The fear of becoming obsolete and replaced by a machine is nothing new. Scientists have been warning us that robots are coming for our jobs for decades - and oftentimes, they’ve been right. (Just talk to a former film projectionist, switchboard operator, or travel agent). According to a Times article from 2017, "the University of Oxford Department of Engineering Science — surely the most sober of institutions — estimated that 47 percent of current jobs are at risk of falling victim to automation, perhaps within a decade or two."
And fitness professionals are surely not immune to this tech takeover paranoia. With fitness app usage up an astonishing 330% in the past three years, it’s hard not feel a little uneasy. But before we all collectively throw in the towel, we should take note that that same NY Times article points out that “Professions that rely on creative thinking enjoy some protection... So do jobs emphasizing empathy and interpersonal communication.”
Makes sense. In theory (and at least for now), no form of technology will ever be able to replace the human connection that our clients and students crave. For instance, home-based fitness tapes have been around for decades and despite the plethora of DVD and streaming options, people still head to the gym in droves because they don’t get the same level of motivation from a television or computer screen that they get from an inspiring trainer live and in person. Plus, as stated in this Washington Post article, apps can’t assess clients on the spot to make sure that an exercise is completed safely and in good form the way a personal trainer can. (Again, at least not yet).
Even more, the fit tech boom can be a plus for savvy trainers and coaches as it provides an opportunity to upgrade services, improve operations, create better client experiences and so much more. So whether you run a one-person mobile shop or a full-fledged gym, these are a few ways you can leverage technology to benefit your career.
1. Client Management, Scheduling and Financials
Scheduling is everything in this business and it can be a bit of a struggle to keep it all straight. Thankfully, there are plenty of programs that will ensure that you don’t mistakenly double book yourself or forget an appointment. Programs like MINDBODY, Zen Planner, Vagaro and Wodify were initially designed to help fit pros and gym owners schedule training sessions and allow users to reserve group fitness class spots. They now offer a much more robust list of services to smooth out your operations. Each has its own unique set of services so you’ll need to do some digging to determine which is a best fit for you. However, potential features include billing and financial transactions, attendance tracking, data reporting, email marketing, payroll and more.
Programs like these usually have different price points based on the number of users. The more clients you have, the more you’ll pay. But if you’re a solopreneur running a one-on-one and/or small-group training biz, just keep it simple and use good ole Google calendar for scheduling and Venmo or Cash for financial transactions.
2. Program Design and Tracking
Developing solid and effective programs is a trainer’s bread and butter and you could easily spend hours planning and logging info on all of your training sessions, but guess what? There’s an app for that (or in this case, several). All of these apps simplify this process and free up your time and focus so you can refine other aspects of your training and business.
For instance, Tony Cress, owner of Tony Cress Training Center in Las Vegas, uses apps to help build workouts for his clients on days that they can’t make it in. According to Cress, “You can build your workouts and programs through [an app] and it's very two-way interactive between you and your members. There are benchmark tests to track as well as leader boards for different exercises. It really brings in competition in a way that is progressive, goal oriented and safe.”
And lucky for you, there is no shortage of options out there if you’re looking for plug-n-play workout builders (pssssst... TRX has one in development). Depending upon the program, you’ll either create workouts with exercises from a library or plug-and-play your own exercises.
Some apps are interactive and allow clients to log their own session info and progress--or lack of it--so you can adjust the workouts to meet their individual needs. This is especially helpful for those who train large and small groups, where each client will improve at different rates. You can also gain insight into who might need an extra nudge or more personal attention.
Aside from taking some of the guesswork out of creating high-quality workouts, using a program design builder is also a great option if you train clients from a distance - or if you want to provide easily understood programs for clients to complete between sessions or while on business trips.
3. Assessment Tools and Wearables
Wearable technology isn’t really a new tool, as people have used heart rate monitors, accelerometers and step counters for quite some time. What has changed is that these devices have become more accurate and offer more detailed information that trainers can use to better understand clients’ efforts at any given moment and develop more pinpointed programs.
Miguel Vargas, TRX Master Trainer and TRX Training and Development Manager in San Francisco, likes to use HR monitoring to keep his clients in tune with how their heart rates vary during a workout.
“I then talk to them about what they did well and what they need to work on based on info from the monitor,” he adds.
Van Nuys, California-based personal trainer Jonathan Bernath incorporates HR monitoring into client sessions to show them that there are many ways to boost heart rate and that not everything has to be traditionally high-intensity to be effective.
“With TRX, where I have really found it useful is when we work movements that use more force,” he explains. “For example, if we are doing 10 reps of single leg squats, they can see that even though we are working at a controlled pace, the heart rate might be in zone 5. So, they get to see that we don't have to do ballistic movements to still get the heart rate into zone 4 and 5.”
If you’re looking to take things up a notch, Myzone is a monitoring system that has become popular in gyms as it allows heart rate data to be displayed on a monitor for all users to see during group training sessions. It’s especially attractive to competitive types who love to see how they fare against other exercisers.
And while heart rate monitors can help the trainer and client better gauge what’s happening on a vascular level, body scanners like TRX MAPS can provide a detailed picture of what’s happening on a musculoskeletal level. In about 30 seconds, the device will analyze an individual’s structural alignment (namely looking at Mobility, Activation, Posture, and Symmetry - hence the acronym MAPS), spot strengths and weakness, and offer exercises to reduce dysfunction. This is helpful to understand how to tailor a workout to meet the client’s needs on any given day. Plus, it gives clients other reasons to visit the gym day in and out beyond long-term goals like weight loss or muscle growth; as they will see their MAPS score improve almost immediately - which can be quite gratifying.
4. Foster Client Connections
Wearables like the Apple Watch and FitBit are great for in-session workout monitoring and give trainers a chance to connect with and cheer clients on during and after solo training sessions. As this Virtuagym article states, going online and building connections with clients outside the gym is almost necessary these days. Alexis Craig, a personal trainer based in San Francisco, agrees and uses a variety of simple tools to stay in touch with clients virtually.
“I use Google hangouts to meet with my virtual one-on-one clients on a regular basis for sessions, or Zoom for hosting webinars, and I often just assign personalized homework to clients using Google Sheets,” she explains. “Sometimes I use Strava or MapMyFitness as a way for my clients to show me that they go for walks on their own outside of sessions with me.”
All in all, fitness technology doesn’t have to be our nemesis. Rather when leveraged and used correctly, it can help you take your services to a whole new level and help you stand out from the crowd. Or as Craig puts it, “Integrate with technology. Use the apps and virtual options as a tool to improve your offering. It doesn't have to be one or the other.”
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