Online Training: Doing It Right

Not much posting going on here lately, as Blended Fitness has kicked off its inaugural run and is demanding a lot of my attention. (Don't feel bad if you missed this one: it was invitation only. The next group starts in January. Stay tuned.)

For those who don't know, our Blended Fitness programs combine in-person personal training sessions with online training programs, coaching sessions, education, and more. (The name comes from "Blended Learning" which combines e-learning and classroom learning.)

There are two things I think set Blended Fitness apart from other forms of online training or coaching.

#1: In-person training sessions.

I'm a tech kind of guy. I built blitzometer.com and have made a living as a software engineer. But online has its limits, especially when it comes to fitness. There are some things that really need to be done face-to-face.

dog as trainerOne of them is some form of "assessment." It's important to know a client's physical limitations and capabilities to create suitable training programs. We use the Functional Movement System (FMS) to get a baseline of a person's movement dysfunctions and capabilities (more on the FMS in a future post), although other approaches can certainly work. What doesn't work is no approach at all.

One online program I know (and actually kind of like) provides a cookie-cutter exercise plan for its members. To be fair, it's really a nutrition program, but they push this exercise bit a lot. To me, asking people to do exercises without knowing anything about their physical abilities is not just inappropriate, it's irresponsible. They actually tell members to "play around" with the exercises, with the expectation that they'll figure it out for themselves. They might figure out how to get the movements done, but will they do them right? Or will they figure out how to compensate for physical limitations or problems and wind up with lousy technique that leaves them injured? Not all exercises are appropriate for all people, and figuring out what is appropriate takes some in-person evaluation.

runner-leg-injuryI know at least one all-online program (that is much more expensive than Blended Fitness) that starts with a video assessment: the clients video themselves doing specific movements that the coach evaluates. This is better than nothing, but misses a lot. For one thing, video is two-dimensional. You can't walk around the person and see the little things that can make a big difference to movement quality. It's also not great for ascertaining more subtle responses to a movement: breathing (or not), grimacing, tension in the wrong places, etc.

And once we figure out what exercises are most suitable, there's still the matter of actually doing them. Gray Cook of the FMS likes to warn about building "fitness on dysfunction." It's possible to get good at doing exercises badly, if that makes sense, but at best you won't be getting the training effect you want, and at worst you'll wind up injured. Even something as seemingly simple (alliteration!) as a plank is easy to do wrong, leading to wasted time and effort.

It's certainly possible to learn to do exercises well using books or videos (we use videos for some progressions in Blended Fitness), but nothing beats hands-on coaching.

#2: Proactive support.

online-video-chatMost online coaching programs offer email support ("unlimited!") and some kind of forum group for members. A few might even offer coaching calls (we schedule one-on-one video coaching sessions). But they pretty much always require the client to initiate support.

What inevitably happens is that members "drop out." This is the same kind of thing we see with gyms: members keep paying their monthly dues, but stop showing up. The problem is, online coaching clients shouldn't be treated like gym members, they should be treated like personal training clients (in my opinion). If a client stopped showing up for sessions, most trainers would be concerned and reach out to help or at least get an explanation.

Online training clients should get the same consideration. In Blended Fitness, we keep track of what members are entering into the system: what activities they're doing and how much of them, what they're missing, and any comments they enter about it. This isn't just some automated system that gives check-marks or meaningless "awards" for activity and canned messages when they aren't done. It's a real, live coach keeping an eye on your progress and providing feedback.

And if the entries stop, we reach out to learn why. That's "proactive support." If there's no response to our emails and private messages, we'll use text messages or phone calls to find out what's happening. It's still up to the client to actually do things; it always will be. But sometimes things happen, and people slack off. Happens to (almost) everyone. It's good to know that if and when it does happen, someone will reach out to try to help.

Those are what I consider the top two things that set Blended Fitness apart from other online coaching. (And of course, Blended Fitness is not just online.) And yeah, this has been kind of a pitch for Blended Fitness, but hey, it's what we do and frankly I think it's pretty cool.

But even if you're looking at some other online coaching options, this will hopefully give you some help analyzing them. And then choose Blended Fitness, because it's just better. Oops, pitching again!

Anyway, you got that freaky picture of the fitness dog.

Be seeing you.

-gary

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