About 24 minutes into a personal training session with Matt Delaney, the National Manager for Innovation at Equinox, I was toast. I hadn’t expected to be sitting on my living room floor dripping sweat like this. I’m not entirely sure if he could tell how much the session was getting to me, watching my squat form from his home about an hour’s drive away via through my laptop's webcam. He could tell me, however, that my form needed work due to a strength discrepancy between my left and right side. He made sure to point it out—using a small drawing tool in the platform we connected on—that my left hip was much higher than my right at the bottom of my range of motion.
Like many people, I’ve tried a slew of different approaches to my fitness routine since the global pandemic shut down normal life. I’ve conquered Instagram Live workouts, paid for a month of unlimited digital streaming of The Class, and hit the road for way too many runs to count. I went through a phase of walking every morning, and even tried at-home group fitness classes for a few sessions.
While I couldn’t get on board with the $25-a-pop at-home group fitness experience over the free stuff I was being served on Instagram, I was curious about at-home, digital personal training. I trained with Delaney a couple years back and had a great experience—so my curiosity led me back to his inbox.
I had finally found a groove with my eating, I was feeling strong, and was ready to take my training to the next level. I wanted to know: Is digital training really worth the splurge? And can it give you similar results as an IRL session?
What to Ask Before You Train
Before you get into a digital personal training experience, it’s important that you have a solid understanding of what you’re looking for and ask a few essential questions.
1. What do I want from my experience? There are a plethora of options out there, from coaches offering basic plans to the full-on one-on-one experience. While you may think you just want some guidance on what exercises you should do on which day (i.e. programming), you may learn as you go that you actually want something a little more personal. That’s okay, says Lacee Lazoff, a kettlebell expert and independent trainer.
“I’ve had clients that come on board with me using a basic plan, but then realize that they want more,” says Lazoff. “Be realistic about what your expectations are. With one-on-one training, you’ll have someone watching your every move, more connection, and for that you’ll pay a higher price point.”
While an independent personal trainer may have the basic tools to help you meet your goals, other bigger companies are pushing into the space with more advanced technology that can take the training process to the next level—Equinox, for instance, just launched a digital platform called Variis for remote training sessions. In my work with Delaney, every movement we talked about had a corresponding video example he’d show before we got going. Plus, he could then take the programming and put it right into my Equinox member app.
2. What certifications do they have? This is important to ask of anyone that you’re willing to entrust with your wellness and safety. “Every individual has different specialities, and you want to make sure to ask them what organizations they’ve worked with in the past,” suggests Delaney. “Maybe that means they typically work with kettlebells, or they focus on weight loss, Olympic lifts, or another field. It’s also important to check in how long they’ve been doing this for.”
3. What equipment do I have at my disposal? A good trainer should be able to help you get a great workout regardless of what tools you have at your disposal, says Delaney. Of course, if you’re trying to PR Olympic lifts without a heavy barbell, that’s another story. But the right person will be able to help you prep and be in a better position to get that done, when and if we the go-ahead to get back into a gym.
“You can definitely build a foundation at home,” adds Delaney. “This way, when you get back to a club or facility, you can expedite that process. Now is a great time to fine tune your skills, make those patterns as strong as they can be.”
What to Expect From Your Virtual Personal Training Experience
Regardless of where you’re working out, a great trainer will kick things off with an initial consultation and movement screen. During this, you’ll want to vocalize what your goals are and again, be specific about what tools you have at your disposal.
“The last thing you want is someone who just asks ‘Hey, do you have a dumbbell?’ and then says ‘Okay, we’re good to go for 9 a.m.’,” says Ben Lauderdykes, New York City-based trainer at The Fhitting Room. “Although this is in a virtual setting, it should still be a personal, tailored program for where you are right now, and take you forward to where you want to be. Not just an hour of babysitting.”
In my experience with Delaney, I took a survey before we even hopped on the phone the first time. Asking me questions about everything from what my movement looks like on the regular to what I’m eating on a day-to-day basis, it was helpful for us both for me to dive into the specifics. This made it even easier to home in on where I could make some changes.
The actual training experience should mimic what you would experience in an in-person session. You should expect your trainer to give you their undivided attention, and to give you suggestions to accomplish whatever goals you set forward. And if you’re worried about space? Well, that’s a non-issue, says Denzel Allen, a coach and kettlebell expert based in California.
“You can get a great workout with little space with the right trainer,” says Allen. "If your goals are quantifiable, whether that’s with strength or on the scale, make sure your trainer is keeping track of your numbers to follow your progress and ensure you’re progressing in the right manner.”
The big question: Should the rate be the same or different than an in-person experience? That depends on who you’re talking to and what they’re offering. According to Lazoff, there’s a huge range of what any type of one-on-one session may cost you, ranging from $25 to $150 (and beyond).
“I think we’re seeing trainers, regardless of where they may be located, pricing their sessions with respect to the clients geographic location,” says Lazoff. “Someone in Kansas City likely wouldn’t pay the same to train with me as someone in New York. Have an upfront conversation about where you’re at and what you’re willing to budget for the experience.”
Should You Try Virtual Personal Training Yourself?
Right now, fitness looks different for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who has the financial means to get moving and wants to take your training to the next level, there’s something to be said for the personalized advice you can get from a professional.
In my first session with Delaney, I realized that the types of workouts I was doing before weren’t going to get me to my big goals. And those aims won’t change whether or not I can get back into a gym sometime soon.
“I don’t think anything in this industry will exist purely physical anymore,” he says. “Now, physical and virtual have to live together. Now, we’re aiming to bring individual’s training beyond four walls, and marry these things in a way that won’t go away and will only get stronger. There’s no excuses, no commute. That’s the future of what this business is going to look like, not just for us, but for everyone.”
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