Personal Trainers’ Perspectives on Online Training: 2020 CPTN Interviews

Personal trainer
By Susan Lee, PhD, CPTN-CPT

By Susan Lee, PhD, CPTN-CPT

The impact of the global pandemic has completely disrupted the fitness industry. Fitness facility closures and the stay-at-home directives drastically altered the livelihoods of most personal trainers and fitness professionals. During the April to May 2020 period, the Certified Professional Trainers Network (CPTN) implemented the 2020 CPTN Survey on Online Services and the 2020 CPTN Interviews on Online Services to gain insights on the state of personal trainers’ businesses.

While the survey provided important quantitative data, more information in the form of interviews was needed to learn about personal trainers’ online experiences during COVID-19 and their thoughts about the future.


The 2020 CPTN Interviews on Online Services included questions on:


  • thoughts and feelings about their businesses over the past month (March- April 2020)
  • coping strategies during stay-at-home directives
  • business profiles and experiences with online services
  • types of services offered for online services
  • plans for online services


The business profile of the personal trainers interviewed included:


  • 15 trainers interviewed in April-May 2020
  • experiences which ranged from 5 to 20+ years in the fitness field
  • clients consisting of teenagers, men and women
  • age ranges of clients from 14 – 90+ years old
  • clients’ needs ranging from general fitness, post-rehabilitation, weight management, sports-specific training (i.e. hockey and soccer)
  • some turning to online training overnight, others took 1-2 weeks to adjust, while one trainer has been providing online services for over 10 years


Based on the interviews, a couple of broad themes emerged: focus on your clients’ needs and develop your business. 


Focus on your clients’ needs:
  • Start slow; not everyone is technologically savvy. Let clients sample a 30 min session.
  • Be patient with clients. Use platforms that clients are comfortable with and are user-friendly.
  • Check that the online platform is reliable for both sides, and try connecting a few times before the paid session. Check that the chosen platform is compatible with all clients.
  • Optimize your visual and auditory cues with the potential purchase of a light source to brighten dark areas and a mic to enhance your voice.
  • Consider safety needs and ensure the clients’ training environments are free of potential hazards. Choose exercises that match the clients’ abilities to complete the exercises independently.


Personal trainer, Victoria Swindell, CPTN-CPT, reminds us all about a client-centered approach, “During these unprecedented times, clients are looking to me to be optimistic. I always flip it to the positive space, and it’s really important to be optimistic.”


What do you offer remotely/online?

2020 CPTN Survey on Online Services
Develop Your Business


  • Ask yourself to weigh the pros and cons of online training for your business and clientele.
  • Set up an emergency fund for personal and business purposes, and consider setting aside six months for a rainy-day fund to cover your personal and business expenses.
  • Think of this as an opportunity. Take this time off to work on what you want for your business growth and development.
  • Advance your communication and verbal skills.
  • Find a specific market, and focus on how you can help your clients solve their challenges.
  • Be able to refer and communicate with other professionals (i.e. yoga instructor, physiotherapists).
  • Build your email list to promote to current clients and for them to share your new online services with their friends and networks.
  • Online training is the way of the future and is becoming more popular.
  • Use technology to enhance your services.
  • Be open to learning and have a growth mindset.

Technology platforms used for online services

2020 CPTN Survey on Online Service

Here are additional personal trainer tips from Josh Kahn, CPTN-CPT.M, as he reflects on business development: “Become diverse, so you are not limiting yourself. If you are not able to survive, you are missing out on systems. Use a hybrid model of in-person and online training. Ask yourself, what do you want to do? Do you want to be as successful as possible? It’s a steep learning curve, and then it flattens out.”


Personal trainer, Darren Grandel, CPTN-CPT.M, CPTN-PRCS, CPTN-CYS, embraces an optimistic perspective on online training:  “COVID-19 has been a big disruption to our lives, but disruptions make us grow and stretch. It’s made me rethink my business and grow. When we come out on the other side of COVID-19, I’m excited about the new ways, the new blend of ways I will be conducting my business.”


The 100+ days of adhering to the stay-at-home mandate fostered new ideas to percolate and become a reality. While some trainers have not offered online training during the past few months, over 70% of trainers have either moved their clients online or are planning to do so soon, according to the 2020 CPTN Survey on Online Services. Online services can be both a short-term and long-term solution to your business needs and growth.

For a free copy of the 2020 CPTN Survey on Online Services and to learn more about Online PTN, a web-based platform designed to service your clients and to build your online business, log on to


SUSAN LEE, PhD, CPTN-CPT, is the president of the Certified Professional Trainers Network (CPTN) Inc. As a CPTN-CPT, certified Pilates instructor, and Thai bodywork practitioner, she specializes in post-rehabilitation training, sport-specific conditioning, and active aging. She is the co-author of Business Strategies for Personal Training and Start Your Fitness Business (book and online course). She lectures at the college and university levels on leadership, business and equity studies, presents at international conferences, and publishes in peer-reviewed journals and educational platforms to share her research, practices and passions.

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