Embracing virtual fitness is key to longevity in the PT industry

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It’s no secret that a digital transformation is underway in the fitness industry – and has been for some time now – but instead of seeing it as a threat, personal trainers (PTs) must look to evolve along with the latest innovations, is the view of The Training Room, the UK’s leading fitness education company.  

Advancements in technology have led to a variety of new gadgets and digital trends hitting the fitness market in recent years, as well as alternative methods to perform and prescribe exercise. Probably the most pertinent to the world of personal training is the rise of the online fitness coach, as Darren Doak, National Field Manager for The Training Room (TTR), explains: “The rise of virtual fitness is certainly the biggest threat to the livelihood and income of the traditional, gym-based PT, and a new breed of online fitness coach has made the PT industry more competitive than ever – but it also presents opportunities if embraced.”

One company looking to take hold of the ‘virtual coaching’ space is Peloton, which, since its UK launch in 2018, has been trying to impress potential customers with its cool, pop-up stores and shiny, big-budget ads. With the tag line, “a private indoor cycling studio in your home,” the at-home, on-demand indoor cycling company gives exercisers a vast selection of live and recorded classes with Peloton’s elite, qualified instructors – making it possible to go from sofa to spinning in just a few steps. 

As you would expect, many other companies would like a slice of the pie, from fitness retailers to fitness clubs. In April this year, Anytime Fitness, one of the UK’s largest fitness operators, launched its ‘Anytime Coaching’ app, which enables its PTs to communicate and share bespoke workouts with their clients. Likewise, Reebok and Gym Cube have partnered with the Register of Exercise Professionals to develop an app which enables UK fitness professionals to earn money as online coaches while upskilling. 

With gamification another rapidly emerging fitness trend – and an area that’s tipped to experience significant growth – Nintendo, too, is trying to get in on the action, with their game, Fitness Boxing for Nintendo Switch, which has a (fully customisable) virtual trainer giving you instructions as you complete the exercises – while also offering you the customary perks of a video game, such as unlocking outfits for your trainer to wear as you hit certain milestones.  

Recognising the digital disruption that’s occurring, TTR has taken measures to ensure it provides trainees with the very best education available, enabling them to succeed in this fast-paced and ever-changing industry. By beginning to integrate ‘digital’ subjects into its PT courses, TTR’s aim is to equip its students with the most up-to-date skills and insights, while remaining at the forefront of fitness training. 

Most recently, TTR has added a section to its syllabuses on ‘how to advertise yourself on social media and the importance of marketing yourself online’ – which has proven both valuable and popular with students on its Level 2 and 3 PT courses. 

With a goal to create confident, robust and versatile PTs, TTR also encourages its expert tutors to suggest ways they could add value to its courses – meaning other digital topics are sure to appear in future teaching materials, as new technologies continue to emerge and influence the way we exercise. 

Darren comments: “Everything is going to be about tech moving forwards. Trying to fight against it is like trying to hold back the tide coming in. It’s impossible to do. Tech is coming thick and fast, so if you can’t advance yourself and get yourself up to speed with virtual and online training, and understand how to build a market around it, then you could struggle. 

“Traditional PTs have to adapt themselves to achieve longevity in the business and need to get involved with virtual personal training to have the best chance of success moving forward.”  

In TTR’s opinion, virtual and gym-based personal training should not be seen as two separate and competing entities, but simply as different aspects of the same profession, which – if embraced – can be beneficial to all PTs, as Darren explains: “In my view, there’s no such thing as an online and offline PT – they’re all just PTs, giving advice and coaching people towards their goals; you can do that online or in the gym. Instead of seeing them at opposite ends of the spectrum, at TTR, we believe that virtual and traditional personal training can greatly complement each other, and by looking at the positives on both sides, all PTs, no matter their age or experience, can identify areas of the online and offline worlds which can benefit their practice.”  

Darren adds: “If you’re a gym-based PT, a good way to strengthen and grow your client base is by offering them the option to engage with you online, through closed, community groups on Facebook to live, streamed classes. Likewise, as an online PT, you can never usually get any of that individual, face-to-face contact as you would with a person one-to-one in a gym, so if you can use your online presence to drive demand for ‘real-life’ classes or boot camps and get several of your clients together at one time, that’s an additional perk you can be offering – and the potential for further income and exposure.”

According to TTR, it all boils down to that famous phrase, “survival of the fittest.” Those who ignore ‘virtual’ versus those who embrace it. For the PTs willing to adopt and adapt to the latest tech innovations and turn the threat of online coaching into an opportunity, the rewards are there for the taking, and it is TTR’s mission to support them on that journey through world-class education.   

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