Creating a Digital Personal Training Business

Michael Canas

4th September 2020

I made sure I invested time to build on what was working, build my digital skills and build my new business.

My Background

Up until March 2020 when the world came to a grinding halt, I was working as a busy personal trainer who was primarily coaching people 1-to-1 or in small groups.

I specialise in coaching business leaders to transform their bodies after years of neglect in the corporate world, and most of these sessions were done face-to-face fitting around their busy schedules.

I also coached small groups in yoga, BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and MMA (Mixed Martial arts). All of which require close contact. 

When Covid-19 hit of course all classes stopped and all gyms closed, so I was left in a real predicament.

However, one thing I noticed almost straight away was how people were consuming so much panic and negativity that they were forgetting about their health and they were allowing themselves to be consumed by stress. 

I saw shops were pushing a lot of processed foods and alcohol. I also realised that with people moving less and consuming more (especially comfort food and alcohol) that there were going to be a lot of people getting out of shape quickly without realising it was happening.

Facetime to Fitness

By it’s very nature, my way of working has been coaching people in person, guiding their progress and building their confidence. I hadn’t, up until Covid, needed to be any different. Rather than waiting for the world to be unlocked, I took stock of my business, my skills and what I could offer online that didn’t compromise quality or safety. I created a plan that would keep me working hard to help others reach their goals.

Testing the Plan

I systematically reached out to the people I coached and set up Facetime, Zoom and Messenger video chats. I simply asked questions and listened. I then established regular check-ins with them to see how they were coping with lockdown and to see if I could help. It was a time of high anxiety for everyone. I was hearing the same issues and concerns over and over again:

  • Less activity: Not having to go into work, take children to school, go to gym, etc.
  • Loss of structure: No routine for training, hobbies or exercise
  • Overconsumption of alcohol !
  • Overconsumption of calories (particularly processed ‘convenience’ foods and takeaways).

From this I was able to deduce that many others would be experiencing similar problems if left to their own devices. Bearing in mind it was a difficult time for everyone and it was absolutely essential to try to relax and Stay Safe. It was also a complete mystery as to how long it would go on for so for those existing clients of mine who wanted it, I provided them with training and nutrition programs to follow so they could maintain their progress.

With further check-ins and video calls I got feedback. Clients loved the plans as it gave them some structure. Even if they didn’t have all the right food or equipment they adapted the programs to meet their circumstances.

Clients started getting results and it was clear that they also enjoyed the check-in sessions, the accountability, structure and the chance to chat!

Reflection and Repositioning

On reflection I realised that this was something I could potentially scale because a lot of people would be experiencing the same challenge. Rather than focus on one-to-ones I could also create a sense of community and well-being.

Becoming More Digital

Fast forward now to post-lockdown and I have a thriving on-line community of clients

I used my time in lockdown to create my own new daily structure, this included learning new digital skills, video techniques, editing, use of new software, hosting platforms etc. I became excited for my own new challenges and my own goals as well as helping more people.

To create a sense of community I set up a Lockdown Challenge. This was essentially an online training platform where I coached clients by providing home workout plans, nutrition plans, video tutorials, recipes and online resources to make sure my new clients had everything they needed to get (and stay) in shape.

I learnt so much setting up the platform, much of it by trial and error! I made sure I listened to the feedback and I used a good coach myself who could help when I was stuck on a problem. I also learnt that scaling something on paper is much harder in reality, so I tried to do things in stages rather than have a big “grand plan”.

My New Working Day

  • on-line check-ins with clients
  • designing programmes for them to follow at home
  • using video tutorials and live video calls
  • teaching yoga, mobility and strength programmes all via video
  • regular goal setting and accountability touch points
  • hosting weekly webinars and posting workouts to stay in shape.
  • Building a sense of community, structure and progress.

That was then, this is now

When lockdown happened my face-to-face business stopped. My first small steps online involved 8 clients – they were so pleased with their progress in the first month that word of mouth meant that I started getting more people asking to sign up.

I made sure I invested time to build on what was working, build my digital skills and build my new business. The more people that signed up, meant I was able to also build a thriving online community.

All my clients were on the same mission of getting back in shape. I was able to share resources and get feedback on what people really needed. Clients felt confident in supporting each other too, sharing resources and giving each other support and encouragement.

Fast forward now to post-lockdown and I have 40 online clients in a thriving online community all of whom have stories to tell. These include those who have taken up yoga for the first time, quit smoking, dropped a dress/waist size, lowered their blood pressure, become more flexible or simply survived lockdown and built enough confidence to combat the negative side of the current pandemic.

I have learnt a lot too. Gyms where I am are now open and I am back to training people face-to-face (with physical distancing) but the skills I learnt during lockdown and the feedback I got has meant that I will build up my online business so that it compliments my “in person” business.

My tips to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position:

I took the opportunity to learn new digital skills that would help me take the action required

Mindset: While everyone around me was being pessimistic and negative I looked for the opportunities.

Ask yourself: What is the opportunity? 

Focus: What we focus on we feel; I focused on helping people. Not discussing negativity that would help no-one. 

Ask yourself: How can I help people to solve a problem? What is the problem they want to solve?

Approach: I wanted to help more people during lockdown, the gyms were closed but people still wanted to keep fit. The internet provided all the software, programs and apps I needed to continue to deliver an elite level service to my clients – especially with Zoom, Facebook, YouTube and Notion.

Ask yourself: What resources do I need to deliver a top class service? Who can help me acquire them?

Skills: I reflected on all the skills I had and then I reflected on those I didn’t have but needed to acquire. I took the opportunity to learn new digital skills that would help me take the action required.

Ask yourself: What skills do I have and what skills do I need to learn?

Action: If you don’t take action you stand still. I needed to take action. So I made a plan and then just followed it!

Ask yourself: What problem do I need to solve? What skills do I need to learn? Who can help me? What actions must I take? What action must take right now?

Michael’s Background

Michael Cañas is a personal coach specialising in 1-1 private training, online coaching and lifestyle transformations. He has an undergraduate degree and a Master of Philosophy in Behavioural Studies.

He has been a semi-professional MMA fighter and an active competitor in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, both of which have led him to competing all over Europe.

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