Are You Qualified to Be An Online Trainer?


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Online training is taking the fitness industry by storm. But many professional coaches and trainers have some serious reservations regarding this online trainer trend, and what it could possibly mean for the value of a highly effective professional trainer in our fitness industry.

Simply put, many new trainers and fitness hobbyists jump into trying to become an online trainer too soon, and some without even the most baseline of credentials.

But by far the biggest mistake that is seen across the board in ineffective online trainers is this: inexperience and skipping an in-depth assessment and evaluation process that not only helps ensure sustainable results for clients, but also keeps them safe and injury free during the training process itself .

When it comes to ensuring quality care in our industry no matter the medium in which it is delivered, we must appreciate and adhere to a few cardinal rules of online training. Instead of boring you with the mundane details, I’m going to break down the story of Jason, a young fitness professional brand new to the online space.

I’ve based Jason’s character on many young and aspiring online coaches I’ve met throughout the years in our industry. It’s a cautionary tale. You can learn a thing or two from Jason and not be left making his same mistakes that have left his clients unhappy, unhealthy and no longer able to train.

Keep reading and take note! You have been warned.

Not Every Personal Trainer Should Be An Online Trainer

Jason was fresh out of community college. With an exercise-related  diploma, an internship, and an additional certification in hand… Jason was one of the good guys.

He was smart and ambitious. Best of all? Jason had a great work ethic. He was ready to make his mark on the fitness industry.

While many his high school buddies were still living in their parents’ basements and wondering what they should do with their lives, Jason was gainfully employed and gung ho.

He woke up early and worked hard to improve his craft.

Jason landed a job as a trainer at a big box gym. He got paid minimum wage for 20 hours a week, plus 30% of what the clients he landed paid for personal training.

So Jason made sure he hustled to “work the floor” to get clients.

But there was a problem.

Everyone was talking about online training and Jason was suffering from FOMO, the “fear of missing out” mentality.

His Instagram account displayed young jacked guys and nubile women flaunting their goodies to 300,000 followers and selling cheap workouts.

The picture was clear. What Jason needed to do was to get jacked, show everyone how jacked he is, and sell programs online. Voila, this was the key to living the high life of a fitness entrepreneur.

His next step was a no-brainer then. Jason should work with as many online clients as quickly as possible.

The Ethical Dilemmas of Online Coaching

Jason began reaching out to everyone he knew to find online coaching clients. He used the same hustle he did on the gym floor. And it seemed to pay off… For a while.

One of Jason’s new clients was Chuck, 55 years young. Unfortunately, Chuck was in a car accident 18 months and shattered his hip. Many invasive surgeries later, he relearned how to walk. These days he wears a permanent lift in his right shoe to balance out different leg-lengths and battles issues in his ankles, knees, back, and hips.

Still, Jason was eager to get started. He bypassed Par-Q’s and waivers because he didn’t know you needed them for online training.

He didn’t run a movement screen online because he’d never done one in person.

With the best intentions, Jason started creating Chuck’s workouts. They included squats, hinge movements, rows, and the like.

Chuck took his workouts to the gym. All was great until it wasn’t.

He was too sore after workouts and walked with a limp. He dumped weight onto his right leg with each step,  sending pain shooting up his ankle and knee to his hip and back. He tried massage, took pain meds, and pushed through. He wanted to give the young guy’s workouts a shot, but the pain became unbearable.

Three weeks in, Chuck quit the program.

Confused, Jason wondered what went wrong. Maybe it was Chuck’s fault because he was lazy.

What Actually Went Wrong & What To Do About It

Jason made two of the most common mistakes in the book.

  1. He took online clients before he was a good coach.
  2. He worked with clients outside his wheelhouse.

The first step to becoming a good online trainer is becoming an excellent in-person coach.

Read that again…

The first step to becoming a good online trainer is becoming an excellent in-person coach.

This takes:

  1. Experience in the gym
  2. Working with a variety of clients of all ages and ability levels
  3. An understanding of your limitations.

In other words: you need need to master the basics.

More than each of those, this takes a track-record of success with your clients, yourself, or both.

In the gym, you need a foundation of mobility, stability, and strength to before diving into advanced training methods designed for elite athletes. Jumping into these methods yourself before you’re ready is bad. Using them on clients is worse. It can lead to poor results and injury.

In business, you need more of the same: a foundation of coaching skills and experience in the trenches before going all in with online training. Those who succeed without mastering these basics are exceptions. Don’t take the risk.

Put in the work in the gym first. Understand how to help different types of clients, the basics of running your business, and build your skills in the trenches before going online.

Don’t Work With Clients Outside Your Scope of Practice

The second mistake Jason made was working with a client far outside his scope. He could have done real damage to Chuck and opened the door to a costly lawsuit. No evaluation and no Par-Q are what lawyers like to call “gross professional negligence.”

It’s common for people with severe injuries to seek personal trainers. And the number is likely to grow as online training goes mainstream.

Clients like Chuck shouldn’t be trained online. The risks outweigh the rewards. You are better off referring them to a rehabilitation professional locally like a physical therapist.

Exercise technique is always important, but the optimal technique is crucial when refining movement patterns with injured clients. Subtle changes in technique can be the difference between an exercise being the perfect rehabilitation tool or a first class ticket to pain and dysfunction.

You risk injury to the client and damage to your own reputation.

A Better Approach For The Online Trainer

Success as an online trainer requires you to be a great coach and have an online presence. In that order, too. When done correctly, you can scale, make more money, and help more people. And you can say goodbye for working long hours for low pay.

But this requires skill, time, and a plan.

Instead of trying to become the next Instagram superstar, build your base.

Don’t make the mistake most young trainers do and jump online before you’ve helped people in the gym.

Patience and experience are key. Build form a solid foundation of basic coaching skills. Jumping into online training too soon is like training with advanced plyometrics before you’ve mastered your bodyweight: a recipe for failure.

Put in the work. Build your experience.

And when you’re ready, consider a hybrid training model. This allows you to train your clients both in-person and online to give you the freedom you crave yet provide your clients with the expert coaching and guidance they deserve.

In the end, you both win: you’ll achieve financial flexibility and freedom in your schedule while your clients becoming self-sufficient in looking, moving, and feeling better.

About The Author
eric bach online trainer

Eric Bach, BS, CSCS is a strength coach, fitness educator, writer and mentor to personal trainers who want to launch online businesses.  Eric’s passion is on simplifying fitness and business, helping his clients get great results through the ruthless execution of the basics. For more details on smart and sustainable online coaching, pick up your free guide on How to Build a Six-Figure Hybrid Coaching Business.


Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.


  1. Eric October 18, 2017 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Thanks for having me, John. Hopefully, we can push the industry forward with this message.

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Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.


Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.