t skip this step and be successful. Racking up these hours will empower you with the experience to better assist your clients and instill in you the work ethic and discipline needed to run an online business.

If you’re not willing to bust your ass for at least a couple years (or 5-10), then turn back now. The reality is that if you can’t book yourself up with in-person clients, then you probably don’t have the experience and/or reputation needed to create a successful online training business.

Your Pricing is Dependent on Your Value and Your Value is Dependent on How Well You Understand Your Market

In any marketplace where there is an abundance of options, such as online training, the customer makes their decision (purchase) based on their perception of value. That means that your value as a service provider is what your potential customer thinks you are worth, not what you may think you are worth. In a recent article, Dean Somerset explains this concept really well:

“Because of the vast demands of the customers looking to access fitness, the free market will support a large variety of trainers, applications, programs, and approaches to training. If price is the delineating feature that causes a client to want to train with one trainer over another, they’re viewing it as a commodity versus a service, meaning they’re going to get what they pay for. There is no problem with this.

If a trainer is worried about losing their business to lower priced competition, this is a problem. It’s essentially saying they acknowledge one of two things: either they are overpricing their services or they’re not differentiating their services adequately to build value in the eyes of their clients.

However, if they can continue to differentiate their services and offer a value that can’t be met with simple cost cutting, they will never have to worry about pricing. Louis Vuitton never goes on sale because they don’t compete on price. They also don’t view themselves as having any competition, so there’s no reason to reduce their prices.”

Figure out specifically who you want to cater to and what distinctive challenges they face. Then, design a way to implement those solutions successfully in a way that reflects your authentic personality.

In order for online training (or any training for that matter) to be lucrative you have to deliver a lot of value. If you are going to charge hundreds of dollars monthly, then you better offer solutions others are unable to offer and that ability comes from having a unique skillset and the knowledge of exactly who needs that skillset.

Why Corrective Exercise Is So Appealing And How I Make Sense Of It

As fitness professionals, there are two things that really get us excited; talking shop about the science of training and helping people feel better. This is what makes the concept of corrective exercise so compelling. We not only get an organized way of helping people move well (this exercise fixes this, so we can do that), but we also get another way to quantify our value (while my client didn’t lose any weight, they improved their overhead position and have better thoracic rotation).

The problem, however, is that it never seems to work quite like that; at least not for me. Instead, I found myself always discovering issues that I “needed to fix” with all my clients and more questions than answers.

At first, clients thought I was smart and knew all these things that other personal trainers didn’t. Every free moment I had was dedicated to learning from the best guys in the industry. I was the trainer that knew all about cross-shoulder syndrome, anterior pelvic tilt, and scapular movement. The problem was that I was so concerned about fixing everything, that I wasn’t focused enough on helping my clients reach the goals that they had originally told me were THEIR priority. Not to mention that the deeper I got, the more frustrated I became. Things weren’t working like they were supposed to.

I finally said “F*ck it” and redirected.

The first step was re-evaluating what it means to be a personal trainer. People pay me to help them reach their goals, not to find something wrong with them or project my goals for them onto the program. This is what makes a trainer different from a strength coach, people can fire me at any time and THEY determine how effective I am. If my client wants a bigger butt and a six pack, then their posture isn’t my concern; unless they are in pain or it directly inhibits their goals.

The next adjustment was realizing that “corrective exercise” is just a term; one that often creates the wrong context. The term implies that there is something special about these exercises or that they do something magical, like “fix” things. There are no “non-corrective exercises”, so therefore, there can be no “corrective exercises”. Thus, there are just exercises, and their value simply depends on their application to the goal.

Additionally, what if there is no “fixing”, only improvement and awareness. Most of the time when people perform an exercise wrong it’s simply because they need coaching or practice. How many people squat incorrectly the first time you ask them to and as soon as you throw a couple cues their way they nail it?

These simple revelations changed the way that I think about how I help clients reach their goals and allowed me to create a very successful approach to training. In this approach, our whole program is centered on what the client wants and we only spend time working outside that framework if something is directly interfering with or hindering our progress.

For example, let’s say I have a client whose primary goal is fat loss. She also mentions to me that she really wants to target her legs and butt, but she often experiences pain during squats and lunges.

No problem.

