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Working With an Online Fitness Coach

Working out with a personal trainer is an effective way to get in great shape and stay motivated to exercise. Still, not everyone can afford a personal trainer, or find the time to meet with one.

An alternative to a personal trainer is an online fitness coach. This is a convenient way to get in shape on your own, but with guidance that's just a click of a mouse or a phone call away.

"Whether you want to train for the Ironman [Triathlon] or just start an aerobic program, there's an online fitness coach out there to help you design a personalized fitness routine that takes into account your goals and fitness level," says Gregory Florez, CEO of www.fitadvisor.com, a national corporate health coaching service in Salt Lake City, and a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

One drawback to using an online fitness coach is that you won't have someone at your side during your workout, watching to see that you are doing the exercises correctly or providing the motivation to keep moving. If you decide to utilize an online trainer, you should already be familiar with proper technique for weight training, stretching, and cardiovascular exercise.

Keep in mind that the personal training industry is largely unregulated, so anyone can claim to be a personal trainer. With Internet fitness coaching, especially, the burden is on the consumer to check the person out before signing up with a service. With this in mind, here are Mr. Florez's suggestions for picking an Internet coach who delivers.

Ask key questions

You can find an online fitness trainer by doing an Internet search; simply type in "online fitness" or "online personal training." After you contact a site, one of two things will happen: Someone will call or e-mail you back with more information, or you'll gain entrance to the site to see samples of training information you'll receive if you sign on.

In short order, you can expect to have a telephone consultation with a personal trainer. For that conversation, you'll want to ask these questions:

  • Are you certified? Qualified trainers are certified by ACE or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), says Mr. Florez.

  • How long have you been a trainer? "They should have five years of practical, real-world experience coaching people just like you," he says.

  • How many clients have you trained? Since Internet fitness has been around for about five years, 100 is a good benchmark, says Mr. Florez.

  • How does the site work? Will the trainer e-mail and contact you regularly? Is he or she available for questions? Can you talk by phone?

Finally, you'll want to ask the trainers for client references you can contact.

Get started

After you've chosen your trainer, you'll need to do several things to help ensure your fitness success.

The first is to be honest with your trainer about the fitness strategies or programs you've tried in the past that did or didn't work for you. You'll also need to be up front about your current health status, including such things as whether you're pregnant or have a chronic illness. Also, mention your motivation level and how much time you can devote to working out. Consult with your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program.  Consult with a physical therapist if you are currently experiencing or rehabilitating from an injury.

"You have to paint a picture of who you are and where you're at to help them help you," says Mr. Florez. "Moreover, if your health changes or you go through a major life change, let your coach know so he or she can adjust your program accordingly."

Watch for red flags

"One of the benefits of working with an online coach is that it creates a workout buddy, somebody who makes you accountable to yourself and keeps you on track," says Mr. Florez. "But if your trainer fails to get back to you promptly or the program isn't working for you, you may need to try someone else."

You also should be wary if the trainer wants you to use supplements, such as steroids, to boost your training. It is also important to beware if the exercises recommended by your trainer are causing pain other than expected muscle soreness.