Can A.I. Ever Replace Face-to-Face Personal Training?

Can A.I. Ever Replace Face-to-Face Personal Training

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Over the past few years there has been an ever-trending movement in the direction of “Tech-4-Fitness” (I may have just coined that specific term!). Granted, we’ve had the likes of FitBit around for over a decade now, but as technology has advanced we have seen the dawn of a new era of Wearable Tech and other fitness “revolutions” occurring.

Apple first launched their Apple Watch just three years ago (in 2015), and you have the likes of Myo Armband and LVL [Hydration Monitors] that are truly taking Wearable Tech to places we couldn’t have imagined at the turn of the century/millennium! (To be fair, Myo Armbands aren’t geared towards the Fitness Industry, but I can foresee ways in which their particular tech could be applied).

Anyhow, I don’t have any real “beef” with wearables – after all, I use them also, and I believe they provide many huge benefits. I have a number of my Clients using MyZone Belts during our workouts so as to accurately gauge what Heart Rate Zone they’re working in, and the device has proven to be an invaluable tool!

The “techy” side that I wanna go all ‘kid-on-a-piñata’ up in here with is related to those so-called Virtual Trainers/Classes. You may have heard of them (maybe even taken part in them?): you have a pre-recorded class projected onto a wall, or if your Club really opened up their wallet, you might even have a full on OLED / HD / 4K / Super-Screen setup…

So, there’s a room full of people ready to roll, and the projection (usually played on a loop) just plays through and everyone goes along for the ride…

But let’s rewind a little.

See, this all evolved from the online Laptop-to-TV setup that you had with the Insanity workouts (for example). What a brilliant idea, right? You’ve got Shaun T rockin’ on with his mini Tribe of über-fit bodies behind him; ebbing and flowing with the appropriate track tempo (with the music), you even had the visuals on-screen with a timer that illustrates how long you have left for that round (and the rest of the workout). Well produced. Sharp-looking. Professional. Clearly, it’s been a success over the years and people have gotten results.

Heck, I had a friend lose about 20lbs doing it, so I borrowed his copy for a day to give it a go… and I got in a pretty good workout. [This was a few years back now].

So, what’s my problem? Ya wanna know my biggest one?

It’s pretty simple: how are we supposed to know if we’re doing it right!? Form. Technique. There’s no-one in the room with you to tell you if you need to correct your positioning [so as to avoid injury]. Now, while my friend did lose 20lbs, he also developed a little back pain with it (though, only temporary)…

I asked him to show me how he’d been performing some of the exercises, and his spine was just bending in ways it shouldn’t have been bending for a bunch of them (namely Planks and Squats – letting the hips droop heavily in his Plank, and rounding his back [like a hunchback] during his Squat).

When I did it, it was awesome! But I’m a Fitness Professional – I know good form! Heck, I don’t even need to see an exercise on a screen – I can listen to a workout and perform it with great technique. If you’ve seen my Instagram videos showing Metafit / MetaPWR workouts – it’s all done to a Music Track (that gives instructions throughout), but I’m a Coach for those workouts, so of course, I know what to do.

Don’t get me wrong – there are *some* of these Virtual Classes that make perfect sense, and I can’t poke at them for this same reason… Take the Spin / RPM / Cycle Classes, for example: you’re sat on a bike doing a repetitive linear movement that takes almost no technique whatsoever. Great! Have at it!

And to be fair, playing a recording on repeat all day long is a good way to cut down on costs! 10k/year on licence fees for a class you can run 20 times per day, 365 days of the year is way more cost efficient than paying a Group X Instructor by the hour who can probably only take about 4 per day [owing to physical exertion].

Keep in mind, a Club would have to pay that same Instructor at least *double* [so, 20k/year] just to run the class 4 times per day, Monday thru Friday, for just 48 weeks out of the year…

So, we’ve evolved from Laptop Streaming/Downloads to Pre-Recorded Virtual Classes, and even Live In-Club Streaming… but again, even if I am “Live” with an Instructor – they can’t see what I’m doing from all angles and give me real-time advice on how to correct my form.

The most worrying development for me is the latest tech that takes us all back inside our homes once more…

The Mirror Interactive Home Gym (which serves as a free-standing or wall-mounted mirror when not being used for your Workout):

Photo Credit: Uncrate

Let me begin by saying that the tech is beyond impressive! And the concept is straight out of a sci-fi movie – it is truly taking us leaps and bounds in a positive direction [ultimately], but still with a couple of caveats. While it is very cool to see yourself in said mirror – alongside a Virtual Coach – and receive tons of cool data all right at your fingertips, it still comes down to Form & Technique for me.

You do have access to a Live Instructor who is supposed to give real-time instruction, but without a 360° view of YOU, how accurate can their feedback really be?

But hey, I’m not here to say that everyone has lousy form unless they’re a FitPro. To be honest, I’ve met plentyyy of FitPros who actually have crappy Form – perhaps the most disturbing of all!

So no, fact is: there are vast numbers of people who have decent awareness of their bodies and how to position themselves properly when performing various exercises. So, I certainly don’t want to base this all off a single-point argument…

The other major caveat is the Accountability Factor! And this even goes for that Virtual Spin Class! If you’re there pedalling away and start to get lazy, who the heck is gonna stop you from turning the resistance down (not that Instructors will ever STOP you from doing that); but also, what if you just stop pedalling for a few minutes? Chances are, you’ve probably got “more in the tank”, but without someone to hold you accountable, you’re likely to slack off a little! (Or a lot!)

Again, the Live/Online Trainer might be a fix here, but that’s not available through Laptop Downloads or the Pre-recorded Workouts being projected onto Studio walls.

In-Person Training – whether it’s Group X or Personal Training – will always be King in my eyes! Someone to lead you. Someone to share their expert tips on how to improve not just your Form, but heck, your *Performance*! A *real* person in front of you to make sure you give it everything you’ve got!!

That’s irreplaceable!

I have no doubt in my mind as to where “Tech-4-Fitness” will go next with all of this, and I believe that there will be an attempt to develop A.I. that can analyze your movement and give you on-the-spot feedback for all sorts. For example: to track your knees inline with your toes (to avoid Knee Valgus) during that Squat, or not to throw your back into it when doing those Biceps Curls (a little cheeky advice to tell you to use a Lighter Weight would be stellar!).

When technology can give me a complete rundown of my movement [from all angles], give comprehensive advice on how to fix it (if needed), hold me accountable if I need to step it up, keep my ego in check if I need to tone it down, and ultimately give me the motivation and personal touch that another human can… Well, maybe then I’ll come around. Until then, I believe all those factors (and more) serve as my USP’s versus a Machine any day of the week.

Technology – when integrated with Fitness – is a modern day miracle, and can help everyone from Elite Athletes to Gym Warriors achieve great things with their Health & Fitness. But I don’t think it will ever be an adequate replacement. Unless iRobot becomes real and we have a bunch of Robot Trainers named Sunny putting us through our paces and asking us about our day!

Anyhow, that’s all for today’s post. I hope you found it thought provoking! If you’ve got an opinion or comment – feel free to engage! Leave a comment below, hit me up on Facebook, or find me on Instagram!  I’d love to hear your view!

In the meantime, I’ll catch you in the next one, but remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart!

Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO

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