By adjusting how you communicate exercise prescription and correction, and implementing some practical guidelines, you can make virtual sessions as rewarding as your face-to-face ones writes PT and movement specialist Guillaume Tual.
- Many of the non-verbal cues we use when training clients in the gym can get lost when we train them remotely via screen
- This requires personal trainers to work harder at communicating exercise prescription and correction techniques
- There are a number of practical steps that PTs can take, in terms of lighting, camera placement, spacing and sound that can help them deliver professional training sessions from non-professional environments
- It’s not always possible to exactly replicate exercises used in the gym setting, so this presents the opportunity to train clients in new ways that use different tools and focus on bodyweight exercises.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the face of the fitness industry has changed significantly. Personal trainers and coaches have had to adapt in order to keep their businesses running. For many of us, the solution to the challenge posed by social isolation was to transition to delivering online sessions.
Although running one-on-one or group sessions online has helped – even saved – many businesses, we have seen the rise of new challenges, especially when it comes to cueing exercises and correcting technique.
What is missing with online training?
The most important and most obvious point is that regardless of how big a screen you are using, and how high the bandwidth and video resolution are, Zoom (or any other video conferencing apps) cannot replace the cues humans use when they communicate.
At least half of the cues we use are non-verbal. As a personal trainer, think of how many times you demonstrate an exercise and correct your client through the use of touch. In the gym, when your clients watch you explain an exercise, they get information from your hand gestures, posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, body orientation and even the surrounding noises and light. We can also add the olfactory cues, primarily with pheromones (hormones secreted outside the body) that our subconscious brain registers to identify social organisation, danger and status.
“Think of how many times you demonstrate an exercise and correct your client through the use of touch”
That’s a lot of extra information that gets lost with online training.
When training clients virtually, the usual 3-dimensional environment is now very much 2-D. This means that you’re going to have to work extra hard to get your point across and deliver the best training experience possible. If you have done some video sessions already, you have probably found that it is even more exhausting than ‘real life’ sessions. This is because of the extra cognitive processing (i.e. more thinking) necessary to fill all the missing cues of the usual face-to-face session.
From the client’s point of view, the benefits of having someone physically nearby who motivates them, makes them feel safe, and encourages them with clapping and high-fives, disappear when they train with you via screen. Despite this, however, you still have the opportunity to create a safe, inclusive, fun and motivating environment for your clients.
Staying professional and effective
Although you don’t have to head to your gym to run your online sessions, you still need to deliver a professional standard of training from home. To help do so, you should:
- Ensure you send the correct link in the client’s session invite
- Send a reminder to them the day before their session (routines have changed for everybody and it’s all too easy to get days mixed up)
- Check with your client that they will have enough space to move safely without risk of hitting furniture or walls
- Check that they aren’t likely to get overly distracted by running children or barking dogs while they train!
- Request that your client position their camera/laptop at around waist height
- Ask them to ensure they have sufficient light shining on them, but not from behind them (i.e. avoid having windows behind them) which can cause silhouetting
- If running a multi-participant class or small group training session, ensure everyone’s microphone is muted in order to avoid echoing
- Ensure your own room is well lit (with light shining on you rather than from behind you)
- Make sure your own environment is clean, tidy and quiet, and that you have everything you need to run the session – including your own water bottle!
“Ensure your client has sufficient light on them, but not behind them, which can cause silhouetting”
It is worth taking a couple of extra minutes to do a quick trial to make sure all the settings work well enough for you to run a smooth session and that the environment is safe for your client.
When training via screen, you won’t be able to fully replicate all of the exercises you have done with your clients at the gym, but you do have the opportunity to train them in new ways that use different tools and focus on bodyweight exercises.
Depending on the equipment available, you may be able to maintain some gym exercises, but remember that cueing will be much more difficult. For this reason, it’s not the best time to experiment with complex new exercises, as technique and execution tips can easily get lost on the way. What may seem obvious to you, won’t necessarily be for your clients, so be prepared to spend more time when adding a progression or showing a new drill.
When it comes to performing an exercise, you must ensure you use a clear vocabulary and demonstrate it from different angles. Don’t hesitate to get your clients to mirror you and use their hands/fingers to feel the movement as it gives them good sensory feedback. Ask them to share what they feel and be present (i.e. don’t just stare at the screen while they do their reps!). Depending on the type of exercises you are delivering, it may be useful to follow up by sending them a pre-recorded video of certain drills and a recap of the key points. You may already have these recorded, or you can send them links to relevant YouTube videos.
If you decide you need equipment that your clients don’t have, try to be creative. Bottles, cushions, bags, sliding objects, brooms… the list is endless and improvising with these things can add some fun to the session. Your clients will appreciate that you are trying to go above and beyond to create an uplifting yet effective session.
Bring your A game to your plan B
There’s no question that most fitness professionals are ‘people people’ who thrive on face-to-face interactions. While online may not be your preferred method of delivering training, the situation does present the opportunity to shake things up and show your versatility as a trainer.
This is a hard time for many of your clients, and you have a huge role to play in helping them stick to a healthy routine. You’ll have to work harder to communicate your exercise prescription and technique correction, but with patience and enthusiasm you can make virtual sessions as rewarding as your face-to-face ones.
‘Gee’ is a Sydney-based movement and sport conditioning specialist with over a decade’s industry experience. As a personal trainer and Animal Flow instructor, he is passionate about helping people improve their overall health and fitness through movement at his Sydney-based studio Peak Movement. peakmovement.com.au / facebook.com/peakmovement / instagram.com/peak_movement_aus