Virtually perfect: the invisible trainer
Having a coach in cyberspace doesn’t mean you can take it easy, finds Fiona Russell
It’s only Wednesday, but already you’ve skipped two days of a training schedule for a forthcoming 10k race. On Monday you excused yourself with a slight sniffle. Today no one is watching you, so who cares?
By Friday you’ve managed one short jog, but then an ominous email pops into your inbox. It is tagged: “Training feedback.” It asks, simply: “In marks out of 10, how do you rate your progress this week?” Gulp.
You write back: “A dismal one out of 10.” The prompt reply is firm, but caring. “Let’s talk about it and find out why the programme is not working for you.”
Welcome to the 21st-century training companion: your virtual coach. Just like a real-time personal trainer (PT), an online coach discusses personal goals, tailors exercise schedules and offers advice to clients of all abilities. Instead of face-toface guidance, however, the virtual trainer gives feedback via emails and texts.
While critics say that it is impossible to effectively train clients without meeting them, online coaches offer a valuable compromise when it comes to training. First, they are a cost-effective alternative to the average £30 per hour charged by PTs. Second, they represent a more flexible and less intimidating option than attending a running club or gym class, especially if your work takes up much of your time or makes it difficult for you to commit to regular sessions.
And, just because your coach is in cyberspace, it doesn’t mean he won’t be keeping tabs on you. The mere thought of the next feedback email should have you racing to put on your sports kit.
Here are six coaching websites to check out.
TrainSmart (www. trainsmart.com) 5/5
What: online training website for runners, cyclists and swimmers, launched at the end of last year. Offers both computer-generated personalised training programmes and highly qualified human coaches via email, texts and computer messaging. For all abilities, from novice to elite. Cost: an average of £100 for a year, including training programmes specific to two races and a total of three weeks’ online coaching. What: one-to-one running training, ideal for novice 10k joggers and marathon runners alike. A team of experienced coaches is led by Richard Holt, a UK Athletics-qualified coach and former competitive hurdler. It includes weekly programme updates and feedback via email, as well as video analysis of technique. Cost: £70 a year or £25 a quarter.
Momentum Sports (www.momentum sports.co.uk) 4/5 Scientific Coaching (www.scientificcoaching.com) 3/5
What: online one-to-one cycling and triathlon coaching from Dr Auriel Forrester, a sports scientist and senior cycling coach. Also, CD programmes for indoor cycle training sessions. Cost: packages from £90 for a one-off training plan and three months of feedback, to the year-long Platinum for £1,250 which provides fortnightly reviews, up to 12 hours of one-to-one coaching and four assessments.
MyiCoach (www.myicoach. com, US) 5/5
What: coaching in a range of sports, from running and cycling to figure skating. Cost: from $60 (about £30) per month for a range of tailored programmes plus up to three emails a week from your assigned coach.
Cardio Coach (www. cardiocoach.com, US) 4/5
What: personal training at its cheapest. Simply having a coach voiceover downloaded on to your MP3 player appears to be enough to motivate some exercisers. Cardio Coach offers guided workouts of at least 30 minutes, including a warm up, hill and sprint challenges and a cool down, and can be used while on a treadmill, step machine or indoor bike. Also see www.itrain.com and www.audible.co.uk for other fitness audios. Cost: from £3.47 per download.
Yourself Fitness (www.yourselffitness. com, US) 3/5
What: Maya, your computersimulated personal trainer, motivates you through various fitness “games”, such as a lower-body workout. Works via a computer or PlayStation games console. The workout games become progressively harder the more effort you put in. Cost: from $29.99 (about £15).