Online personal trainers give workout advice via email
Published Tuesday, July 26, 2005. By Tara Parker-Pope, The Wall Street Journal
For some busy people, the most effective piece of home exercise
equipment may be the computer.
A slew of online personal trainers and fitness programs are making
it easier to obtain expert advice without the hassle and expense
of a personal training session. Once a niche market that largely
involved prepackaged workout programs sold by gyms and fitness sites,
online training is evolving into more personalized advice, with
individualized training plans and regular feedback from some of
the biggest names in the fitness world.
On the Web, regular folks can now gain access to elite trainers,
such as Olympic runner Jeff Galloway, who hosts popular running
clinics around the country but also offers personal coaching via
email. Exercise guru Bob Greene, best known as Oprah Winfrey's personal
trainer, has created self-contained online training classes and
hopes to launch one-on-one email training early next year.
The biggest benefit of online training and e-coaching is the price.
A typical session with a personal trainer can cost from $50 to $75
an hour, but many online training programs cost as little as $5
to $10 a week. E-training also eliminates the hassle of scheduling
an appointment with a trainer, many of whom are already booked during
the most convenient training times.
Questions remain about whether the benefits of e-training can make
up for the loss of face-to-face interaction with an exercise expert.
Face-to-face exercise trainers not only monitor your form and progress,
but they also force you to stay committed to an exercise program
and prevent you from slacking off.
But a study this spring in the Journal of the American Medical
Association has boosted hopes among the exercise community that
online training can produce results. Researchers at Brown University
studied dieters who used Internet weight-loss programs, comparing
those who simply read information from Web sites with those who
received weekly email advice from behavioral therapists. In the
study, 45 percent of dieters who took part in structured programs
with continual contact and email feedback lost at least 5 percent
of their body weight, compared with 22 percent of those in the education-only
group. Logging on more frequently was associated with better weight
loss in both groups.
Online personal training involves one-on-one contact with a trainer
-- just as you get at the gym -- except all conversations are by
email. Exercisers check in with their trainers, update them on their
progress and injury status and receive feedback via email. Less-personal
options include music-filled workouts that can be downloaded to
an MP3 player, and other prepackaged exercise plans.
To find an online trainer, ask at your local gym if trainers there
offer e-coaching services. A Google search of "personal trainers"
and "online" kicks up dozens of potential trainers. If
you're looking for marathon or Ironman training or even coaching
for tennis or weight lifting, a more detailed search will turn up
Users of online training programs need to ask questions so they
know whether they are getting personal feedback directly from the
trainer or an assistant, or just a prepackaged workout. Users also
need to check out the credentials of their trainer. Look for certification
from the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org), the American
Council on Exercise (acefitness.org), or the National Strength and
Conditioning Association (nsca-lift.org).
Mr. Galloway, the Olympic runner and author of several books on
running, says users of his training program at www.jeffgalloway.com
start by answering a questionnaire about their fitness level and
exercise goals. After that, he gives them a customized training
schedule, and they are assigned a day of the week to check in by
email. The six-month program, which costs $249, is most effective
for those who check in regularly, says Mr. Galloway, because he
is able to identify potential training and injury problems before
they become serious. When coaching one client, a war veteran who
was training for the Marine Corps Marathon, Mr. Galloway says he
determined, via email, that the man was training too hard. He urged
him to slow down and incorporate more "walk breaks" in
"Some people have a particular race goal, but others are just
doing it for lifestyle reasons and need someone to pat them on the
back," says Mr. Galloway. "That pretty instant response
you can get on email is quite effective."
Mr. Greene, the personal trainer of Ms. Winfrey, hopes to begin
offering personalized Internet training by January. Although Mr.
Greene says he likely will take on some email clients, most users
will sign up with one of several trainers overseen by Mr. Greene.
For now, Mr. Greene offers prepackaged programs through his getwiththeprogram.org
and totalbodymakeover.com sites. For about $40, users can sign up
for 12-week courses based on Mr. Greene's techniques. New users
answer a questionnaire and are given one of several preset exercise
plans, depending on their fitness level and goals.
Mr. Greene says that although face-to-face training may always
be better for some clients, he believes others actually do better
with online training or prepackaged online workouts because it gives
them more flexibility in scheduling workouts, rather than trying
to work around a trainer's schedule.
Mr. Greene notes that the most important issue is chemistry, and
whether the trainer can relate to the challenges faced by the client,
whether it's a busy executive schedule or the unpredictable schedule
of a mother of three. "If they motivate you, then that's going
to be good chemistry," he says.
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