Technology & The Personal Fitness Industry
One of the growing sectors of the fitness industry is the introduction and use of technology. It started back in the day using the internet to make websites was first, offline software for building programs was second, video conference training(Skype) and video classes was third, Online/distance training from your website was fourth, and now the fifth is the use of wearable devices and mobile/web applications. Apps have taken over our lives, and there seems to be a an app for every potential problem you may run into. One of the most popular headlines when a new fitness app gains popularity is it becomes the new “personal trainer in your pocket”. A personal trainer right in your pocket sounds like the answer to everyone’s fitness struggles, because it puts the more or less luxury service of having your very own personal fitness consultant directly in your phone 24/7 for pennies on the dollar. Some of these apps have some pretty awesome features like workout journals, exercise tutorial videos, premade training programs, local trainer search, personal messaging features, weekly planners, food diaries, calorie counters, meal plans and plenty of other features paired with your favorite wearable device. All these features can make it easier for someone to keep track of their own fitness, but to say it’s a personal trainer in your pocket is a bit of a stretch. I understand why the tagline is popular for companies to use, but here are 3 reasons why it will never actually be a possibility.
1. These companies are attempting to replace something that can’t be replaced.
Personal. The word means so much more than just having a person there by your side counting reps while you workout. The personal side of training is all about something called the “Art of Coaching” and can have absolutely nothing to do with weights, sets, reps, and nutrition. It’s about building emotional relationships, building trust, developing a mindset, specific technique cueing to that person or group and so much more. The best program, most scientifically validated training techniques, exercises, and nutrition can be completely useless if the person who is supposed to follow it never actually start it.
“A virtual coach can talk at you, but they can’t talk to you”
The popular phrase said by companies that create fitness apps is “they are trying to create a similar experience to personal training that is more accessible to everyone” (click the link to see FitStar co-founder say just that from a few years ago). The unfortunate truth is that these types of Apps are just better versions of VHS Jane Fonda exercise tapes. I’m not saying that in a negative way, I am just saying they found a better way to package and deliver the same type of product that has already been on the market. It might be a new way to package accessible fitness routines and even help some people out, but it’s not personal training. In our culture today we don’t have a lack of information difficulty finding accessible fitness programs and routines. There are DVD programs you can buy from TV, fitness magazines oh yeah, and the internet has services like Youtube channels, blogs, and online magazines that all place routines and advice out to the public for FREE and sometimes exactly how these apps do.
2.Their apps tend to target people who are already self motivated enough to train on their own.
New technology is great to have in any field and the ability to be more efficient with self planning, execution and even just visually being able to see your progress can be a great benefit to any exerciser.
The problem isn’t the technology innovations itself, because they are pretty great even in the state of infancy the fitness tech is evolving from. The problem is the technology is really focused on those people who already have the ability to self motivate and execute their fitness regime on their own. Typically speaking that is not the an accurate representation of the demographics of someone who is interested in personal training from a general population perspective.
Here are 2 similar examples that can hit it home for you:
- There have always been workout tracker apps, they were just called notebooks and simple math. In fact, to this day I still see people(young and old) carrying around a bound marble notebook, and daily planners recording their workouts with a #2 pencil. What the workout tracker apps did was take away doing the math, added some graphs, and pictures to the exercises you were already doing. They don’t add anything that might be needed for someone who isn’t motivated, excited or understand how to workout. In fact making, recording and analyzing their workouts can be seen as more of an annoyance that a benefit.
- Pre-made workout Apps have also been around for longer than you think. They were called books, and come to think of it they are still called books. Don’t believe me? Open a new tab, and look on Amazon for “workout books” and see what pops up. It’s probably easier for anyone to create an ebook workout theses days where it will take a lot more specialised effort to put the same content into a built-out mobile app. Again, you’re just not hitting the mark in terms of what someone might need when they are not already “all about their fitness.” If they weren’t able to execute a workout plan from using the vast amount of books related to fitness then it’s not going to matter if they can have their workouts in their phone or not.
My point: The technology really isn’t anything new, and if the majority of people using the new exciting software suddenly needed to stop they wouldn’t miss a beat in their fitness plans; they would just go back to using what they did before the app. These people were already working out on a consistent basis, and the only real change from a workout tracker was that now more people in their social circles were able to know about it when they updated a status.
3. So Much data to analyze with no expertise to understand it.
Information overload! It’s awesome to have more data, but only if you are able to understand what the hell it’s trying to tell you. If you can’t understand what the numbers and graphs mean then all that data you collected might as well be in a language you don’t understand(because it technically already is). The companies will try to “dumb it down” for everyone to understand, and I don’t say “dumb it down” with any negative connotations attached it’s just the truth. A green bar means go, a red bar means stop, a score 1-100 is good or specific but random number range that they try take what their complex data collection is saying and put it out in a simple format your grandmother could understand. These companies might even make up their own readouts like Nike fuel condensing every activity down to one easy to read number.
It’s not your fault or even their fault, but unless you are willing to learn a little bit about what the data is trying to tell you then it’s not going to be a benefit to your training. However, if you collect this data and show it to someone who understands what it means it becomes an asset. I’ll be the first one to admit not all personal trainers know what that data really means either, because they themselves have not had exposure to the correct amount of education to understand it. For instance Heart Rate Variability can be a nice asset to have in your training program, but you have to understand it.