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How to Vet a Personal Trainer or Nutritionist You’ve Never Met

Photo: Pond 5

Photo: Pond5

You haven’t been able to find a personal trainer you connect with. There are no registered dietitians within an hour’s drive of your house. You want to get the expert guidance you need, but you’re just not that crazy about your options.

In the past, you could either settle or go without, but thanks to a vast and growing virtual community, you can now get much of the help you need online. In efforts to broaden their client bases and reach more people, many fitness and nutrition professionals are now counseling clients in other locations — many of whom they’ve never even met.

“The advancement of online personal training eliminates the barriers of the four physical walls of the gym, studio or fitness center,” says Ted Vickey, Senior Consultant on Innovation and Emerging Technology for the American Council on Exercise, an organization that credentials personal trainers and group fitness instructors. This removes distance — and sometimes cost — from the equation. According to a recent study from IDEA Health & Fitness Association, a trade group for fitness pros, 20 percent of trainers offered online training in 2013 (up from eight percent in 2008).

Cyber Selection

Many big-name trainers, such as Roger Lawson, also known as “Rog Law“, and JC Deen, do most of their training online, enabling them to help a larger audience. But it’s not necessarily about volume. These web-based trainers only take on a few clients at a time so that they can give them the attention they deserve.

Deen started virtual training because “it’s a chance to work with clientele anywhere in the world. It’s lucrative from the standpoint that you don’t have any overhead, and you can work anywhere with an Internet connection.” He says it’s also an option for him to work with clients who don’t need much in-person supervision, but still need the guidance and accountability. If that sounds anything like you, consider these tips to get the most from your remote coach.  

Make It Work

Just as you need to carefully select a real-life personal trainer or nutritionist, there are several factors to consider for your best relationship with a long-distance health professional.

1. Do your homework.

“Someone with very little nutrition education can legally call themselves a nutrition counselor, so it’s important to find someone with the RD behind their name.”

If you walked into a gym and asked for a personal trainer, it’s usually safe to assume your burpee-loving taskmaster has been properly vetted by the powers that be. (Always confirm your trainer’s qualification and areas of expertise regardless though!) You want to make sure they are certified by one of the major credentialing organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Council on Strength & Fitness or the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

The same holds true for online strength coaches, personal trainers and running coaches. “Most online trainers also teach at an actual location,” says Tom Ivicevic, director of media relations for the AFAA, so you can check in with their training facility as a reference. If they don’t, both ACE and NASM also have searchable databases where you can verify a trainer’s credentials.

Searching for a Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist will yield results for “someone who has had extensive education in food and nutrition science,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, R.D., who serves as the national spokesperson for industry group Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Problem is: “Someone with very little nutrition education can legally call themselves a nutrition counselor, so it’s important to find someone with the RD behind their name,” Cohn says.

If you know the R.D.’s zip code, you can search the AND’s database to confirm his or her certification. A nutritionist’s certification lasts for life, although they must complete 75 continuing education units every five years. ACE, NASM and the other major accreditation organizations have similar continuing education requirements to keep your trainer up-to-date on the latest fitness trends and research.     

Vet Online Trainer

Photo: Pond5

2. Check in regularly.

The level of self-accountability needs to be higher… “it is the driving force in this type of relationship.”

So you’ve found a qualified professional with the right resume, personality and coaching style for you — now what? While the professional you’re working with is a major part of the equation, these virtual relationships take a bit more work on your part, too.

Dedicated trainers want their clients to schedule review sessions — and yes, this is when they’re already seeing you at least once a week. “Regular check-ins via email or Skype are important,” says Leanne Shear, an ACE-certified personal trainer and founder of Uplift Studios, a New York-based women’s gym. “This way, my clients can ask me questions about things they don’t understand, and I can demonstrate moves if I need to.”

Washington, D.C.-based R.D. Anne Mauney has clients set three specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (S.M.A.R.T.) goals at the end of each session. “I use regular check-ins between sessions to discuss over email how these are going,” she says.

RELATED: 4 Things Your Personal Trainer Wished You’d Do

3. Dig deeper.

You’ll need to do some soul searching to determine if you can make this type of arrangement work. Excuses such as “my trainer can never meet with me” or “I got stuck in traffic” are no longer an option.  

“[Virtual training] is more advisable for someone who has at least a basic level of fitness and knows their way around the weight room,” says Shear. “I don’t think I’d advise virtual training for a total newbie, unless in-person training was completely prohibitive. It’s hard enough to show up both literally and figuratively when a trainer is standing over you in person, so it’s a much bigger challenge when they’re not.”

The level of self-accountability needs to be higher, according to Cohn, “because it is the driving force in this type of relationship.” If you know you’re the type of person who zones out during conference calls, you’ll need to work harder to be mindful during your sessions. Pinpoint your potential distractions, such as flashing notifications on your computer screen or smartphone, and shut those off before your mind starts wandering.

While working with someone virtually might present additional challenges, the possibility of finding a better match than you might be able to in your hometown is an exciting development for both clients and fitness professionals.

“The new use of technology in the fitness industry will be a game changer,” says Vickey. “Trainers who adopt will prosper, those that don’t might not.”

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