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5 Ways to Know If a Digital Trainer Is Right for You

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These days, no jobs are safe from the robots — including the job of a personal trainer. But how do you know if you can replace your trusted guide at the gym with an app?

Here are five things to ponder before you cancel your next training session and opt for a digital trainer.

1. Cost

A personal trainer, either at a gym or not, is expensive. But if you’ve done your research and asked for recommendations, the old adage usually stands — you get what you pay for.

If paying for a personal trainer isn’t in your budget, then an app is a great alternative. But most of the good apps aren’t free either. I’ve reviewed dozens of fitness apps and most of them will offer some free content, but if you want variety, you have to subscribe. Most start with a free trial, followed by a subscription fee that can range from $1.50/month to around $20/month. If you’re paying more than that, you’d better be getting an actual robot trainer.

Pro Tip: If you sign up for free trial on a subscription fitness app, don’t forget to cancel if you don’t like it. Set a reminder on your phone for a day or two before the trial ends to make sure you don’t get charged for a week, month, or even a year you won’t use.

Of course, if you accidentally pay for an app, that might be the one thing that gets you to actually use it. I say this from personal experience. Which brings me to the next question you should consider — what keeps you accountable to exercise?

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2. Accountability

There’s no shame in needing some kind of extrinsic motivation to exercise. So, if you find that regular workouts are difficult without an appointment with a personal trainer who will praise you for each and every one of your magnificent squats, then an app might not be enough to keep you going.

If you don’t find you need the expertise of a personal trainer, a training buddy might work just as well. Regular gym or outdoor exercise dates with friends are a great way to remain accountable. And not that I have anything against grabbing a drink with a friend, but grabbing a few dumbbells is a lot healthier (unless you drop them on your bare feet, so don’t do that.)

If you and your friends have different schedules or even if you live far away from one another, you can still be fitness buddies. Got an Apple Watch? If your friends have one, you can connect with them through the iPhone Activity App.

Open the app, tap Sharing at the bottom and then hit the plus sign in the top right-hand corner to send an email to your friends to ask them if they want to share activity with you. That way you can be notified when they complete workouts or reach their goals, so you might be more inspired to complete yours, especially if you’re competitive.

Apple Watch

If you don’t have an Apple watch, you can still inspire and be inspired by faraway friends through text. Two of my friends and I started what we call “The 100 Squats Club.” We try to do 100 squats a day and. when we do them, we send a message to our group text. It’s so simple, but it works.

3. Injury

5 Ways to Know If a Digital Trainer Is Right for YouIf you’re new to exercising, pregnant, or recovering from or prone to injury, a real-life trainer might be a better choice for you. Many of the fitness apps I’ve tried are great about showing or explaining what good form looks like, but they won’t be able to tell you if your plow pose is about to give you a permanent neck injury.

One of my favorite workout apps is called Aaptive. Their training sessions are audio-only, so you don’t have to have a tablet or stream to a smart TV or squint at a video on your phone. But this also means you must rely on their description of certain moves. I use them for outdoor and indoor running, weight lifting, and yoga, but I don’t know if I’d be as comfortable as I am in these workouts if I hadn’t been working out as long as I have.

Pro Tip: You should always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine and nothing beats listening to your body when you work out. We are usually better than we think we are at knowing when we should stop a certain exercise.

4. Variety

5 Ways to Know If a Digital Trainer Is Right for YouMy husband eats the same breakfast that he’s eaten nearly every day since I met him over twenty years ago. I would eat something different every day if I could. If you crave variety like me, a digital trainer might be right for you.

Most personal training apps offer training sessions in several different styles of exercise. At $19.95 a month, Daily Burn is one of the most expensive workout apps I’ve tried, but they also have the most variety.

Last time I checked, the app features over a thousand workouts in weight lifting, yoga, Pilates, HIIT, dance, and more. You can target certain areas, choose from different equipment, or select workouts by length. Aaptive also gives you access to thousands of workouts and you can also choose by what style of music you want to listen to in the background.

If the idea of thousands of workouts seems overwhelming, there are also lots of apps that offer just one style of workout. The least expensive app I have tried was Yoga Studio at less than two dollars a month if you pay for the entire year. But even after using it for a year, I still haven’t exhausted all the different teachers and classes. You can also sync it to your calendar to automatically add classes to your daily schedule.

5. Time

I’m not a new mom anymore, but I haven’t forgotten those days when you’re lucky if you have time to brush your teeth twice a day, let alone meet with a personal trainer. And when you do have some free time, it’s difficult to plan around it. New mom or otherwise, if you work long hours or go to school, classes at your gym or trainer hours might not fit into your schedule.

Workout apps let you exercise when you want, where you want, and for the length of time you have, even if it’s only ten minutes. If I have one personal motto it is this: just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you should do nothing.

Is a Digital Trainer Right for You?

Is a Digital Trainer Right for You?

I have had some amazing trainers in my life, specifically when I was pregnant with my first child and then getting back into shape afterward. That trainer’s name was Holly and she had two grown kids and was around the age I am now. At the time, I remember being so inspired by her strength and stamina. We lifted weights together and ran together and she taught me techniques I still use sixteen years later.

Even though my kids are older now, I seem to have less time to go to the gym. My career takes up more hours of the day and I spend a lot of time driving my kids here and there. On the off-chance they do want to spend time together as a family, I want to be there for them.

So as my schedule becomes less predictable, I find myself relying more on digital trainers who are always there for me in any crazy hour I have time to exercise. When I decide I’m going to practice some wild new type of exercise like baby goat yoga, I usually enlist the services of a real trainer (who has access to his or her own goats,) but most of the time an app works just fine.

What’s your experience been? Got a fitness app you recommend? I’d love to hear about it.

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Megan Morrone
Megan Morrone is a writer, podcast producer, and host for This Week in Tech (, covering technology news, iPhones, iPads, Internet of Things, the Smart Home, and more. Previously she was one of the hosts of the cable television show The Screen Savers on Tech TV.

She has also worked as a writer at Microsoft and as a human search engine for a company that perished in the first Dot Com Boom. She is the mom to three teenagers, one pit bull, and one ball python, and is the wife to one husband.