There are a lot of talented fitness experts out there who offer online coaching. Sadly, there are many more offering outdated, even dangerous advice. So, what makes a good online coach? We asked 11 great ones.
The Question: What Should You Look For in an Online Coach?
1. Look For An Online Coach With The Right Specialty
Just like an in-person trainer, an online coach can have a different specialty that may or may not be what you need. You wouldn't expect a classically trained French chef to make the best sushi or vice versa.
Nor would you expect a strength coach specializing in pro athletes to be the best trainer for a beginner. Their experience may not transfer. Once you've found an online coach who specializes in people just like you, here are some things to tick-off your checklist:
Experience and Credentials
They can hide behind a computer screen, but it doesn't mean a coach should get away with little relevant experience, qualifications, or insurance. I don't know many good online coaches that weren't great as in-person coaches for years prior.
A Good Consultation Experience
Did a few clicks on the internet lead you through some fancy landing pages, which led you to a "buy it now" button? Or did it lead you to book an actual conversation with the coach? Even then, if it takes a week to get an email back from them or to jump on a 15-minute call, it isn't a good sign of their overall responsiveness. If they're slow now, imagine how slow they'll be once you've handed over your cash.
Sure, find someone who will take you beyond your comfort zone and turn weaknesses into strengths. But if the plan or any of the exercises aren't feeling right, or the schedule isn't sustainable, then your coach hasn't listened. Either that or they're giving you a cookie-cutter plan. A good coach should be able to train you whether you have access to a badass gym or just your bodyweight. The plan should be built for YOU.
Level of Contact
Depending on a coach's workload and efficiency, there are only a limited number of clients they can work with successfully at any one time. If an online coach says their program has helped thousands of people, then I'd be worried. If they haven't been at it for decades, be worried about their service and retention.
Can you message your coach any time you want, or are they just going to stick you with a 90-day plan and leave? Coaches deliver their support in different ways, but the good ones can make simple changes to your plan. Some coaches also use apps to train their clients and ask for form-check videos. That way, your coach can see your workout check-ins and stats and modify your training plan accordingly. – Gareth Sapstead
2. Pay Attention To Their Systems And Responsiveness
When looking for an online coach, you want an experience that is actually more personal than personal training. If you ante up $200 to $400 a month, you better be getting a same-day response. Habits should be tracked. There should be clearly defined check-ins.
You should have nearly instant access to your coach and expect a timely response and solution. And remember, metrics have to be tracked so both YOU and the coach can pinpoint why you did or didn't get results and what needs to be worked on. – PJ Striet
3. Find One Who Will Assess Your Technique and Modify Workouts
There are three things you need to look for. These are what I implement in my own online personal training sessions with clients:
Emphasized Form And Body Mechanics
It's enticing for a trainer to simply go into chill mode since they can either just tell the client what to do or sit at the computer with little coaching, cueing, and verbal instruction. However, a good online trainer should watch your form while also demonstrating what proper technique and body mechanics look like.
Just because it's not in-person doesn't mean that form and body mechanics should be less emphasized. They should be just as much of a focus as they would be in person.
Many trainers will suggest that assessments and movement screenings are tough to do online, so they forgo them. A competent online trainer should be able to take you through a movement screening and catch most, if not all, of what they'd see in person.
Everyone has various forms of muscle dysfunction and aberrant movement patterns. The trainer should catch most of these. Furthermore, they should understand how to use these assessment elements to customize the client's workouts.
Workouts should be customized and adapted, not only to your goals and training level but your equipment availability. Even if you have zero equipment, just bands, just dumbbells, or just water jugs, a competent coach should be able to take you through an intense and effective workout routine. That workout should target most of the major muscles in your body while spiking your heart rate.
Simply, the trainer should adjust for YOU instead of having you adjust to the trainer. – Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
4. Look For Passion, Personalization, And Digestible Feedback
Make sure their service feels just as personal as it would be if you were working with them in person. An online coach – just like an in-person coach – should exude passion and get you excited about training. They should be able to troubleshoot your form, adapt your workouts on the fly, and design programs that are appropriately suited to your needs, goals, and preferred training style.
Sure, the qualities an online coach should possess will vary depending on the types of people they work with and their goals. But regardless, they should check in with you and assess your form through video. – Meghan Callaway
5. Avoid Those Who Give Generic Programs to All Clients
A good online coach offers personalized help and world-class expertise. They should be monitoring your program weekly and teaching you how to progress, not tossing you a random program every few months.
They should be able to explain their training choices, coach you through multiple methods of nutrition, and bring a fun personality to the table. You can get support and accountability anywhere, but a true, down-to-earth expert who's invested in your success is hard to find nowadays. – Calvin Huynh
6. Make Sure They're Authentic
Every online coach and fitness influencer promises individualized coaching and customized programs, but this isn't always a reality.