I would start by checking her lunge and squat form. If they are not correct and upon refinement there is no pain, then we may include them. If the form is correct and there is pain, no big deal. We move on because there are plenty of lower body exercises we can use to target her desired area. I’ll build her a program that will keep her active, target her wants, and have her nutrition addressed. The only time we would make an intervention is if all lower body exercises caused her pain. At which point I would simply refer her out to a medical professional.

Make a plan based on the client’s goals, adjust exercises when necessary, intervene with exercises outside the goal only when needed, and then return to the plan. It really is that simple. We have a very limited amount of time that we get to work with clients. Spend that time focusing on things that they can do and not what they can’t.

I am not for or against corrective exercise. Instead, I am an advocate for productive, client-centered training. Are you?

Why Having 50 Bosses Is Better Than 1

Whenever one of my non-fitness friends tells me about how tough work is and how demanding their job and boss can be, I often respond by saying that “If you think having one boss is hard, try having 50”! Usually this is followed by a brief pause and then a couple laughs, but this is truly the way I view my position as a personal trainer and business owner and I have no doubt that it has been a critical part of my success.

While I do not personally train all 50 (give or take 1-2) clients at my studio, I am 100% responsible for them. That means that if they succeed, then I succeed. If they struggle, then I struggle. My job is to create an experience that allows them to reach their goals while still enjoying the process and I take that very seriously. Running through the motions is not acceptable; I am accountable to 50 people and my actions determine their outcome.

It’s easy to forget that as personal trainers, we are in the service industry. With all the focus on being up to date with the latest research and trying to be “the expert” we tend to forget a key point; we need our clients just as much as they need us. As I walk through my gym I realize that all of what I have is because of the clients that have allowed me to work with them. Who really needs who, here?

Each individual we train has a unique story and set of needs and desires. When we tap into those things we become more than just a “trainer”, but rather an indispensable confidant and assistant to accomplishment. The reward is shared success and it certainly can’t be measured by something as arbitrary as dollars. It’s called personal training for a reason and I don’t believe that’s due to the environment it is conducted in, but rather what we get out of it.

When I think about how challenging it is to have 50 bosses and what it is has made me become, I can’t help but wonder would I could accomplish with 75 or 100…

No Sled? No Problem!

There is no denying that the sled is an outstanding tool for conditioning. As a matter of fact, it has quite a few unique benefits such as:

  • Most exercises are easy to teach.
  • Almost all exercises are self-limiting and therefore, quite safe.
  • All of the exercises are concentric only. So while they will create a killer pump, they are much less likely to cause DOMS due to the lack of eccentric movement.
  • Most lower body exercises are very knee-friendly.

But what if you don’t have a sled or the space for one? I’ve got you covered.

Here are some exercises that can replicate the demands of sled conditioning without all the space:

1) Band Resisted Sprint – This exercise is used to replace the standard sled push. After placing the band around the client’s waist, you hold the opposite side of the band and create counter pressure which will allow the client to learn forward into an angle that will allow for sprinting. The key is to create enough drag to make the movement challenging while not preventing forward motion. A 1 inch band usually works best with women while a 1.5 inch band is better suited for men.  The optimal sprint time is 10-20 seconds depending on the client’s ability.

2) Reverse Band Drag – This exercise is used to replace the standard sled drag. Like the band resisted sprint, you will wrap the band around your client, but this time they will be facing you (I prefer to wrap a band around a dip belt due to the more comfortable fit around the lower back area). The client will lean back slightly and take the slack out of the band and you will provide resistance as they walk backwards taking small but deliberate steps. This exercise is a great replacement for the leg extension machine due to the lack of force placed on the knee joint.

3) Band Resisted Rope Pull – While similar to rope pulls with a standard sled, this exercise does have an eccentric component which increases the difficulty. Wrap a band around a squat rack or other solid point that is secured to the floor and tie a rope to it (battle ropes work great for this). Walk back with the rope to find a length that seems sufficiently difficult when pulled all the way to the knot made at the connection to the band. Assume a solid deep squat stance and pull the rope back until you can touch the knot then carefully let it back under control and repeat while alternating which hand touches the knot. Make sure you don’t let the rope back in too far between pulls or it will be too easy.

