The age of remote coaching is upon us. Here’s how it’s done.
When teaching at various certifications over the past 18 months and presenting at summits, one of the subjects that dominates the attention of fitness professionals most is the mechanics of remote coaching. This blog is written for them, but it also offers a useful insight for anyone considering remote coaching. I appreciate that there are many other ways to skin the cat — here’s what works for me.
Two years ago, I was a full-time trainer and therapist in central London, engaging with people face to face (or hands to skin) for more than 30 hours per week. However, I was faced with the same problem that most self-employed, full-time trainers and therapists encounter. As much as I loved engaging with people face to face, if I ever stepped away from that role (for self-improvement, vacation, sickness, family events, travel, etc.) income grinded to a halt.
I knew that remote coaching was the answer, but at the time the notion of helping people to the same degree via my laptop was an enigma. Most people who work as fitness coaches, personal trainers and the like, do so because of their love of exercise, health and movement. Many of whom are the first to admit their dislike for being in front of a digital screen, myself included. My lack of tech savviness once earned me the title of “technotard.” How was I supposed to make it happen?
I continued to procrastinateuntil the spring of 2017 when I was dragged kicking and screaming into remote coaching. My role as director of athletic performance for Strength Matters was never supposed to involve remote coaching, but all of a sudden 30 international clients were dropped into my lap.
I love chess. I like to plan, strategize and have all systems and pieces in place before execution. I fully appreciate that my obsession over such details is the main obstruction for getting new projects off the ground. Having 30 international paying clients waiting for me to help them was an incredible kick in the backside.
The following few months involved a scramble of creativity and productivity. I had to create the entire Strength Matters assessment, training and coaching system from scratch. The experience I gained through 12,000 hours spent coaching and treating everyday people in person was critical. Having a good grasp of training methods and techniques that offer the greatest bang for your buck and recognizing popular, ineffective exercise methods were key. In addition to my education and life experiences, I drew inspiration from industry pioneers who I’d learned a great deal from, namely Rob Blair, Dr. Perry Nickelston, Dan John, Steve Maxwell, Gray Cook, Tim Anderson and David “Iron Tamer” Whitley.
Having paying clients provided a necessity to perform and get it right. Over the course of the next 12 months, hundreds of happy everyday people went through my assessments and received effective programs. After a great deal of adjusting along the way, and many lessons learned, I feel like remote coaching is no longer a chore. I have reliable, tried and tested systems in place and it's become an enjoyable part of my life.
My passion for helping everyday people live a pain-free, active life is now accessible by the world at large thanks to a great training platform that I have become very familiar with called True Coach. This software makes it easy for the coach to write and assign programs, and easy for the client to view and understand them. I’ve made and uploaded more than 500 short video clips that demonstrate a plethora of exercises, movements and tutorials that I use with my clients. The client can set up an account profile for free and the software tracks everything, provided the client uses it.
True Coach recently rebranded from Fitbot. This quick clip shows you what's it looks like for a client.
HOW DOES REMOTE COACHING WORK?
The enrollment process for a potential client coming into a remote coaching system has to be filled with assessments and expectation setting. Over the years, working with people face to face I had taken for granted the luxury of being able to watch them move and make continuous assessments as I go. As a coach who knows nothing about a potential client other than their name, I had to develop a complete assessment system that builds a strong enough picture for me to program effectively and safely.
“If you ain’t assessing, you’re guessing.”
–Missy Bunch, Z-Health Master Trainer
STEP ONE: PRE-SCREEN
First, the pre-screening questionnaire, which is sent immediately on receipt of an inquiry via Google Forms. I want to know whether or not remote coaching is right for someone and if I’m even capable of helping them online. This involves a series of questions covering the usual contraindications to exercise and some physical tests:
A) From standing, touch your back to the floor and stand back up again, then touch your chest to the floor and stand back up again. Did you perform that movement without experiencing pain anywhere in the body?
B) Run as fast as you can for just 20m. Could you do this without experiencing pain anywhere in the body?
C) Can you balance on one leg for 15 seconds with your eyes open?
If the answer is no to any of the above, I can’t help them remotely. There are a number of other easy questions that give me a rough idea of their goal and who they are.
STEP TWO: INTRODUCTORY CALL
Before I’ve even received their pre-screen questionnaire, I like to book in an introductory call. It’s critical to the success of remote coaching that there’s a good rapport and a close line of communication between the trainer and client. This 10-minute introductory call serves as the first step in establishing this. It’s the get-to-know-you chit chat that breaks the ice. It gives me a chance to ask about how they think I can help them, talk them through the next steps and try to establish which of the three levels of service suit them best.
I prefer this to be a video call if possible because it helps accelerate rapport and allows me to make some initial observations pertaining to their breathing pattern, skin health (gut health) and state of stress/tiredness.
At the end of this call, I tell them to expect an email invite to set up a free True Coach account. I offer a brief overview about how the three-layer self-assessments work and inquire as to when to assign them for completion.
