Are Fitness Apps Putting Personal Trainers Out Of A Job?

These days, there’s an app for pretty much everything. We can communicate from anywhere in the world, manage our finances, swipe left or right to find a partner, showcase our lives and of course – work out. We’re time poor and often financially poor in our twenties and beyond, so fitness apps offer a cost effective and convenient approach to fitness over expensive gym memberships or paying upwards of $50 a session with a personal trainer.

In the name of research (and a better booty)

I’ve tried a couple of the most popular fitness apps. In the beginning I found their short segments addictive, with exercises you could go hard or slack off on depending on how you were feeling, and levels that took me back to my Donkey Kong days. But I got bored, quickly – and after a few months I just couldn’t bring myself to work out on my own any more.

These days I notice many a gym-goer watching their screen for their next move. It’s safe to say the health and fitness app industry has gone gangbusters, with plenty of entrepreneurial personal trainers having a crack as well as a few D list celebrities who’ve done the math and seen dollar signs. One notable trailblazer even made the BRW Young Rich List in 2016 thanks to her burgeoning hold on the fitness market – with as many millions of downloads as she has loyal followers on social media.

That’s a whole lot of downloads and chin-ups

In 2015, there were 165,000 mobile health apps on the market, which had doubled over the previous two years, and 58% of smartphone users had downloaded a health-related app with 15.3 million smartphones in Australia alone. However, fitness apps typically have a low download rate (nine out of 10 apps in the category are rarely downloaded), and a high dropout rate at 74%, meaning something about these pocket personal trainers simply aren’t hitting the mark.

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Lean Bean Fitness

Aussies spend $8.5 billion on fitness each year and that’s showing little sign of slowing down. Cheap and convenient fitness apps have the potential to change public health behaviour and help us lead healthier lifestyles, so given we can now get moving in a way that’s literally at our fingertips – are they worth their weight in lycra?

Lizzie Bland is the founder of female fitness studio Lean Bean Fitness in Sydney’s Bondi Beach. She says that fitness apps have their place, but might not be a long-term solution.

“Whatever gets you moving and your heart rate up, challenges you and leaves you in a slightly better mood than when you started is a good thing,” she says. “Fitness apps require willpower as you literally have to kick your own ass, so if that works for you – great! They’re especially good for clients that go on holiday or can’t make it to classes for a period of time – but you don’t really get the same endorphin boost on your own in your living room as you do working out with a trainer or in a group.”

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Lizzie Bland

While the promise of short workouts and gamification elements might be appealing for people looking for a short-cut to Insta-worthy abs, it’s important to be aware of the risk of injury when working out without the watchful eye of a trained professional.

“Unless you’re completely body aware, exercising without supervision obviously puts you at risk of injury but also means you could be performing the exercise incorrectly and missing the benefits of it,” says Bland. “The smallest tweaks can make the biggest difference – and if you’re anything like me you want to know that when you’re exercising, you get it right the first time so you don’t have to do it again, for another day or two at least!”

When is it app-ropriate?

Bland says to view fitness apps as a great add-on to your regular workout routine, perfect for holidays and days where you can’t make it to the gym. However, knowing your limits and listening to your body is key.

“If you have any aches or pains always check with a physio to make sure a particular workout will be OK for you and then book a session with a PT to go through the program so they can give modifications or exercise alternatives before going solo.”

Her top tips for staying motivated when it comes to working out, especially as we enter the cooler months?

“Rest – and don’t feel guilty about doing it,” she says. “A couple of days off to give your body some time to repair and replenish is great for not only your immune system and metabolism but also for keeping up your enthusiasm. Remember to play, too – working out should feel good regardless of whether it comes from an app, a run outdoors or a great class.”

Casey is an established health journalist, producer, TV presenter and wellbeing glutton/expert.