Grow Your Training Business With Referrals

Every trainer’s dream would be to have clients banging down their door without ever even having to speak the word “marketing”. Unfortunately, this is not the reality that most of us live in. Instead we have to work hard to get in front of new clients by any means possible.

There are, however, ways to increase your client load without spending big bucks and one of the best is through referrals. Also referred to as “word of mouth”, a referral is sales speak for the process of obtaining a client through a recommendation, usually from a current client. If you are a good trainer you have probably even had this happen to you a couple times.

But what if you want to make this a regular occurrence? Well, then you better have a system like the one I’ve outlined below and be willing to do two things: give a great service and make sure to ask.

Do a Great Job

The single most important factor in getting referrals from your clients is doing a great job. Are your clients getting results? Do they enjoy the atmosphere? Do you get to know each one of them and make them feel important? Are you consistently creating a great experience or are you simply winging it every time you work with someone?

These are the types of questions that you need to be asking yourself. In “The E-Myth Revisited” Michael Gerber mentions that it is not enough to be good sporadically; you have to deliver a great experience each time they come in. If you’re not doing a good job, then you really don’t deserve to ask for a referral.

If you are not sure if your business is up to par, then I recommend conducting an anonymous online survey. Make the questions as specific as possible in an attempt to find areas where you are succeeding and also where you need improvement. Consider including a question about whether the client would recommend your business to a friend and if not, why.


While it is certainly possible that you will get a referral or two without asking, why leave it to chance? The most successful businesses out there are the ones that are proactive about putting their products or services in front of potential customers. If you are doing a good job most of your clients would be happy to give you a recommendation, but often they don’t realize that you would like them to do so.

Start by identifying the clients that you have the best relationship with and enjoy training the most. Usually these tend to also be the clients that have gotten the best results from your program. Take each one aside and let them know how much you have enjoyed working with them and why. Follow up by asking if they know of anyone close to them that might benefit from your service and if they would be willing to connect you. A nice benefit to this is that people tend to develop friendships with those that are similar to themselves; therefore, you are likely to end up with a new client that gets along with you well.

Once you get comfortable asking, there are a few times that seem to be optimal to do so.

The 3 Best Times to Ask

Point of Contact – When someone first contacts your business to setup a first meeting, consultation, or trial period there is a great opportunity to ask the potential client if they would like to bring someone with them. Almost everyone has a friend or family member that is trying to lose weight or improve their fitness level and this gives you the potential to obtain 2 new clients instead of just one. People are more likely to step out of their comfort zone and make a commitment when their friends are doing the same.

1-3 Months After Beginning a Program – When someone first begins a fitness program the most drastic aesthetic and strength changes tend to happen within the first couple months. This is likely due to the addition of some behavior consistency and finally incorporating strength training into their weekly schedule. This is also the same time that clients start reaching some of their short term goals, their motivation begins to peak and you really earn their trust. At this point there is a good chance that your client is already singing your praises to their social circle, but you should still ask. You now have a walking, talking billboard for your service and expertise.

After Reaching a Major Milestone – It is not uncommon for clients to have lofty goals, but it is relatively rare for them to see them through. Big transformations like losing 100lbs or deadlifting 3 times your body weight not only take serious dedication, but also serious time. It is not easy to stay focused and work towards a goal for a year or longer which is why these accomplishments garner so much respect and awe. As human beings, we love hearing stories about how someone beat the odds and accomplished something great because they motivate us to do the same.

Creating a Reward Program

The purpose of a referral reward program is to show your appreciation for those that support your business. With that in mind, I think it is best not to mention this when asking for a referral so it may not seem that you are trying to “grease the wheels”. Instead, this generally works best when it is a surprise and something genuine.

For the current client, I recommend giving them a gift that shows personality and thoughtfulness. For example, if you know the client enjoys going out to eat you could get him/her a gift certificate to that new restaurant that they have been talking about during the last 2 sessions. Or if they are an avid reader, you could get them a couple books that you think they would enjoy. This will really set you apart from your competition since their idea of a reward is usually a free session or two.

For the new client, a handwritten thank you note should be just right.

Watch Your Business Grow

The important thing to remember about a successful referral program is that it takes consistency to deliver. You should spend some time each month tracking how many referrals you have received and identify which clients might be likely to send someone your way. By implementing the system I have provided you should easily be able to obtain 1-2 new clients each month and that number will increase as your client load grows.