Is it okay to be an internet trainer?

I’ll venture to guess that some of you are reading this without a clue what an “internet trainer” is, or why anyone cares about whether its okay to be one; others are probably wondering how much of a can of worms I’m about to open. For the former – honestly, you might just want to skip this post, because basically I’m about to delve into some politicking of the fitness industry.

I will start by saying that I consider myself incredibly lucky to have accidentally come across a couple of phenomenal internet sites, one of which has literally been a life-changer, and continues to be a source of immense learning, and incredible networking for me. I’m referring to Strength Coach.com. As the name implies, it is a site for strength coaches,  that also attracts personal trainers, and manual therapists. It is full of great content, with a continual stream of new and interesting articles and videos. But the main event is really the forum. This is where I started as a voracious reader and over several years evolved into a (hopefully) valued contributor. I remain amazed that for $10/month (or so), I get to ask questions and engage in training discussions with phenomenal professionals, some of whom are rock stars of the training world.  I couldn’t possibly quantify how much I have learned from this site and from these great people. The other thing I love about this site is that Michael Boyle does a great job of keeping discussions civil. Those of you who have, or currently do, take part in internet forum discussions know how unpleasant some of them are when people are allowed to act like, well, jerks. Coach Boyle doesn’t tolerate this, which I love. The basic rule is that disagreement is fine; disrespect is not.

Over the past year or so, I have, however, noticed the odd comment on the site that didn’t sit well with me. A drop in the bucket compared to how great the site is overall, but there nonetheless. I also noticed them on Facebook. It’s almost always a comment about “internet trainers”. When I first started seeing these comments, I realized I was clearly not as in as I thought I was, because I had no idea who these “internet trainers” were, even though apparently everyone else did.

Over time, I think I’ve come to understand what this is about. There are some trainers who feel that trainers need to pay their dues before they have the right to market themselves over the internet, and that unless you are a veteran in the field, you’re not allowed to stop training people in favour of writing or developing products.  In fact it seems that your’e not even allowed to cut back on your in-gym time in favour of more writing and product development.

Maybe understand is the wrong word. Because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why anyone feels it’s okay to judge another person’s career path. I don’t understand why it is not okay for someone who loves writing, is interested in research, or who really digs marketing, to spend less time training clients and more time writing, researching, or marketing. But according to some trainers, these things are wrong, and those who do them are to be frowned upon and given the label “internet trainer”.

Here’s my take on the “internet trainers”:

  1. It’s your career; whatever portion of your time you want to spend on the internet or in the gym is your business.
  2. My preference is that you won’t call yourself an expert unless you actually are, and that you will maintain a sense of integrity in regard to what you publish. If you  don’t, that’s still your business, but I may call you out on it – respectfully.
  3. If you consistently put out great information, I will consistently look forward to reading and maybe even buying it.
  4. I have a hype-to-quality comfort zone, as I suspect most people do. I have watched with interest as I see some people slide a bit too far into hype territory for my liking. I urge you to ask yourself from time to time if your online presence is something you are proud of. If the answer ever approaches no, then it’s probably time to step back and reconsider.
And here’s my take on those who apply the “internet trainer” label:
  1. Please ask yourself “is this something I would say to this person if we were in the same room?” If not, please don’t say it about them on the internet.
  2. If you’re going to make a comment about whether or not someone trains people, please make sure you actually know that to be true.
  3. If you have something to say about the content of what an “internet trainer” has written, then I look forward to hearing it, provided the discussion remains respectful. I absolutely agree that everyone should be held accountable for what they publish.
  4. Training, writing, and marketing are all very valid and legitimate career paths. Please don’t judge someone else because they chose writing or marketing, or a combination of the three. If you have chosen to stick 100% with training; and that really is the right choice for you, then great. But please don’t try to apply what is right for you to someone else: It’s their life; let them live it.
  5. The internet is a thing, and more people are on it than are anywhere near each of our local training establishments. If someone has something to share that contributes to the greater understanding of fitness and nutrition, then great. If someone has something to share that detracts from the greater understanding of fitness and nutrition as you see it, then by all means, stand up and be a defender of the greater understanding. Just do it with a sense of integrity.
(In case anyone is thinking this is sounding hypocritical, I have followed my own recommendations and have expressed these thoughts directly)
I’m not sure why this topic gets me so riled up, but it really does. I think it’s partly my nature – my mom tells stories about how I used to stand up for other kids as far back as kindergarten. Or maybe it’s more about being worried that I’m going to start getting the “internet trainer” label. Because guess what: I love being a trainer, but I also love to write, and I love marketing. I think I love each of them almost equally. I sometimes reflect about my current career path, and am just overjoyed because it literally involves all of my interests and skills. I am so lucky! But because I love all of these aspects, I work way too much. Next week I am cutting back on the amount of time I spend training clients at Custom Strength, moving down to 17-20 hours per week. This is partly so that our other amazing trainers can take on more clients (we have limited space, and currently I’m hogging a lot of the training options), but it’s also so that I can spend time on writing and marketing projects without becoming completely consumed by work. It turns out family and friends and the outdoors are pretty great things to have in your life, and I need to get back to enjoying them. I wonder if I’ll start to be labelled as an internet trainer?
Did I rile feathers or kept things pretty tame? I have a feeling it’s the latter, which frankly is much more my style anyhow.
Elsbeth Vaino is a sometimes opinionated personal trainer (or is she?) at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada. 

NOTE: The links above (and to the right) to strengthcoach.com are affiliate links. I hope this doesn’t bother anyone. I want to be open about it, but I truly have no qualms about it. I have only ever recommended products and services that I believe in, and will continue to do so. If the product or service I want to recommend happens to have an affiliate program (meaning I get paid if you buy), then I will use it, but will let you know. Also please note that I will not let existence of an affiliate program dictate whether or not I mention, review, or promote something. Also note that the reason the paragraph about strengthcoach.com is so over the top, is because that’s a very accurate reflection of how I feel about it. I’m pretty sure that if I reviewed 100 fitness related products and services, that strengthcoach.com would rank #1. Maybe I need to put that to the test!

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