In a world that is constantly looking to move more digitally, fitness coaching is also attempting to move more digitally. Each year there are new and interesting ways that coaches are attempting to deliver their service online.
This article will break down the most common online fitness coach types and their alternative names, a brief history, some of the notable companies delivering the service, the tradeoffs for coaches, and the tradeoffs for clients. By the time you finish this, you should have a great basic understanding of this “game” and how it works.
Aka The Remote Coach or The Remote Fitness Coach
Aka The Individual Design Coach or The Individual Design Remote Coach
Aka The Personalized Fitness Coach or The Personalized Fitness Online Coach
The one to one online fitness coach designs personalized fitness programs for their clients, and then that coach delivers that program to their client through an online platform. The coach’s clients then execute their fitness training somewhere, report back to their coach through the online platform, and then discuss their results through the same platform and or through an ongoing monthly video consultation.
Online coaching has been around for about a decade, but it’s exploded recently with a few major changes in humanity:
As social media has grown, it’s opened people’s eyes to the people they have access to. No longer does somebody need to deal with weak coaches in their local area. They can receive top-notch training from a coach halfway across the world and bypass the annoyance of local weakness.
As Amazon, Ebay, Paypal, and now Venmo + a myriad of other businesses have paved the way for people to trust transactions online, people are now far more trusting of businesses and even people taking money from either their credit card or bank accounts on a recurring basis. Make no mistake, without those companies paving the way, online coaching wouldn’t exist right now because the public wouldn’t trust sending their money to “unknown” people or companies.
The advent of programming platforms such as TrueCoach and Train Heroic. Those platforms have allowed the coach to communicate much more effectively with their clients and vice versa, and as those platforms have blossomed, they have included more and more features such as benchmark tracking, workout compliance scoring, and strong messaging systems so that the client feels closer to their coach even though they are potentially around the world. The systems are a monumental leap forward from Google Sheets, Excel, or Gmail send-outs haha!
Some of the notable online coaching companies out there currently are Big Dawgs, Revival Strength, Training Think Tank, Brute, etc… More are popping up every day because trainers see it as a very low barrier – inexpensive – way of working with more clients from wherever they want to be in the world.
Coaches who coach online have some advantages that are substantive. Those often fall into two main buckets:
Much of this falls into the foundational idea that “if I don’t have to be in front of clients all day, I can coach more people, keep my costs low, and enjoy more freedom.” It’s a noble thought, but it’s one that does have some holes depending on how much you intend to build your business.
Like any business, you must define what you intend to build it to be. If you want to coach 20 people remotely, and you don’t intend to grow it any bigger than that, in reality, that isn’t that hard if you provide a great service. At 20 clients, you likely only need to bring in 1-2 clients per month to manage your long-term churn rate of clients. That means you can mainly live off of referrals (which you should get).
If, however, you want to grow to 50 clients, or you want to bring in additional coaches to work with you so that you can work with 100+ clients, now you must build a system of efficiencies and retention improvers, you must educate yourself and your coaches, and you must build a marketing funnel that produces clients consistently to support the churn that you’ll have. On 100 clients, I’d expect that you’ll lose five of them per month over the long-term if you are paying attention and improving your retention. If you have bad coaches, bad systems, or bad management, you may lose 10+ people per month. If you can’t put enough new clients in per month, you can’t grow a business to a large enough scale to even warrant the time or money that you’d need to spend on the coaches, marketing, and system’s management.
Also, freedom is relative. If you coach 50 clients, that is 50 program designs each week, that is 50 30-minute consultations per month, that is 50 people to manage relationships with. You get the point. Sure, you can do that from anywhere in the world, but it isn’t as if you are working 3 hours a day for 4 days per week.
And, the last tough part is that even with improving technology, it’s just not quite the same as being in person. It doesn’t mean you can’t do amazing things with your client, but we’ve seen a lot of remote coaches end up wanting to coach people live again because they miss that connection.
Perhaps the most important upside for clients is that they now have access to some of the best coaches on the planet. If you do not have talented coaching in your area, you now have the option to “outsource” that coaching to a credible quality coach.
Another great factor is that it does give you the freedom to train where you want (sometimes a gift, sometimes a curse), when you want, wearing what you want haha, etc…
Another great factor is that this service personalizes workouts exactly for you. Sure, you can get this in person, but I’d be remiss not to include it because of how specific you can get at progressing toward your goals.
The biggest challenge for somebody being coached online from my experience is the feeling of aloneness in their training as well as their coaching relationship. Even if the coach does a great job, some people simply aren’t “designed” to train solo, or at least they aren’t in a place in their life at that moment where they want to train by themselves. For somebody who is in this place, being solo can be really hard.
