Confession: I’m a lifestyle writer that doesn’t love the gym. I’ve penned many stories about how much you should exercise every day, and can list all the reasons why I should favour an endorphine high over my daily sugar hit. But still, when it comes time to walk into those gym doors, I do so grudgingly.
Mine is also the common tale of girl gets a gym pass, hoping that the direct debit each week will serve as motivation enough to finally get abs this summer and also signing up to a personal trainer for that extra pre-spring push. What I’ve found? A (good) personal trainer really is worth the cash, particularly if you haven’t worked out for a while, but who actually has the extra dollars to invest in consistent sessions every week? Not me. So when I decided to test the idea of a virtual fitness chatbot in an attempt to save my bank balance from gym-fee stress, I was intrigued but slightly cynical about the prospects. How could a robot inspire me to start jumping into burpees, or lunging in my living room if I could barely get myself out of bed?
When Facebook first announced the chatbot idea for its Messenger platform in April of last year users were skeptical of allowing people to direct message a company, get an instant response from a program (not a human), and have that be a useful and positive experience. But Mark Zuckerberg explained at the 2016 Facebook Developer Conference: “We think you should message a business just the way you would message a friend.”
While chatbots are still in their early days, there’s definitely untapped potential in how they’re going to change the way people go about their daily lives—including how they exercise. So what’s it like getting 24/7 attention, personal fitness tips, and detailed workout routines at the push of a button? Surprisingly effective.
See below for the three fitness chatbots I tried and my verdicts.
Daily FitBot provides the basics: I would get a daily push notification nudging me to get to the gym, then when I pressed "workout" I would get instantly sent a 15-20 minute session that definitely got me in a sweat. I could also make it harder for myself depending on how intense I wanted to train. While it doesn’t offer a very personalised approach to training, it does ensure you sweat with high-intensity movement.
Verdict: It’s the perfect tool for a weekday when you don’t have the brain capacity to conjure up calorie burning workouts.
If you have a relatively strong base of fitness (aka you exercise regularly), Fitly is an app and messenger service that offers specific and targeted options within different levels for whatever you want to work on. So, if you’re looking for abs that will rival Jesinta Franklin's, this is for you. I too want a flat stomach in time for summer and chose the option for a three-day plan, and I was definitely sore afterward. You can also share your workouts with your friends on Messenger, which serves as a virtual group training session.
Verdict: A good option for trouble areas and targeted training.
If you’re a seasoned gym-starter, you’ve had personal trainers that attempt different types of methods to inspire you—from the positive affirmations to the military-like boot camps. Peter is a virtual trainer that specialises in motivation. When signing up you get to pick how you get inspired, from “Buttkicks” to “Yoda”, each with its own signature flair.
Verdict: The humour you find out of being yelled at by a robot does serve as a small boost in energy to do that extra rep. In sergeant mode, I was literally told, “I’ll break through that very screen and KICK YOUR ASS if you don’t move.”