Wendall Hughes has built his business on bringing fitness training and support to individuals in the comfort of their own homes.
But in recent years, the Ottawa-based owner of wendallsfitness.com has added another dynamic aimed at fostering a similar environment for another roster of clients - those whom he'll likely never meet in person.
In addition to home training, Hughes offers online coaching, connecting with clients locally and abroad by phone, email or Skype, typically for half-hour sessions.
Individuals drawn to online coaching may not necessarily want someone coming to their homes or may not be in the financial position to afford the home service, Hughes said.
Online coaching is typically around $45 for each half-hour session based on a three-month program, plus a $50 setup fee. Clients also receive a manual which includes a journal where they record their efforts, as well as pictures and handouts relative to their goals and needs.
They're assigned homework falling into three categories: improving or changing eating habits, and completing a designated amount of cardio sessions and strength or weight training activities.
"People think people lack motivation in fitness. It's a big key, of course, but what they lack typically is the habits that create the motivation and they lack consistency long enough so they get results," Hughes said.
"That little check every week, that to-do list, that homework, sort of keeps them on track and accountability to themselves."
Hughes said he tends to do the exact same thing in his online coaching as he does with the home training - except physically show up.
"I'm very much part of a person's lifestyle as opposed to just knowing their numbers of fitness and getting them to work out."
With getting in shape being top of mind for many heading into the new year, fitness buffs and workout wannabes will find a growing number of online resources from social networking sites to web-based content geared toward extending the boundaries of exercise and wellness beyond the gym.
Fitness has long been a way of life for Scott Bowen, so it seemed natural to fuse his passion for workouts and wellness and tech expertise into his new venture as owner and CEO of Fit-2Gether.com.
Launched in June, the free fitness social networking site helps individuals connect with others seeking to get active, looking for a workout partner, or to link them with fitness groups, classes or professionals in the field. The site also features a blog and chat forums.
"One of the cool aspects (is) that you can log on ... enter some of the chat conversations ... and hopefully find somebody else you have this common interest with that can maybe add a little bit of value to your life on a daily basis," he said from San Diego.
Beyond helping to bridge connections with local users, the site has seen steady traffic from abroad, with visitors from 183 different countries in November.
"I never thought in a million years that I would be having a conversation over email on Fit-2Gether.com with somebody from Uganda, Africa. But guess what? I've got somebody emailing me about diet advice and training advice," Bowen said.
Traditional fitness clubs are also tapping into the web to reach out to new and existing members.
Online health club Wexer is the engine behind GoodLife Fitness at Home. The site features an introduction from GoodLife Fitness founder David Patchell-Evans, a full slate of exercise videos and allows users to connect their GoodLife Fitness at Home profile with Facebook or Twitter. All the basic services are free, while those seeking more access and ad-free videos pay $4.95 a month or $11.95 for three months.
"There's no doubt what makes people come back to the gym again and again is when it becomes part of their social life, not only as something they do to exercise," said Wexer CEO Rasmus Ingerslev from Copehagen. "I thought that it was very important to bring the social element online, so we've actually digitalized the success criterias of a traditional health club which are both high-quality exercise but also a positive and supportive community."
The platform is used in more than 90 different countries, allowing users to connect globally, as well as to help members share goals individually and in groups.
"We have a group that wants to lose 20 pounds by Easter so they're quite supportive of one another and telling one another what they are doing to lose weight and stay away from all the good things this Christmas and how to work out to burn off all the calories that they've taken in," he said. "I do believe it is a positive and healthy environment and very supportive for people both in gyms and out of gyms."
Rod Macdonald, vice-president of Can-Fit-Pro, the largest provider of education in the Canadian fitness industry, said while web-based tools are great for increasing connection between a live personal trainer and client for follow-ups and support, they don't replace face-to-face communication.
"There's a rapport that's built between a personal trainer and their client or a coach and an athlete that as of yet hasn't been duplicated in the virtual environment," he said. "If there's a challenge that a client is facing, be it about adherence to exercise program or adherence to their nutrition plan or something, there are nuances to the communication that you're not going to necessarily pick up on through email or an online log."
"For me to say that it doesn't take the place of, doesn't mean it can't be used," he added. "It just means there's added benefits to the live communication."
Ultimately, Macdonald said it comes down to individuals finding the path that suits them best.
"If they can find anything that helps them either get on the path or get back on the path or stay on the path to really making fitness part of their lifestyle, then that really is what the most important part of it is."
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