Health & Fitness

Fitness trainers find new clients abroad


Everlyn Owala, founder and trainer at Eveal Health and Fitness Centre in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL



  • Thanks to digital platforms that allow video calls, the two trainers have been able to take personal training, which had been a preserve of the rich, to the comfort of many fitness enthusiasts’ homes.

When Evelyn Owala, the founder of Eveal Health and Fitness in Nairobi, started doing online classes, she never imagined they could open a world of opportunities for her and other gym instructors.

Since the pandemic made people cautious of exercising in crowded spaces, Kenyan gym instructors have found new clients abroad who are paying to exercise from the comfort of their homes using dumbbells, training bands, or just their bodyweight.

“I hadn’t done virtual fitness training before the pandemic. But when the gyms were closing, clients started asking me what I was going to do. I had to think fast,” she says.

One Friday, she told her clients that they would be exercising online and by Monday, they were already adjusting their laptops and mobile phones so that the coach could clearly see them on camera.

The number of clients seeking personal training online has grown with others joining in from abroad.

“Most of our clients were drawn to us through social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook as well as client referrals,” says Ms Owala, an ex-banker.

“Now that gyms have reopened, we do both physical and virtual trainings,” she says.

Over time, she has managed to gain clients from Europe and the US with most of them being Kenyans tapping back home as it is expensive to hire personal trainers abroad. In the US, for instance, a client pays a personal trainer about $22 (Sh2,400) an hour on average.

Justus Ngumi, a fitness trainer who used to work in a gym in Kilimani, Nairobi, is also on the same path as Ms Owala.

However, for him, he has fully transitioned to online training and has clients from different parts of the globe.“I have three clients in the US, three in Europe and six in Africa from different locations like Nairobi and other cities,” he says.

He also depends on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram as well as customer referrals to build his client portfolio.

“I am doing purely virtual, in some cases, I only send the clients the fitness programmes and they exercise on their own,” he says.

Thanks to digital platforms that allow video calls, the two trainers have been able to take personal training, which had been a preserve of the rich, to the comfort of many fitness enthusiasts’ homes.

He says the virtual sessions are the same as face-to-face only that there is no physical contact.


Justus Ngumi has also moved to online fitness training. PHOTO | POOL

“I use Zoom, WhatsApp or any social platform that allows one to call on video. Whatever is convenient for my client,” says Ms Owala.

How to start

Mr Ngumi explains that an individual only needs to have stable and reliable Internet then set up a phone or a computer for the virtual sessions.

This then is followed by making sure the client creates space for the at-home workouts by dedicating a special spot for the sessions. The space should not be less than both arms’ length all around as well as big enough to allow one to lie flat on the back and move around freely, he recommends.

“You can work with many people at the same time but I like working with a person at a time. Having a group makes it hard to identify those making mistakes and when correcting one person, the others will be waiting,” he says.

But in terms of equipment, such as dumbbells, weights or treadmill, he points out that in as much as they is necessary, an individual can still use their bodyweight.

“Your body is equipment. There are so many exercises one can perform using the bodyweight as resistance,” he explains.

“Our job is to work around what is available as one might want to be fit but they don’t have money to purchase the needed equipment,” adds Ms Owala.

Mr Ngumi charges per session. However, he explains that most people like having a monthly budget so he multiplies the number of sessions in a month by the amount per session.

“I charge Sh800 per session if they are more, or Sh1,100 if they are few,” he says.

For Ms Owala, her packages vary depending on what the client wants.

“There isn’t much difference between the two (physical and virtual training),” says the 2016 Miss Kenya Figure title winner.

The benefits of going online so far? Mr Ngumi says that he saves money he would have used for transport.

“The clients also save as they do not have to spend on gym membership fee, and transport,” he says.

To keep the clients on their toes, they find ways to motivate them as well as strike a mutual agreement on the schedules.

“They know they are with me at a specific time. I will text or call to remind them about our training,” Mr Ngumi says.

Track progress

To monitor progress, he requires that the client takes a picture and measurements of the body part they intend to work on. Then after a month, the same is revisited to see whether any progress has been made.

“Apart from weight, your clothes will tell a lot. Your clothes get loose as you lose fat as a kilo of fat occupies more space than the same amount of muscle,” he points out.

“I can see what you are doing and I will see your progress because it is training through video,” adds Ms Owala.

Mr Ngumi cites an example of his client whom he started training virtually in March this year.

She weighed 118 kilos and could not even do squats because of her weight. But in three months, she had lost 13 kilos, dropping to 105kgs by early July.

“Her physique has changed, her clothes are becoming big, she is now doing proper squats, aches on her knees, arms, and back are no longer there. Her sleeping pattern and lifestyle have also improved,” he says. He attributes the success to breaking down his client’s goals and customising training plans.

“I go by your goals, trying to fix your weaknesses turning them into your strength,” he says.

Female clients

Ms Owala, whose clients are mostly women, says that her success in shaping their bodies, especially trimming their abdominal areas to perfection, is because she infuses nutrition in the training programme.

For sculpting and body toning, she focuses more on compound workouts such as dead-lifts, squats, and lunges.

“I treat the body as a complete system that needs a constant upgrade as there is a difference between getting someone to weight X and making them stay there for the longest time possible. So I help them get there and also live there the longest time they can,” she says. But for one to hack virtual training sessions, fitness trainer William Neondo says that an individual has to first get a certified instructor with skillset and experience.

The trainer, he says, needs to have worked with many clients in real life.

The next step will involve building rapport between the trainer and the client so that the two understand each other in terms of the latter’s personal goals and the ground rules and expectations from the former. This is aimed at having the trainer know the client well to walk the journey together with them.

“The client can write down goals and make sure the same is shared with the trainer. This will help the trainer create a workout plan targeted at the goals,” he says. Ms Owala talks to the client beforehand to get their expectations and then advises them on what to do.

“After a few sessions, they become comfortable and understand the process better. This then leads to the creation of a relationship over time making them open up,” she says.

Mr Neondo recommends that the virtual sessions should not be too long, and should be as engaging as possible.

“The sessions should not last more than an hour as this is enough time to perform several workouts, monitor and fix any mistakes.”

For many instructors, virtual training is the future as it has given them opportunities to start their own businesses, instead of relying on being hired in gyms.

“People see it is working and it is a solution to a gap currently existing. There are people even in Nairobi who don’t like gyms anymore," Ms Owala says.

Ms Ngumi adds that virtual training is here to stay even after the pandemic ends as it is both cost-effective to the client and the trainer.

“You can train anywhere, anytime and still get the same results. You don’t have to leave the house to go to the gym cutting out costs involved in the process,” he says.