Will Fitness Apps Ever Replace Personal Trainers?
For just a tenner per month you’ll gain access to over a thousand on-demand fitness classes led by world-class instructors, from strength training to yoga, and from postnatal fitness to HIIT. This is the offering from Fiit, one of thousands of health and fitness apps available in your pocket at your convenience. The growth of fitness apps has skyrocketed in the past few years, driven by the need for affordable home exercise solutions during the lockdowns. You can now take your pick of pocket-sized personal trainers including The Body Coach, Peloton and Freeletics to name a few. This begs the question whether there is still a need for in-person fitness professionals such as myself, or whether our jobs are becoming redundant?
One of the most compelling reasons to use a fitness app as opposed to hiring a personal trainer (PT) is that it costs less. PT’s generally cost upwards of £30 per hour, so if you’re seeing a PT twice a week that’s going to set you back at least £240 per month, whereas if you download an app such as Fiit it’s going to work out at just £10 per month with an annual subscription (so in a year you’d pay half of what you’d pay for a month of PT!). Of course if you’re working out from home you might want to invest in some equipment such as kettlebells and dumbbells, but basic home workout equipment is generally affordable. So overall you’re going to be saving a lot of money by exercising with an app compared to a PT.
There is a reason however that PT’s charge a premium for their services, and that is because certain aspects of the training experience cannot be replicated by an app. An app doesn’t care whether you show up to your workout or not, whereas a PT does. If you don’t feel like training one day with an app, you can just skip the workout and there will be no penalty. A PT on the other hand will be waiting for you, and if you don’t show up you will still be charged for the session. Not to mention the fact that you’ll get on your PT’s nerves pretty quickly if you start to make a habit of no-shows. This level of accountability means that hiring a PT is a helpful way for many people to stay committed to an exercise routine when relying on self-motivation is hard.
An obvious benefit of fitness apps is that they allow you to work out from home, or indeed any location of your choice. This has two main advantages; firstly it means you save time as you don’t need to travel to and from a gym. Secondly it means you don’t need to worry about feeling uncomfortable in a gym environment, which as we know is unfortunately a huge barrier to exercise for many people, particularly women. Research by FitRated (2022) found that 71% of women have experienced an interaction in a gym that made them feel uncomfortable. So if fitness apps can make exercise more accessible for more people, especially women, this can only be a good thing.
Whilst it’s true that many of the fitness apps on the market today offer sophisticated programming for your exercise goals and fitness level, as well as high-quality video demonstrations of exercises, the limiting factor is that apps are not able to provide feedback on your exercise technique. A benefit of hiring a PT is that they are able to check and correct your form, which helps you to make the most of your workout and reduce your risk of injury. This is particularly valuable for those who may be new to exercise or returning after a break, and might not yet feel confident in their ability to exercise alone.
It's also important to point out that a good PT will always check how their clients are feeling before and during every workout, and will change the plan if necessary. For example, if one of my clients is feeling tired, we may do a lower-intensity session. If they are injured, we will avoid working the injured body part. I’ve even had sessions where I’ve taken a client out for coffee or a walk instead of training in the gym because that’s what they needed from me that day. No matter how advanced an app may be, it cannot provide this level of individualisation. And it certainly can’t buy you coffee when you’ve had a bad day.
A final difference between training with an app and a PT is the level of social interaction involved. Although there may be some degree of social interaction using fitness apps, this is generally a lot less that with a PT. This might suit some people, however I know that for many of my clients their hour with me is sometimes the only hour they spend outside of their house and amongst other people in their day. My clients come to see me in the gym to train hard, but they also come to offload things that are going on in their lives, and know that I will listen to them. We know that social interaction is crucial to mental health, and given that so much of our lives are now lived at home from our screens, going to a gym to see a real human being who actually cares about you can be a welcome break for many people.
So, should we be worried that fitness apps will one day replace PT’s? I don’t think so. Yes these apps can be brilliant for people who may be self-motivated, already familiar with exercise and want a low-cost option of keeping fit at their convenience. But for many people, particularly those who may struggle with accountability and may be new to exercise, investing in a good PT will be invaluable, because PT’s provide so much more than just a workout – we provide accountability, feedback, personalisation and camaraderie. For this reason, I believe that there will always be a demand for our services.