STEP THREE: DETAILED QUESTIONNAIRE
Following the introductory call, I send an in-depth questionnaire, covering their full medical and injury history, training and exercise history, current lifestyle and occupational habits, diet habits, stress levels, training goals, exercise preferences, available equipment, preferred training environment, exercises they hate and a few questions to try to establish their motivations behind seeking coaching. This is also administered via Google Forms.
This questionnaire not only serves to offer more useful information but gives me an impression of my potential future client’s enthusiasm to make change. I love the saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” A thoroughly filled-in questionnaire indicates that a remote coaching relationship will work. A quick job indicates they may not bother with their program or be suitable for a long-term remote coaching relationship.
STEP FOUR: MOVE BETTER BE STRONGER SELF-ASSESSMENTS
Layer one is a series of simple self-assessments that can be carried out anywhere, provided they have a tape measure and a wall. The assessments are administered via the True Coach software and the results highlight weak links pertaining to their ability to move (mobility, stability and balance). These are the most important components of complete athleticism and any red flags will be addressed first. The layer one self-assessment process takes a newbie 20 to 40 minutes, but experienced clients (who reassess every three months) complete them in less than 15 minutes.
Creating a remote self-assessment system for everyday people was sterling challenge. It had to be so simple that someone with no anatomical knowledge or body awareness could self-apply from the comfort of their own home. Yet, it had to be thorough enough that an experienced coach could view the results remotely and paint a good picture about the case in front of them. Some of the assessments require the potential client to make an accompanying video. It also had to be applicable to all able-bodied humans of any age and fitness level. A potential client’s ability or willingness to make videos of themselves performing movements that they find weird is another indicator of the future success of our relationship.
If there are any red lights within the layer one assessments (and there usually are), layer two is not assigned. Layer two assesses one’s torso strength, shoulder stability, cardiovascular capacity and strength training readiness. I don’t want to risk assessing these if there’s a red light for movement. If layer one is filled with green and yellow lights, the layer two self-assessments are assigned.
The layer three assessments paint a good picture of one’s power, raw strength and endurance ability. If there are any red lights within layer two, layer three is not assigned for the sake of safety. I don’t want to ask someone to perform an explosive movement or use their entire strength, if they have a weak torso. Assessing or training endurance is pointless unless a base level of cardiovascular capacity exists.
STEP FIVE: 12-DAY TASTER PROGRAM
The potential client is then assigned a 12-day mobility, stability and balance program which is suitable for them, based on their assessment results. Following the assessments people tend to fall into one of several categories. I’ve pre-written a number of 12-day programs that are suitable for all possible categories. Based on someone’s layer one assessment results and their case history details, I’ll normally tweak the 12-day program a little further so it’s as bespoke and as manageable as possible.
The assignment of this program serves a number of important purposes:
· More time for the client to play with the software
· Introduces them to some popular and fundamental movements and exercises
· Tests the clients’ level of compliance and enthusiasm
Remote coaching only works if client compliance is high and the client-coach relationship is strong. This two-week taster period acts as another litmus test demonstrating someone’s suitability for my services. A compliance rate below 85% during this taster program and a lack of enthusiasm earlier on in their questionnaire indicates that remote coaching may not be suitable for this person. A compliance rate of under 70% during this taster program leads to immediate, polite withdrawal on my part.
Many people who sign up for anything health or fitness related tend to think that the results they desire can be exchanged for money instead of effort. I love to help people, but I’m also aware of time wasters and free riders. This compliance test helps to weed these people out. Besides, if someone who genuinely wants to become a client can’t stick to an easy 12-day program, experience dictates that there’s a rocky road ahead.
STEP SIX: AGREEMENT AND PAYMENT
The agreement is a document that details everything about our professional relationship. It sets boundaries, standards, expectations, policies and procedures. This document is also administered via Google Forms.
So far, before making a payment, a potential client has received my self-assessment system making them able to identify weak links in their overall everyday athleticism. They’ve received a free 12-day movement program suited specifically for their needs based on their assessment results and case history. They’ve also had a chance to play with the True Coach software and meet me via a quick 10-minute video call. This is normally enough water-testing for someone to be happy to pay.
I was advised by a sales and marketing guru to bring the payment part forward. “Take payment while they’re hot and keen.” I respectfully ignored this advice. I’m not interested in training people who have short-term goals and want everything to happen immediately. I’m going to be putting a lot of effort towards this person and I want to test them as much as they’re testing me. I want to help people who are willing to take a step back and work on their weaknesses for the sake of long-term success, injury resilience and longevity.
Following payment comes the programming call then the creation of their bespoke program. These tasks are the most labor intensive, requiring the most amount of time and expertise. It is extremely disheartening, and not uncommon, for someone to fall off the grid after I pour in a ton of energy. This is why I require payment before I write their program. They receive an invoice from my accounting software and on receipt of payment we arrange the programming call.
