During the COVID-19 pandemic, many fitness coaches were forced to take their business online. Around the world, stay-at-home orders and indoor gathering restrictions left gyms and fitness studios — the usual places where fitness coaches meet with clients — closed for months.
As we (finally) come out of the pandemic, many people still opt for online fitness coaching. Clients find it convenient. They get to work out from the comfort of their home, save the time they’d spend getting to the fitness studio, and keep the money they’d spend on gym memberships.
This newfound appreciation for online training is great news for coaches. Virtual sessions can be an add-on to a regular in-person agenda or a full-time approach. And online coaching presents many opportunities to make great money. On top of working with clients one-on-one (online or in person), online fitness professionals can, for example, sell self-guided online training program packages.
Keep reading to find out how to build an online fitness coaching business. In this guide, we cover everything from building a strategy, through designing and pricing your online training program, all the way to a successful launch.
Let’s get started!
What does an online fitness coach do?
An online fitness coach provides fitness instruction over the internet.
This can take on many forms, from live training sessions for individuals or groups (using a video conferencing tool like Zoom, Google Meets, or FaceTime) to selling self-guided fitness programs online.
What qualifications do you need to be a fitness coach?
Technically, the job of a fitness coach is not regulated by the law. This means you don’t need a specific license, degree or certification to start an online fitness coaching business.
However, investing in formal education is crucial. First of all, you want to make sure that you have an impeccable understanding of the human body and don’t recommend any form of exercise that could result in injury.
Another reason you should consider formal fitness coach education is that the field is very competitive. Continuously improving your skills and being able to show off certifications will give your business credibility and help you stand out from the competition.
How do online fitness coaches make money?
Let’s start with the obvious. Many online fitness coaches make the bulk of their income through traditional — albeit virtual — one-on-one workout sessions.
Many different arrangements can work for online training. You can, for example, coach your client over a video call while they work out in their home gym. Or, you can build custom workout plans for your clients, and check in on their progress via calls or messages. Everything depends on your and your client’s individual preferences.
You would typically price virtual fitness coaching sessions per hour or per package.
Selling online fitness plans
Self-guided training plans are a great way for online fitness coaches to make passive income. Once you design and build a course that guides your audience through a workout (or a series of workouts — sky is the limit), you can keep selling it for as long as it stays relevant.
Online fitness courses are the fastest way for fitness coaches to scale their businesses. Launching a successful course does require a smart pricing strategy and a bit of marketing, but it’s not rocket science. We cover the process in detail a bit further along in this article.
Social media sponsorships
If you have a large following on social media, you can make money by creating branded content — just like influencers in any other niche do.
To get started, put together a pitch deck. It should include:
- Basic information about yourself and your fitness coaching business
- Your social media stats (number of followers, engagement rate, etc.)
- Information about your audience demographics
Then, reach out to some brands you’d like to work with. In some cases, you might only get free
products or services in exchange for a brand shoutout on your account, but more elaborate partnerships always involve monetary compensation.
To maintain your audience’s trust, make sure you only recommend brands and products you truly believe in. Also, always disclose sponsorships — it’s the law.
Fitness coaches with a reputation in the industry and/or a large social media following can also generate passive income by selling thought leadership eBooks.
There are many ways to go about this — you can write about fitness motivation, break down simple workout programs, or share any other proprietary expertise in your eBook.
Once you create an eBook, advertise it across your social media channels and email lists to make sure the word gets out to a wide audience.
Depending on your marketing strategy, you might choose to offer some of your training programs on YouTube. Why would you? It can be a great way to introduce new potential clients to your brand and encourage them to upgrade to your paid services by offering free materials that prove the quality of your training.
Once your YouTube videos start gaining traction, they can become an additional source of passive income if you enable ads on your channel. Learn more about setting up an AdSense account and making money on YouTube from Google’s guide.
How to become an online fitness coach in 9 steps
If you’re considering the career of an online fitness coach, the steps outlined below will help you get set up for success. We’ve included instructions for building (and marketing, and selling) a self-guided virtual training program, but the bulk of these tips also apply to one-on-one online personal training.
Step 1: Identify your niche
In other words, narrow your scope of work down to a specialization that 1) you excel at, and 2) your target customers can benefit from.
Casting a wide net and marketing yourself simply as a “fitness coach” may seem like a good idea, but you are more likely to land engaged and determined clients if you cater to a specific need.
Do you want to be a running coach? Weight-loss coach? Focus on strength training? The possibilities are endless. If your skills are versatile enough (or you’re undecided), try to identify a gap in the market and build your niche around it. For example, you could offer running coaching to people preparing for a specific, well-known marathon.
Step 2: Work on your skills
Earlier on in this article, we mentioned that you technically don’t need licences, degrees, and certificates to become an online fitness trainer, but we encourage you to inverst in education. It will add credibility to your coaching practice, help you stand out from your competition, and, quite simply, make you a better coach.
The personal training certifications listed below are a great starting point. They are all officially accredited and widely recognized in the United States.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- American Council of Exercise (ACE)
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT)
- National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)
Step 3: Set up a coaching framework
Before you roll up your sleeves and start putting together your online fitness course (we’re getting there, we promise!), you should figure out how you want to structure your coaching program as well as individual sessions. Planning an easy to replicate framework will save you a lot of time down the line.
