Nobody needs a drill sergeant screaming spittle into their face as they eke out the last two crunches. But if your idea of a personal trainer is in that Biggest Loser mold, it may be time to give the concept of one-on-one fitness coaching a rethink. Having a knowledgeable, supportive personal trainer on Team You can be incredibly helpful, and working with someone remotely, via your computer, tablet or phone, can be a great option.
Like an in-person coach, having an online trainer who is as dedicated to your health and fitness goals as you are (and who knows how to get you there) is a huge boon. “Online personal training in general is more accessible, typically more affordable and provides more flexibility in terms of schedule,” says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, NASM-CPT, the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab’s deputy director, who is personal trainer as well as a dietitian. “Depending on the platform you use, some apps and programs will send you reminders and more to keep you on track and hold you accountable,” she says.
What are the benefits of an online personal trainer?
Online personal trainers are great for people who…
- Want targeted, structured plans to help them meet their goals.
- Need guidance and support, but could do without a live studio audience.
- Need flexibility in terms of when they complete their workout (say, your only time to yourself is when your kid is napping).
- Don’t love the gym vibe. “You might prefer to do some workouts at home, some at a gym, and others while you’re traveling,” says Mike Matthews, CPT, author of Muscle For Life. A remote trainer means you can do your routine no matter where you are.
- Cannot (or would prefer not to) pay a lot. The going rate for an in-person personal trainer varies widely depending on where you live. “They can cost anywhere from $50 per session to $200 per session or more, depending on their experience, location and gym overheads,” says Matthews. Online trainers usually charge a more affordable monthly fee, and if you use a trainer through a subscription program, you might get a combo of custom in-person and on-your-own programming, with your trainer available for questions and adjustments and support. In general, the less one-to-one time you need with your trainer, the less it will cost. Services may also give you access to a library of videos and written resources included in the fee — that’s not usually so with in-person training, says Matthews. “Remember, too, that most in-person trainers have to pay a portion of their income to the gym where they train you, an expense they often pass on to you, further increasing the price,” he adds.
Sound like online training could work for you? If you’re ready to get started finding an online personal trainer, read on!
What to look for in an online personal trainer:
Before you start your search, ask yourself these key questions, advises Olivia Lipski, an analyst in the Good Housekeeping Institute Media & Tech Lab, who dug into some of the online options for personal training.
- What’s your budget? “Prices can vary, depending on the platform you use and the package you sign up for,” says Lipski. Often the more personal video time you have with your trainer or coach, the more you pay, but it varies depending on the platform.
- What are your goals? Finding the right person for you depends on whether you click personally, but also if they share your fitness philosophy. Your goal might be to feel stronger, to build cardo, to stay motivated or to change your body. If you’re about having more energy or developing healthier habits, for example, someone who touts expertise in muscle sculpting might not feel right.
- How much human interaction do you need? Be honest with yourself — are you a self-starter who can execute a plan your trainer has laid out for you, or is it helpful to have a set time and someone to walk you through your sets? Some folks need intense face-to-face time to learn the moves, whereas others could have a one-time chat and then work off demo videos and programming from then on. The right fit will keep you coming back. “If something gets too frustrating it will ultimately lead to dropping off in consistency with the client and be added to the ‘I tried it and it didn't work’ pile. And that's a big pile for a lot of people, unfortunately,” says Mallory Hewell-Joseph, CFSC, GGS Pre- and Postnatal coach and co-owner of Jallory Fitness.
Once you have a sense of what you want, here are a few of the things to keep an eye out for:
- The right certification. “It’s important to look for a personal trainer that holds a current certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA),” says Sassos. Top NCCA Accredited organizations for personal trainers include NASM, ISSA and ACE. A cert from one of these “indicates a professional who has an extensive knowledge of fitness and skill to provide you with a safe and effective workout,” she says. And never be afraid to ask for a copy of the certification and make sure that it’s current. If you’re looking for an eating plan, your trainer is probably not your go-to. “It’s great that they take some interest in nutrition and can encourage healthy food choices but they are not qualified to give you individualized dietary advice if they aren’t an RD,” says Sassos.
