What is the Difference Between Online Coaching and Virtual Personal Training?

To many people, they are one and the same: personal training services offered via the internet.

Even coaches and trainers sometimes use the terms interchangeably. However, there’s more to it than that. In fact, there are some pretty big differences between the two. Let’s take a closer look at both styles of coaching.

Virtual Training

The word virtual has three common definitions, and they are all relevant to our conversation here. Two of these easily come to mind. The first is that it involves the use of the internet. The second, which may be familiar to Star Wars and Star Trek fans, is something “not physically existing but appearing to do so through the use of software.” (Think hologram.)

But the third definition for the word virtual is, “Almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.” As we’ll see in a moment, this definition is also very relevant to help describe what virtual training is.

Virtual training attempts to recreate the traditional face-to-face training experience using technology and the internet. This often involves the use of Zoom or some other video chat software where the trainer and client meet in real-time to complete workouts. The client will complete exercises in front of the camera while the trainer watches and provides feedback, just as if they were meeting in the gym.

This was what many trainers did during the start of the pandemic. They took their in-person services online in the most direct way. This style of training is great because you can still get real-time feedback from your trainer on technique and form. It also allows you to stay home for workouts. On the other hand, it does prevent you from working out anywhere else because it’d be too logistically difficult (and awkward) to try and video chat with your trainer while in a public gym.

Virtual training also suffers from all the same drawbacks as regular personal training, both in cost and scheduling limitations.

In walks Online Coaching.

If virtual training is the re-creation of traditional in-person coaching using the internet, then what is online coaching? Online coaching is an entirely different experience. Online coaching is based primarily on behavior change and accountability.

With online coaching, clients complete their workouts without the presence of their coach. (But they’re usually following a programmed workout provided by their coach.) This has its obvious drawbacks from virtual coaching in that you can’t get the same feedback in real-time. However, this option does provide more flexibility because you free yourself from the scheduling constraints of needing your coach present. (Not to mention, a good online coach knows exactly how to design your workouts to meet your ability level and keep you safe without their presence.)

On the other hand, doing workouts without your coach isn’t entirely a drawback. This helps build autonomy so that you are more prepared and comfortable being responsible for your own exercise habits later on.

The true strength of online coaching comes in the way of support and accountability. A good online coach has figured out a way to be almost omnipresent in your life. They are available to answer questions or work through challenges as they occur, not at some later date. With this style of coaching, you don’t have to wait until 4pm on Thursday to get the answers you need to keep yourself on track right now.

(Good) online coaching is most often based on habit and behavior change, helping clients to redesign their lifestyle to support the fitness goals they want to achieve. Virtual training is the attempt to recreate in-person training over the internet. Both forms of coaching can be beneficial, and that depends mostly on the needs of the individual.

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