Online Trainers: How to Spot the Good Ones

How to Find the Frauds and Spot the Real Pros

Here's what you need to know...

  1. You have no business being an online trainer if you've never trained people in real life. Online coaching is much harder than live coaching.
  2. Looking good does not make you an expert. It simply means that you were good at getting yourself in shape.
  3. Looking good on social media is often a trick. All you need is abs, a good haircut, and some deceptive camera angles.
  4. Online coaching doesn't allow you to make instant adjustments to your clients form or technique. Neither can you provide direct motivation or dictate workout rhythm/pace.
  5. A good online coach devotes several hours to the client every week. He'll use weekly video analysis and make frequent adjustments to the training program.

Most Online Trainers Are Scum

This will no doubt piss a lot of people off, including some people I deeply respect, but I'm disgusted with most online training "experts."

Most of them fall under the category of "instant online training experts," and they're often people who might have a decent physique, good presentation and marketing skills, but possess little advanced knowledge. And they have very little in the way of actual experience training people. These scumbags prey on the vulnerability of younger guys and gals who desperately want to change their physiques.

I'll give it to you straight: Very few people have the experience, skill set, and patience/dedication to be able to properly coach someone online. And none of these qualified few are twenty-something year olds with abs and Instagram "fans" but no experience training anyone in real life.

The only people with the chops to work as online trainers are those who already have years of real-life training experience working with hundreds of clients – those who've seen and helped so many clients in person that they have pretty much experienced and conquered any possible pitfall or problem. They've seen so much that not only can they solve any training/nutrition issues that will be thrown at them by their online clients, but they can actually prevent most of them before they even happen.

The Making of an Online "Expert"

You can easily use social media to gain status and make a name for yourself despite having no real-life accomplishments or experience. Here are the simple, step-by-step instructions to becoming a slimeball:

  1. Ideally, you're a part of the demographic you're targeting (e.g., a young 20-25 year old male).
  2. You've experienced a decent physical transformation – either gone from skinny to lean with a small amount of muscle, or from chubby to ripped. Actual muscle size doesn't matter that much. As long as you get ripped, you have instant street cred.
  3. Work on your presentation. Get a tan, nice haircut, good skin, and nice clothes. Being good looking helps. Essentially, you want to personify a young guy or gal ready to go clubbing.
  4. Start accounts on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. and post all manner of physique shots – ab selfies in front of a mirror, ab selfies at the mall (ideally with girls staring), ab selfies at the beach, and ab selfies laughing while running to the bank. It's a secret fantasy of every out-of-shape teenager to become lean and muscular, flash some skin everywhere he goes, and be the center of attention. Play into that. Appear to live their fantasy life.
  5. Once you have built up your social media presence, start posting training videos and inspirational quotes – ideally an inspirational quote attached to an abs photo. It's okay if you steal these quotes. Your young/dumb clients won't know.
  6. Critique established experts on your social media. And if they ever reply, simply post a picture of your abs and say something like, "Can't argue with results, bro!" Make yourself appear equal in status to the real experts by attacking them.
  7. By now, the table is set to start offering online coaching, which consists of sending the same program to everybody and agreeing to answer their emails once in a while. Ta da! Instant online training expert! If you sell your programs for $200 a pop, have 100,000 Instagram followers, and if you sell to only 1% of your followers, you just made $200,000. Easy, right? Except maybe for the getting in shape part. Of course, there are always camera angles for that. If you're lean, take a close-up shot without including any reference point in the photo. That way, it's easy to look monstrous. You could weigh 160 pounds but still look like a jacked mofo if you have abs and use a proper set-up and angle.
  8. Once you have clients, be sure to keep them ignorant and therefore dependent upon you. Attack other experts and sources of advanced training information. The last thing you want is your client becoming knowledgeable and self-sufficient. They might stop paying for your cookie-cutter programs!

