While most industries have embraced job-specific software, the fitness industry has been less enthusiastic about using computer technology, especially in personal training where most customer records are maintained in paper form.

The job of a personal trainer has many facets and is individualized according to clients' needs. By using a computer and specific job-related software, the work can be done faster and easier. The process of work can be broken down into three primary categories:

  • Assessment/monitoring

    The initial assessment of a client's needs and the ongoing reassessment and monitoring.

  • Program development

    The trainer develops an exercise and behavior modification program based on the client's initial assessment and the desired outcomes.

  • Record keeping

    To monitor progress and make program adjustments, the trainer must keep a record of vital information gathered in the assessment, the monitoring process, a record of the exercise/nutrition program and a training log, as well as medical reports and financial transactions.

  • This is a lot of paperwork and the industry has responded with software and web-based programs for personal trainers and facility use. The programs we reviewed range from training logs to software that integrates with a facility's membership and billing/payment database. Some are designed for assessment and monitoring, while others are geared for record keeping and program development.

    Here's what trainers had to say about the pros and cons of computer technology.

  • Cost vs. ROI.

    Most trainers agreed that assessment tools were a big help, citing convenience of standardized forms and embedded fitness calculators to quickly determine training levels with less math errors. Visual aids and reports are another plus. “I found it useful to be able to print pie charts and graphs for my clients,” says personal trainer Darlene Conley, a 10-year veteran from northern California. “Using visual aids makes it easy to show progress or explain body fat/lean mass comparison. The reason I discontinued the service was the cost. I don't have enough clients to see a return on the monthly investment.”

    In a club setting, however, assessment tools can be an additional revenue center for the personal training business, and the cost can be spread over more clients making it a more cost-effective investment.

  • Convenience vs. limitations

    The response to program development software was well received. Most trainers could produce programs quickly and could include pictures or illustrations of the exercises and reference material. Another component is the ability to save programs as templates for use with other clients. This software allows the trainer to develop programs for out-of town or long-distance clients. The only negative comments had to do with programming limitations in terms of exercise and workout formats.

  • Uniform client management vs. duplication of effort

    Maintaining a uniform client database is a plus. “I found that keeping paper records for my clients was cumbersome. Liability and confidentiality issues made me want something more secure,” quotes personal trainer and HighFiveFitness president, Tim Walton. “I was so frustrated that I was driven to start HighFiveFitness as a web-based solution for trainers.” However, even Walton admits that trainers are still tied to the notepad, taking notes during client session and later logging the information in a software program.

  • The business world runs on software, and the personal training business is no exception. Here are recommendations for personal trainers and health clubs:

    Clubs: Install software that is accessible to all trainers. Learn how trainers can use assessment software as a revenue center. Be alert for software that will integrate club functions with the personal training center.

    Trainers: Don't be afraid of technology. Buy a PDA and become comfortable with using it — the future of comprehensive personal training software will be handheld.

    Marti West is president & CEO of Healthclub.com. She can be reached at marti@healthclub.com or www.healthclub.com.