“You can’t train online unless you’ve coached in person for 4 years.” Maybe you’ve seen trainers make this or similarly arbitrary proclamations. These statements only serve to gain echo chamber applause. As a newer trainer, did this ever help you?

Let’s first define “newer” trainer, in the context of this conversation, as anyone in the earlier stages of their career, who is developing basic coaching, movement, and psychology skills necessary for a success. If you’ve been around awhile you should look back at your first few training years with at least mild embarrassment about some choices and the extent of what you then didn’t know. I would worry if 10 years later you still believed you were a god among mortals during year one. We all have begin somewhere and we started out making lots mistakes and hopefully learned a lot along the way. Graduating from new to experienced takes serious time, effort, and offers no defined cutoff beyond which we stop learning. You’re always a student of your craft.

Let’s also differentiate caring newer trainers from Instagram influencers turned online coaches. These are often the true targets when criticizing a jump straight to online. Though technically our competition, they aren’t reading this article, investing in their skills or growth(besides buying followers), and offer little beyond cookie cutter low quality programs and meal plans. Complaining about them is wasted energy. Focus instead on learning from what they do well, while becoming so good at your own craft that potential clients can’t ignore you. If you can learn to compete against their steak-less sizzle, you can dominate in our industry.

Gyms were ordered closed across the world around mid March (If you’re keeping score on 2020, the aliens are scheduled for mid October). Trainers, regardless of experience, were booted from physical workplaces and faced the loss of much, if not all, our livelihoods. The surviving gyms have now begun to reopen in some jurisdictions while places like Manhattan and Los Angeles may face many more months of wait and uncertainty. Is it fair to say to new trainer Melissa, you aren’t allowed to coach your clients online? Has Melissa, on coaching month 3, 8, or 25, earned the right to help her existing clients online and try to grow a little business when she’s lost her livelihood? Melissa, who has worked hard, on and off the gym floor, to become a better trainer. Melissa, who’s clients, despite her relative newness, love her effort and engagement. Melissa, who’s clients feel stronger and more confident through her guidance. Will the fitness industry powers that be deem it permissible for her to train online now?

Experienced coaches act as gatekeepers when they declare and enforce the arbitrary rules of our industry. They learned the business and paid dues in an industry now forever altered and disrupted by technology. Older, deeply entrenched coaches often wish to hold onto the old way of doing things, meaning a number of years toiling in person in commercial gyms, before you can work independently or dream of entering the online space. Our industry has changed and with it should antiquated barriers. Only the importance of skill and customer focus never changes. 

Not only are gatekeepers not paying your bills while you’re locked out of your gym, some of these same people are asking for your money for their programs to teach you skills to be better trainers, skills that may prepare you for working in the online space. So does taking their course waive the 4 year wait time? Regardless, our industry has undergone the most aggressive shift in history and many of the old “rules” no longer apply, if those rules ever really mattered.

You deserve to earn a livelihood. If you’re certified, insured, and qualified you can coach clients in any venue. A new trainer facing the loss of their entire income isn’t going to care or listen to the old rules anyway, so we have 2 choices. Continue to complain about inexperienced coaches working online and change nothing, or create and share resources to make them good enough to provide their clients quality coaching, at a time when those clients are most vulnerable to erosion of their physical and emotional well being. We can accept that new, in-person trainers are developing and need to gain experience. Online coaching is more challenging but faces the same learning curve. If the coach is willing to learn, and the client is happy and values the service, no outside opinion matters. I encourage industry leaders to support our most vulnerable members at this most challenging time, and encourage newer coaches to follow the people and resources available to give you the skills you need right now, as you gain experience and earn the right to work in the online space.

7 Ways A New Coach Can Earn the Right To Work Online

  1. 1. If you have the resources, invest in paid courses and programs from proven industry veterans. Nick Tumminello’s Practical Program Design Mastery teaches program design for the every day client, a critical skill for new coaches. The Online Trainer Academy Certification through The PTDC is the gold standard certification to learn the skills and systems to build an online business. Brett Bartholomew’s The Art of Coaching courses provide skills for more advanced coaching. This list is endless so ask for referrals from your industry peers for the most applicable and reputable options.
  1. 2. Consume books and audiobooks. Stuck for time to sit and read? Stack your habits by listening to audio books while driving, cooking, or working out. The Wealthy Fit Pro’s series from The PTDC, especially The Guide to Online Training, will help directly. You can find books on nutrition (The Hungry Brain – Dr. Stephan Guyenet), sales (Influence – Robert Cialdini), coaching (Change Maker – Dr. John Berardi), or behaviour change (Switch -Chip and Dan Health). Check out The Muscle and Strength Pyramids by Dr. Eric Helms and his team to learn training fundamentals. Start from your most critical area of need and work outward. 
  1. 3. Use a reputable platform for your online coaching. My personal bias begins and ends with TrueCoach, the platform I use with my clients. A great coaching software will do half your work, providing a seamless system to build programs and communicate with clients. Having your systems built in saves time from creating your own while enjoying the efficient all in one platform. Time you can then use to fill in your skill gaps. There are other popular and reputable systems for online training out there. Ask your friends about their experiences for a solid referral. 
  1. 4. Talk to your clients and ask that they need, then over deliver on it. Film instruction videos for them. Make videos personal when they need something specific and build your own library, which can double as a YouTube channel. TrueCoach comes with a built in library but you can upload your own links to your own creations. Create open lines of communication to clients. Help with nutrition and other lifestyle behaviour. Follow PJ Striet, a dedicated online coach who’s mission is to make online training more personal than personal training. Do whatever it takes to support your clients. This is also the surest way to generate referrals, at a time when everyone is trying to grow in the online space.
  1. 5. Go virtual. We currently lack the technology to teleport our likeness into a client’s living room, but the ubiquity of low cost/free video calling allows you to watch and guide clients through a live workout. Many experienced coaches like Dean Somerset and Chris Cooper took their entire clientele virtual as gyms closed. Clients who may need extra motivation and the innovative guidance to use household items to replace missing exercise equipment. Combo virtual sessions with your online coaching. Seeing in real time how clients move will help you better coach and craft online programs while creating a vehicle for clients to share more openly with you how they’re feeling. I plan to offer virtual training for the clients who aren’t ready to return quickly, even after we return to gyms. We’ve all had clients move away. Virtual training may provide a way to keep their weekly sessions with you. This serves as a gap filler between sessions and a chance to get off your feet.
  1. 6. Dedicate yourself to deliberate practice. I disregard arbitrary timeframes as qualification for coaching online because not everyone makes the same use of their coaching hours. Some do the bare minimum, assign exercises, count reps, all while confining the entire client relationship within an hour slot. Casually participating isn’t enough. To become a world class coach you need to deliberately practice every skill. Study every rep as your clients lunge, press, and jump. Attack your continued education.

Resources exist like never before to educate trainers at the beginning and throughout our careers. The coaches willing to educate themselves can acquire knowledge and learn systems earlier than ever. There never will be a substitute for gaining experience, but the quality of what we take away from working with clients can be enhanced while concurrently studying the best resources the industry offers.

Don’t mistake this discussion for believing day 1 trainer has a blanket right to start online. New trainers have a duty of care to constantly learn every necessary skill to keep online clients safe while delivering value and results. Fumbling in the dark without availing yourself of the many existing resources just serves to validate the gatekeeper criticisms. Our industry should step up to lead, but it’s your duty to follow and do whatever it takes to be qualified and earn the right to coach online. Good luck.

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Article by Clare Hudson

First published: June 20 2024

Last updated: July 02 2024