Fitness apps have moved way beyond counting the number of steps you take in a day. Many now offer access to personalized training sessions you can experience from your living room, simulating the touch of a personal trainer.

Depending on what you want from a workout session, personal training apps may be able to replace sessions with a live trainer (or not), says Molly Wood, who writes about personal tech at The New York Times.

Wood recently compared the training app FitStar with weekly sessions given by Alison Roessler, a personal trainer based in Oakland, California.

The basic FitStar is free and more training sessions are available for $40 per year, which is the option Wood chose. After each workout, Wood was asked to rate her session as too easy, just right, or "brutal." This way, the app claims to adjust workouts to individual needs. 

For an exercise regime to continually benefit your heath, whether through a trainer or through an app, it must become a habit in your life. Charles Duhigg, who writes on the power of habit, explains how positive reinforcement, e.g., chocolate, can help make exercise a regular part of your life:

"What studies say the number one best way to start an exercise habit is to give yourself a reward that you genuinely enjoy. So most people, when they start exercising, this is what they do. They say, "I'm going to let myself have some kale chips or a salad or something." ... But a habit is a cue, a routine, and a reward. That reward has to actually be rewarding for it to develop neurological patterns. So here's what studies say is the number one way to start an exercise habit: eat a piece of chocolate after you work out."

 

Wood found sessions with her live personal trainer more motivating, more expensive, and less convenient (since she had to drive to the trainer's gym). The sessions were also more challenging. 

Wood had underestimated her personal abilities when making self-assessments with the training app, but her trainer challenged her to go beyond what she thought were her limits. "As a result," she said, "when my trainer pushed me to try more difficult workouts after just a few sessions, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. FitStar didn’t push me as far, as fast."

Photo credit: Shutterstock