The fitness industry is changing. One-on-one personal training is being replaced with technology. It was bound to happen. Grocery stores replaced cashiers with self-scan machines. Electronic medical records replaced paper charts in doctor offices. Websites, redbox locations and on demand services wiped out video stores.
Personal trainers are threatened with the same fate. More and more people are turning to “do it yourself” fitness, making industry experts obsolete. It’s not just an issue for people who make their living this way. As a consumer, you need to be aware of how these changes impact the quality of service you receive.
Fitness Applications and Gadgets
There is a fitness app for almost everything. At the time of this publication, there are close to 6,000 health related apps. You can find exercise libraries, virtual personal trainers, nutrition databases, and food journals with just a touch of a button. There are even apps to monitor medical conditions.
These apps and other devices give consumers the opportunity to invest in technology instead of a person. Usually it’s a much smaller one-time cost than the on-going expense of personal training. Fitness apps are no cost to low cost. Fitness watches, activity monitors and software cost a couple hundred dollars. But all the electronics in the world cannot mimic the workout you receive with an expert. A trainer knows when to change your exercises and which ones you should do. He or she anticipates when you need to work harder or pull back. A trainer listens and gives feedback on lifestyle challenges.
To illustrate this point, take a look at an experiment conducted by Popular Mechanic’s senior editor. He set out to find if any technology could compete with a live person. He tried 15 different fitness gadgets and then worked out with a personal trainer. In the end, he preferred the trainer, concluding technology can’t substitute the experience of a one on one session.
These days everyone is a fitness expert. Anyone who has lost weight or made a transformation has a blog documenting their progress, setbacks, and plan. Transformation stories are great, but they are also leading to a lot of misinformation. Just because someone lost weight, doesn’t mean they are a fitness expert. But quite often these people are actually telling their followers what to eat and how to exercise.
There are no definitive answers as to which diet is the best or which workout is the most beneficial. Diet and exercise tends to be highly individualized. So, when someone tries to tell you what worked for them and assures you it will work for you, too... realize it is their opinion—not fact. You have to be careful who you decide to trust on the internet. You wouldn’t let someone who started a motivational blog on her breast cancer recovery diagnose you with the disease. You would go to an expert, get the necessary tests done, and then make an action plan. It’s the same thing with personal training. You find an expert who can test your fitness level, get your health history and lifestyle preferences. From there, he or she evaluates the results and formulates an individualized plan.
Video conferencing allows customers to set their own workout schedules and connect with trainers that appeal to them the most. People can work out as individuals or with a group. The training sessions are much cheaper than what you would find at a gym or with an independent personal trainer. You can choose single sessions or monthly options. It offers a workout in your home, on your own time and it's cheap. The biggest benefit to consumers it that it makes fitness available to everyone with internet access.
Another virtual platform is the up-coming rollout of Google Helpouts. Google is tackling several industries, not just health and fitness. But pretty soon you can schedule time with a personal trainer over a video conference. Whether you want a question answered, an in- home session via video, or are looking for new exercise ideas… it will all be available through Google. Of course, they are taking a cut too. Plus, there is the option for professionals to offer free services on Helpouts.
For trainers, it is nearly impossible to earn a living from just video conferencing when you take into account the cuts that these companies take and the low prices.
For consumers, these platforms have not been widely tested; so, it's impossible to conclude if they provide the same experience as training with a live person.
Technology is Not Perfect
How many times have you used a self-scanner at the grocery store and had to wait because it wouldn’t scan an item or it took too long because you bought $50 worth of produce and had to enter every code yourself? It would have been a lot easier to go the cashier and let that person do their job… but often times there is no cashier.
When visiting the doctor, he or she has to spend so much time entering information into the electronic medical record (EMR) system, that little eye contact is made. As they robotically ask you questions and fill in the tabs, what are they missing that may be essential to diagnosis? Where is the patient interaction? It’s a race to fill out the EMR will all the necessary information and perform an exam within 15 minutes before moving onto the next person.
Services that used to reside in a storefront are now eliminated or transformed into an online website. One of the reasons why there is such an obesity problem is because people don’t move as much they used to. You don’t have to go food shopping—you can get groceries delivered. There is no reason to physically leave your house to watch or rent a movie when you can just power up your computer. Why bother going to a park, using a bike, or meeting with friends when there is a wide variety of virtual games and distracting websites right at your fingertips? Why go shopping when there are hundreds, maybe thousands of online options that will deliver it to your door? Sure, it’s all convenient but it’s made people lazy. Think how active you would be if you had to leave your home to complete every one of those activities.
What it all Means for You
The digital revolution is transforming health and fitness.
If you’re a trainer, you will have to adapt. But, that doesn’t mean adapting to fit into the small molds that big business is carving out for you. You have to find new ways to reach new people. Technology definitely has its place within the industry but it should not define the industry. You are providing a service. Service industries are meant to be personal.
If you’re a consumer realize cheaper does not equate to better. Fitness is an investment. It doesn’t have to be a lifelong investment. Sometimes you just need an expert to help you out for a few months and give you the tools to do it successfully on your own. There are plenty of technological advancements that can enhance your health experience but they shouldn’t be the sole source of information. You have to be your own advocate for everything. There is not a one size fits all plan for fitness and nutrition. Anyone who tries to sell you their plan or their device because they say it’s THE only thing or best thing that works is deceiving you.
Do you incorporate high tech gadgets or apps into your workouts? Would you want to try a virtual workout session? If you're a trainer, do you think technology helps or hurts your business?
Let us know in the comments section or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com. Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.