- Excellent communication skills. “Since you’re not in person, you’ll need someone who can thoroughly explain movements and provide effective cues to help you maintain proper form throughout your workout,” says Sassos. Many trainers send quickie videos of the moves along with how many reps and sets; and if you’re having an issue with a particular move, they may ask you send a video of yourself so they can check your form.
- Someone you like. You don’t have to be besties, but if you find a trainer annoying or simply not someone you have confidence in, you’re not going to want to show up. “It sounds corny at first, but personal training is just that...it's personal,” says Hewell-Joseph. “Being ready to step into a fitness journey is a vulnerable moment and finding someone that you feel safe to go on that journey with will make a client more likely to stick with a program as well as be able to provide valuable feedback on the program. If the relationship and comfort isn't there to say what you need, it can lead to a lot of frustration.”
- An easy way to communicate. Individual trainers have their favorite methods to share workouts and get feedback from you, and online platforms have their own — you want one that works for you. “You want an app or website that offers easy communication with your trainer, such as messaging or a chat portal,” says Lipski, who is working with someone from WRKOUT. “I email my trainer, and she gets back to me right away, but the app has a chat feature, a high-quality video platform, and there are timers on the portal to show how long we have left in our session.” Some online trainers use third-party apps like TrueCoach, and others simply send you workouts and links old-school. “You don’t need to use special apps if you don’t want to — a spreadsheet, notes app or good ol’ fashioned paper journal work fine, too,” says Matthews.
- References. If you weren’t referred to this trainer by someone who knows you and your needs, it’s important to ask for references or testimonials from some of their other clients, says Sassos.
- A coach who makes you feel positive about what you’re doing. “Trainers who use body-shaming tactics or make you feel self-conscious are major red flags to stay away and find someone else who is motivating, positive and inclusive,” says Sasso. “You are paying for this service; you should be happy with the process and results! Don’t stay with a trainer who is not providing you with the proper instruction and encouragement.”
- Someone who keeps things simple and realistic. “Ultimately, getting in great shape boils down to consistently doing a few simple behaviors,” says Matthews, citing good nutrition, proper weight training form and getting enough sleep as examples. “A good personal trainer just helps you tick these boxes for weeks, months, and years.” Steer clear of a trainer who makes hyped-up claims. “Be wary of people who promise you can lose more than two pounds of fat or gain more than a pound of muscle per month. Unless you’re very overweight or completely new to strength training, these targets aren’t realistic, and you should probably hold out for a trainer who’ll tell it to you straight,” he says.
Are online trainers worth it?
Like any financial investment in your health, whether it’s a gym membership or expensive running shoes, an online personal trainer is worth the money if you actually make use of them. And unlike a dusty treadmill in your basement, trainers can speak up if you blow them off. “Depending on the platform you use, some apps and programs will send you reminders and more to keep you on track and hold you accountable,” says Sassos.
And then there’s the pro factor. “There’s a lot of bad advice out there about what it takes to get in shape, and most people don’t have the time to sort the sage from the silly,” says Matthews. “Hiring a good trainer ensures your training plan is optimized for your goals and keeps you motivated and accountable, so you're more likely to stay the course and make long-term changes to your body.”
How do I find a good online personal trainer?
There are lots of ways to go about finding a personal trainer who matches your needs. Word of mouth is a good start — ask friends if they like their trainer and see if they work remotely (many do). Or you can check out Trainerize.me, which is an online database of trainers in your area, their philosophies, their specialties, their programs and fees — a way for you to get to know what a trainer is all about before you decide whether you want to reach out for a conversation.
