Personal trainers at your fingertips

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Ah, the Internet. Making everyone's lives easier, right? Not always: Online training plans are one Web offering that inspires users to work harder and open their wallets.

For many amateur athletes, the Internet marketplace has moved beyond shopping, banking and dating, into the realm of online personal training programs.

Laden with promises to propel users toward their fitness goals, coaching tips can be e-mailed right to your inbox, and customized to your needs for a fee.

But you still have to get up from your monitor and actually do the workouts.

And how can Internet surfers know whether online coaching is a scam or a deal?

"The important factors in any online system, in my opinion, is the science behind it and the ability to actually deal with a real coach through e-mail or by phone," said Ken Parker, whose website The Runner's Web has partnered with Active.com to provide online coaching services.

"One needs to be very disciplined to follow online training if the person works out by themselves," Parker noted.

There are numerous online coaching sites world-wide offering programs for both beginners and experienced athletes, whether trying to lose weight, run a 5K or complete an Ironman triathlon.

The most well-known include Carmichael Training Systems at www.trainright.com, fronted by legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong's former coach Chris Carmichael.

Also well regarded is Canadian Olympic triathlon coach Lance Watson, who sells online training plans starting at $95 per month at www.lancewatson.com.

The newest addition to the plethora of online coaching sites, and different from the rest with its base cost of a modest $9 a month, is one launched last month by Olympic hopeful David Gill at www.totalcoaching.ca.

Gill, 28, is a Universite Laval track star in the 800 metres who recently moved from Quebec City to train full-time in Victoria B.C. with the hopes of making the 2008 Canadian Olympic team.

He's a proud First Nations athlete from Mashteuiatsh Reserve, north of Quebec City, and after several years of speaking to kids in schools, Gill realized he had no specific resources to offer youngsters after motivating them to get active.

He also realized, through helping his own mother get fit, how essential it is for beginners to have a directed training program. His site addresses both needs, and also helps support the training costs of Gill and his national track teammate, Aimee Teteris, who consults on the site.

Total Coaching currently has 250 members. For $9, they get an online training journal with graphs to chart progress, and e-mail tips.

For $5 you can buy a cardiovascular or weight lifting plan; and for $4, you can e-mail a question to a health specialist.

"I don't think money should keep people from being healthy," Gill, who worked with a programmer to create the fully automated site, said.

"The whole point of the site was to be developed in a way that lowers the costs. The first objective here was to make physical activity fun and accessible."

But it's one thing to see a picture or video of correct weightlifting technique on your computer screen. It's quite another to attempt to reproduce that form yourself with nobody nearby to advise you.

How safe is it to follow an online training program?

Online plans can be safe, and useful, when they consist mainly of walking and progressively adding some running, when someone is uncomfortable exercising in public or with a trainer.

Still, it's always preferable to join a training group or hire a personal coach when money and time permit.

"There is a tremendous benefit to the group dynamic that cannot be gained through an online service," Parker said.


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