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Fitness Founders Say Virtual, In-Person Training Can Coexist

Fitness Founders Say Virtual, In-Person Training Can Coexist

The leaders of Wrkout, FlexIt and Future believe the rise of virtual personal training isn’t a threat to in-person coaching but a boon to the industry
This article is part of ATN’s DISRUPT 2023 video series, which features key conversations with executives from the most successful brands in fitness and wellness. To watch more videos, click here

The personal training sector is currently experiencing a significant digital shift. 

Traditional face-to-face training is evolving, with the introduction of virtual and online methods making sessions vastly more accessible, affordable and convenient. Former trainers are returning to the field, thanks to more career options and specialization niches are thriving. 

A panel of founders from three personal training-focused fitness tech companies – Curtis Christopherson of Wrkout, Austin Cohen of FlexIt and Rishi Mandal of Future – convened at DISRUPT 2023 presented by Athletech News to discuss the seismic changes virtual training is bringing to the industry. 

The trio delved into the challenges, perspectives and opportunities brought on by recent innovations in digital personal training tools.

The Selling Points of Virtual Training 

How have the upheavals of recent years shaped business strategies, and what unique advantages does virtual training offer? 

Location is no longer a barrier, scheduling is flexible, with both live synchronous training and asynchronous workouts available on-demand, and costs are much lower without expensive brick-and-mortar facilities and limited appointment slots that force trainers to charge premium rates just to earn a living.

Mandal noted the limiting “lumpy demand curve” personal trainers must contend with if confined to in-person coaching. 

“Everyone wants 6-8 a.m. or 6-8 p.m. slots,” he said. “So trainers charge a lot for those busy hours, while having unused capacity during the day. It’s also local — trainers and clients must be in the same area. When you take that live requirement out (with digital), you get a lot more leverage for every coach.”

credit: Rishi Mandal/Future

“There are challenges associated with having to go to a location,” Cohen noted. “Being around others in a gym might not always feel comfortable for everyone. I don’t believe any of us are suggesting it’s strictly a choice between virtual and in-person; they can coexist. There are groups that can benefit from both, and others who might prefer one over the other. Fortunately, we’re in a time with increased opportunities and accessibility. Virtual options remove geographical and time barriers.”

Christopherson pointed out that conducting in-person training in markets demanding higher wages is becoming increasingly challenging. However, virtual platforms alter this dynamic, allowing top talents to work from any location. This shift is transformative for trainers and online coaches.

“The training industry often attracts young enthusiasts, ex-athletes, and passionate individuals starting their careers around 25 to 27 years old,” Christopherson said. “With high turnover rates due to capped earnings, burnout and challenging schedules – the demand typically being early mornings or late evenings – it’s vital to offer alternatives.”

Monetization, Compatibility & Innovation

The panelists’ companies are innovating in various ways. 

Workout provides a platform that enables trainers to monetize their expertise by recommending affiliate products and earning commissions based on their influence. FlexIt focuses on providing personalized, live remote training on-demand and also offers white-label digital solutions to gyms. And Future offers an asynchronous model where coaches provide fully customized workout plans each day via their app, along with daily check-ins. 

While approaches differ, the companies share a common goal of opening access to training for all.

“Over the past decade, social influencers became a bridge for brands to connect with consumers,” Christopherson said. “But trust doesn’t scale fast. Despite their recommendations, if someone didn’t have a vast audience, they missed out on influencer deals.”

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credit: Curtis Christopherson/Wrkout

Christopherson identified that 98% of wellness providers lack that level of “social influence,” but they influence people daily. Wrkout allows them to monetize that.

Blending Virtual & In-Person

The panelists agreed virtual training isn’t necessarily competing with gyms and studios. In fact, it can complement them. Cohen sees what Flexit does as being compatible with existing models.

“Much of our business’ foundation began with partnerships with gyms and studios,” he said. “Like most things in life, they don’t necessarily exist at the extreme ends of a spectrum. Gyms and studios are increasingly recognizing the need to embrace digital. They’re in the process of determining the best approach.”

credit: Austin Cohen/FlexIt

Mandal refers to “one continuous spectrum of activity,” which is part of a huge opportunity. With Future, members feel a sense of responsibility to attend the gym, and they also feel empowered with a clear plan in place. Above and beyond that, when partnering with physical gyms, Mandal finds that sharing insights, including data on equipment usage within the gym, is invaluable.

“This rich data, combined with our daily interactions with members, provides a comprehensive understanding of their emotional and mental states,” Mandal said. “By bridging digital and in-person systems, we can offer a seamless, hospitable experience that caters to users’ needs, whether they’re at the gym or home.”

Christopherson, Cohen and Mandal anticipate that the industry’s digital transformation will continue to make training accessible to more consumers, while also enabling more trainers to pursue fulfilling careers.

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