This article and video originally appeared in USA Today 2021
More than 50% of Americans made the same New Year’s resolution this year – to “do more exercise and improve their fitness” – according to a recent poll by international data and analytics group YouGov. By the second week of February though some 80% of us give up, and go right back to bad habits and old excuses.
My longtime go-to: “Tomorrow, I’ll exercise tomorrow.”
Sound familiar? Yeah, it did for me too until I spent the last few months trying out more than 20 different fitness apps and gadgets. I used each one at least three times, adoring some, abhorring others.
Within the first week, some clear patterns emerged. Today’s top exercise apps and gadgets are not one size fits all – and the best ones available reflect that.
What will ‘click and stick’ for you?
The bright and bubbly Instagram-inspired app my 19-year old daughter uses stands in stark contrast to the no-nonsense austere aesthetics of the one my bike-riding buddy swears by. And both of those are dramatically different from the apps my yoga-loving husband or CrossFit fanatic sister-in-law now use most days of the week – no matter what.
As fitness apps evolve, so does their ability to tap into what motivates you – you in particular – to stick with them. For some people forking out the yearly membership up front is enough to keep them committed. But for the rest of us, accountability comes in many different forms, from tapping into a social network to the latest human-modeled artificial intelligence-based “mindset” coaching.
Here are a few examples of what’s happening at the intersection of tech and fitness to motivate, inspire, and up your “stick-to-itiveness” – for good.
Play to your strengths
Freeletics (iOS, Android), is one of the newest fitness app entries to the U.S. market using a powerful blend of AI, psychology, and sport science to make it feel like you have a personal trainer in your pocket.
I have to admit though, it was not love at first tap for me and the newly updated app, but rather a slow burn that turned into absolute obsession (in a good way). Oh sure, it’s the most popular personalized AI-based fitness app in the world, with more than 50 million users in 175 countries globally. But it’s still relatively new to the U.S., and I think a little of its magic was lost in translation until I really figured it all out.
The app offers more than 300 different exercises and “1 trillion possible workout combinations,” according to a company fact sheet, tailored for everyone from beginners to elite athletes. You pick how much time you have and what you want to work on – strength, general fitness, weight loss, etc. – and whether you want to integrate equipment like barbells or jump ropes, or stick with body-weight only moves. Audio and video guides provide step-by-step sequences for your workouts, and they’re easy to follow.
Most of the sessions involve some form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). An average 20-minute workout might include a handful of exercises you complete three times total, such as squats, burpees, sit-ups, planks and push-ups. The AI coach learns from your feedback, so be honest. That’s how it gets really good.
You can do a limited free version, but the subscriptions programs – which start around $2.69 a month – are worth checking out for the near psychic-level of personalization it offers.
I have it set up to use three times a week, for 20 minutes at a time. Whenever I tap the app though, I can adjust workouts based on how my achy knee or sore shoulder feels that day, and work it into my already solid trail running routine. It took just two weeks to see and feel tailored results.
I have had this experience before – with a $100/hour personal trainer. To get it now from an app is a really pleasant surprise.
“We want to give (people) the right plan and guidance to reach their goals, on their terms, and ultimately lead to a long-term behavior change so they can continue leading that lifestyle for the rest of their lives,” Freeletics CEO Daniel Sobhani wrote to me in an email.
Tap into your tribe
Most of us have a favorite teacher from some point of our lives who seemed to speak to our soul in a way that made us want to be our best selves. Like Oprah. That same concept goes for the latest fitness app luminaries, streaming hours of inspiration onto a screen near you.
Two people I found at the start of our shelter-in-place days who do this for me now are BODY by Blogilates’ Cassey Ho, and Peloton’s “Sundays with Love” host Ally Love. Their classes are perfect for all the right reasons – you sweat (and swear) and get an amazing full body workout. But the extra ingredient is their ability to connect with you in a way that feels supportive and dare I say, spiritual? It’s kind of like going to church, but not in a particularly religious kind of way.
“Going through a tough experience with someone is a lot less painful than doing it alone,” Ho wrote in an email when I asked her advice on this whole topic. She says workout buddies can be a big key to success, but accountability and support doesn’t have to come from anyone you actually know in real life.
“Your workout buddy can be a friend you met on Instagram. Being able to share an accomplishment with someone who ‘gets it,’ … and makes you feel proud of your hard work. Genuine support is what you should be seeking,” she wrote.
For me in this case, Ho is the workout buddy she’s talking about. She makes sense of the world and adds a touch of empathy to her instruction – that goes beyond bending my body around on the floor.
Every person who’s in a long-term, committed relationship with an exercise app says the same thing. They feel part of a tribe, a movement, a group who just “gets them.” It’s a powerful pull in these pandemic times.
Even my 76-year old Mom is in on the trend. “I use the free YouTube workouts from HASfit. It’s perfect for me. I found it by Googling exercises for seniors.”
HASfit stands for “heart and soul fitness” according to its website. When I ask my Mom if she belongs to #HASfitTRIBE, she says, “tribes are very ‘in’ these days, aren’t they? But I’m not on Instagram, so I guess I’m not in the club.”
Reboot your routine
“People are really looking for a place to belong, to be accountable, and to become healthy more easily from their own home,” Katy Neville, lead trainer for new fitness/wellness app cure.fit, told me over the phone.
Most new apps let you try them for free for anywhere from a week to a month, then charge a subscription fee after that (cure.fit gives you a free seven-day trial, then $6.25 monthly or $74.99 annually). It’s actually fun to take a bunch of them for a test-drive first. Like me, you’ll see patterns emerge as to what actually works best for you.
“What’s your why? That’s what you have to ask yourself first and figure out before you spend money or make a commitment that doesn’t actually work for you,” Neville said. Do you want to run a 10K, get leaner arms and abs before summer, or lose that “quarantine-15” weight you’ve put on since the pandemic started?
“There’s now an app that’s perfect for everyone, but they are not one-size fits all. It’s a slippery slope,” Neville said. “Most important of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. We’ve all been through enough. And yes wellness is becoming easier to do from home, but that doesn’t mean we should get harder on ourselves.”
The secret of stick-to-itiveness
The other big insight here revolves around what keeps you coming back for more, and it’s hard to find a better example than Peloton.
I was one of the earliest reviewers of the connected bike back in 2015, and have used it a few times a week ever since then. This kind of addictive adoption is unheard of in the world of at-home fitness equipment and offers several key ingredients to the secret sauce of stick-to-itiveness: Peloton provides connection, community, competition, and camaraderie, in a way that actually works for real people in our very real lives.
You feel like you know the instructors and like they’re speaking directly to you. Sometimes, they actually are – speaking directly to you.
“I see you Jenn J. in Northern California! Keep your cadence up, you’re doing great! Go, go, GOOOOO,” is still one of my all time favorite shout-outs from my spiritual spin-sister Christine M D’Ercole.
As long as you can afford it, of course. Peloton bikes cost $1,895, and treadmills run $2,495, plus $39 a month for the membership to all of the classes.
Peloton does offer a wide array of classes beyond the bike or treadmill, including strength training, yoga, meditation, and more. You can use their app for free for 30-days, then it’s $12.99 a month after that.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and explore because among all the apps – and online instructors – out there, there’s likely a perfect fit for you.