Let's Get Virtual
Clients no longer need to go to the gym for a personal trainer&
Brenda Maston knocked herself out sculpting her butt, abs and thighs after she signed on several months ago with a personal trainer.
"She put me on a diet and targeted trouble spots between my waist and knees," says Maston. "The results were absolutely amazing."
Just one thing was missing: her instructor, Angie Lustrick. She wasn't there in person to coax the 41-year-old Riverside waitress to "push harder" and "run faster."
Instead, Maston learned the exercises by watching videos of them online via a program Lustrick customized for her with printouts.
Lustrick and countless fitness gurus have muscled into the mainstream over the last few years, offering virtual exercises and nutrition plans that are just a point and click away. What's more, downloads are much cheaper than a flesh-and-blood trainer, who typically charges $50 to $100 an hour.
Because the Internet is saturated with trainers who want to overhaul your body, your menu and your lifestyle, industry experts predict podcasting is the next big fitness trend.
According to a 2006 survey by San Diego-based IDEA Health & Fitness Association, 5 percent of fitness clubs say they offer some form of online training and 40 percent plan to provide it in the future.
"It doesn't look like a passing fad," says Bernie Schroeder, senior vice president of marketing for the 20,000-member group.
"The technology is there and the trend is only going to grow."
Cyber training, named one of the industry's top five trends, fuses sophisticated visuals with live models, sound effects, music, foreign languages and thousands of stylized routines with increasing options.
Consumers can download 10-minute MP3 clips from former aerobics instructor Marina Kamen (marinaonline.com).
Corporations or health clubs can buy online coaching programs. Individual trainers can e-mail personalized packages of virtual exercises and meal plans to clients.
But the Web won't work for everyone trying to get in shape, caution some experts. It's best-suited for high-performance athletes training with "niche" coaches or for clients in remote areas without access to a nearby gym, maintains Mike Niederpruem, national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.
"One of the drawbacks of virtual training is that no one's there to give you direct and immediate feedback," he says. "And exercising with a virtual trainer is better than not exercising."
Experts credit the boom to less costly downloads versus hiring a live trainer; overbooked personal trainers; the ease of Internet use at clients' convenience; and more sophisticated technology.
Since Bedros Keuilian of Chino launched his Web site called hitechtrainer.com in 2002, he says more than 500 trainers have joined, including Lustrick. They pay a monthly $49 membership fee to build packages for their clients from his database of 3,000 routines.
"It's taken off like hotcakes," Keuilian says. "A lot of people can't afford $300 to $600 a month for a one-on-one trainer."
Indeed, Lustrick says it costs her online clients $150 a month (or $250 for exercises and a meal plan) versus about $550 for face-to-face training. If they're local, she meets them once at their gym to demonstrate the moves.
"You can get a virtual program that's just as good if not better than an actual one," she says. "I create every workout from scratch."
She crunches medical and physical information the client provides (plus a mandatory swimsuit photo) to tailor a program to their needs and goals. They pore over and print out the photos for three weekly routines she e-mails that include detailed instructions about correct posture, number of repetitions, amount of weight to use and other fitness tips.
"This is all about self-sufficiency," says Shimon, who trains clients in other states and countries. "They give me frequent reports and updates on e-mails and we talk on the phone. I don't have to stand there next to them. We have a mental connection."
Kristin Spano, who lives in Califon, N.J., agrees. One of Lustrick's former online clients, the 37-year-old teacher insists that the e-mails and phone calls helped motivate her to lose weight. "I don't need someone at the gym holding my hand," says Spano.
Niederpruem, however, believes that the Internet is the ideal tool, "the best of both worlds" for a "blended" program that includes actual and virtual training.
Online training should supplement a relationship you have with a trainer, says Schroeder of IDEA: "I can't believe that just communicating with a trainer over the Internet is as effective as if he's there standing in front of you, working with you."
Phyllis Judge, 69, agrees.
Lustrick, who's been training her for six months in a Riverside gym, also e-mails her photographs of additional exercises. "The visual is fine for me," says Judge, "but I get a lot more information with a one-on-one interaction, asking her in person if I'm doing something right or wrong."
Reach Laurie Lucas at llucas@PE.com or 951-368-9569.
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