Another downside for people can be the cost. While we certainly believe that one to one coaching can be very valuable when the coach delivers the service effectively, this service – with the right coach – is often $250+ per month. That is a barrier for many clients, unfortunately. The reason why it needs to cost that much is that the coach is spending a good amount of time speaking to, watching video/results, programming for, etc the client each month. There needs to be a fair exchange for that
The last challenge I want to discuss is confusion. If you have coached people before, or if you have been coached before, you know that there are a lot of questions asked in the gym to a coach. While you can certainly ask questions of your coach online, there is usually a lag in the response time, so there can be some confusion. Better coaches setup workouts and describe intent + exercises better than weak coaches, but it’s still a potential issue.
We are now seeing the advent of products such as Tonal. This is an in home gym + screen, but it’s “secret sauce” is that it is also a virtual personal trainer. While there are a tremendous number of hurdles that the business model of virtual personal training will need to navigate, I must admit that this is an interesting concept to watch play out.
If we discuss one to one online remote coaching of individuals, we must also discuss the flip side of the online coaching world, the training template or training “blog.” This happens when a fitness trainer writes one – or a few – training program(s), posts it/them onto their website or social media, and then they get people from anywhere in the world to follow that training program on a daily basis.
This type of training has also been around for about a decade, and like one to one online coaching, this caught fire because of social media and technology improvements that have made wide-reaching people trust online companies. If you want to go back to those specific reasons, click here Link back to history section for one to one online coaching here
Because the cost of training like this ranges from $0 per month – ie the free template – to approximately $100 per month, cost isn’t a barrier, so the “game” is to get as big of a community as possible. That often comes down to how well the company engages with its members as well as the popularity of the brand. With more and more social media reach, stronger ad strategies to drive into these templates, influencers who push people to these templates, and a slick web/app platform, we are now in a time where the online training template can thrive
Some of the popular training templates are CompTrain, Street Parking, and Tracy Anderson. Please note that there are now myriads of online training templates out there. Many fitness personalities or fitness athletes are putting out their own versions of these templates because the barrier to entry and cost of doing so is so low.
The biggest upsides stem around three main things:
Make no mistake, all of the economies of scale come as the size of your audience increases. If you charge $20 per month and you have 100 people, that’s cool, but that’s not retirement money. If you’re going to build this into a real business, you’ll have to put cost structure in place to support a system that has thousands of people, and that is never just posting one workout a day. You have to handle billing, marketing, client engagement, risk, etc…
The downside is most often associated with a few feelings:
Like my point above, you can build the most low-cost services to a few dozen or potentially a few hundred people. Where it gets difficult is when your client churn rate catches up to how many new members you’re putting in each month. At that point, you have to spend more time and money marketing to people. Even if you aren’t paying for ads, you’re certainly spending time or money creating content, working with influencers, etc. Like any business, it costs time and money to grow past an initial point
To discuss the personalization point, we so often see clients who get better for a short period of time when they begin following any fitness program. What happens after that time is that they need to begin to do more things that they specifically need. This type of platform doesn’t allow for that. Certain companies use a training template as a “funnel” to one to one online coaching, but that begs the question of whether you want somebody to do “group training” or “personalized fitness” which is for another time haha
The upside of an online templated fitness program is pretty simple:
At $0 to $100 per month, that isn’t a high price to pay if you are getting results, can do the workouts on your own time, and are enjoying the process, it’s hard to argue that that is a good investment.
Some of the downsides for online fitness training programs are similar to one to one online coaching, but some are different. Let’s look at a few:
As you’ll notice with each of these online coaching examples, much of the upside and downside for both the coach and the client is based on who those people are. If you are somebody that needs to have a coach watch your movement, I wouldn’t recommend a template. If you are somebody who wants a larger community or brand, you will want to seek out the more popular communities, and if you are somebody who wants in-person touches with clients and coaches, perhaps an online program isn’t for you.
This type of coaching is generally delivered through a TV screen or monitor – and now often phones or tablets – where the coach is leading a class where each of the people in that class are located somewhere different in the world. There may be cycling large group classes like those of Peloton, there may be yoga large group classes, there may be dumbbell or kettlebell styled classes. We’ll lump all of those into the idea that an online large group fitness class delivers a fitness class via the internet.
For the purpose of this article, I will lump these three different yet similar fitness styles together:
I am lumping them together because the fitness instructor is delivering a product that is entirely or essentially delivered online and the way that they filmed the workouts were in a studio far away from where the end client sees them.
With the advent of faster internet speeds, better video systems, more simple web and app user experiences (UX), and a broad increase in awareness in fitness around the world, the landscape now exists for the streaming market in online fitness classes to thrive. Let’s not forget, though, that On-demand, DVD’s, and even VHS tapes have now been around for decades. The concept of somebody paying a fee to watch a pre-recorded fitness video has proven to be a lucrative model – profit-wise – for a great many entrepreneurs because most of the cost structure of that business is tied up in the cost of goods sold of the DVD’s/VHS’s themselves + shipping (which often gets paid for by the buyers) and then the marketing of those videos to get people around the world to buy them.