Many successful coaches clearly distinguish their offerings. Some provide a higher volume of programs and templates with less individualization but at a lower price point. Others may have a higher price point with more personal interaction and a plan which truly feels like your own.
Far more often, the promise doesn't match the delivery, and you see cookie-cutter workouts and diets with delays in responding. That tends to be the case with influencers who are more about image than human connection; they produce more smoke and less fire.
So talk to your potential coach. If they respond in an authentic and giving fashion while not being aggressive in pursuing sales, you might have a winner.
Try searching for someone with a great reputation or get a direct referral from a trusted friend. Find someone who's established but isn't too busy to devote attention to you. Find someone who feels grateful to work with you. – Andrew Coates
7. Look At Their Track Record And Process
Here are a few important things to remember:
- You're not paying for a trainer; you're paying for results. Evaluating a coach based on price alone will save you money in the short term, but it may leave you short on results and cash in the long run. Find someone who has a proven record of results. If they can't demonstrate results with others, why should you expect anything different?
- You need to buy into your trainer and their process. If you haven't bought in, you won't trust them. If you don't trust them, you're unlikely to follow through with the plan. Make sure their approach is something you believe in, and you can integrate into your daily life.
- Coaches often try to build relationships by becoming friends with their clients. Sometimes this "friendship" blurs lines and makes them look the other way when you're not putting in the work. Of course, you want to like your trainer, but it's equally important that you respect them and they keep you accountable. Make sure your trainer has strong boundaries and isn't afraid to give you a nudge when you veer off track.
- Avoid trainers who are dogmatic about systems. They'll say things like: my clients do keto, or we only use kettlebells, or functional movement or powerlifting. Every individual is unique in some sense. And although fundamentals have broad application, how they're executed can have significant inter-individual variation.
In these cases, the online coaches may take in several clients, but only the people best suited to their particular approach will get results. The rest are chewed up and spit out. Good trainers don't force a system on you. They work with you to develop an optimal approach for your individual challenges and lifestyle. – Daniel DeBrocke
8. Find Someone Whose Philosophies And Values Resonate
Find someone you can connect with. Conduct some research to determine if you like their style of coaching. Do their personal and professional philosophies resonate with you? Do you feel they'll understand your body and challenges? Do they explain things in a way that you can actually understand?
Try to find a coach to teach you and hold you accountable, not just tell you what to do, drive you physically into the ground, collect your money, and move on. Coaches should look at their clients holistically regarding their body type, athletic ability, medical history, habits, and hardships.
While it's important to find someone highly knowledgeable in your training objectives, they should also care about the other elements involved in your health: recovery, mobility, nutrition, and stress management.
The metrics they collect from you are often less important than the trusting relationship they can create with you. You should be able to trust them and understand why they're having you do certain things.
After working with them, you ought to be able to go out on your own and practice the behaviors they've taught you. Sure, it's good when an online coach has a high retention rate, but it's even better when their clients become autonomous with their own fitness. – Jessica Kilts
9. Find A Coach Who Will Fit Training Into Your Everyday Life
The most important thing to consider when choosing an online fitness program is how practical the program is for your current lifestyle and skill level.
If you're a busy executive balancing a job, partner, and kids who are unexpectedly homeschooling, or you already struggle with consistency, then a 90-day challenge of high-intensity conditioning exercises may not be the best program for your current lifestyle. Choose a plan that meets you where you're at across all facets of life. – Sam Pogue
10. Make Sure Your Coach Has A Roadmap To Success
A great coach will help you create clarity of vision in what you're trying to achieve and the action steps needed to get there. A great coach will have systems to ensure relevant data can be collected for your specific needs. Data is king, and what gets measured gets managed!
Then, a great coach will assess your progress via regular touch-points and check-ins and tweak the plan to ensure you keep moving toward the goal. When you find this coach, they should be able to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road along the way.
With a clear path mapped out, the coach's job is to make sure you can operate to your full potential. This is the least you should expect from a quality coaching service. – Ross Gilmour
11. Find Someone Who Will Work With The Equipment You Have
Some coaches may offer meticulously detailed programs with tips, explanations, and assessments. Others may send you copies of old workouts from exercise magazines. When it comes to navigating all this, here are two key principles to search for:
Find an Educator
Look for someone who can teach you how to make the most of your workout. The most frustrating fight in the fitness journey is the constant questioning: "Am I doing it right?" Find someone to TEACH and not just show.
Find Someone Who Can Work With Your Equipment And Understanding
You won't have all the equipment you want immediately. Find a pro that can cater to your personal setup. And make sure you can understand what they're telling you to do and speak your gym language. Content is great, but you both need to speak the same language. – David Otey