Online Personal Training

online-personal-training(Photo courtesy of Allen Sky)

For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to dive head first into the realm of running a fitness business.

I’ve been thinking a ton about both my online (Robertson Training Systems) and offline (Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training) businesses, and I feel I’ve got some really cool stuff to share with you over the coming weeks.

Plus, I’m just super motivated to take both of my businesses to the next level, so this will work as a bit of a brain dump as well.

In almost every sense, the world is getting smaller.

Okay maybe not literally, but hopefully you know what I mean!

The internet is this amazingly powerful tool that allows people to connect, conduct business, and build relationships without ever meeting each other in person.

One example of this is working with personal training clients in an online setting. I’ve been doing online training and coaching since 2006, and needless to the game has changed drastically since then.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been on the other side of the fence as well.

In 2012 I had Mike Tuscherer write my training programs for three months, and it was really cool to have someone I greatly respect write my programs for me.

In this article I’m going to examine online personal training both from the end-users perspective, as well as how I run it as a business owner.

Online Personal Training – The End User Experience

The Assessment

The first question I get asked when it comes to online training is:

How on Earth do you assess someone me when I’m not standing right in front of you?

Surprisingly, it’s not as hard as you might think. When starting with a new online client, we do a lot of the same things online as we would in a live assessment.

postureWe do an initial intake to see what their goals are, how often they can train, and any logistical issues we may have to address (such as limited equipment, etc.).

I review all of their static posture shots to determine potential imbalances.

I have them shoot videos of numerous movements to see how they’re moving, how they’re compensating, and what limitations we need to address.

However there are a few downsides:

  • You can’t put your hands on someone. This is critical if you want to determine end feels, perform manual muscle testing, etc.
  • You can’t build the same kind of face-to-face rapport. There are obvious benefits to chatting with someone in person and getting to know them.

In reality, it’s not that much different than starting with a client live and in-person. I still get a ton of information, which allows me to put together a solid training program.

The Programming

This is the single best part about online coaching – a program is a program is a program.

It doesn’t matter whether the person is there or not, it doesn’t really change the actual program design process. The biggest issue you may have when designing a program for an online client comes down to the equipment they have available to them.

Another issue that comes up is the naming and performance of exercises. Think about it like this:

How many names can you think of for a rear foot elevated split-squat?

Some people call them a rear foot elevated split-squat.

Some people call them RFEE’s.

Some call them single-leg squats.

And some people call them Bulgarian split-squats.

Then you have the actual performance of the exercise. Even if you can agree on the name, every coach has a different idea or viewpoint as to how the exercise should be performed!

In this case, I have a pretty extensive database over at the Robertson Training Systems You Tube page. I also have a private database that features many of the same videos, but with detailed coaching cues to make sure my clients are getting the most out of their training.

In this case you simply take the exercise, hyperlink it to the video, and you’re off and running.

The Coaching

While the assessment and program design elements of online training are very similar to offline clients, this is one of the biggest drawbacks to online training.

Let’s say I’m training you in the gym. You’re doing something wrong on a squat, deadlift, bench press, whatever.

Before the set, I can give you a tip or piece of feedback to enhance performance.

After the set, I can tell you what you did well, and what needs to be addressed going forward.

Mike Robertson CoachingBut the best part of working with an athlete live and in person is the ability to coach or cue them during a set. To get immediate and usable feedback to improve performance.

In an online environment, this is nearly impossible (unless you’re literally coaching someone via Skype or something similar).

The client can videotape lifts from a session and have you review them, but you still lose that immediate feedback.

All things considered, I feel this is a minor price to pay. You may lose some of the immediacy of the coaching and cuing, but the trade off is getting a fantastic training program that’s uniquely tied to your needs and goals.

So that’s what it looks like from the end-users perspective. I feel as though even though I’m seven years into online training and coaching, it’s getting better and better all the time.

Now let’s take a look at the business side of the equation, and how I run my online coaching business.

The Business Side of Online Personal Training

As I mentioned up front I first started online training and coaching in 2006. I charged $100 per month for my services, and basically thought I had struck it big time!

In the olden days you might have sent me a few posture pics, a list of training goals, and from there I sent you an Excel based training program.


Over the years there have been some bumps in the road, but the business side has really blossomed and grown. I’m obviously charging more, but that’s directly tied to better results and a more effective, streamlined and seamless back-end.

If you’re a fitness professional and you’re interested in adding online training and coaching as a revenue stream, here are some things to consider before getting started.

(And if you want a step-by-step system to help you avoid many of the mistakes I made, I’d highly recommend checking out the 1k Extra program. It’s legit.)

Make Sure the Client is a Good Fit

When you get started with a new client, there’s typically a slew of e-mails that go back and forth to get things rolling. This is the ideal time to make sure that you and your client are a good fit personality-wise.

This should sound obvious, but I promise there are times when that itty-bitty conscience of yours tells you that someone is (or isn’t) a good fit.

You can also call this trusting your instincts, or your gut, but I can tell you this – the only time I’ve gotten myself into trouble with a client is when I’ve ignored this.

A bit of bad news – you’re not a perfect fit for everyone.

Neither am I.

And in reality, that’s ok.

Don’t try to be everything to every one. Be yourself, and if the person on the other end isn’t a good fit, be willing and able to turn them away.

It’s not necessarily easy early on, especially when you want to get the business rolling and make some money.

But trust me when I say, some clients are not worth their money (more on this later).

