Molly Wood produced an article and video for the New York Times, “Test of Strength: Fitness Apps vs. Personal Trainers,” comparing her experience with a workout app called FitStar and in-person sessions with a trainer. She also recorded her meals on MyFitnessPal and got nutritional advice from the same trainer.

App strengths included:
— Convenience
— Some customizability
— Free to low price

Trainer strengths included:
— Better attention to personal needs (like working around an old injury)
— Accountability — it’s easier to skip the app than a trainer appointment
— Wood felt the trainer gave her tougher workouts

The trainer appears in the video, commenting that she “never repeats a workout” (because too little variety gets stale and is “unsustainable”). This — along with Wood’s comments about how worked over she felt by their sessions — speaks to a highly specific expectation in the gym-based trainer world: trainers may make workouts deliberately exhausting, to justify their service. This is a fairly narrow idea of what exercise needs to be. Although trainers are certainly good at accountability, among the best uses of a trainer is to focus on improvement in a specific athletic area, and Wood’s trainer, with her emphasis on variety, actually makes it harder to do that. Another thing Wood doesn’t comment on is that the easier-going pace of the more conservative online option can be a better fit across the board for many of us — who don’t want to be pummeled in the gym, but rather just to be healthier.

Apps and trainers are not mutually exclusive, either:
— You can get dietary or workout advice from a specialist and use apps to record what you actually do.

— You can get training advice from a specialist and use apps for quick workout ideas while you’re traveling, or perhaps to get in a home workout on a day that you couldn’t make it to the gym.

— You can try a few workout apps or classes while you decide what interests you enough to focus on with a trainer — trainers are expensive, after all!

When you’re learning new skills — like the safe performance of exercises with free weights — trainer expertise can make the difference between accomplishment and injury. And the variety of apps out there — with their workout suggestions, options for keeping track of your eating and activity, and sometimes even community support — are excellent options, too. Explore … and mix and match.

Wood lists several other fitness apps in her article, too — check it out.

Image from a FitStar training video.


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