How useful really is an online personal trainer?

Photo credit: Kilito Chan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kilito Chan – Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

When the gyms closed in March, I won’t lie – I was gutted. I’d finally got back into the swing of things on the exercise front (after a very jolly Christmas break and a trip to Lisbon, where I ate enough Portuguese custard tarts to feed a family of twelve for weeks). I’d found a happy routine of weight training three times a week in the gym, spin classes and playing netball. All in all, I was feeling pretty active.

But then lockdown hit. Suddenly, I had to completely rethink my exercise routine and alter what I did to get on a sweat on, factoring in the equipment I had at home. Luckily, I have enough kit for a decent session in the garden, but after doing the same weights routine over and over again for three months, it quickly became… boring. My motivation to exercise started to slide. Who knew I’d miss waiting for someone to get off the squat rack, or a PT shouting at me to push that little bit harder, as my legs felt close to falling off during a spin class?

I wanted to try something new, get out of my plateau and rediscover the motivation to work out again. Basically, I wanted to feel excited about exercise and keep pushing myself – rather than bin it off in favour of a Domino’s. I’d never done remote training before, but when I was offered a few complementary sessions with Aimee Long, founder of the Body Beautiful Method, and an online strength and conditioning coach (specialising in barre and Pilates), I leapt at the chance.

I’ve had PT sessions in the past and loved the whole mentality of showing up, not having to plan out your own session and being encouraged to work whilst someone else counts your reps and rest times. It was absolute bliss. I couldn’t wait to train like this again, although I did have a few concerns…

Online VS IRL

The first being avoiding injury. Without having a trainer there in person, how could they adjust me or make sure I didn’t hurt myself? Netball has seen me suffer with torn ligaments, broken fingers and twisted ankles over the years, making exercise harder, even post-recovery. While I’ve been able to adapt, I would always raise my hand at the beginning of an IRL class and let the instructor know about my niggles so they could keep an eye on me and offer adaptions.

I also worried about the booking process and any initial awkwardness. We all know Zoom meetings can be a bit bumbling in the beginning, never mind with added Lycra. But it turns out, booking in with Aimee was super easy – she welcomes potential clients DMing her on Instagram, emailing or scheduling a call. After a couple of messages, we set up a time to chat over the phone ahead of my first session, so she could get a clear view of my current fitness and the goals I wanted to achieve within the three weeks we would train together. As soon as she said hello, my nerves were put to rest.

I easily told Aimee all about wanting to lose a little bit of weight, build up my stamina and work on my glute strength. Luckily, she said they all my goals seemed doable within the timeframe. She also provided a nutrition guide, including daily meal plans, which was super helpful and as well as our private sessions, I was able to join in with any of her daily Zoom classes too. To say I was excited to get going was an understatement.

With a thigh band and two wine bottles ready to act as hand weights, the only equipment needed, I adjusted my laptop to a suitable angle (as instructed by Aimee), so that my form was visible. Waiting in the Zoom lobby for our session to start, I did feel another flash of nerves – it’s always slightly daunting ‘meeting’ someone for the first time over a video call – but Aimee was really friendly and quickly put me to work, alleviating any anxiety.

On the basis that I was already quite active, she decided we’d do an ‘advanced’ level class which is barre mixed with yoga and strength training. Slightly intimidating, yes, but I love a challenge and without sounding like a gym rat, my experience with lifting heavy weights meant that I thought the class would be a breeze… I was wrong.

I definitely underestimated just how hard small movements with high reps could be (the core crux to barre). Lifting my legs up into all sorts of angles and positions, moving limbs in circular motions, then changing direction and doing small pulses up and down, had my whole body trembling whilst beads of sweat rolled down my nose. I’ve been told countless times by PTs and physios I have ‘lazy’ glutes (sorry, guys) and that it takes a lot to get them fired up.

Photo credit: staticnak1983 - Getty Images
Photo credit: staticnak1983 – Getty Images

Within the first five minutes of this session, my glutes were *very* awake. Mixed in with a burst of cardio here and there (hello, mountain climbers, my old nemesis) the hourlong workout whizzed by. Aimee adjusted my form or gave alternative movements throughout, due to my earlier mentioned injuries, and in comparison to an in-person PT session, I sweated just as hard. By the end, I felt absolutely beasted – and all by using only a minimal amount of equipment. Who said wine was just for drinking?

A few days after being put through my paces, my glute and quad muscles were still hurting. Always a good sign. It takes a lot to have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in my glutes so I was pleasantly surprised. My second and third session with Aimee were similar to the first with minimal equipment needed, a now-familiar deep burning of muscles, more mountain climbers and lots of sweat.

A permanent game changer?

I loved how easy the online sessions made my day. From quickly getting changed into activewear five minutes before the call, to grabbing equipment to setting up the laptop. Compared to going to the gym or a real-life class, where the commute time could be up to a one or two hour round trip (that’s London for you), I felt like I was able to keep fit and still make the most of my day, without a chunk of it being stood on a tube glaring at strangers.

That said, I do still miss having other people around me while exercising; I push myself harder when I’m in a spin class and can see the person next to me notching up the resistance. Not having that extra motivation meant I’ve definitely skipped a few reps, or finished a workout earlier than intended, when left to my own at-home devices – this is another reason having Aimee offering on-screen encouragement was so fantastic. She made me to hold on a little longer and smash any challenge she threw my way. This was probably what I loved the most about our sessions.

As for equipment – while I pined a little for all the machines, weights and gizmos a gym membership provides (especially a treadmill when it’s absolutely lashing it down outside), it didn’t stop me from reaching the goals I’d set out to achieve: after following Aimee’s nutrition plan and working out privately with her twice a week, for three weeks, I’m definitely feeling trimmer and was even able to hit a 5km personal best, something I’d been trying to achieve for months. My shoulders feel stronger and I’ve noticed an improvement in my mobility, which has been an issue for me thanks to those pesky past injuries.

Before starting with Aimee, I felt like I’d hit a real wall with my fitness. Nothing was changing, I was doing the same thing over and over and not seeing the results I wanted. I was extremely bored – I guess partly because of being at home during lockdown, making do with the little equipment I had available. However Aimee’s classes were exciting, tough and I loved turning up with no idea what the next hour would hold.

That said, I doubt I’ll cancel my gym membership entirely. I like having access to other equipment too much – but if you’ve hit a plateau in your training, like I did, then virtual sessions could be the perfect shake-up you need. I’ll still be tuning into Aimee’s daily classes too, on those days I can’t face squishing myself onto the Central Line or fancy a lie-in. I’ll be the red-faced girl, swearing under her breath, as we begin another round of mountain climbers. See you there?

A virtual session with Aimee costs £75, but discounted bulk packages – including unlimited online classes, a nutrition plan and regular check-ins – are also available. For more information, visit her website here.

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