By Eric Bach, CSCS is a personal trainer, author, and fitness business coach in Denver, Colorado. Eric’s passion is on simplifying the process of building an online fitness business and helping trainers overcome information overload to a build a successful fitness brand. For free marketing, sales, and content tips join the Bach Performance Hybrid Fitness Business Community here.
If you’re a personal trainer who’s still not training clients online, you’re losing ground to those who are. But you have to do online training right by choosing the right clients.
The benefits of online training are obvious. You make more money. You stop trading dollars for hours and take back your freedom. And you’ll help more people achieve a better life through fitness. You get to design workouts in your undies at 8:00 am rather than guzzling coffee at 4:45 am before your 5:00 am clients.
And your clients?
Well, they can be anywhere in the world and they can work out anytime that fits their busy schedule. They’ll save money while still receiving precision guided diet, training, and lifestyle advice to look better naked and improve their life through fitness.
Yep, online training is pretty damn cool.
That said, there are certain clients you just shouldn’t train online. You risk injury to the client and damage to your own reputation.
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Client Type #1: The (Very) Injured Client
A few years back, my client, Chuck fell off a ladder cleaning out his gutters. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. He shattered his hip, had multiple invasive surgeries, and had to re-learn how to walk.
Now in his late 60’s, Chuck wears a permanent lift to balance out different length legs and battles a plethora of issues from his hip, back, knee, and ankle.
On a daily basis, we needed to switch out exercises, rep schemes, and tempos to adjust to his abilities, pain, and level of function. It would be nearly impossible to do this online because of all the precise changes. You’d have to do every workout via Skype and have excellent communication skills. And you’d have to be on call virtually 24/7 to tweak the program. That’s no way to scale a business.
Here’s the surprising truth:
It’s common for people with severe injuries to seek personal trainers. And the number is likely to grow as online training goes mainstream.
Clients like Chuck shouldn’t be trained online. The risks outweigh the rewards. You are better off referring them to a Physical Therapist.
Technique is always important, but optimal technique is crucial when refining movement patterns with injured clients. Subtle changes in technique can be the difference between an exercise being the perfect rehabilitation tool or a first class ticket to pain and dysfunction. And maybe a lawsuit!
Client Type #2: The Elite/High-Level Team Sport Athlete
Listen, you can train elite/high-level athletes online. It can work. But like eating a stick of butter for every meal is possible, it’s not ideal. Athletes can have a razor thin margin of error for optimizing performance.
More often than not, high-level athletes are battling through nagging injuries that require precise adjustments both in exercise selection and execution on a day to day basis for pain-free training.
Moreover, most elite team sports athletes need movement specific training (acceleration vs. top end speed training techniques, deceleration, sports specific change of direction work) to improve performance. All this has to be done in conjunction with strength training. Even most in-person trainers lack the skills to do this well. Online? Success seems even less likely.
Now, I’m not saying this to scare you off or be a grumpy ole’ bag of dicks.
But the number one goal for trainers and coaches is to not injure your clients or exacerbate pre-existing injuries. It’s a bit like the Hippocratic oath doctors swear: “First, do no harm.”
The number two goal is to provide the structure, accountability, and coaching to help your clients achieve their goals. Can you really do this online? In both cases, training elite team-sport athletes is a risky proposition that most coaches aren’t ready to handle.
Now, nothing is ever set in stone. There are a few instances when training the elite or high-level team sports athlete can work. But unless they’re your ideal client (here’s how to find yours), you’re best referring out. Here are the exceptions.
You’ve worked with the client before: Client trust and “buy-in” to your training methods is essential for success. With no buy-in, you’ll lack consistency, communication, and effort. This is the same whether we’re talking about 58-year-old women looking to improve function ability and lose a few pounds or a 23-year-old pro athlete.
If you’ve worked with an athlete in-person you know their strengths, weaknesses, injury sites, and areas they need to improve most. In this case, you should be able to design programs (and have the relationship) necessary to help them improve performance.
You’re an elite coach: If you’ve worked with clients long enough and are an elite coach (I’m talkin’ Cressey, Gentilcore, Rusin, Poliquin, Somerset, Lee Taft, or Christian Thibaudeau etc…) you have the practice and communication skills to help clients to maximize their training online.
You’re working in with another coach: If you’re working with elite level athletes it’s possible to handle part of their training, such as strength training/corrective work, while a separate, in-person coach handles sports specific practice or movement training. You’ll need to build a relationship and have constant contact with that coach to synchronize programming for the best results.
There are no absolutes but it may be helpful to keep this principle in mind:
1. Safety first. The number one rule of training is to do no harm.
2. Be thorough with your screening process and movement screens before taking on clients.
3. Only work with clients who you can take to the next level. There’s no harm in saying “no” or referring a client out.
4. Even if you’re training clients online, you’re still liable.
There are no absolutes. While you can take any client you’d like it doesn’t mean you should. Know your skills, put your clients first, and work with those who you can help to the best of your abilities.
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