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Personal Training Via Skype

Personal training via Skype takes away excuses for those trying to get fit

Austin trainer Margo Kamin and others train clients hundreds of miles away
By Pam LeBlanc
American-Statesman Staff

– Mark Matson
Fitness trainer Margo Kamin Crouch teaches exercise classes on her computer via Skype or her iPad with Apple’s Face Time application

– Mark Matson
Fitness trainer Margo Kamin teaches exercise classes on her computer via Skype or on her iPad with Apple’s Facetime. Kamin looks to one client on her iPad (left) and another on her computer, as she leads an exercise session.

Sick baby? Stormy weather? Broken car? Work snafu?

Nice try, but none of those excuses for skipping a workout really hold up anymore.

These days, if you can’t make it to the gym — or just don’t feel like leaving home — you can still meet one-on-one with a personal trainer. In Austin and elsewhere, fitness experts like Margo Kamin are using computer technology to keep their customers sweating through virtual exercise sessions.

Thanks to free programs such as Skype and FaceTime, Kamin can stand in front of her computer or iPad and demonstrate a move for, correct the form of or consult about nutrition with clients hundreds of miles away.

Kamin says she got the idea three years ago, after watching Oprah Winfrey use Skype to interview guests on her television show. Kamin now trains Austin clients who can’t always drive to her West Austin studio or who are traveling, as well as clients who live in Missouri, Washington and Rhode Island.

The technology isn’t difficult, and prices are about the same as in-person training – $35 for half an hour or $65 for an hour. Kamin makes sure she can dial up and get a connection with a client before she charges for a session. After that, she says, it’s quick and easy.

“You just call me and I show up as if I was walking in the door,” Kamin says. “From my perspective, I’m giving just as good instruction but for being tactile.”

Occasionally, technology glitches or frozen computer screens stall practices. Usually Kamin can just hang up and redial.

On a recent morning, Megan Sly, who lives in the small town of Oregon, Mo., sips a cup of coffee as she waits for her morning FaceTime session with Kamin to begin. Another client, Sally King from Seattle, is calling in on Skype, too. Just this once, Kamin is going to lead a joint session for both of them.

From her ochre-walled home studio in Austin, outfitted with a treadmill, weights, a mini trampoline and a Bowflex machine, Kamin gets started with a quick warm-up and then a set of squats.

“Abs up, Megan, six more. Hands at your waist. Put your weight down into it,” she says, doing the exercises herself in front of her computer’s camera. “Sally, that’s good. Down and up, down and up. Three more!”

Kamin can see full-body video of both clients in their faraway homes — one on her iPad, the other on her computer monitor. A golden retriever wanders in front of King, slowly wagging its tail. King shoos him away and gets back to business, working her way through some planks, triceps lifts and lunges.

It’s a rainy day in Seattle, where King is having a bit of trouble with her Internet connection. After about 30 minutes, she cuts her session short. Sly keeps sweating.

Kamin watches carefully. “Get some water if you need to,” she says. Then she points out the finer points of a new move. “I’ll turn sideways so you can see,” she says, demonstrating.

Sly searched online to find someone who could train her virtually because she doesn’t have access to a gym or trainer. Now she “meets” with Kamin twice a week. “It cuts out the deterrent of having to go somewhere,” Sly says.

The arrangement works well for local clients, too.

Nena Groskind, a 63-year-old Austin writer, usually trains with Kamin in person, but when she traveled to Oregon for a family emergency, she used Skype. “It was a lifesaver. I was able to keep up a regular exercise routine even though I was very far away,” Groskind says.

She says it’s almost the same as working with Kamin in person. Almost. “If I do something wrong, she can’t reach through the screen and hit me on the head,” Groskind says.

Still, you can’t hide on Skype. “I would if I could, but she can see what I’m doing and not doing.”

Groskind once even resorted to consulting with Kamin through her iPhone. “I was in a small hotel room. I took my iPhone into the hallway and had this disembodied voice working me through an exercise routine,” she says.

Unlike pre-taped workout videos, Skype training is live, and the trainer can see what the client is doing. A tape can’t correct form or push someone to keep going when she wants to quit.

Austin client Megan Miller, 39, turned to Kamin two years ago, when she was a stay-at-home mom. “If I couldn’t get a baby sitter or if my child was sick and I couldn’t leave the house, I was still able to get a workout in,” Miller says.

It works the other way, too. Kamin can train her clients remotely while she’s on the road herself. “When I’m gone they still want to train with me,” she says.

Back in her home studio, Kamin wraps up the session with Sly with some stretching and yoga. “Thank you, and I’ll see you at 9 a.m. Thursday,” she tells her long-distance client.

Sly will be back. She knows she has no excuse for missing.