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Online Trainers: Are Free Fitness Instructors Worth It?

Online Trainers: Are Free Fitness Instructors Worth It?

While America is locked down, online training has become a big business, but are some trainers compromising their clients’ health in their quest for more social media followers?

With gyms and health clubs closed throughout America due to COVID-19 restrictions, many people have turned to home workouts to maintain their fitness and to stay in shape. While some have purchased pricey home exercise machines, such as Pelotons, others have turned to free online fitness trainers to help them keep up with their daily workouts.

Online fitness has become a big business, generating hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars for the most popular trainers. But the danger for some Americans is that some trainers have risen to fame and influence owing more to their ability to master social media rather than their accomplishments in the gym.

The Washington Post recently explored the online trainers trend by profiling Lauren Giraldo, a social media star who has risen to fame through her inclined treadmill workout. She refers to the workout as  “12, 3, 30,” because it involves raising a treadmill to an incline of twelve degrees, setting the speed for three miles per hour and walking at that pace for thirty straight minutes. To date, she has over 850,000 followers on Instagram and over one million subscribers to her YouTube channel.

And while the one of the famous online trainers has given her workout away for free, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t generated significant income by leveraging her social media network. A testimonial video Giraldo made titled “My Weight Loss Journey (I’m opening up)”, has generated just over 1.1 million views on YouTube to date.

While we can’t know exactly how much money Giraldo makes from her channels, YouTube content creator Bryan Elliot showed how he made nearly $20,000 in ad revenue with a single video that garnered over one million views. Amy Baker of estimates that a YouTube channel with one million subscribers would generate $57,200 a year in ad revenue, although that number can vary widely depending on how many videos are released on a particular channel, the nature of the content (advertisers pay less for videos with explicit content) and how many views the individual videos get.

So while Giraldo has no formal training as a fitness trainer and she doesn’t charge any money for her workout, it’s likely that the success of her channel generated tens of thousands of dollars for her.

But just because workouts by online trainers are popular, doesn’t mean that they are right or even safe for you. Doctors interviewed for the Washington Post article pointed out an important caveat, while the highly aerobic “12, 3, 30” workout does make sense for someone like Giraldo, who is 22 and was not severely overweight when she started, it could be dangerous for those who are older, obese or who have other chronic health issues.

So while Giraldo’s workout was effective for her, it’s important to consult with either a healthcare or fitness professional before you embark on any new exercise plan.

Training online is a big business where large follower counts across social media channels can translate into major dollars. Successful online trainers can earn money through ad revenue, corporate sponsorships and endorsements and by selling branded merchandise

But this revenue is also highly dependent on engagement levels. In other words, it’s not enough to just rack up huge follower counts, creators need them to comment, like, share and otherwise engage with the content they are putting on their channels.

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Yoga guru Rachel Brathen has a hugely devoted following of fans all over the world and her Instagram posts typically generate tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. Because of this high level of engagement, she is able to charge sponsors a minimum of $25,000 to send a single Instagram post to her 2.1 million followers.

But when gaining followers is more important than losing pounds or improving health, this can create an incentive where online trainers work harder on their marketing than they do on developing effective fitness routines. 

In order to stand out from the crowd, some social media trainers will set unrealistic expectations or will attempt to sell you “fitness packages”, promising to transform your body in just six to eight weeks if you buy the right supplements and fitness gear from them. They’ll often back up their claims with unrealistic before and after pictures.

Which is not to say that “12, 3, 30” is a scam. It undoubtedly worked well for Giraldo and could likely do the same for many others. But before starting a new home workout, consult a doctor, certified trainer or other health care professional and when looking into an online trainer, ask yourself, do they care more about making you thinner or their wallets fatter?

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