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How Technology Is Changing the Training Experience Part 5: Will Trainers Become Obsolete?

Summary and Series Recap:

In parts 1-4 we looked closely at:

Now in part 5, we’ll look at what the future brings, both in advancements that can impact the training experience and in the direction to which our role as fitness professionals could shift in response to this ever-evolving landscape.

Learning Objectives:

  1. To utilize the current capabilities of emerging technology with realistic expectations.
  2. To understand where emerging technology is heading and could impact the nature of the training experience in the near future.
  3. To recognize the transition of our role as trainers.

More specifically, while looking at several technological advances impacting fitness and their advantages and drawbacks, the question emerged: Is there a vital role for fitness professionals to play in a world where technology can perform so many functions?

After looking at today’s landscape, the consensus is, as trainers and instructors, we have the valuable and rare opportunity of being able to provide a stimulating experience invoking a deeper focus, more singular attention, and richer social interaction because of the unique advantages of live interaction and “the human element.”

We are also ideally positioned to counter the effect technology has on mindfulness and enhance our clients’ ability to be more conscious of themselves and connected to the world around them.

That’s today. What about tomorrow?

It’s About Time, not Money

Technology has afforded us the opportunity to do more in less time and, as a result, we find ourselves busier than ever.

If we take a step back from looking at why individuals might choose to work with a trainer or instructor to look at why they chose to engage in physical activity at all, it is to achieve certain outcomes. These outcomes vary, of course, and could be anything from reduction of pain, to being able to “stay in shape,” to living longer with good health etc.; yet, to achieve any of these outcomes or any of the benefits of exercise, one needs to engage in it over time.

In an interview with Professor of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Dr. Carl Foster emphasizes the importance of the long term: “If you enjoy doing it, you’re gonna do it, and if you do it, the benefits are accrued.” (personal communication, February 2, 2017).

From a fitness professional’s perspective, outcomes are affected by the way we train. What tools and techniques do we utilize to gauge performance, enhance learning, and acquire skills? How to we inspire our clients’ intrinsic motivators so they will push themselves and maintain a “movement habit”?

To get an idea of what the future role of trainers and instructors might be, let’s look at the technology likely to influence the outcome.

Wearing the Future

It has been less than 50 years since the first wireless heart rate monitor was used in training to give biofeedback as a means of enhancing performance. In comparison, the top speed of automobiles increased from approximately 14.5 miles per hour to 140 in about 50 years. How does the evolution of wearables compare?

From a function standpoint, wearables cover a lot of territory, claiming to track steps, sleep patterns, calories and much more. The added convenience of having the data on the device (and sometimes connected to a phone or computer via Bluetooth) would seem to increase its value.  The emerging products in development and early production seem to be inspired from a range of accessories that span everyday practical nature or incorporate cutting-edge science. Products like:


Are people really paying attention to the data the devices are collecting? And how accurate is the data?

Foster said that, at best, the infatuation with the data given by monitoring devices and platforms is a passing fascination and won’t convert into long term interaction, which would involve reviewing data closely over several years. As for accuracy, it appears that research results have a way to go to catch up with marketing claims.  In this audio clip from our interview, Dr. Foster explained what happened in his studies on the accuracy of available monitors and the algorithms that calculate the results reported to us when we use wearables.

As wearables continue to evolve, we will be able to monitor things like core temperature, heart rate reserve and oxygen consumption with better accuracy. This data will likely still be of more interest and value to fitness professionals than the end user, leaving the fitness professional to utilize the data in making strategic programming choices.

Virtual & Augmented Reality

Virtual sessions are already a reality, but what about an actual virtual reality? Virtual and augmented reality devices may be in their early stages, but they are already making waves. From Google Glass to Oculus and beyond, tomorrow’s brick and mortar facility may very well need its own VR studio.

With a combination of VR and wearable technology, a virtual training session could involve the participant climbing an actual rope in a virtual rainforest, while the trainer monitors Heart Rate Response.

Virtual classes, like those from Peloton, take live and streaming classes to another level of accessibility. Class participants can join in a live ride with a class size of up to 1,000 participants or stream on demand. Peloton too, is working on virtual reality technology for their classes.

As mentioned in part 1 of this series, Hannes Bend, visiting scholar at the Quantum and Nanoscale Physics Alemán Lab, personal trainer, yoga instructor and artist-in-residence at the Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon, believes, like many researchers, that while technology at the moment is most directed toward interaction with our visual system, the prospect of emerging technology and coupling it with conscious mindfulness practices point toward a very exciting future.

In a second interview below, Bend mentioned the gap in research on VR and our daily stress levels and that games on devices could be developed to help us better engage with our autonomic responses to stress (personal communication, January 27, 2017).

The possibilities of a more immersive virtual workouts are exciting but there are certain components in the “low-tech/high-human” experience that even the newest innovations have yet to replace entirely with technology:

These components drive countless moments that can lead to perceptions shifts, learning gains, new habit formation and changes in one’s sense of self. In other words, our being there in person affords those working with us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and enact their own transformation in the process.

In the below clip from our interview, Foster predicted that people would recognize the difference and are not ready for physical activity to take place solely in a virtual world.

To answer our original question: Is there a vital role for fitness professionals to play in a world where technology can perform so many functions?

Yes, there most certainly is.


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