The Biggest Problem

I'm not against people making money, but I value integrity over everything else. I also really, really, hate arrogance. I'll be honest, about ten years ago I tried to do online coaching. There wasn't much in the way of social media back then, but I still got quite a few online clients. It was good money. But after a few months I had to stop doing it because I felt like I couldn't provide the level of service that satisfies me.

The most important aspect of being a trainer is giving instant feedback during a session – making micro-adjustments (technique, load, or speed of movement changes) or even macro-adjustments (changing exercises, using a different training method, etc.), as well as assuring that the client is providing the right amount of effort in each set. You can't do that with online coaching. The best online coaches will insist you provide videos performing each exercise so they can at least give you feedback regarding how you do the movement and how to adjust your performance and load at the next session.

Asking for daily training videos from your online clients and watching them carefully and sending them feedback takes some time. If you're good at it and your client is decent, it might only take you 15 minutes to watch, critique, and send your answer/recommendations, but it could easily take up to 30 minutes or more.

That's fine if you have just a few online clients. If you have ten and are well organized, it might take you two hours, maybe three. That's still 15 hours a week or so to add to your other work. But what if you have 100, 200, or 300 online clients? You'd need to invest 30-50 hours per day to coaching, and the last time I looked, the days only had 24 hours in them. Even if you become extremely efficient at video analysis and work with high level clients, some aspect of your coaching will suffer if you take on a high volume of clients.

Of course, most online coaches don't even do video analysis and only answer the client's emails once or twice a week. (And some even have an underling do it for them.) But how much is that really worth?


What Makes a Good Online Coach?

  1. A good online coach provides video instruction of each exercise in the program.
  2. He or she asks clients to film themselves weekly, maybe not all the exercises, but certainly the most complex and important ones.
  3. A good online coach adjusts the training program based on the needs and capacities of the client. It's fine to start from a template but adjustments are very important. Otherwise, why not simply direct them to a free online training program?
  4. He or she has frequent interactions with the client. Most clients don't want to bother you even if they have some issue, so from time to time you have to check up on them to see how things are going.
  5. A good online coach has a lot of experience training people in real life. Proper coaching is an art. Nobody has it perfect from the start. Online coaching is harder to do than in-person coaching. Only those who have succeeded at in-person coaching are equipped to provide high-level online coaching.
  6. A good online coach will encourage clients to train with experienced lifters with similar goals. They can provide motivation and technical advice, even if they're using different programs.

Cases Where Online Coaching Can Work

Skilled online coaching can work, especially for some very specific issues:

  1. Technique analysis and correction: I do this a lot on my online forum. People send me a video of the lift and from there I can easily analyze it and make technique recommendations, as well as prescribe corrective/strengthening exercise to work on weak links. Often I reply to these people by shooting a video of myself explaining the issue and the correction.
  2. Being held accountable: A friend of mine is a body-weight training expert. He has a lot of clients and is pretty knowledgeable about diet, but he still hired an online nutrition coach because he needed to be held accountable. If he has to send his nutrition coach weekly pictures, it helps him stay the course. That fact alone explains most of the successful "transformations" the online coaches boast about. Anybody can lose a lot of fat if they train and stick to a strict diet. A lot of online coaches actually use excessively strict and restrictive diets, but since they're good at having their clients stick to it, they get results.
  3. Motivation: When you're a recognized "expert" (either a real one or a social media star), just paying attention to someone, or making it appear that you're paying attention to them, can drastically increase their motivation. If they're more motivated they train harder, and if they train harder they get better results.
  4. Working with advanced clients: Paul Carter does online coaching with some pro bodybuilders. These guys have been training at a very high level for years, so they don't require the same constant supervision as lower level lifters do. Giving them a few corrective cues here and there is enough because most of them know what they're doing. You don't need to hold their hands all the time. Still, it's better if you get to work with them in-person once in a while.
  5. Doing online coaching with former in-person clients: When you've worked for a long time with someone in-person, you know them well. You know their strengths and weaknesses, their problem areas, what type of training they respond to the best, and how much volume they can tolerate. Because of that past personal experience, online coaching can be fairly easy and effective to do.
Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.