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The advances in technology over the last few years bring with it a whole new dimension in the bodybuilding and fitness fraternity. While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fitness apps available on the market, each offering a unique approach to fitness, there are none which offer a uniquely personalised “one-on-one” approach to diet and training quite like online coaching.
The advantages of online coaching are both beneficial to the trainer and the client. Online coaches are able to train individuals from all over the world from the comfort of their living room, office or even the local beach bar in far-off tropical islands. While this gives coaches the ability to be extremely flexible in terms of how many people they coach and where they live, it in no way means that they are being lazy or neglecting their clientele. In fact, online coaching can often require long hours of monitoring, assessing and ensuring that their clients follow their programs, especially with international clients in different time zones.
From the client’s perspective, you are now able to work with some of the world’s best coaches and top contending athletes in their respective fields; and best of all, online coaches usually come at a fraction of the cost when compared to working with personal trainers. That, however, does not mean that personal trainers do not have their place.
Personal trainers train people on a one-on-one basis, designing a personal exercise program for the individual based on their specific goals and limitations. They either train a person one-on-one at a commercial gym or privately at their residence, or in group sessions such as the popular boot camps.
There are numerous benefits to hiring a good personal trainer. Knowing you are paying your hard-earned money to meet a person at a certain time helps people stick to a routine. Personal trainers provide motivation during a training session, help individuals to use the correct form while exercising and ensure that they get the most out of their exercise plans.
One of the common drawbacks to many personal trainers is that they do not study much more than the very basics of nutrition unless they have done specialised courses over and above their Personal Training certificate or diploma. The problem is that this, along with rules from large gym chains, prevents personal trainers from getting involved with their client’s dietary requirements. They are then forced to work in conjunction with a registered Dietician which adds additional costs to their services.
According to professional fitness and bodybuilding coach Craig Brown from CSB Body Fusion, online coaching first started in the 1990’s but really only gained a tremendous amount of exposure in the late 2000’s. “I first really heard about online coaching in the late 1990’s, where professional bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman worked remotely with the likes of Chad Nicholls and Jay Cutler worked online with Chris Aceto. In those days, Ronnie would take progress photos on a 35mm film camera, process them and send by post, whereby Chad would asses and make the necessary adjustments. Back then, online coaching was mainly used for Physique competition prep,” says Craig.
While coaches, whether online or in person, predominantly started off helping athletes with competition preparation for bodybuilding, the field of coaching has exploded into all disciplines of fitness and now even assists the “average Joe” in getting into shape, irrespective of whether he wants to compete or not. “These days, coaches are becoming more and more popular as you can find a coach who specialises in anything from weight loss to power lifting. It is no longer just professional athletes who are making use of coaches, in fact, anyone from housewives to famous actors like “The Rock” are starting to make use of online coaches,” says Craig.
There is probably no time where it is more important to work with a quality coach than when preparing for a competition. Preparing for a fitness or bodybuilding competition not only requires a tremendous amount of discipline and mental strength but it can also cost an absolute fortune with all the food, supplements, stage outfits and entry fees. With the temperamental nature of the human condition, the smallest misjudgements can be detrimental on comp day and all that hard work and monetary investment can be of zero consequence. This is where a coach comes in.
“A coach can be a lifesaver when competing. They help you to perfectly dial in your physique to one exact day and help you to present the best package possible. Through experience and guidance, a good coach should know when to push harder and when to back off, how to break through stalls quickly and effectively, and prevent you from stagnating,” says Craig.
Coaches not only help you to dial in your physique from a physical perspective, they also help with your mental wellbeing by taking care of all your training, nutritional and supplemental requirements. They will generally give you a step-by-step guide with everything you need to do each day and explain exactly how it needs to be done. All the athlete would need to do is put in the work and follow their coaches plan.
Coaches also help to offer objective advice in terms of how their athletes are progressing and whether or not they will reach competitive deadlines.
