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COVID, Wearable Tech, AI, oh my… Are trainers doomed?

Wearable tech has been around for awhile. Wearable technology started off in the 70’s believe it or not with a calculator watch. Once the year 2000 hit, technology began a period of development unlike anything ever seen. We saw technology develop in a couple different ways:

  1. Hardware became smaller, sleeker, and faster. Wearing a smartwatch is actually fashionable now.
  2. Software became more advanced and connected people in ways we didn’t anticipate.
  3. The internet is more accessible through wireless connection.

Human lives and technology have intersected in an inevitable cosmic dance that doesn’t seem like it’s going away. We spend a lot of our time interacting with technology now. I come into work and do nothing but sit on the computer. And you know what I do at home? Netflix. Sad.

Anyway, along with all of this came the scare of automating ourselves away with AI and machine learning. Today, we see factories automating much of its manual labor and now, even the New York Stock Exchange is seeing the impact of AI.

As public discourse continues to expand on automation, it seems like the personal trainer occupation is in the cross hairs of the AI, machine learning, and wearable tech machine.

Leading up to 2020, media sites and technology think tanks had grabbed the “technology is going to end humanity” baton and began running with it. Jokes on them, because COVID decided to come along and just disrupt pretty much everything.

So what gives? Are personal trainers doomed? Are we looking at a future of robotic personal trainers? Will we ever recover from COVID?

Wearable tech explosions, public health crises awareness, and evolving health advice. A quick background.

Wearable tech: an image of an apple watch standing up right.

When you look at the development of wearable technology, there are some interesting timelines that run concurrently with it. Namely, increasing awareness around various public health crises, evolving health and wellness advice dependant on tech, and artificial intelligence.

The wearable tech evolution

The popularization of wearable tech really started back in the 70’s, as we mentioned with the calculator watch and of course, Marty McFly. However, popularization and completely mainstream/cultural explosion are two different topics. The cultural explosion part didn’t really start until Fitbit launched their step counter in 2009. Prior to this, there weren’t really many smartwatch options for just normal people.

Prior, smartwatches released by Garmin had GPS location with topographical maps of terrain, among many other features. But…. who is going to use that? Mountaineers, explorers, and dorks. Your average person isn’t going to be walking around going “gee Bob, what’s the elevation here on 5th ave? Total elevation gain from 4th ave to 5th ave?”. It’s just not what people cared about or wanted.

What people wanted, even though they didn’t know they wanted it, were watches that didn’t disrupt their overall look, were easy to use, and tracked stuff that mattered to them, like getting their steps in. But there’s another timeline that has run concurrently with all this that I haven’t mentioned. With the rise of integrated tech stacks (apple watches, iPhones, Macbooks), social media, more social media, and even more social media, and technological disruption, came faster paced lives. Technology is evolving faster than ever, more people are putting out more apps, and digital marketers loveeee sending us emails and push notifications.

Between social media notifications, emails, media sites pumping out thousands of articles a day, and thousands of new websites being launched on the internet everyday, the internet is virtually screaming for our attention. So it’s not necessarily that we are doing more with our days, maybe we are, but it’s more stuff is fighting for our attention, everywhere.

Growing public awareness of health crises

As technology evolved, we as humans, became more connected than ever before with social media and better forms of digital communication. With this connection came more rapid communication in general. As such, we became more aware of public issues, such as public health.

As the technology evolved and public health became a popular conversation topic, we started looking for better ways to help. Starting with better education on health but also, we started looking for tools to use. Naturally, technology is where we gravitated as we have for many human issues.

Evolving health and wellness advice dependant on tech

With growing awareness and faster paced lives came evolving advice on how to make sure you’re doing what you need to do throughout the day to stay healthy, such as, hitting 10,000 steps everyday or the introduction of macro counting. Public health advice prior to this was mainly focused on what you consumed rather then how much of it. Macro counting is a very calculated method of monitoring how much protein, fat, and carbs you are eating each day. Additionally, fitness advice was more focused on staying active in general. Now, my fitbit yells at me if I don’t hit 250 steps per hour.

With smartphones, wearable technology like smart watches, and apps like MyFitnessPal, a lot of people have been able to take control of their health and wellness. Health and wellness advice has shifted from speaking in general terms to being pretty calculated in what you should be doing to be healthy everyday.

MyFitnessPal will create a “Fitness Profile” for you and based on that, help you determine how many calories you should be eating and what those calories should be made up of based on your daily activity level and other metrics.

What we are seeing now is general public health advice that is dependant on wearable tech being used as a tool. Advice is now coming in a more quantifiable, personalized form.

