Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Choosing an Online Coach

by Rori Alter, DPT SSC | July 23, 2019

online coaching client passes on a video for review

In an ideal world we’d all have access to top-tier barbell strength coaches we can work with in person every time we train. We’d have a coach with us from the first time we approached the barbell, to help us learn proper and safe technique, and to navigate the unique flow of programming that comes with each successive training session, new goal, injury, stalled progress, missed session, or hiatus. But our world is not perfect, and there are many reasons the vast majority of people trying to get strong are left to their own devices.

Limited funds, time constraints, and proximity to high quality coaches are only some of the reasons that a large percentage of the population doesn’t work with a coach in person. The rise of online coaching services has filled the demands of coachless lifters who spin their wheels trying to get to the next level, continually facing injuries or setbacks, or feeling lost when trying to figure out reps, sets, loads, and this little thing called “stress/recovery/adaptation.”

The Benefits Of Online Coaching

The two biggest benefits of online coaching fill the financial and accessibility gap. Finding an online coach that’s right for you allows you to work with them from wherever you are. Perhaps you live 45 minutes (or more) from the closest gym or prefer to train in the comfort of your own garage or basement gym. Online coaching brings the coach to you rather than you going to the coach. Not only does this cut down on travel time but it also reduces the financial burden of the appointment itself, gym membership, gas and possibly tolls, parking, and mileage. And of course the stop at Chick-fil-A on the way home.

Depending on the coach and services they offer, a month of online coaching is substantially less than weekly or bi-weekly in-person training sessions. Add your weekly sessions up for a month and it’s likely equal to 3-6 months of remote coaching which includes a whole lot more than the 1 hour of dedicated time you’re paying for with a private in-person session.

A typical online coaching relationship includes a well mapped-out program, tracking system, access to the coach via some form of communication medium (email, instant messaging, video chat, etc.), video technique assessments, and modifications of your program based on your response. While there will always be benefits to working with a coach in person for real-time critiques and 360 degree views of your lifts in action, a single training session does not include the benefits of a full program, log review, and program adjustments for all your other workouts.

Is it possible that a coach might give you programming guidance for sessions beyond your 1-on-1? Yes. But that likely doesn’t include long-term planning, review, assessment, and modifications until you see the coach again. Online coaching bridges the gap between sessions by offering a platform for coaches and lifters to work more closely and ultimately have better outcomes when it’s not physically or financially feasible to get together for every training session.

Choosing The Right Coach

With the online coaching realm becoming saturated with keyboard junkies, it can be challenging to identify the credentialed, qualified professionals from the trolls living in their mother’s basements. The Starting Strength Online Coaching registry is a great place to find educated and credentialed coaches you can trust for technique assessment and programming skills, regardless of your goals.

coach rori alter locks out a competition deadlift

Rori Alter receives both in person and online coaching, helping her succeed in both powerlifting and strengthlifting competitions. As a Starting Strength coach herself, Rori knows the value of having an objective eye when it comes to coaching and programming. Even coaches need coaches.

While SSOC has consolidated the search for you, you may still face the challenge of choosing the coach that best fits your needs. Let's discuss some things to consider when researching online coaches and choosing the one that’s right for you. Even if you end up seeking online coaching from sources beyond SSOC, the following information can help you filter out the legitimate coach from the gym bro, whose claim to fame is his number of Instagram followers.

Credentials and Education: The SSOC registry has already taken care of filtering for the main coaching credential (all coaches are certified Starting Strength Coaches), but you might benefit from working with a coach who has more specific knowledge in a certain field or with a particular population. This can serve many purposes, included matching with a coach that understands your unique needs, personality, and lifestyle better.

Experience Coaching In-Person and Remotely: In order to truly have the skill set to communicate technical changes and programming adjustments remotely, experience must be acquired by seeing and implementing in real life. Working with a coach who keeps their on-platform coaching and programming skills fresh improves their effectiveness in the digital coaching realm.

Digital Delivery: Because online coaching is reliant on digital communication methods, you’ll need a basic understanding of how to capture and upload video, as well as a modicum of competence with a computer. Interviewing coaches to learn about their delivery and communication methods is going to help you make the best decision to match your level of digital competence. Something that’s overly complicated can lead to high frustration levels and delays in communication that can influence the experience negatively. However, there are many coaches out there who offer a high level of assistance for people unfamiliar with digital sharing. Regardless of your competence in remote communication, there will always be a learning curve, so remember that it may take a week (or a few) to get into a nice groove with the process. As with anything!

Personality: Just like with in-person coaching, it’s important that you like, get along with, and relate to your coach. More often than not, athletes and coaches develop a close relationship because our lifting is highly influenced by what’s going on in our lives, and our lives are highly influenced by how our training is going. Working with a coach you don’t get along with, or can’t see eye-to-eye with, can become unnecessarily challenging and demotivating long-term.

References: While credentials, experience, personality, and digital delivery are huge factors in determining how well you and the coach will mesh, checking out and even speaking with that coach's current and past clients can help you make the final decision. How long have they been working with their clients? What kind of clients do they work with? What common themes do you find among their client testimonials, and are those key points relevant and important to you? These questions, and many more, can help you determine if the coaching fit is right.

Price: We’ve already talked about how remote coaching can be more cost effective and provide a bigger bang for your buck than traditional in-person coaching, but prices can vary from very low to quite high in the online coaching market. Pricing depends on the level of interaction, involvement, communication methods, number of video reviews, response time, delivery system, etc. of the services coaches offer. It will also depend on the coach’s experience, availability, and perceived value.

Don’t sell yourself short by price-shopping for the cheapest coach. Do your research and compare coaches and services. Identify your priorities and weaknesses, and interview coaches and lifters to see if you’re comfortable with them. Often times coaches offer a free call where you can chat, get to know each other, and talk about your goals and the coach’s approach to working with people remotely.

The Starting Strength Online Coaching registry has detailed profiles of the certified Starting Strength Coaches who provide online coaching services. The site is set up to help you find coaches who meet your needs and budget. Head over to Starting Strength Online Coaching. We’re looking forward to getting to know you and helping you reach your goals.

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