We are certainly living in strange times. Many once-bustling cities in the US seem like a ghost town. Businesses are closed, work is suspended, and everyone is seeing their fitness routine seriously disrupted. If it’s this bad in America, do you ever wonder what’s going on in the rest of the world? Especially in China?
Sam Pogue, Vice President of Brand at TrueCoach, sat down for a conversation with Erwin Regidor, a coach, personal trainer, and group fitness instructor who has been in the game for a while and now lives in Shanghai, China. Sam wanted to interview him so he could share what the fitness market is like in China, as well as his method for training all his clients remotely. There’s a lot you can learn from their conversation. Here are some highlights.
The Fitness Scene in China
Erwin started as a group fitness coach in 2010 and shortly after, in 2012, he was presented with an opportunity to move to Shanghai. “I was brought out to be the head coach and program director for the second CrossFit affiliate in Shanghai,” he tells Sam. In 2018 he started his remote coaching business and since then has been “a bit of a hybrid coach,” meaning he works with clients in person, as well as online clients.
When Erwin first arrived in China, he didn’t know much about the fitness scene. But he quickly learned that the CrossFit boom that took place in North America was similarly rising in China as well. From 2013 to 2018 he saw CrossFit get more and more popular. Things are changing, though. “Within the last, say, three to five years, fitness itself is going up in the same sense that you have your F45s coming in,” Erwan explains. “You have some OrangeTheory [locations]. There’s a lot of that type of group fitness.” Simultaneously, there’s been a rise of niche boutique gyms, such as kettlebell-focused facilities. Animal Flow is now popular. Basically anything that catches on in the US makes its way to China as well.
As it is in most other places, folks in China prefer to train in person rather than online. Naturally, that means commercial gyms akin to Planet Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness are popular and make up most of the market in terms of health and fitness.
How COVID-19 Has Affected the Fitness Industry in China
“In terms of COVID-19, I didn’t really keep a big track of exactly when it started so my idea of when it started is the week before China’s New Year—the week of January 23,” Erwin recalls. “That’s when the city of Wuhan was actually put on state lockdown. Now when I say lockdown I want to say my perception is that that entire city and the Hubei Province were shut down.”
All transportation was shut off. There was no way to get in or out. Erwin says things were mostly a ghost town right before the Chinese New Year because the mass migration of people that usually come into Shanghai had to go back to their hometowns and wait it out. However, he was still able to go into his gym and do some coaching, but not for long because everything got shut down on January 29. “That was when you felt, okay this is kind of serious and it’s escalating a bit, right?” he explains. “From what I know at that time, during the Chinese New Year week, everything was shut down. Then they actually extended the Chinese New Year until February 8. Normally things would have been going back to normal February 3. Everyone would have been working. But everything was still closed.”
Everyone quickly came to terms with the fact that things were shut down and they would have to figure out a different way to take care of their clients. He heard from a past client that his gym was regularly hosting workout classes online, yet there were still some gyms that were still open, but only on a limited basis. But Erwin noticed there was a slight panic in the air from pretty much anyone in the fitness industry, “like, ‘what do we do?’”
For Erwin personally, it was particularly sobering because he realized that most people who were facing hard times at least had their family there that they could elicit support from. “Holy crap, I have really nothing,” he remembers thinking to himself. “And it’s scary. It’s a super scary situation to be in.”
Switching His In-Person Clients to Online Clients
A lot of Erwin’s clients were already out of the city to be with family or go on holiday. His clients were all over the place, some in the US, others in parts of southeast Asia, and some in the UK or France. He was left with a lot of different scenarios in his hands. The first thing he needed to figure out was “what’s happening in Shanghai right now.” He asked his local clients, “What’s your situation where you’re at? Do you have travel restrictions, etc.?”
One good thing he had going for him was that all of his in-person clients were already using the TrueCoach app. “[My clients] knew how it would be to see something on an app, see the demo videos, and do the exercises that they needed to do,” Erwin explains. “For some of them I just ask, ‘Hey, if you’re going to be out for an extended period of time do you want workouts written for you?’” When you and your clients use a platform that’s easy for the both of you, it makes it much easier to get straight to work.
“I think the biggest thing is to communicate right away.” Contact each client on day one and ask them what their situation is so you can figure out the best thing to do moving forward for everyone. “I don’t know how long this is going to be or how long it’s going to take. What do you need from me?” From there, create an online program that will work best for them.
The Difference Between Coaching Someone Remote and In-Person
“For me, what I like about being in person is the fact that you have the 60 minutes that you’re there to train,” Erwin says. “There are always those little conversations that you can have with them in person.” You obviously miss out on this if you’re coaching online. This can make it harder to connect and get them to put their trust fully in you.
“Every client that I work with in person has a different personality, so as an in-person coach you have to know what hat to put on at different times,” Erwin muses. “It’s about just reading body languages and understanding that.” He says he tries to read his online clients the same way and really hear what they’re feeling and experiencing in their voice. Read their personality and figure out if you’re going to respond with them differently online.
How He Set Up His Online Pricing Strategy
Erwin said he knew from the beginning if he was going to make this all worth it online, he just couldn’t undercharge his clients. “I had an idea of what my work was worth in terms of the education or the experience that I had,” he recalls. And he wasn’t going to cheapen that out of fear that clients wouldn’t sign up. Putting it at a certain price point let people know he’s serious about what he does and clients are willing to pay that to work with him.
He looked at the prices out there to figure out what his competitors were charging and what the landscape looked like. Erwin thought about what he was offering remotely and felt more confident to price himself in a fair way. “And what I actually realized is that I was working a lot more hours and making less,” he admits. “Because it just didn’t work out.” So he used this time to set his prices exactly where they should be in terms of remote training.
“The biggest thing that you can do is, go the extra 10, 20 percent with the clients that you have right now, whether they’re in person or online, and really try to nurture and service that to the best of your ability,” he advises. Go out of your way to make this the best experience for them and they won’t think twice about paying you fully for your services.
The Final Word
“Think about this as a time to harvest the soul,” Erwin suggests. “Take this time to nurture. Help the people that you can, whether it’s through content, putting yourself out there.” There are always challenges in front of us and things distracting us from moving forward seamlessly, but always ask yourself, “How am I going to come out of this being a better coach, better business person?”
“Trust me, I’m not a business or marketing guy at all,” he reminds us. “That’s my weakest point.” He has just used his time over the last couple months to read more, implement new things, and learn as he goes along. He recommends we do the same.