Online Personal Training - What is it?

Online personal trainers aren't for everyone. What is online personal training? Read more about the costs, pros, and cons of virtual personal training.

woman sitting on a yoga mat with light blue dumbbells laptop and smart phone

Online personal training is a substitution for in-person coaching.

You work with your trainer to find a plan that fits you based on things including:

  • Schedule - How often can you realistically make it to the gym? For how long?
  • Goals - What are your fitness goals and what's reasonable in the short and long term based on them?
  • Access - What kinds of equipment will you regularly have access to?
  • Experience - What kinds of exercises are you familiar with?
  • Cost - If you need more attention, it'll likely cost you more.

For some, online training can be very effective. That said, it's not the best for everyone. It requires you to be a bit of a self-starter.

In this article, we're going to talk about the benefits (and drawbacks) of working with someone remotely.

You'll find answers to questions including:

  • What is online personal training?
  • How much is an online personal trainer?
  • What is included in online personal training?
  • How do online fitness classes work?
  • Can personal trainers give meal plans? Nooooooo.
  • Can personal trainers recommend supplements?
  • Is online personal training effective?
  • Why is online personal training better?
  • What are the best online fitness programs?

By the time you get to the end of this, you should have an idea of whether or not online training is for you.

How Much is An Online Personal Trainer?

Is Online Personal Training cheaper than in person? Yes and no.

Remote training cost varies greatly from as much as $7 to $160+ per session.

There are three different kinds of online packages:

  1. Virtual personal training or remote coaching (think zoom).
  2. Online fitness programming
  3. Online fitness classes

The three options are distinctly different than one another (and so are their costs).

  • Virtual personal training is the same as a live one-on-one training session only your coach can be anywhere. Depending on the trainer, virtual training can cost as much or more than in-person training.
  • Online fitness programming is when your trainer writes a program for you that you knock out on your own time. You can send your trainer form videos for feedback (if they offer this service).
  • Online fitness classes are synonymous with what might pop up when you search for "group fitness classes near me".

Simple Solutions Fitness offers monthly nutrition only ($127), Training only ($197), and Full online coaching ($247).

Every service will be billed differently. Each service offering is slightly different.

What is Included in Online Personal Training?

Online personal training can include:

  • Customized plans
  • Form-check video
  • Support (email, text, video, call, in-app)
  • Ongoing check-ins (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.)
  • Nutritional Support

Communication frequency and tempo vary. Some offer lifestyle and accountability coaching as a separate service. A few coaches like to check in weekly while others promise to get back to you within 24-72 hours.

For some, exercise programming includes entirely no support at all.

Another option offered by some of the more popular packages is access to a Facebook group or community. If you're motivated by a shared sense of community, this might be something you seek out.

How Do Online Fitness Classes Work?

Online fitness classes work similarly to the zoom sessions many grew to love in 2020.

If your class is live;

  • You'll receive a link or access to a recurring meeting room.
  • Your program may ask that you purchase equipment or workout with modification.
  • Find out if your class will also be recorded - in case you miss one.
  • Prepare your workout space. Be sure that you can spread your arms and legs out fully.
  • Try to find some good lighting if you'll be working out on camera.
  • Wear something appropriate that you feel comfortable working out in.
  • Snag some water or anything else you need and take a moment before things kick off.

A few minutes before your class starts, you'll want to log on. Some programs, like Home Body offered by Mark Fisher Fitness, like to start with a community-building name game.

Some classes will require you to leave your camera on while others offer the option of cutting it off.

Can Personal Trainers Give Meal Plans?

Personal trainers can and should not give meal plans.

Registered dietitians can provide you with a meal plan should you ever need to get that specific. Trainers are only allowed to coach you on the basics of nutrition and dieting.

Some clients find it helpful to create their own "meal plans":

  1. Figure out how many calories and macronutrients you need based on your goal.
  2. You can create your meal plan by simply hitting the macros, and settling on meals that fit your day.
  3. Once you've got your meals down, you don't have to track them (if you don't want to).

I explain one way that some nursing clients have found success doing that in this article.

Can Personal Trainers Recommend Supplements?

Trainers can recommend some supplements with a bit of guidance and some caveats.

Your trainer cannot "prescribe" you a supplement. From a trainer's scope, supplements aren't needed for exercise.

There are a small handful of supplements that you might take for very specific performance-enhancing reasons.

For science read the following position stands from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition:

Again, you don't need any of the above. Seek the advice of a healthcare professional before undergoing any nutrition or supplementary changes.

If there's something that your doctor or dietitian has told you that you need, take that.

Is Online Personal Training Effective?

Online personal training can be effective if you know what you're doing.

If you're a beginner, it's not recommended that you start with a virtual trainer. When you're working with a trainer at a gym, you can get corrections and advice on the spot. This is not the case with all forms of online training.

If you're stuck with a remote option, fret not. You can still make it work for you.

Online training is different from the gym in that:

  • Your feedback comes after a session and not during - If you film videos.
  • There is not someone in front of you motivating you as you train - If you need a push.
  • Your trainer can't provide immediate tweaks - More upfront planning is needed to account for this.
  • Trainers may provide you with video libraries with exercises but, they can't spot you while you do them.

A good trainer will give you 1-3 things to work on the next time you execute an exercise.

Dread working with your coworkers in Zoom meetings? Pass on online training.

If emails, texts, and phone calls aren't enough accountability for you, online training likely won't work.

Why is Online Personal Training Better?

Online Personal Training can be better for some because it's flexible.

When you work with an online fitness trainer;

  • You can lift on your own time (assuming you could buy things during covid).
  • You can likely afford to train more often as this doesn't typically cost extra.
  • You can choose to work with a trainer anywhere in the world.

If your kid gets sick, your schedule changes and you get a bad night's sleep, you can stay on track with your program.

Feel uncomfortable at a gym and have weights at home? lift there.

If you can motivate yourself to show up without a scheduled appointment, online training is great.

If not…Maybe check out some in-person training if you're in Columbia, Missouri ;)

What are the Best Online Fitness Programs?

The best online fitness programs center on what you want to accomplish.

From a trainer, the best online fitness programs include:

  • Meghan Callaway - If you want to learn to perform pull-ups and calisthenics.
  • Lee Boyce - For tall and larger bodies.
  • Tony Gentilcore - Tony is a smart, strong, innovative dude.
  • 3D Muscle Journey - Aimed primarily for Bodybuilders.
  • Stronger By Science - Research-backed advice for getting stronger, leaner, and smarter in the gym.
  • Girls Gone Strong - For women. Especially Pre and Post-Natal.
  • Renaissance Periodization - Also science-based for bodybuilders and strength athletes.

Nudge - You can learn more about working with SSF online here.

How Does Online Personal Training Work?

  1. Reach out to the trainer that you're interested in working with.
  2. Payment may take place before or after your first interaction.
  3. You'll likely fill out a long questionnaire. Some make this a condition of contacting them.
  4. At this point, your trainer may set up a meeting with you or ask you to send assessment videos.
  5. Once your first program is ready, your trainer will be in touch and you will start working together.
  6. Every trainer has a system of providing feedback and coaching.
  7. Between sessions, some coaches will allow you to contact them while others may direct you towards a community.

Nutrition, contact, modifications, and accountability are the biggest differences between online trainers.

This article was originally published on 2/28/2021

Last updated: 3/15/2022

Join my newsletter

Drop in your info to join the readers of my 1-2x a week newsletter.
I most want to see changes in my
I want to start:
I am interested in training: *

Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.