Your framework should include:
- A client assessment template. This can be an interview in one-on-one sessions. For self-guided online courses, thorough audience research can stand in for this step.
- A list of resources. This can include anything from your proprietary workout plans, through motivational stories, examples, and anecdotes, all the way down to additional materials like diet plans.
- A goal-setting matrix. Map out how you’re going to frame your clients’ short and long-term goals in a constructive and SMART way as well as how you are going to track their progress.
If you’re not sure where to get started, use our free coaching program template for inspiration.
Step 4: Build your personal brand
Your real-life clients who you work with face-to-face at the gym know you. They get to experience your personality, sense of humor, and unique approach to coaching. One of the reasons they choose to work out with you — and not any other coach — is probably that they like you.
Your potential online clients, on the other hand, might not even know you exist. Before you try to reach them with your online services, plan how you’re going to convey your personality, humor, uniqueness, etc. in your marketing materials and your training packages. This is what personal branding comes down to.
Your personal brand will include:
- A mission statement
- A unique selling proposition
- A logo
- A set of design guidelines for other assets
… and more. Branding is an important element of any successful business, so don’t skip this part. For more inspiration, read our 7-step guide to creating a profitable personal brand.
Step 5: Set up your online fitness course
You have your coaching framework, you have your brand. Now, it’s time to actually design and build your online fitness course.
Finding the right tool is the key to success. The easiest way to host a paid fitness course online is using a learning management system (LMS) like Thinkific.
Using Thinkific, you can design and set up a fully customized learning experience. The platform is intuitive and beginner-friendly — you don’t need any advanced technical skills or previous experience building online courses to use it. Thinkific also has all the features you need to market, sell, and deliver your course.
Here’s how easy it is to set up an online course using Thinkific.
Use Thinkific to make a bigger impact on your clients and earn more revenue — without trading your time for money.
Step 6: Work out a pricing strategy
Finding the right price point for your virtual fitness package can be a stressful exercise, especially if you’re new to selling courses online.
A low price point may affect how people perceive the value of your materials — and will definitely affect your potential earnings. A very high price might make your course inaccessible to a big chunk of your target audience.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits all answer to the question of how much your course should cost, here are some things you should do before you set a final price:
- Research your competitors’ pricing to validate market demand
- Test different price points
- Price against alternative solutions (i.e. how much time and money would your clients spend achieving a similar outcome on their own)
- Factor in the value of all the resources your course includes (e.g. additional eBooks or diet plans)
Learn more in our complete guide to course pricing.
Step 7: Market and launch your online fitness course
So your course is all set up, priced, and ready to go. Now, you have to make sure it gets on your potential clients’ radar, so you can start generating sales.
There are many ways to go about marketing an online fitness course. The most popular strategies are:
- Promoting your course on your blog or YouTube channel
- Including a link to your course in your email signature
- Sending out a dedicated offer to your mailing list
- Hosting a live webinar or training session
- Speaking at relevant events, meetups and conferences
- Running social media and Google search ads
- Leaving flyers and posters at local fitness centers
This is plenty to get started, but if you want to get truly creative about getting customers for your fitness course, check out this blog post, where we list 58 (sic!) ways to market an online course.
Step 8: Collect feedback
Competition in the online health and fitness coach world is pretty steep. To make sure your training packages and courses remain relevant and attractive to your target audience, you’ll want to collect feedback from your clients on a regular basis.
Not all of your clients will be naturally inclined to share their opinion with you, even if they love your services. Here’s how you can give them a nudge:
- Ask. This sounds obvious, but whenever you get a chance to interact with a client face-to-face, simply ask how they feel about your services. Be specific — encourage them to point out areas where you could improve as well as elements of your training packages they found particularly useful or well-delivered.
- Enable reviews on social media. Some social media platforms, like Facebook, have built-in review functionalities. Make sure that you have this feature enabled for your Facebook Page.
- Send out surveys. This is your best shot at collecting really granular feedback. Once a client completes your online training, ask them to complete a survey. But don’t include too many questions — you don’t want people dropping out halfway through the process (some feedback is better than none).
Step 9: Analyze and improve
Some of the feedback you collect might be negative — nobody’s perfect. Don’t let it stress you out. Instead, treat it as an opportunity to improve your business and learn new things about your target audience. Whenever it’s possible, make sure you translate less-than-glowing reviews into action items. Then, implement and move on.
Get started today
Now that you know what it takes to become an online fitness coach, you’re ready to get started.
With Thinkific, you can grow your online fitness business by adding self-guided workout courses to your repertoire. Our easy-to-use online course design platform helps coaches, educators, and digital content creators build engaging, custom eLearning experiences and grow sustainable businesses online.
Get started for free today, and see how Thinkific’s course creation, marketing, and selling tools will help you grow your business. No tech skills required.
Use Thinkific to make a bigger impact on your clients and earn more revenue — without trading your time for money.
This article was originally published March 2022, it was updated March 2023 to be even more useful!