While we’re talking about good fits, also make sure that you sincerely feel as though you can help the client on the other end. If you’re a powerlifting coach and you’ve never worked with someone on body composition, doing so online probably isn’t a great bet.

A good rule is to work with people who you are totally comfortable training offline first, and then take that model/set-up and use it in an online environment.

Use EFT/Automatic Debit

I have a very basic rule when it comes to money:

mexico-drug-money4Even if they really like you, most people don’t want to give you their money.

They may want your help, but they don’t want to give you their money!

To remedy this, but the whole thing on cruise control. Use an electronic debit/electronic funds transfer (EFT) payment system to make sure everything is kosher.

For instance I have all my online clients fill out a payment form, and then they are billed every 30 days. I don’t have to e-mail them and ask for their next month’s payment (which is a hassle for me), and they don’t have to remember to pay me every 30 days either (which is a hassle for them).

Fitness businesses have used this model for years, it’s even more valuable in an online setting where you may never physically see or interact with the client on the other end.

This is also a great general rule for online coaching:

Take everything you do well offline in your training business, and try to reproduce it as seamlessly as possible online.

It sounds easy, but if more online coaches would follow this simple step I guarantee they’d have less stress day in and day out.

Make the Client Your Priority

We’ve all heard of the golden rule, right?

Treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Imagine you’re an online client and you have a question about your program, an exercise, or anything in between.

You’d want that question answered ASAP, right?

I know this is true because I’ve been an online client before, and while it was rare that I needed something, a prompt response was always welcome.

For my online clients, I actually have a filter on my e-mail that alerts me when one of them has e-mailed me. Doing this allows me to make sure that their questions are answered first.

This is critically important for me, because I get anywhere from 50-100 e-mails daily. Some of them are important, and some not so much. But if I can quickly identify and answer questions for my online clients, then I know they’ll get better results.

The Client is Right – 99% of the Time

This is something that’s taken me quite a while to get my head around. At the end of the day I’m a kid that came from very humble beginnings, grew up in the country, and honestly cared more about the people around me than I did about myself.

This thought process has carried over into my life as an entrepreneur as well. I want to take great care of people, as I know there’s nothing more important than raving fans.

But one hard lesson I’ve learned a long the way is that some people don’t have this same outlook on life.

It doesn’t matter how nice you are, how great your training is, or the lengths you’re willing to bend to please them.

Some people will never be happy with you or your service.

It’s probably only 1% of the people out there, or even less. But these people simply cannot be pleased.

You only accept EFT for payment? Well, they only pay by check.

You’re willing to let them out of a contract early? Well, they want their contract cancelled and money back.

A quote I heard a few years back goes like this:

“Don’t confuse my kindness for weakness.”

I’m all for taking great care of my clients, but at the same time, I’m not going to let someone take advantage of me.

The worst part is, it’s not always a black-and-white situation. But hopefully you don’t have to come across this client too often before you know the difference.


With almost 7 years of online training experience, I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I can tell you the process gets better on a daily basis, and I know my clients are getting amazing results.

If you’ve ever thought about working with me as a coach, please check out my services page to learn more about the process.

1K LogoAnd if you’d like to use a step-by-step system to get your own online training business off the ground, I’d highly recommend Jonathan Goodman’s 1k Extra program. If you get only one online client,
the course will have paid for itself.

I’m going through it right now and I’ve picked up some invaluable info that I’ll be applying to my own set-up. I’m huge believer in the Kaizen principle, or simply getting a little bit better everyday.

This course has definitely helped.

That’s it for today, but I hope this post has helped you learn more about the online personal training business. Next week, we’re going to spend some time talking about semi-private coaching, and how we use that model to make IFAST the best that it can be.

Have a great week!

All the best



Leave Comment

  1. awesome post Mike. Got a lot of ideas form your RTS PDF Client starter. I’ve done online video training for a little while and I really love it.
    You and Jon Goodman…..are awesome.

  2. As someone who’s had an online training business for 10 years…then you have the client who after all you’ve tried to do for them threatens to post a nasty online review of your business….

    Yep, listen to your gut instinct. You’ll never please or be able to help some people, no matter how much you try. It used to get to me but now I just realize there will always be these people out there. It’s just an unfortunate fact of life. And I can choose to stay the heck away from them 🙂

    • Agreed 100% here Sue. I do everything in my power to create a positive training experience for my online and offline clients, but some people simply cannot be pleased.

    • Scott – You can either go to a specific company that takes care of this, through your bank, or I actually do it through my shopping cart software (Infusionsoft).

  3. Do you find that the most successful online clients are the ones who are self-motivated? It seems like just having an appointment with me keeps my in person clients consistent. I’ve never dabbled in online training, so I’m curious as to how well clients stick with the program. Thanks!

    • Sara – No doubt about it, people who are a bit more intrinsically motivated will do better in an online training environment.

      However, the simple fact that they’re paying someone to write their programs (and report back to them) goes a long way with regards to accountability.

      Great question!

  4. Question. What platform do you use for your online video libraries for online training? Is there a file sharing site you use that has password protection built in or did you make your own? Dropbox is extremely expensive…

  5. I am providing online personal training services as well and was wondering if you guys do liability forms with clients with online personal training. Thank you.

  6. People generally like those coaches wherein they can feel they are being treated well, such as those coaches who show genuine concern and make the extra effort to make the program very well with the client. Sounds like online personal training is a good deal aside from drawbacks that you’ve mentioned. Thanks for the post, Mike!

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