Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is Online Personal Training Right For You? (Plus Giveaway!)

The efficacy of personal training can be distilled down to one factor: the person in the “personal” trainer. This was the downfall of April’s Great Fitness Experiment wherein I tried out Women’s Health Magazine’s online personal trainer. The problem was that other than me, there were no actual people involved and their computer wasn’t any better at “training” me than their magazine articles are. (I’m still waiting for the trained monkey option.) After that experiment however, I got several e-mails pointing out that I had lambasted the whole online personal training industry unfairly. And while there are many sites run like the one I tested out, there are a whole other type run by a living breathing human personal trainer who just does his or her business over the web. (Ten points if anyone else just snickered!)

One Reader in particular caught my eye - probably because she lives just down the street from me - but also because her amazing physical transformation has been a hot topic around these parts for months. How did Reader Beth go from being a mom of 5 (her oldest is 7, her baby is 2) and looking like it to looking like the 20-something nanny? An online personal trainer. Her old college buddy Lindsey contacted her last January and offered to train Beth and her husband Nate - all over the internet.

At first Beth and Nate were skeptical - “How does she know if I’m making real progress if she can’t even see me?” Nate wondered. In addition to not being able to see clients’ progress (or lack therof), online trainers also can’t check bodyfat percentages, weight lifting form and all of the little non-verbal clues from their client that would help them do their job better. But at a fraction of the cost of real world trainers - Lindsey charges $30 a month for her fitness or nutrition packages or $50 a month for both - the benefits can be great. Especially if you are the type who can be both very honest with yourself and honest in communicating with your online trainer. Bonus: they also can’t offend you with their foul breath, obsessive self-checking in the mirrors or their overly enthusiastic atta-boy butt slaps.

So Beth and Nate both signed up for the exercise package and went to work. Their results are so astounding that at Nate’s last doctor visit the doctor actually asked him for tips. Since January, Nate has lost 30 pounds and gained muscle. Beth managed to lose her pregnancy weight on her own but credits Lindsey with helping her drop an additional 10 pounds to reach her goal weight and also build muscle. I can personally vouch for how fantastic they both look.

Online Personal Training Vs. An Online Personal Trainer
Why was my Experiment such a boring failure while Nate and Beth’s was such a huge success? They both credit it to having a real live person behind the computer screen. They checked in with Lindsey every week - although they were free to e-mail her more often if they had questions or needed motivation - and Nate says this accountability made all the difference to him. It also helped him that Lindsey was a stranger (to him) and so he felt he could be completely honest with her in a way that he feels he couldn’t have been even with a real life trainer. “I hate lifting weights,” he says, “but Lindsey would change around the program until we found one I liked and could stick with. If I were with a trainer and he told me to do a machine I didn’t like, I’d probably just say okay and then not do it when he wasn’t there.”

In addition to the accountability factor, the couple also liked how varied the programs were (they received a new one every month), how easy it was to contact their trainer via e-mail, the recipes and other support they found on her site and, of course, the affordability. I’m guessing if I’d e-mailed Lindsey my (pretend) eating disordered food journal and workout schedule like I’d sent to the Women’s Health Mag program, she would have spotted the problem right away.

If you are looking for an affordable and more anonymous way to get a personal trainer - with an actual person involved - then this type of online personal training could be an excellent solution for you. As in picking a real-life trainer just be sure to check to make sure they are credentialed, have a legitimate payment method on their site (i.e. you’re not sending them money orders to a P.O. box), and offer references (and actually contact a couple of them!).

Bonus: On Lindsey’s site today, she’s got a giveaway going on as an incentive to check her and her services out! Let me know in the comments if any of you have used an online personal trainer and if so, how it worked out for you - feel free to link to their site if you recommend them! Also, if YOU are an online personal trainer, feel free to pimp yourself in the comments section as well.

Readers - are you the kind of person who needs a real-life Jillian Michaels all up in your grill or would you prefer the semi-anonymity of an online trainer?