For this article, we’re going to lean toward the newest model of delivering these videos which is a combination of live streaming classes + a database of then recorded videos for people to watch at their leisure. That model allows for a monthly recurring revenue product + a tangible product such as a bike or treadmill from Peloton. This digital model is likely going to finally take out the long-held stranglehold that DVD’s/VHS’s had on the fitness market.
Like I mentioned above, we’re looking at companies such as Peloton and Beachbody streaming video, but we must also look at products such as Mirror as they are trying to take the streaming market share for less equipment based fitness classes from Peloton while they still can.
This is very tricky because these models are all about volume of classes that they can deliver digitally. As a coach, this has potentially major influencer upside potential because you could theoretically be in front of a million people in your hourly class. That amount of exposure was recently completely unheard of. As a fitness instructor, much of the marketing and sales work that you need to do revolves around building awareness of you and your gym. The online large group class could potentially turn that formula on its head.
While the model is new, so too is the payout structure for the instructors. Because there is so much tinkering going on right now about how to set up production studios to shoot these classes, and because these companies are in startup mode, some instructors will get paid well while others will get paid poorly vs their time spent tinkering with the companies. We’ll need to let this model playout a bit better to see what happens to the coaches. I suspect it’ll all come down to the popularity of the coaches which will be 100% metric-driven in these platforms. They will look at these metrics most likely:
I mention these because there will be nowhere for the instructors to hide. Tech platforms are now smart enough to algorithmically decide which coaches are “good” or not, and the companies will choose metrics that prioritize the growth of revenue and retention while increasing those clients lifetime values. Either the coach will cut it or they won’t. If they can’t cut it, they will be out. For some coaches, they view that as a great challenge, but for others, they will view it as very risky and scary.
Initially, I’ll refer right back to the potential upside section. The downside for many coaches is that they will have very little job security because if the metrics go south they will be booted for one of the other 1,000,000 “fitness influencers” chomping at the bit to get in front of a million people overnight.
The other downside that really comes to mind is that doing streaming classes isn’t the same as being in front of a client live. This is through a screen, and you really can’t even see those folks as the number of people in a class grows. As a coach, that is challenging because you’re not sure what type of experience each client is receiving. You’ll really have to have confidence in yourself and the ability to envision what’s happening on the client side of the screen. For many coaches, that will be a struggle.
The upside for clients is freedom of when, where, with whom they’ll train with and the possible price they will pay. If I can come home, jump on my bike, do a live cycle class, get off my bike and already be at home, that brings a new layer of accountability mixed with efficiency and convenience together.
Many streaming services will get their pricing down to $10-$50 per month which is very reasonable, but as we’ll see in the Peloton example below, if you only have a monthly fee, you won’t have any equipment included in your workouts. That’s not inherently bad, but it will make it harder to stay interesting for a large percentage of clients (except Yogis).
Let’s look at an example of what this product isn’t cheap. Peloton has you buy the equipment upfront and then pay for ongoing for the classes. For many people, having to drop around $3000 in year one – with a large percentage of that spent on the Bike at approximately $2500 – and then still spend $500 per year each year thereafter. For the first 12 months, you could have an Online Personalized Fitness coach. You nailed it, it really depends on what is the best fit for you, but I will surmise that a lot of bikes will end up collecting dust like bikes of yesteryear. It doesn’t make the product bad, it means humans are not typically likely to follow through on their fitness equipment purchases. Look for Peloton to come out with more and more support features and community features to push their retention percentage up year over year.
Also, like all online products, you are on an island by yourself most/all of the time, so you’ll need to be ok with that. Because of the live streaming aspect, no doubt about it that you’ll feel less on an island, but you are still on your own and need to make sure you’re moving well, safe and enjoying it.
The last example goes back to the large group dynamic. While you will be more so on your own, you will also have no access to a coach to help you forward more specifically. Whenever you start getting some more specific goals, you will inevitably look for guidance on how to reach those goals. That is simply not this model of fitness (although I believe these companies will add more features over time)
(Tip: As this article has demonstrated the online fitness coaching market is heavily saturated. Learn how you can stand out in this ever-growing field through building relationships with your clients in this free course.)
I hope that you have a lot more thorough idea of what an Online Fitness Coach is now. We didn’t hit on every single type of coach, but we did discuss three of the major buckets of online coach types. Whether you are a coach or a client – or both – think through the type of coach/client you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you enjoy and will stay committed to, and then make a great decision on the model of fitness you’ll do that will give you the best opportunity to progress forward, learn, and enjoy!