The role of a good coach extends far beyond diet, training and supplementation. In fact, coaches are often involved in helping their athletes perfect their posing, competition outfits and even their tans. While not every coach specialises in all of these disciplines, they often bring in professionals who do to assist their athletes in order to ensure that every minute detail is on point for comp day. Craig elaborates, “I outsource posing as it is an art form. I only work with posing coaches I really trust. When it comes to outfit selection, it can be extremely important, especially for ladies, as choosing bikinis that meet regulation and highlight your body is crucial. The correct tan and colour that won’t run or streak is also an aspect of fitness and bodybuilding which can influence your score sheet. All of these details can make or break your experience so they need a lot of consideration and practice, especially posing.”
One of the major concerns when it comes to online coaching is selecting a reputable coach who specialises in the respective discipline which you are aiming towards. With no “real” qualifications required to become an online coach, the industry is completely unregulated. All one really needs is to register a domain, design a website, start a Facebook and Instagram account….and as they say, “Bob’s your uncle”.
“In an ideal world, online coaching would be regulated much like personal trainers and dieticians, but sadly, that is not the case. For me, a good coach should have some sort of qualification in nutrition and training, and should also have a wealth of experience working with a variety of people, body types and both genders. The problem these days is that people often put value in the wrong things when it comes to selecting a good coach. Having a good physique does not necessarily make a good coach, similarly a big social media following doesn’t make you a good coach. Having lost 10-20kg does not make you a good coach and neither does having a nutrition certificate”, believes Craig.
Craig went on to say, “What is truly sad is that over the years I have been coaching, not one person has asked for my qualifications.”
“With a lot of grey areas when it comes to health and fitness, it can be an arduous task to determine what information available online regarding nutrition is legitimate and scientifically proven. The internet is a minefield of click bait articles, pseudoscience and just pure misinformation. No one knows what to believe. Some individuals read a few articles and can spin a word or two, and now believe they are qualified to become coaches.”
“Even scarier are those that do one comp and are now a prep coach. When prepping for a comp, you are often placing your body in a potentially unhealthy environment which can have a number of physiological and psychological pit falls. If a coach does not know what they are doing, it could lead to dire consequences down the road. Although having competed does add valuable experience for a coach, simply copying and pasting the diet you were given by your coach and applying it to your clients is not true coaching; and this happens a lot unfortunately”
According to Craig, a good coach should have a good percentage of the following attributes:
1) At least 3 years’ experience, or if they are just starting out, that they are working alongside a reputable coach who is monitoring their plans and advice.
2) Some sort of academia related to training and nutrition from a reputable institute.
3) Clients who have achieved real world, long-lasting results.
4) They should take a very real interest in your goals, your health and your history.
5) They should be current with their knowledge, and should consistently be seeking to learn more to improve their coaching techniques.
6) They must know where their knowledge starts and stops, and stay within those boundaries.
7) They must have the ability to define clients and not have a one-size-fits-approach.
8) They should have very good constant communication with their clients.
“The list goes on and on as to what makes a good coach. With that said, there are some truly fantastic coaches in South Africa. My advice would be to do your homework before committing to a coach and potentially putting your health at risk.”
“One thing people need to remember is that a coach is only as good as the discipline and resolve of their clients. If you are not willing to diligently follow your coaches plan and advice, chances are that you will not get the results. The online coach is not there to make sure that you are training at maximum intensity and eating correctly, so a large part of the ability to achieve results is based on the client’s willpower and commitment to the process.”
Some of the difficulties online coaches encounter when it comes to their clients include the following:
1) Getting people to break their habits and put their faith in their respective methods.
2) Their adherence to good nutrition and making it a priority.
3) Eradicating nutrition and training myths. Every day coaches are challenged by pseudoscience and news articles from online “gurus” spouting dribble.
4) Convincing people that there is no secret. That you have to commit, work hard and be consistent.
Head coach CSB Bodyfusion
Mac Uni Certified Nutritionist