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The Future of Coaching and Programming will be Digitized and Globalized

October 14, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
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At the tail end of 2019, the world of online fitness was fringe at best. 

Allied Market Research had it valued around US$6 million globally and it was largely made up of generalized video tutorials on YouTube and forward thinking personal trainers helping clients who had to travel for work, or clients looking for incredibly specific programming.

Brick and mortar gyms were booming, along with participation sports and a wide variety of new disciplines were coming onto the fitness market in fulsome numbers when it came to average consumers: yoga, pilates, HIIT classes, spin cycle and CrossFit.

Then COVID-19 swept across the globe in 2020 and the entire industry was turned on its head within the span of a few months. To say the global pandemic revolutionized fitness wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but it also would possibly be an understatement. Gyms being shut across the globe shocked the industry like never before, and forced an entire world of people trying to stay in shape to rethink how they got their daily fix of exercise. 

All told, 89% of CrossFit Affiliates worldwide shut their doors. 

Now, emerging from the pandemic, market researchers believe online fitness will hit $59 billion by 2027, massive growth for an industry only now getting its footing as the pandemic and lockdowns across the world wane.

Leon Cassidy, who founded Fitr Training – a SaaS business for remote coaching – in 2018, and works with CrossFit names like WIT, JST Compete, Battle Cancer and Invictus Training, said it did appear like the ground shifted overnight and their product was suddenly in high demand.

“So it was successful before, and whatever post COVID is, I don’t think anyone knows what post COVID is yet, or what it will look like really. But what COVID has done is thrust [remote coaching] into the limelight.”

Leon Cassidy, founder of Fitr Training

“It really did seem like the market went, ‘Wow, okay remote coaching, I need to do something in this space,’” said Cassidy, whose background is in corporate financing and venture capital investing. “So it was successful before, and whatever post COVID is, I don’t think anyone knows what post COVID is yet, or what it will look like really. But what COVID has done is thrust it into the limelight.”

Cassidy said he has seen a lot of market saturation in terms of online fitness apps, however he did also see another shift. Coaches, normally traditional dinosaurs when it came to embracing the online world, were suddenly keen to expand their businesses through technology given their client base were stuck at home. Cassidy said the game changer is they’ve realized they don’t have to do one or the other, now that COVID-19 has reshaped the market, and consumer’s expectations.

“It’s not binary,” he said. “And I think there has been a realization that you can strike a balance and also scale your business as well, for the coach and the user.”

One of those coaches who has embraced the approach is Hong Kong’s Ed Haynes. The Coastal Fitness founder and CEO, who coaches his brother Ant, who came 27th at the 2019 CrossFit Games, is a veritable jack of all trades: he runs a gym, a podcast, co-founded a fitness apparel company, Earned Athletic, and also does online programming. 

Turns out Haynes has actually been doing online programming and coaching for about ten years, and he now has more than 4,000 subscribers to The Process Programming. Haynes said the biggest mistake he made at the start was thinking those who gravitate towards online programming were naturally “self-motivated”.

“I think that’s what people think they’re getting into, but the thing that really retains people is that feeling of being cared for, and the feeling of being part of something else, whether that’s a community, or with a coach. And it’s about building relationships, with the coach or the rest of the online community.”

Haynes said part of this is accountability, which when you boil it down, can be as simple as a daily check in on the user’s emotional state. Cassidy agrees, and said this is massive in making sure people not only sign up, but stick around. 

“the thing that really retains people is that feeling of being cared for, and the feeling of being part of something else, whether that’s a community, or with a coach. And it’s about building relationships, with the coach or the rest of the online community.”

Ed Haynes, Coastal Fitness Founder

“We also have a function where the coach can see if you have opened the app but haven’t filled anything in yet. So they know if you have even looked at it. Of course there is always going to be a trade off, it’s never going to be that guy standing next to you while you’re on a treadmill.”

The next wave of global analysis will be how the world emerges from COVID-19, and how specific markets changed. Online shopping has obviously boomed, however customers are also keen to return to stores for a variety of reasons, one of them being the ability to access quality customer service when necessary.

The restaurant industry, forced into takeaway and delivery mode in large swathes of the world for months on end is now returning to dine in, and research has shown people aren’t as hesitant to return to their favourite spot as many believed. Workers, sent home during the pandemic, aren’t returning to the offices at pre-COVID-19 levels, however some are relishing the chance to get out of their homes, away from their kids and spouses, and mingle with colleagues again. Like online fitness, said Cassidy, many of these industries have now adopted a “hybrid” method and methodology. 

The rise of online fitness has also brought about a global trend in how people choose their coaches and programming. One of the findings from Allied Market Research’s study was that people are much more inclined to buy into subscription models than pre-COVID-19, which means the biggest barrier to entry for any app – money – is being beaten down. 

Malaysia’s CrossFit country champion, Valerie Toh, currently lives in Australia where she is attending university, and uses CompTrain, one of the industry’s first companies in the space. North America and Asia-Pacific are pegged as the two biggest areas of growth when it comes to this industry. 

“A massive pro is the convenience of it,” said Toh, who has been using CompTrain for four years. “It’s in an app on your phone, you can access it whenever, and if you have any questions you can click ‘Ask a coach’ to talk to someone on the CompTrain team.”

Toh did point out one of the hurdles with online programming is the time zone difference given she is in Australia and CompTrain is an American-based company, however she said it’s not something that bothers her too much. 

“[CompTrain] is in an app on your phone, you can access it whenever, and if you have any questions you can click ‘Ask a coach’ to talk to someone on the CompTrain team.”

Valerie Toh, Malaysian National Champion

“Another pro is that it gives you a mindset piece everyday. I find that it really gets me through the session. The sessions can be pretty long sometimes but they always have a stimulus, and I find knowing how to attack a workout, like how many sets to aim for, how much rest, how many breaks, is really helpful because it teaches you to strategize.”

Toh said of course, as Cassidy mentioned, there is a trade off when it comes to online programming and coaching, and she suggests augmenting it with in person coaching and training.

“If you don’t have certain skills, let’s say you can’t handstand walk, you won’t have someone physically there to correct you or to teach you how. I’d recommend getting external help, which is why I joined a weightlifting club to work on my technique and I go to a gymnastics gym every week to work on skills and drills. For people who are not very intrinsically motivated, it can also be pretty hard to get through a session if you are by yourself and you don’t have a coach screaming at you.”

Cassidy said at the end of the day it all goes back to what was generally available in the realm of the online fitness world before COVID-19, and what is out there now.

“I can go onto YouTube and find a video for free, and cherry pick stuff. But it’s that structured approach to it that people are after. Is this getting me the results that I want to get? Perhaps maybe if I am really motivated, but perhaps not. I know what I am doing in the gym, but to have something sent to me, a structured program with a goal or a target, bang, that’s got real value.”

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