Hiring the Right Online Trainer

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If Only There Were Tinder For Trainers And Clients...

All right. History lesson. Way back in the year 2005, Roman joined a small group of forward-thinkers who brought online training to the fitness landscape. Of course, online training is now a powerhouse service, the blood that courses through many fitness businesses. It has even spawned its own certifications for trainers. And with the COVID-19 virus forcing closure of in-person training, it’s now taken over the industry. The online training market has now flooded with online training. And John was one of the very first to ever do it.

The full story is worth the read, but here’s the synopsis.

The Origins of Online Training

Back in the days, the best days, because 2000’s emo music was still popular, John was writing for T-nation. And T-nation paid him $300 for each article he wrote. Not too shabby for a day’s work. Anyways, so I guess some dude just emails him and asks for a program. And John wrote this beauty a program. The dude does the program, checks in for follow-ups, all the present-day standard procedures for online training. Then, John realizes he forgot to ask for compensation. In what would become a historical moment for online training pricing strategy, when the client asked John how much the month’s work cost, he replied, “Well, I get paid $300 for an article, so…. $300.” Fifteen years later people are paying to send shirtless pics to strangers all over the globe. Man, I love a good origin story.

Today there are lots of incredible online trainers. But, for years, online training seemed reserved for the innovators, the Romans and Jon Goodmans of the world.

But now the COVID-19 virus has struck upon us. And whether you’re in the future and it’s all passed, or still in the midst of the pandemic, I’m sure you’ve noticed the uptick in online training. Out of necessity, brick-and-mortar gyms have launched into a service they’ve resisted for years, streaming classes online, or providing a myriad of remote services.

Trainers now need to provide a service they may have never done before. And so, online training services have flooded the market like never before. Fuck, 

In other words, the fitness industry has been flipped on its head, with so many trainers scrambling to learn new skills to transfer their business online.

And, as a consumer of online training, you’re probably left wondering, how the fuck do I choose who to hire as a coach? Fuck, there are so many online trainers somebody should really make a trainer-client app like Tinder. Or, maybe Bumble—the client should have to message first. There’s a business opportunity for anybody who wants to run with it.

Until someone gets on that, here are some elements to consider when hiring an online trainer. Think of this as a checklist, a la Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto. With a flooded market, there’s no reason to jump into the first program that pops up on your Instagram feed. You have the whole wide world in front of you. 

Ensure The Trainer’s Background Aligns With Your Goals

In online training, the whole world of clients is suddenly opened up to the trainers. They can—to rehash an annoyingly used term—focus on their “niche.”  With in-person training, you’re confounded to the clients within a certain radius of your gym. But with online training, you can seek out the exact archetype you want to work with. For the client, it’s no different. Before, your options were held back by trainers within your vicinity. Now, the whole world is available. If your goal is to lose the last few pounds, don’t hire a trainer who works with beginner clients. Find a more specialized trainer with lots of experience in contest prep. Maybe your goal goes beyond fitness, and you’re looking for a coach that’s undergone a conflict resolution certification. If your goal is to become more athletic, find a trainer with an athletic performance background. Fuck, you might as well narrow it down to the sport you’re training for. 

Niche down your search, and find somebody who provides exactly what you’re looking for.

Hire a Trainer Who Trained Online Before We All Had To

Of course, lots of the skills from in-person training transfer to online training. But, there’s a steep learning curve in the processes online training requires. The weekly check-ins, the delivery of programming, the streamlining of teaching exercises. These take time to learn. When I first started doing online training, I had my aunt and sister “join” for free in order to work out those kinks. Finding someone who has gone through these growing pains already, who has a streamlined process, will make your experience as smooth as possible. Hiring a trainer scrambling to learn it all right now is inviting technological, communication, and other unnecessary logistical roadblocks.

One simple way to check this box is to look for trainers who’ve gone through Jon Goodman’s Online Trainer Academy. This certification course not only goes super in-depth into the nuts and bolts of helping build better bodies specifically in a remote format, but it also shows the trainer is invested in online training themselves. More than likely, training online is a large part of their business, and this investment shows they care about the unique tribulations with online training are working to provide a better online service.

If you’re a trainer looking to distinguish yourself in the online format, I highly recommend it. I completed the course back in 2018, and I still constantly refer to the resources, especially the textbook.

And if you’re uncertain, The Online Trainer Academy team is giving away a free book to educate the whole field about the fundamentals of online training.

Find a Trainer You’d Enjoy Hanging Out With

Beyond the training aspect, you’ll likely talk with them on the phone, plan out your training week together, and send them pictures of yourself half-naked. Inevitably you’ll drift into other aspects of life, and talk beyond training. 

Personally, this is what I’ve loved and hated most about online training. The clients—I work with teenage hockey players—who I’ve connected with have become like younger brothers. Honestly, they’ve got the exercise stuff figured out, and we’ve moved our discussion to what books to read, how to have hard conversations with family, and even into politics. Our weekly meetings have gone well past the time allotted because we enjoy shooting the shit. The relationship has depended not on my training knowledge, but on our compatibility. 

When you hire an online trainer, ask yourself, “Is this someone I’ll enjoy talking to every week?” For a client-trainer relationship to be successful, it requires honesty, and to some extent vulnerable. Find someone who makes those steps natural.

For John, personality compatibility is a big part of what has driven his business. People want to hang out with him. Man, it’s a good thing that mother fucker is the coolest person over 30 probably in the western hemisphere. Craig Ballantyne, one of John’s friends and mentors, summed this up at an RFS Mastermind back in the day. “John’s model,” says Ballantyne, “is be a cool guy. If you’re a cool person and have interesting things to say, people will want to hang out with you.” John’s business, for years really, has just been him being himself. 

And so, when you choose your trainer, don’t just make sure it’s someone tolerable, make sure it’s someone you look forward to learning from, to conversing with. Ideally, what you learn from them will transcend the gym. In my online training experience, that’s when the fulfillment comes. Turning a scrawny kid into a beast of a hockey player is cool, but turning that beast into someone who stands for so much more than what they can do on the ice is exponentially better.

Of course, these bonus services won’t be listed when you sign up, but, if you follow the trainer closely, and get a good sense of who they are, you’ll know if they have more to offer you than just advice on deadlifts.

The situation globally has been uprooted by the pandemic. And honestly, we still don’t know what all of these aftereffects are, how they’ll change our lives for years to come. But, at least in the fitness industry, there’s one thing we do know: online training is here to stay. And, it’s growing with each passing month.

So if you’re thinking about investing in coaching services— and investing in your development is rarely a regrettable resolve—take the time and energy to find the right coach for you.

About the Author

David William Rosales is a writer and strength coach. He's the head trainer and editor at Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he's also the head editor for, the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he's pretty easy on the eyes.

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