Gregory Florez by Gregory Florez

This is Part 2 of a 6-part series titled "Successful Coaching During COVID-19". Read Part 3 here.

Like most exercise professionals, you are almost certainly feeling the impact of COVID-19 on your professional practice. Gyms closures, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders have become the norm during this pandemic. Many exercise professionals are downsizing their practices or taking part-time work in other businesses to stay afloat. Virtual training is a logical step in continuing to serve your clients and helping you keep your head above water. You probably have at least considered taking your training or coaching practice online. If you have not offered virtual sessions before, this process may feel quite daunting.

No one knows how long this crisis will continue, but moving at least some of your business into virtual space in a timely manner can help your cashflow now. Many successful professionals have been training or coaching online long before the COVID-19 crisis and have been able to maintain their businesses and may even be thriving. It might be time for you to take a leap with your practice.

The most logical step is starting with small changes. If what you have been doing to date has been working for you, then do your best not to change that. For example, if your business is set up around working with clients in one-on-one long-term relationships, then keep that going. Changing from in-person to online training is enough of a change. If your business is focused on coaching without a lot of hands-on training and demonstration, then your equipment needs will be different from those of a personal trainer and may be quite minimal.

Space Considerations

Have an uncluttered space in your home that is just for recording and demonstration purposes. Pick a space that is free from distractions and has as much natural light as possible. Have all the equipment that you have been accustomed to using close at hand [e.g., a range of dumbbells (or adjustable dumbbells) are ideal, as are bands and tubing, a BOSU trainer and anything else that you will use during your sessions]. Your equipment should contrast with your background as well as the clothing that you are wearing in order to be seen properly on camera. It may be necessary for you to buy a piece of equipment that your clients had been previously using and would like to continue using in-home or outside the gym.

The two most important pieces of equipment for conducting online personal training are the camera and the microphone. When getting started, check out the quality of a laptop camera. You can set it up in front of you and adjust the angle of the screen as needed. The better laptops tend to have high-definition cameras. Check out the specs associated with your camera. If you are looking to purchase a camera, a good quality 1080p resolution camera is suggested. However, you can get by with a 720p version for about half the price.

Surprisingly, you may find that sound quality may be more of a priority than video quality. As you did with the camera, check the sound quality of your built-in laptop microphone. From there, you could upgrade to a wired lavalier microphone that clips onto your shirt or collar and can cost as little as $25, though price increases as quality improves. A wireless lavalier microphone is better for trainers because it allows for much more freedom of movement. Another choice in microphones is a boom mic that would be set up on a tripod just out of view of the camera. These are the least intrusive, but the sound quality may be influenced by your room size and setup.

Online Programs

Make use of exercise programs available online. For example, the ACE Exercise Library has numerous exercises and exercise programs complete with illustrations and instructions for both general and targeted fitness outcomes. Alternatively, you could create simple PDFs describing exercise programs that you email to clients for their workouts. Train using a combination of both to keep your content fresh. Once again, try not to make a huge change here. Make changes only as needed for your new online support of existing clients. You can also make use of YouTube, either by sharing links to existing videos or by making your own with all your new equipment!

Training Fees

You are a skilled exercise professional and should charge according to your current business model. Consider packaging live workouts with some online sessions so that clients can transition back to in-person training once they become available. Consider charging approximately 20% less for virtual meetings than in-person sessions. You don’t have to travel to a client location or a fitness facility, which saves time, money and wear and tear on your vehicle. You can also use video streaming to train multiple clients in the same session, further leveraging your time. Consider keeping your billing simple and consistent by charging all clients the same rate. Some pros use internet programs, but apps like PayPal and Venmo make it easier for the client. Be sure to research any fees associated with these apps and adjust your pricing accordingly.

Preparing Client Documents

Not much changes about documentation when you change from in-person to virtual training or coaching. Keep a file for each client and update the documents frequently. You can also use Google docs, which works across most operating systems and streamlines your practice of collecting and maintaining paperwork.

Critical Paperwork

Be sure that your paperwork protects you from a legal standpoint by having it reviewed by a legal professional in the area where you practice, being sure to ask whether any changes are needed to reflect your transition to virtual coaching or training. Critical paperwork includes a liability release, waiver and informed consent form, as well as preparticipation screens like the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire for Everyone (PAR-Q+) and business documents that cover your pricing and cancellation policies.

Measuring Progress

When working with clients through virtual training, you’ll want to continue providing the same attention to detail when it comes to designing long-term exercise programming. This includes charting each client’s progress, either against baseline measurements you collected early in your relationship with the client or against industry standards or guidelines. There are countless ways to measure progress, so be sure to work with each client to find the method that best suits his or her goals, needs and personality.

To learn more, visit ACE’s Tools and Calculators page, where you’ll find everything from a body mass index calculator and a percent body fat calculator to a tool to estimate a client’s daily caloric needs and a guide to measuring a client’s waist circumference.

In Conclusion

Virtual programs can be as individual as your clients themselves. Brainstorm ideas like virtual happy hours, celebrations of progress and anything that makes a client satisfied with your service. Your clients are paying for the relationship you have built together, so it’s important work hard to maintain that rapport and provide an engaging and inspirational experience.

Virtual training is here for the long run. Start simply by introducing online services to a few clients to validate your approach. And finally, ask these clients for feedback regularly. Good luck. See you online!

Read Part 1: Successful Coaching During the "New Normal"

Read Part 3: Taking Your Exercise Leadership to the Next Level in a Virtual Environment