STEP SEVEN: PROGRAMMING CALL AND PROGRAM CREATION
Next, is a 30- to 60-minute video call. I’ll offer feedback following the self-assessments then ask everything I need to know in order to produce the perfect program. I’ll ask for elaborations on any points of interest found in the questionnaire. I’ll try to understand the whys and the underlying motivations. I’ll discover their current morning routine, daily schedule, commute situation, occupational habits, training habits and environment, available equipment, workout duration, workout time preferences/restrictions, planned trips, birthdays or other family occasions (that normally obstruct a good program) and everything else that’s relevant. The new client receives their shiny new program a few days later, which marks the beginning of our productive and private relationship.
LEVELS OF SERVICE I OFFER
All remote coaching clients take the self-assessments every three-months. They receive a quarterly programming call and a dual-phase program that lasts until the next round of assessments. Phase two of their three-month program always builds upon phase one, but keeps it different enough to account for peoples’ need for variety (and short attention span). Besides, all programs work well for the first six weeks. Switching the program while keeping it progressive tends to achieve better results.
How many training sessions per week someone commits to does not reflect their rate. It’s the same rate whether someone has one session per week or six sessions per week. I don’t want to offer an incentive to avoid frequent exercise.
Bronze Service $199 Per Month
This level of coaching is most suitable for fellow fitness professionals or fitness enthusiasts with a good level of technical skill and motivation. After the program is issued and any necessary amendments have been made, I’ll check in to watch their progress on True Coach once every 1 to 2 weeks. I’ll call them once a month to offer any advice or support and basic accountability. Just enough to let them know I care and help them stay on track. But this service doesn’t involve any technical coaching. It’s first-class programming, accountability and support.
Silver Service $349 Per Month
This involves super accountability. I’ll log into True Coach and check their progress 3 to 4 times per week. I’ll comment on their performance, answer questions and offer any support or advice that I can. Basically, I’m always watching and am with them all the time.
Silver service also includes technical coaching. I may ask my client to make a video of themselves performing a certain exercise then offer technique cues and progressions. Sometimes this could involve a live video coaching call, or it could involve my making technique videos just for them.
Silver coaching also includes a bi-weekly phone call or video call. This could be to offer nutrition coaching, lifestyle coaching, health coaching, technical coaching or simply to check-in and say hello.
I like most people to start here or at Gold, unless they’re experienced fitness professionals or people I have coached face to face previously. After the first 3 to 12 months when I’m happy with their technical execution of movement and exercise, I’ll encourage them to downgrade to Bronze.
Gold Service $499 per month
This level of coaching is most suitable for people with complex injury or medical histories, debilitating postural deviances, pre- or post-natal or elite-level endurance athletes. These factors require a higher level of expertise and experience to be able to help them. Gold service includes everything that Silver service offers, but injury rehabilitation, elite-level programming, postural re-balancing and pre and post-natal care as well.
HOW DOES THIS DIFFER FROM OTHER REMOTE COACHING SERVICES?
During every programming interview with a new remote client, one of the first questions I ask is, “Have you received remote coaching or online personal training before?” I try to learn about their good and bad experiences and figure out what they value most.
It is very tempting to write about all the downfalls of other remote coaches and their systems (or lack thereof), but I’ll resist and just say this: No other remote coaching system that I’m aware of has such a rigorous and thorough assessment system. It’s critical to find out exactly where the client is in order to program effectively. Very few write bespoke programs. The vast majority use recycled programs and a surprisingly large number issue exactly the same program, no matter who the client is. To my astonishment, this negligence sometimes causes the client to become injured.
I write every program from scratch, based on their assessment results and tailor them to fit my clients’ lives like a couture glove. With the exception of the Strength Matters remote coaching system, there is no other remote coaching system that I’m aware of that checks in with clients and monitors their progress to the same extent as I do with Silver and Gold clients.
I don’t know how to do a quick job. When I take on a project, I become fully immersed. The initial process of creating a new program then plugging it into True Coach takes many hours. The work that has gone into this system is the product of a massive amount of time, experience and more than $35,000 of education. I treat my clients as family and will not let them down.
Time discipline is an important part of being a remote coach. The best way to serve my clients is allocating specific time periods on certain days to remote coaching. I treat these fixed periods as I treat booked personal training appointments: immovable. Within these periods, I’m 100% focused on the care and progress of my clients. Outside of these periods, I don’t log into True Coach or think about my clients at all, which facilitates high productivity elsewhere.
I’m not selling six-week body transformations, which are mostly ineffective. I help people live a pain-free active lifestyles and make peoples’ lives better when they’re 80. I want clients who aren’t in a rush and are willing to jump through a few hoops to make positive changes. It’s easy for my clients to quit if they want to, but I’d rather help them for years to come and far exceed initial expectations of their own capability.
Strength and honor!
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