Do you need a personal trainer when working out from home?

Welcome to Fighting Fit: Lockdown Lessons While WOFH (working out from home). We’re reflecting on how the pandemic has changed our physical and mental health as we approach the one-year anniversary of lockdown. 

This time last year we were bombarded by Instagram Lives, the daily walks and the Run 5 Donate 5 challenges. But for many people, lockdown was about more than just throwing themselves into random workouts to make up for a lack of commuting steps. They craved structure amid the mish-mash of chaos, or they wanted to learn how to maximise their new home workouts, so they hired people for the jobs. Suddenly, personal trainers were mainstream. 

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While the fitness industry has been hit undeniably hard by lockdown, there’s been a 159% increase in active adults in the UK who see personal trainers as the best solution to reaching their fitness goals in 2021, according to a survey of over 36,000 people across the world by RunRepeat. 

Interestingly, people are seeing personal coaches as something for the long term, with women favouring an investment in a personal trainer more than a gym membership. In 2021, only 8% of active adults see the gym as the best option for their health, a 60% decrease from the beginning of 2020.

“I think the reason more people have been looking for a PT is probably linked with people’s greater appreciation for physical activity, movement and exercise,” says sports psychologist Dr Charlotte Hilton. “While health professionals have always been advocates for exercise as a tool to maintain good health and mental wellbeing, it’s taken the shared experience of a pandemic and the restrictions that have been brought with that for others to find the benefits of exercise for the first time.”

Lockdown has made many women turn to personal trainers

While these benefits can be found by taking part in a myriad of free workout videos online, it’s clear we want something more. We want something individualised. That was the case for Jordan Hulse, an advertising executive, who hired a coach at the start of 2021. 

“After many months of lockdown, I was lacking inspiration and motivation, getting really bored of watching other people’s videos online,” she says. “I never had a lot of confidence with fitness, so I never knew what to do when it came to my own workouts, but now I have someone who’s so knowledgeable to tell me what to do and to hold me accountable.” 

Dr Hilton isn’t surprised that personalised healthcare has become more popular during lockdown, but rather than looking for physical benefits, she thinks it’s down to rising rates of loneliness. “It’s entirely reasonable to suggest that we’re all looking for some sense of greater connectedness with people,” says Dr Hilton. “The extra bonus is that if that connection also relates to our own self-care, as talking to a PT about moving more or partaking in structured exercise does, then it further enhances our wellbeing.

“A lot of us have been perhaps too resilient during the pandemic, adopting a ‘just get on with it’ attitude. It’s only when you have these meaningful connections with someone such as a trainer that you allow yourself to be vulnerable, which is really important right now.” 

A lot of us have been perhaps too resilient during the pandemic. It’s only when you have these meaningful connections with a trainer that you allow yourself to be vulnerable.

You might think online coaching doesn’t give you the same experience as an in-person  session, given how hard digital communication is (let alone when trying to communicate how to move our bodies and check form). But it turns out that many people may have had a better experience with online PTs than they ever did in the gym. Perhaps it’s because they’re less distracted, they have to really check in on the screen to check your squat, and they have to be able to communicate more openly.

“There’s been an increase in curiosity about what psychologically informed communication skills PTs can integrate into their routine practice,” says Dr Hilton. “Arguably, now we’re restricted in terms of body language, integrating conversation and establishing a relationship is absolutely critical.”

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Women in particular find this useful – we’re a huge 53% more likely to want a personal trainer than men. Perhaps unsurprising, given that This Girl Can has reported that feeling as though you’re not good enough, you’ll be judged or you’re holding the group back is one of the biggest barriers to exercise for women. Logging on virtually takes a lot of that pressure off of your training, making more women feel at ease right now, but also giving them the skills they need to be confident when going back into the gym.

“I was always quite embarrassed to go to a PT because I thought I wasn’t good enough,” says Jordan. “I didn’t have any friends in the gym before because I find it an uncomfortable experience, so training from home with guidance has really helped. Now I love knowing that I’m going to turn up and be pushed harder than I’d push myself, but also that I’ll  have some human conversation, a nice one-to-one chat.”

Of course, trainers have never been so accessible, given that many people have more time to train and some PTs have lowered their rates now they don’t have to pay for gym hire. What will be interesting is whether people want to continue with their coach after lockdown, because simply being affordable isn’t enough for us to commit long term, says Dr Hilton. “The quality of the relationship is so important when it comes to predicting whether that will be maintained or not. Value in a relationship with a PT, who fundamentally is helping us to change our behaviour, comes from trust, openness, feeling safe, working collaboratively, kindness and genuineness.” 

For Jordan, she’ll carry on training with an expert for as long as she’s learning. “I never thought I needed one, but now I’ve realised how much I’m learning from their expertise,” she says. “I’d definitely keep seeing a PT up when gyms open.” 

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