Artificial Intelligence

Futurama: Artificial Intelligence Joke

As all of this above is going on, mad scientists have been busy building machine learning software algorithms, artificial intelligence, and quantum computers. What the heck even is a quantum computer?

Well, it’s a computer that is very, very different then standard computers. It uses a mixture of science and black magic from what I can gather.

Anyway, there’s a lot of scare going on about AI coming for us, taking our jobs, and using us as it’s snot rag. The madman that is Elon Musk is literally in the process of building Neuralink. A technology that will be implanted in our brain with the idea that it will make humans more intelligent so we can compete with AI one day. Now, that’s coming from Elon himself, their website talks about healthcare applications, so take that with a grain of salt.

Back to AI. When you look at jobs like, personal training, we are going to need general artificial intelligence to really be a threat. So far, humans have only created narrow artificial intelligence or “weak AI”. Sounds like it needs to hit the gym.

For reference, general AI is defined as an AI that thinks and behaves like a human. Weak AI is AI that is limited to a very specific function or application. It can deduce stuff that even humans can’t but, it doesn’t quite behave like a human.

What will it take for AI to come for PT jobs?

When looking at all the variables that need to align for AI to come for personal trainers, we need:

  1. AI’s to get smarter. They simply aren’t smart enough.
  2. We need quantum computers to be more accessible.
  3. People are going to have to want AI instead of a personal trainer.

Scientists estimate it will be 50 years before we hit general AI. Even then, quantum computers have to get to the point where they are so easy to make, it makes sense for people to use them in applications, such as, artificially intelligent personal trainers.

As of yet, there are really only a couple quantum computers in the whole world, fabricated by the globes top scientists, made in labs financed by the worlds biggest companies. The hardware alone for a quantum computer is estimated at around $10bn. Now, maintaining a quantum computer is another story. The hardware contains what are referred to as Qubits, an essential piece to the machines function. Each Qubit has to be stored at just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero (the coldest you can get in the universe). That’s gonna cost a pretty penny.

To put it into perspective, TRT holdings, the company that owns Gold’s Gym is barely valued at anything close to the cost of the hardware. Let alone everything else.

So time for the big question…

Are wearable tech and AI coming for personal trainer jobs?

No. It’s nowhere close to being even a feasible option right now. In fact, if you are reading this article, you won’t have to even think about the potential of AI coming for your job as a personal trainer in your lifetime. Or ever more than likely.

Besides the complicated nature of the hardware components, a personal trainer position is so more multifaceted then prescribing fitness programs. Personal trainers are also there to give live feedback, spot potential muscle imbalances, and last but not least, provide life coaching in some way, shape, or form.

What’s more inspiring, a push notification that says “Go get it today, John!” or a personal trainer, who, like many of us has had their own personal journey with health? They have overcome hardships and know what it’s like to have aspirations that are emotional and attached to a self identity. I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely rather a personal trainer then a hunk of silicon, glass, and electricity.

COVID has entered the chat

COVID-19 has forced many people out of work. Some of the most impacted being personal trainers, primarily because of the completely abrupt nature of the first shutdown. In the case of a close friend of mine, what she was told, changed over a period of a couple days from “the gym is shutting down for 2 weeks” to “we are closing, permanently”.

Meaning she was not only out of a job in the moment but also for the foreseeable future. Now that’s a disruption if you ask me.

Fitness delivery models go virtual

In essence, gyms and personal trainers were forced to go from standard delivery models of their services to a completely virtual delivery model, rather quickly.

A lot of gyms who had pretty much no presence in the online training space were forced to get one, and quick. This all seems obvious, so why is it important?

The online personal training and fitness market is being forced to mature through massive need and disruption.

Typically, this sort of disruption happens through innovative technology or changes to standard delivery models made through a new innovative business idea. However, this one just so happen to be caused by a pandemic.

People are buying exercise equipment for at home use. More people are not only exercising at home, but are getting used to the idea of digital fitness.

This opens the door to online personal trainers like it has never before. While the pandemic has certainly caused a lot of harm to the personal training business, it has done some good for it as well. A lot personal trainers want to go online at some point in their career. We as a company write on it all the time because the demand was there before the pandemic and it sure as heck will be here after the pandemic.

The path to normalcy

The path back to what society was like before COVID will not be immediate. It’s going to sneak up on us. At some point, vaccines will be released and distributed, and eventually you’ll find yourself going “oh yeah, I guess we are sort of ‘back to normal’ now”.

In fact, it the idea of a normal society is already creeping up on us as we get used to life in a pandemic and develop our own coping mechanisms.

It is because this that personal trainers really should look at training online. The demand and opportunity is there. And things aren’t going to be going back to completely normal, anytime soon. It might be awhile before that happens.

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