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Virtual Programming Creates a New Reality for Trainers

While online classes have created avenues for clubs to stay connected to members, their rapid growth meant trainers had to adopt a new set of skills.

Virtual programming has had a range of benefits, including creating channels for clubs to maintain connections with members and building new revenue streams.

Now, it looks as though online workouts are here to stay. According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, the leading trends feature three new related entries that crack the top 20. Online training, which took the 26th spot in 2020, came in at number 1 for 2021. It displaced wearable technology, which had claimed the top slot in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Virtual training was number 6 and mobile exercise apps came in at number 12.

As virtual training has continued to gain traction, several certifying bodies—including the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT), the Personal Trainer Development Center (PTDC), and many others—have launched educational and other resources geared specifically to online instruction.

While it seems that the move to virtual training has been moving at light speed, what the shifting trends and increased certification organization resources also indicate is somewhat of a sea change for instructors. Moving from a live audience to being in front of a camera requires adapting to new skillsets, which holds challenges all its own.

Building Skills, Overcoming Challenges

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In some ways, the opportunity might be viewed as a double-edged sword.

“With many club doors still closed, streaming provides many trainers with the opportunity to remain connected to their valued members and clients, while also giving them much-desired work,” says Brynne Elliot, senior director of training at TRX Training. “For trainers, although streaming workouts may be out of their comfort zones—and certainly out of the norm—they need to adapt their skillsets to take advantage of the trend.”

In this case, she adds, trainers and other fitness professionals need to adapt the skills of engagement, connection, and motivation through the lens of the camera. They have to learn to balance exercise demonstration with equal amounts of time coming up into the camera lens and making eye contact and connecting, while harnessing a variety of coaching personalities and styles.

Especially important is “cueing,” or setting up the progression of the class or exercise through both voice and anticipatory imaging (i.e., cueing up what’s coming up next).

“At TRX, we refer to these as ‘swing thoughts to correct common faults,’ and our cueing formula for those is Name of the Exercise, Adjustment, Position, Start, Movement, Return, or NAPSMR,” Elliot explains. “When you adopt a formula in your cueing, your clients and members will get used to this order, follow your cadence, and more easily meet the objectives of the class or exercise.”

Engaging Members

Now more than ever, keeping strong connections to members is a critical skill. One key tool trainers can leverage to do that is social media.

“Social Media is now an indirect, mandated extension of the fitness experience,” says Angela Leigh, head of content, talent, and fitness programming at TRX Training. “The live pre- and post-class banter has now been replaced with Instagram story tags and responses, DMs, and posts about how fun, hard, and exciting class was with the trainer. This is low-hanging fruit for trainers to build a community with their subscribers, clients, and members outside their fitness session.”

Clearly, virtual programming is not going away. So how can trainers balance the in-person and virtual aspects that ongoing hybrid programming presents?

“This is a fun problem to solve as a trainer,” Leigh says. “Digital content curation provides a different framework for the trainer to showcase their programming prowess, especially if their sessions and classes will live on a platform. Each class a trainer creates tells a story and, more often than not, stories are what users connect with. Stories are the most powerful form of connection.”

The immediacy of the digital world can provide an insider’s look into trainers’ stories beyond their science-backed skills, she continues. The balance of one-to-one, group training, and digital coaching will be an ongoing scheduling exercise that trainers will need to constantly edit and refine as they assess their focus in each arena. Some may realize virtual coaching aligns with their values and newly adopted lifestyle, where others will continue to work the balance.

“This is not necessarily a new problem, it’s just different circumstances,” she says.

Technology and Equipment Considerations

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In addition to beefing up personal capabilities in front of the camera, you’ll need to consider properly equipping yourself behind the lens.

In terms of technology needed to train virtually, ISSA recommends a webcam or digital camera and tripod for recording videos, as well as a high-speed internet connection and a powerful laptop or desktop computer. It also helps to have good lighting equipment and nice backdrop or blank wall so that the space looks uncluttered and professional.

As far as virtual clients and members go, you might want to encourage them to invest in a fitness tracker of some type, as it will keep them accountable and assist in program development. Additional equipment depends on member or client goals. Just remember to keep it simple, as people may not want to invest a lot (e.g., resistance bands, step stools for glute work, water-filled detergent bottles as kettlebells, etc.).

Evolving Resources

Clearly, virtual programming has altered the training landscape. Fortunately, says Elliot, the industry seems to be catching up quickly by providing the necessary training and resources to support these shifts.

“In fact, TRX Training has scaled its previously in-person education, removing the barriers of geography from our course offerings,” she notes. “We’ve launched Digital and Live Virtual options that allow trainers to tap the expertise of our educators and study at their own pace and in any environment they choose.”

Among its more recent offerings is the company’s TRX Virtual Training Course, which empowers fitness professionals to scale their skills into the online world. The course outlines the skills trainers need to connect with clients and members through the camera lens, sales skills, and education on technology needs.

“In addition to the TRX Virtual Training Course, we’re offering the TRX Suspension Training Course—Virtually,” adds Miguel Vargas, TRX training and development manager. “This is a great opportunity for new instructors to start their TRX journey from their home or any environment you choose.”

Both the TRX Virtual Training Course and the TRX Suspension Training Course—Virtually offer continuing education credits (CEC) and a path to TRX certification.

“We also have new courses and workshops launching that will allow more opportunities for CECs and live, virtual interactions with our TRX course instructors,” Vargas says. “Upcoming titles include TRX Yoga, The Workshop Series—TRX Suspension Training, TRX RIP, and Kettlebells.”

Overall, Leigh says, TRX is building a digital gym experience designed to appeal to a global audience with a variety of goals, from building strength, staying fit, and performing better, to recovering harder, losing weight, or getting started with fitness, with and without the straps.”

To learn more about TRX Training and educational opportunities, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to IHRSA.org.