February 14, 2011 / 11:06 AM / 8 years ago

When getting fit takes an online village

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Personal trainers are a resilient bunch. When the economy tanked they drifted from costly one-on-one sessions to more cost-effective small group training.

With clients still counting their pennies, trainers have now taken to the cloud on the theory that if you build that interactive website, they will come.

“Online personal training is similar to online dating,” said California-based trainer Jackie Warner. “When online dating came about, it was ‘what is this?’ and now it’s the number one way to date.”

Warner’s training site, on JackieWarner.com, debuted in September 2010, partly, she said, as an alternative to one-on-one sessions, which can run to $150 an hour.

“People cannot afford even $25 for group classes anymore,” said Warner, star of the cable TV weight-loss reality show “Thintervention.” “Everyone’s tightening their belts.”

At $11 a week, based on a 26-week package, there’s wiggle room.

While health club memberships have dipped from 45.5 million to 45.3 million between 2008 and 2009, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), the industry’s trade association, personal training has grown.

Some 6.5 million Americans are now using personal trainers up from 4 million in 1999, IHRSA said.

The sites rang from computer-generated workouts based on a client’s vital statistics, to highly personalized coaching supported by customized plans in an interactive community.

At Warner’s site the client answers an exhaustive questionnaire detailing fitness and eating habits and goals before selecting a real, not virtual, certified trainer from Warner’s crew.

“There’s a strong Facebook-like support system,” Warner explains. “People can talk to their trainers and to each other. Once the consumer gathers an empowerment team around, the success rate goes up greatly.”

At LeBootCamp.com, weight loss coach Valerie Orsoni and her team stress hands-on support with a French twist.

The online coaching, which costs from $15 to $29 a month, includes losing weight, toning and augmenting muscle mass and improving posture.

“I am here almost at their beck and call and can be contacted when they need me,” said Orsoni, who was born in France but lives in Silicon Valley, California.

“We start with a full evaluation of their lifestyle and then I use the tools, techniques and methods that will constitute their personal program.”

Pete McCall, of the American Council on Exercise, said online training is just a natural extension of our growing comfort with technology. But there’s a downside.

“We have all these great tools but they take away from personal interaction,” he said. “And you might lose feedback on proper form, technique and alignment.”

Orsoni’s latest book “Le Personal Coach,” insists you can shape up without a gym membership.

“Why do I need to go to a gym with people sweating, no oxygen and germs flying?” she said. “I mean, that’s crazy.”

On the recent bestseller “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” she is equally frank.

“French women do get fat. Their waists have expanded steadily for the past 10 years,” she said, blaming it on technology.

“It’s all these devices, like the Internet. We’re always sitting, tweeting,” she said. “We used to move more.”

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