SAN DIEGO - Once thought to be the exclusive domain of the rich and famous, personal trainers have become increasingly popular among the general public. Today, personal trainers are riding the dot-com wave, making their services more accessible and affordable than ever.
Despite the obvious benefits of online training, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) asserts that cyber training is most effective as a supplement to working one-on-one with a qualified trainer. Due to the complexity of many strength-training and conditioning programs, novice exercisers should begin with a hands-on trainer.
"The critical eye of a personal trainer is missing online," says Ken Germano, ACE executive director. "It’s a great innovation but a cyber coach isn’t the best choice for everyone—and certainly no substitute for a hands-on trainer."
Online training is most effective for intermediate and advanced exercisers or those with very specific goals such as training for a marathon or triathlon.
On average, hands-on personal trainers charge between $35-$100 per hour depending on the market. Their cyber counterparts are available at a fraction of the cost, with some charging as little as $10 per month. Online training is also accessible to anyone with a computer and modem, making it possible for busy travelers or people in remote areas to have access to a personal trainer.
With new personal training sites springing up on the Internet rapidly, it can be difficult to pick the best one. ACE warns consumers to beware of personal training sites that employ unqualified trainers.
"Don’t be afraid to ask who the man is behind the curtain—take the time to find out who’ll actually be training you," says Germano.
For those taking the cyber plunge, ACE provides these tips for picking a safe, effective online personal trainer:
- First and foremost, check the qualifications of the staff that will be training you. Sites should provide background information about their staff. Make sure the personal trainers have a college degree in an exercise related field and/or are certified by a well-known organization such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). To check if a trainer is certified by ACE call (800) 825-3636. If the site offers nutritional advice, make sure that they have registered dietitians on staff.
- Find out about the trainers’ particular experience with your age group or with your particular needs or health challenges (i.e., specialization with older adults, weight management, etc.).
- Make sure the site is easy to navigate. If it’s too complicated you probably won’t stick with it. Some companies even let you "tour" the site before signing up.
- Look for a sample workout plan. If available, make sure the plans are thorough and include complete details (e.g., weight, sets, repetitions, intensity, incline) and not just the exercise names. Also make sure the site provides a method for visually communicating proper exercise technique as text-only instructions can be difficult to follow.
- When signing up as a client, make sure the site requires you to fill out a detailed health-history questionnaire. This evaluation should cover your goals, present level of fitness, health concerns, etc. Trainers will need this information to customize a program to fit your needs. Online exercisers should be honest when filling out the evaluation forms (i.e., don’t lie about your age, weight, experience level as it could reduce the effectiveness of your training program and possibly lead to injury).
- Find out if workouts will be truly customized for you. Some sites use computer programs to provide preset workout plans based on how you answer their evaluation form. If you receive a plan immediately, your workout was likely created by a computer. These plans are fine for many exercisers, but if you are interested in a more customized environment look for sites that take the time to develop a personalized fitness program.
- The Web site should provide an easy means of contacting your trainer for questions or concerns. Most sites provide e-mail contact, but also look for sites that have a toll-free telephone number so you can actually speak to a trainer. If you do have questions, make sure you get responses in a timely manner.
- Is your program regularly updated? Does the site have online exercise logs? Do you receive e-mail responses or postings in response to the progress in your online logs?
- Look for a Web site that provides bulletin board-type forums and online group support that you can use to communicate with other exercisers who have similar goals.
- Be wary of Web sites that rely on "celebrity trainers" or pro athletes to sell their services. It’s important to find out who will actually be designing your workouts. Also avoid sites that make exaggerated claims or guarantee fitness results.
- Avoid training sites that "prescribe" nutritional supplement programs. Trainers should not be advising you on nutrition (beyond the food guide pyramid) unless they are registered dietitians.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation’s "workout watchdog," ACE conducts university-based research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at www.acefitness.org.