Another way to go is to sign on with a subscription service that matches you with a personal trainer based on your needs and goals. Typically, you have an online meeting with your trainer, talk about what you’re looking for, your schedule and what you find fun, and they come up with a plan for you. These companies tend to have their own platforms and apps that allow you to communicate with your trainer, track your progress, and some integrate your health data from other apps like Apple Health or FitBit to help track your progress. Which one to go with depends on your budget, the vibe you’re looking for, and whether or not you like your trainer (although most will let you switch if you don’t click.)
Here are a few subscription services and online personal training packages to check out:
- Future: Future pairs you with a trainer, who then designs a custom program you complete on your own time. “I met with my trainer, Cydney Franks, as soon as I got the app to discuss goals, my history, etc.,” says Rhonda Davis, a speech pathologist in Montclair, NJ. “I instantly liked her. She is very enthusiastic, caring and smart.” Davis and Frank chatted in depth once, message on the app after workouts and do periodic video check-ins. “The app asks for feedback so I share what I like and don't like right after each work out, and ask for modifications,” she says. Davis also appreciates the gentle nudges. “There have been a few times when I didn't work out and she checked in to see if I needed to adjust the schedule in some way or send me an encouraging meme.” Future is $150/month for unlimited access to your trainer for questions and encouragement and sends you an Apple Watch to track your progress. Right now it's only available on iOS, but will be available on Android in 2023.
- WRKOUT: WRKOUT was a top pick in Good Housekeeping’s 2022 Fitness Awards for personalized online training, and is close to a face-to-face experience. “I was paired with a coach that I’ve been working with for over a few months now and have absolutely LOVED the experience of having a real human at the other end coaching me,” says Lipski. In this case, you have an initial consultation with your trainer, and then you literally set up your screen so your trainer can see you and you can receive feedback in real time. You can also ask your trainer to give you solo programming for your off days. WRKOUT offers packages ranging from $350/month for 4-6 real time 50-minute workouts a month on up to 12-18 sessions a month for $960.
- Flexit: Flexit also offers 1:1 training that you schedule at a mutually convenient time. Unlike some of the others, you are free to mix it up and use any trainer on the site to find your ideal fit or to take advantage of that trainer’s specialty. You can also use some of your monthly sessions on nutritionists, physical therapists and other health professionals. Flexit also offers a less pricey plan, Connected Training, where you meet with a trainer for 30 minutes, and then follow the 4X/week custom plan they create for you. You can purchase a plan with between four and 12 sessions a week ($268-$734 a month), which roll over if you don’t use them all, and never expire. Connected Training is $75/month.
- Trainiac: A less expensive option, there are no 1:1 video calls on Trainiac — after picking a trainer from a few that have been selected based on your input, you speak with them and do some assessments. Then your trainer sends you weekly, pre-recorded workouts to do on your own time. “Your plan will ensure a balance of strength, cardio and mobility across all your fitness activities so you can train safely and effectively,” the site reads. You can communicate with your trainer through messaging if you have questions or need a motivation boost, and there’s lots of on-demand video help through the app, as well as a daily live class you can hop on to get direct advice from a pro. The highly-rated app uses Apple Health to help you monitor your progress and fitness levels, and sends you a monthly report to see how you’re doing and suggest changes. Trainiac is $99/month, with a 14-day free trial.
- Caliber: Caliber likewise matches you with a coach for fitness, but they also incorporate nutrition and overall healthy habits into your plan, as much or as little as you’d like. How your workouts develop depends on what you tell your trainer, but also your fitness data. “We pull all the data into our platform — steps, nutrition, macros, sleep, water intake — and the trainer is using your data to inform how they coach,” says Jared Cluff, CEO and co-founder of Caliber. For the base price, you get customized workouts and have unlimited access to the trainer for questions and video help — they usually get back to you right away, but must in under three hours, says Cluff. You can also pay extra for 1:1 sessions. Most people do three workouts a week, and members communicate with their coaches an average of 28 days out of the month, and there’s accountability. “If you just lean back, you’ll hear back from your coach,” says Cluff. Caliber offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, and has a 3 months minimum for $600; After that, you the option to continue month to month for $200/month.