To become an experienced personal trainer, you need to train your clients in-person. It gives you invaluable hands-on knowledge about designing programs for individuals with various fitness levels and special needs. Plus it helps you better understand how the human body responds to training specificity.

But in-person training can be time-consuming. Many trainers start early in the morning and finish well past traditional work hours in the evening. And that doesn’t include weekend hours. Over time, this schedule can lead to burnout. This article is the first in a series that will give you ideas on how to make more money as a fitness professional in other ways—starting with online training.

To recapture their energy and reduce their in-person training hours, many successful professionals are adding an online training option to their schedule of services. It opens the door to people outside your geographical location, and it has unlimited income potential.

How to Get Started

Many online training programs begin with potential clients completing a questionnaire to tell the trainer their preferences, fitness levels, goals, and limitations. Beyond this, you will have to determine how involved you want your program to be. Before you get started, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will you charge a one-time fee for a single workout?
  • Will that workout be generalized, or will you tailor it for each client?
  • Will you charge a monthly fee, and send the client a new workout every few weeks?
  • Will the workouts be provided in video format or via still photos?
  • Will your website have a section where members can track their workouts?
  • What about food logs?
  • Will you do a newsletter? If yes, will it be weekly or monthly?

To help you make these decisions, do some market research: What are your competitors offering? How are their sites set up? What are they charging? What are their customers getting for that price? How will you give clients a better deal?

“The number one most important thing in any online product is to deliver value,” says Jill Coleman, MS, CPT, owner of JillFit Physiques, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “And go above and beyond for the people who are paying you.”

Coleman’s program encompasses several aspects of fitness/lifestyle training. “Once someone purchases, they get access to an online portal that is stocked with plenty of resources like food lists, meal plans, workout training articles, and videos on everything from supplements and fasting to motivation and how to design your own unique meal plan.”

In addition, online clients receive a workout schedule—sent to them every Sunday for the coming week. This includes downloadable workout videos for their iPods, downloadable PDFs, and a schedule of what to do when. Coleman also includes a weekly recipe and a motivational or educational video. “[The] video is based on specific topics they are interested in,” she explains. “They are usually 5 minutes or less.”

“Probably the most valuable thing they get is direct access to myself and the other JillFit coaches via an exclusive, closed Facebook group. They can ask any questions and get answers immediately. Plus, they can interact with the hundreds of other members on there, too. It creates accountability and camaraderie.”

Doug Holt, MFS, CSCS, owner of, based in Santa Barbara, California, has his online company set up slightly differently than Coleman’s. “We offer customized individual programs, as well as preformatted programs that are geared to more generalized goals, such as ‘Phase One High School Baseball Conditioning’,” he explains. “Many of our clients have been to our private facility in Santa Barbara, and we are therefore able to work with them before creating the program.”

Holt offers several options for those who are unable to meet in-person. “We can do webcam assessments, using movement patterns, such as the overhead squat assessment. They can also have exercise testing done by a local trainer in their area, or they can perform self-tests, such as a timed mile. We then send them their customized training program, along with photos and video of the way we’d like them to perform the exercises, including cues.”

He adds, “For those who want even more customization, we also offer a premium service where we record the workout for them, customize the cues for that individual, and upload the files to our secure server. Most people opt for the general exercise descriptions.”

Technique, Responsibility and Ownership

Online training does have its challenges.

Exercise Safety
When you’re training from a distance, there is only so much you can do to correct form and ensure proper technique. “We provide videos of fitness trainers modeling the movements, and I’m giving form cues constantly in the videos,” says Coleman. “Unfortunately, this is the best we can do at a distance.”

“Ensuring proper technique is the biggest challenge we face,” agrees Holt. “We do conduct some training sessions via webcam, which allows us to correct form. We’ve also analyzed video from clients’ workouts. This is usually athletes looking for specific corrections.”

Does training from a distance increase liability? “No,” says Coleman. “Since we act as a consultant, there are no liability issues for people working out at home on their own. Our workouts are merely guidelines and suggestions. We make it clear that we are not diagnosing or treating illness or injury, and of course, everyone who signs up is encouraged to talk to their physician before starting any new workout or nutrition program.”

Holt agrees. “Online training does not affect our liability insurance premium and works much like a home workout DVD or book. We utilize similar disclaimers and always get a complete medical/health history from each client.”

Be sure to contact your insurance provider and legal counselor to make sure you are covered.

Content Protection
After you’ve put all your hard work into getting your online training business up and running, the last thing you want is for paying clients to share their programs with their friends and families. But how do you prevent them from doing just that?

“You can’t,” says Holt. “When we first started doing online training, having people share our programs was a fear, but we’ve realized that the majority of people have the integrity to keep the programs to themselves, and those individuals willing to pay for a quality service like ours are not the same people that are sharing copies of P90X with each other. It’s just a different mindset.”

Do What You’re Good at and Leave the Rest to the Experts?

For any online company, the website will always need updates and tweaks. Should you learn how to make these changes, which in some cases can occur daily? Or should you leave this aspect of the business to Web designers/developers, leaving yourself more time to focus on the fitness end of things? For Coleman, the answer was to learn how to make the website changes herself.

“I actually built the site myself and hired a designer to do the background, logo, and banner,” Coleman explains. “I recommend learning to do the hardware and software stuff yourself, as there are ongoing changes that need to be made to the site, and being able to do them myself without needing to consult someone else is priceless.”

Learning to do this work yourself can save you time and money. But it can also cost you time and money if you’re not adept at it.

“Do what you do best, and hire the rest,” recommends Holt. “If designing websites isn’t your thing, then don’t do it. If Internet marketing isn’t your area of expertise, get someone to help you. All of these are full-time intensive careers, and your time is better spent making money for your business, rather than trying to hack around doing coding. Trying to do it all on my own in the early stages cost me tens of thousands of dollars, which I couldn’t afford to lose in the beginning.”

Keep It Personal

While much of your online training program may be automated, don’t forget the personal side of training, even if it is at a distance. And, Coleman adds, don’t forget to pay attention, even after you’ve made the sale.

“For me, it’s about delivering the best value possible to the people who have already purchased,” she says. “It’s only fair. You’ll never go wrong by being dedicated to your paying clients, bending over backwards for them and helping them achieve their goals. That’s my golden rule!”