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Now, if you’re think­ing there’s no way th­ese apps can get peo­ple sweat­ing — and, more im­por­tantly, see­ing con­tin­u­ous phys­i­cal progress — the same way that an in-the-flesh per­sonal trainer can, think again. Most pro­grams, at least on the big brand name apps, are de­signed by su­per­star ath­letes (or at the very least, the train­ers re­spon­si­ble for their physiques) like pro­fes­sional surfer Lakey Peter­son and ten­nis star Ser­ena Wil­liams. There’s no doubt th­ese pro­grams were de­signed ex­tremely thought­fully to max­i­mize min­i­mal work­out time. If ex­e­cuted prop­erly and reg­u­larly, they will get re­sults.

“The app of­fers some of the same ben­e­fits that come with hav­ing a per­sonal trainer, like per­son­al­ized and tar­geted train­ing, but the NTC app is more ac­ces­si­ble,” says Nike Canada’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, Claire Rank­ine. “No mat­ter the user’s fit­ness abil­ity, bud­get, sched­ule or lo­ca­tion, their next train­ing ses­sion is al­ways just a click away.”

This may be true, but I don’t think train­ers need to worry about the fu­ture of their in­dus­try just yet. Where th­ese wal­let­friendly al­ter­na­tives to real life drill sergeants drop the medicine ball, so to speak, is in the mo­ti­va­tion de­part­ment. You re­ally need to be a self-starter to reap the full ben­e­fits.

While an Olympian like Heil has no prob­lem get­ting her­self off the couch and push­ing her­self to the max dur­ing her ap­pin­structed work­outs, the av­er­age Joe and Jane likely find hit­ting the gym alone with their phone pretty un­ap­peal­ing af­ter a long day at the of­fice. I won’t name names, but I know one fel­low with no less than a dozen dif­fer­ent fit­ness apps on his smart­phone. The num­ber of times he set foot in the gym to use them this past year? Let’s just say he spent more time down­load­ing them than ex­plor­ing what they can do for his bod.

With an app as your train­ing part­ner there are no sched­uled ap­point­ments and no real reper­cus­sions to not show­ing up (though there are a few op­tions out there that al­low you to set up a mon­e­tary penalty for not fol­low­ing through with your goal set­ting). With a trainer you have built-in ac­count­abil­ity. If you aren’t get­ting it done — or you’re do­ing it wrong — chances are they will call you on it. That’s what you are pay­ing them for, af­ter all.

If you aren’t us­ing your train­ing app, you won’t be col­lect­ing points or un­lock­ing new pro­grams, but for most folks that’s re­ally not enough of a threat to make them put their butts in gear to do the “butt blaster” work­out if they aren’t in the mood.

“If it’s good enough for an Olympian, it’s good enough for me!” Seems like a log­i­cal sen­ti­ment in re­gards to get­ting in shape, but it’s also quite pos­si­ble that th­ese pocket-sized work­outs are good enough for world-class ath­letes pre­cisely be­cause they have the drive and de­ter­mi­na­tion of, well, world-class ath­letes. Now, if there were a fit­ness app that pro­vided the se­crets to stay­ing fo­cused like an Olympian, we’d all be do­ing those red-faced burpees, smart­phone in hand.

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