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Online Training Is a Growing Trend

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Are you interested in working with a personal trainer but don't feel you have the time, or money, or nerve to wear Spandex in public? An Internet trend that's growing rapidly lets you exercise at home at your own pace, but still have some professional guidance.

Online personal training has been gaining momentum during the past few years, with Web sites sprouting up all over the Internet, touting personal-training services.

The services vary, but most sites offer exercise programs and some have additional motivators such as e-mail consultations with a personal trainer, buddy workouts via e-mail and online fitness forums. Some sites revise the exercise programs week to week (for members) and offer different workouts to do at home, in the gym or during pregnancy. The sites do not replace one-on-one training, but may be an option for those who think they need some direction, but not necessarily personal contact with a trainer.

Steve McKinney, of Madison, Ill., is a personal trainer with his own gym who started offering an online personal-training service last year. From his Web site,, clients can download his e-manual, "Fitness and More," for $29.99. The manual shows workouts that can be done at home with dumbbells; illustrations show how to advance from one routine to the next. The Web site also advertises a one-half-hour personal-training phone consultation for $50.

McKinney says customers can e-mail, call or visit for personal advice. Clients get in touch when they need motivation or have a question, he said, and can also sign up for e-mails with fitness tips that McKinney prepares.

McKinney said he has had about 200 online clients. He is certified by the National Federation of Professional Trainers and also is a certified post-rehabilitation specialist with the American Academy of Health and Fitness Professionals. He's been a personal trainer since the early 1990s and in 1990 won the Mr. Southern Illinois bodybuilding competition. He preaches high-intensity, low-force training, with workouts that take about 10 to 15 minutes. The goal is to get "the most effect for the least dose (of exercise). Too much exercise can cause joint pain," and other problems, McKinney said.

Jason Rulo, a personal trainer for the Wellbridge health club chain who works at the health club's Monsanto corporate location, launched an online personal-training site just weeks ago, and already has four clients. He's been testing the site, at, for a year, and is based in St. Charles, Mo.

Rulo said online training can be a good choice because it allows for easy availability of a quality personal trainer, it's more affordable - his program is $30 a month - and it's more flexible, allowing clients to make their own schedule and not have to meet trainers at certain times. A one-time fee of $20 covers a book - "Strength Training Anatomy" by Frederic Delavier - that "breaks down every exercise, how to do it, how they work," Rulo said.

Rulo accepts that there are challenges to online training, however, including not having direct control over a client's progress and safety. And it might not be the right option for novices, he said. "If someone comes to me with no experience, I'm going to tell them to go to a regular personal trainer, a quality personal trainer and then later she can come to me."

Clients begin by filling out an evaluation about body weight, previous injuries, sports background, goals, nutrition and any conditions that might require a doctor's clearance. Rulo then sets up a workout card for the client to follow, including resistance training, stretching, diet tips and eventually, cardio programs. "I try to follow up once or twice a week with every single client," he said, using e-mail, Web chats and instant messaging.

Rulo has a bachelor of science degree from Southeast Missouri State in fitness and sports medicine and is a certified American College of Sports Medicine health/fitness instructor and National Strength & Conditioning Association certified strength and conditioning specialist.

The American Council on Exercise cautions that novice exercisers who haven't worked with weights or exercise machines in the past should begin with a hands-on trainer before using an online service. ACE advises checking the qualifications of the staff that will be training you and making sure they're certified by a reputable organization. Look for an online site that's easy to navigate, and sample workout plans to make sure you understand the exercises and have enough information to be able to do them on your own.

Sites should make it easy to contact a trainer by e-mail, but it's even better if they also offer a phone number for those times when a cyber-connection just won't cut it. And if you decide to sign up, be sure that the site requires a detailed evaluation of your health history, workout goals and current fitness level. Those that don't may simply be handing out stock workouts that aren't really personalized to specific needs.


(c) 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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