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Online Health and Fitness Coaching

Author: Stan Reents, PharmD
Original Posting: 05/06/2007 12:57 PM
Last Revision: 01/15/2016 08:24 AM

Initially, the concept of "online fitness training" may seem illogical. After all, sitting passively in front of a computer isn't really the best example of "exercise," is it?

But this is not just a passing fad. A search of the phrase "online personal training" on Google retrieved 217,000,000 pages (search performed June 3, 2015).

Personal trainers, per se, are discussed more thoroughly in a related story "How To Choose a Personal Trainer", so I'll only discuss web sites here.

INTERACT WITH A TRAINER vs. DO-IT-YOURSELF

Obviously, if there are over 217 million web sites, which do you choose? I'll start by grouping fitness training web sites into 2 categories:

Interact With a Person: These are sites where you can interact with a personal trainer or health coach.

Do-It-Yourself sites: As with other services like banking, investing, legal (eg., Legal Zoom), etc., web sites have been created that allow you to do it yourself. Here, you're interacting with your computer, not a person. These sites allow you to enter your own workout data into a log. The site then performs various types of calculations for you (calories burned per day, per week, per month, etc.).

WHO PROVIDES THESE CUSTOMIZED TRAINING PROGRAMS?

When it comes to web sites from people with name-recognition, you have 2 general types:

  • Sites from nationally-recognized athletic trainers and/or elite athletes
  • Sites from "celebrity" personal trainers

Web Sites by Nationally-Recognized Athletic Trainers and/or Elite Athletes:

If you are a competitive athlete and/or want to focus on your athletic performance, then go for a nationally-recognized athletic trainer or elite athlete. Here are just a couple examples:

Mark Allen (www.MarkAllenOnline.tv): Mark Allen is a former IronMan triathlete. He won it 6 times! This site offers personalized triathlon training.

Gale Bernhardt (www.GaleBernhardt.com): Gale Bernhardt was the coach for the 2004 Olympic men's and women's triathlon team, as well as the 2003 Pan Am Games coach. She is an elite-certified coach by USA Cycling and USA Triathlon and has published several books.

Chris Carmichael (www.TrainRight.com): Chris Carmichael is an endurance coach and advisor to Olympic athletes and teams around the world. At one time, he was an elite cyclist. In 2004, he published "Food For Fitness - Eat Right To Train Right." He founded Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). Prices for his online training services range from $39 to $499 per month.

Michael Gough (www.AthleticEdgeSports.com): Michael Gough is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and offers on-site and online sports-specific training for serious athletes.

Mark Verstegen (Team EXOS): Mark Verstegen is a nationally-recognized strength and fitness coach. His original endeavor was called Core Performance. However, it has since been renamed as "Team EXOS." In 2007, he published "Core Performance Endurance."

Web Sites by "Celebrity" Trainers:

These sites tend to focus more on weight loss than improving athletic performance:

Denise Austin (www.DeniseAustin.com): Denise Austin started out teaching aerobics in LA. Now, she is a nationally-recognized fitness instructor.

Jillian Michaels (www.JillianMichaels.com): Who hasn't heard of Jillian Michaels? She gained national attention by being one of the trainers on the TV show "Biggest Loser."

If you want personalized advice from a trainer, but don't want to spend a fortune, it is entirely possible to obtain good guidance from a relatively unknown personal trainer...but you have to be diligent in investigating his/her credentials.

DO-IT-YOURSELF SITES

Let's say you already have your own work-out routine and all you want is an online system to track your information. If that sounds like you, then here are a couple sites that appeal to do-it-yourselfers:

Men'sHealth Personal Trainer (www.MHPersonalTrainer.com): This is a good site for the do-it-yourselfer.

My Fitness Page (www.MyFitnessPage.com): Another really good site for the do-it-yourselfer. You can view reports and graphs of your own data. The subscription price is $25 per year.

Runner's World SmartCoach (www.RunnersWorld.co.uk): This is a good site for distance runners.

Training Peaks (www.TrainingPeaks.com): This site is part of the Active.com network. Nationally-recognized cycling and triathlon coach Joe Friel's training plans are offered here. Both a training log and coaching site are available. Prices range from $10-17/mo. depending on the duration of the subscription.

EXERCISING TO IMPROVE FITNESS vs. TRAINING TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE

One question you should ask yourself is whether your exercise goals are simply to improve your general health and fitness, or, if you are a serious athlete and are looking for training guidance to improve performance. For example, if all you want is some guidance as you try to get back into shape, then SportsWorkout.com is probably more sophisticated than you need.

If, on the other hand, you are an competitive athlete, or, coach them, then sites like SportsWorkout.com and sites maintained by former elite athletes are what you want.

Suffice to say that the Internet makes all of these options readily available.

FITNESS: EXERCISE vs. NUTRITION

It is difficult, and perhaps irresponsible, to talk about fitness without also discussing proper nutrition. Proper nutrition is as important for the weekend warrior as it is for the serious athlete. This is "sports nutrition" and learning the basics is easy.

However, if weight loss is your goal for joining a fitness site, then the picture gets muddy. Everyone seems to be an expert on nutrition these days. While it may be tempting to receive diet and nutrition recommendations from your online personal trainer, you should be wary of this. Personal trainers should not give out detailed nutrition advice or plan menus for clients unless they are also a registered dietician. This issue is addressed clearly by the American Council on Exercise, one of the largest certifying groups for personal trainers in the world.

Bob Greene is Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer. He holds a masters degree in exercise physiology. Even though any nutrition advice he might give would seem to be highly credible, his online personal training services are now part of the eDiets.com network. eDiets.com employs registered dieticians, so, this is an excellent example of a site that offers personalized fitness training combined with solid nutrition counseling.

Another good example is the site recently launched by Runner's World magazine: www.RunnersWorld.com/trainer. They offer an "exercise program", a "nutrition program", or a combination program. Prices range $6-10/mo. for a 3-month membership and from $50-$85/yr. for an annual membership.

SUMMARY

The first question you must answer is whether your exercise goals are to improve general health and fitness, or, if you are looking for more sophisticated training advice in order to improve your performance in competition. Both types of sites are available.

• If personalized coaching online is what you're after, make sure you check out the certifications and academic degrees that the personal trainer holds.

• If you plan to use an online log, ie., a site where you can enter your data, then make sure to investigate their terms. Do they offer a 3-month plan, or can you only sign-up for a 12-month membership? Does the site automatically renew your membership when you reach the end of your term? How long do they retain your data? And the following applies to any web site you subscribe to: do they sell your contact info for marketing purposes?

• Be wary of sites that recommend supplements. Most of these products are ineffective and a waste of money. The American Council on Exercise (www.ACEFitness.org), one of the largest certifying organizations of personal trainers, takes a firm stand against the practice of personal trainers who recommend supplements to their clients.

• Fitness training vs. nutritional counseling: Admittedly, fitness involves both exercise and proper nutrition. However, a personal trainer should not be offering detailed dietary recommendations unless he/she is also a registered dietician.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Readers might find the following discussions helpful:

EXPERT HEALTH and FITNESS COACHING

Stan Reents, PharmD, is available to speak on this and many other exercise-related topics. (Here is a downloadable recording of one of his Health Talks.) He also provides a one-on-one Health Coaching Service. Contact him through the Contact Us page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Stan Reents, PharmD, is a former healthcare professional. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and holds current certifications from ACSM (Health Fitness Specialist), ACE (Health Coach), and has been certified as a tennis coach by USTA. He is the author of Sport and Exercise Pharmacology (published by Human Kinetics) and has written for Runner's World magazine, Training and Conditioning, Club Solutions, and other fitness publications.




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