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WILL AI REPLACE FITNESS TRAINERS?




Since ChatGPT started dominating conversations in around February this year, Australians have been wondering which occupations are going to become obsolete. AI has been working its way into the fitness industry for years now via some pretty awesome apps and wearable technology, but with the accessibility of customisable nutrition plans and workouts for the everyday fitness enthusiast, some people are wondering if this is the end of a profession. Will AI replace fitness trainers?


The Limitations of AI for fitness programming

Let’s start with the basics: what every nutritionist and personal trainer (or anyone for that matter) should know about AI. First and foremost, AI is a powerful tool, but it should never replace the expertise and knowledge of a human professional. Think of AI as a helpful supplement rather than a complete meal replacement. It can provide personalised advice and keep track of and analyse health data, however, AI cannot capture all the nuances involved in fitness coaching.

In the highly human field that is health and fitness, artificial intelligence simply can’t take into account a client’s personality, complicated medical history or health conditions, their family life, psychological challenges such as disordered eating, or training in a trauma-aware manner. Put simply, AI can’t adjust a workout or modify an eating plan because the client has had a rough week and is barely holding it together.

AI can be used to a fitness trainer’s advantage if implemented in the right way. Its reliance on big data means it can be used as a tool to assist in creating balanced meal plans with the right macros, providing it’s given effective prompts. It can also be used for structuring training programs, such as a 16-week plan to a marathon, with rest days, tapering, and nutritional targets. Of course, anyone could download a similar program from the internet before AI was trending like it is, but they still seek out professional advice. Why? Because a fitness professional can critique a running gait and correct posture to allow for efficiency and injury prevention. A fitness professional can realise that the pain in the client’s hips could be from unresolved issues due to a complicated childbirth 5 years ago. And a fitness professional can discuss the client’s waning energy levels and adjust their nutrition needs or refer them to a complementary health practitioner.

There’s also nothing quite like the energy a good fitness trainer brings to a workout. Group exercise with a choreographed routine and loud music just can’t be replicated on a screen in your lounge room. AI can’t match the experienced yoga instructor who can guide you into modified positions to meet your physical limitations or the weightlifting coach who can correct your form to avoid injury.


How can AI assist fitness professionals?

Streamlining administrative and business-related tasks: If used effectively, AI can assist fitness business owners with administrative tasks, financial or correspondence tracking, and fast-tracking content creation for marketing purposes. (We’ve got a whole other article about using AI for your content to come!) It can also assist in breaking down language barriers, so fitness professionals can better communicate and build relationships with clients who speak a different language and create resources to help them connect with those community members.

Efficient and effective data collection: AI is a super helpful tool for creating onboarding questionnaires when working with a new client. For example, if a new client tells you they’ve undergone surgery in the past, they may have been “cleared” by their specialist to resume exercise, yet it would be wise to find out more in order to give them the best possible experience. By asking these questions, you’ll be able to gather the necessary information to design a safe and tailored exercise program for your client. Of course, consider working collaboratively with your client’s healthcare provider or a physical therapist to ensure the program meets their needs and supports their recovery, but again, AI can be a useful tool in helping you know the right questions to ask a specialist.

Creating the framework for meal plans and workouts: This is an area where AI excels and is part of the reason some health and fitness professionals have felt it could threaten their jobs. By providing the right prompts in relation to calories, nutritional requirements, macros, and dietary preferences, artificial intelligence can produce some pretty incredible meal plans and save fitness coaches a lot of time creating these for their clients. It’s the expertise in knowing what those prompts should be where the human skillset lies and where people will find value in working with a human, but you can leverage AI to increase efficiency.

Realistically, AI technology is improving at a rapid rate, and will likely be sophisticated enough soon to completely replace this aspect of a fitness professional’s role, but at this point in time, it is a brilliant tool. AI strategist and TikTok creator, Justin Fineberg has stated, “I think AI is going to totally replace personal trainers and fitness coaches and nutritionists… Every single person on earth will have an AI personal trainer in the next five years.”


Is AI going to replace a human personal trainer?

The rate of tech advancement is moving so fast that it’s impossible to predict just what will be happening a decade from now, but it’s likely that many industries as we know them will undergo massive disruption. One thing that we do know is that humans need connection. Now, in 2023, we have more access to information and access to people than ever before, yet mental health is at an all-time low. We are in a world where social media is creating connections via algorithms, yet we are spending less face-to-face time with our loved ones. Remote working creates opportunities and flexibility in so many ways, but we don’t get to engage in those incidental chats that happen in the meal room, where friendships are formed, and necessary connections have the opportunity to develop.

A recent study published by the University of South Australia showed exercise as 1.5 times more effective than the leading medications and counselling when it comes to managing depression. With mental fitness gradually being recognised more widely as being just as important as physical fitness, when it comes to a person’s health, fitness professionals need to lean into this as a core service that they offer. Real human connection is something that can’t be replicated with AI… (yet?)

The advancements in home gym equipment and virtual trainers are definitely offering value for those who prefer (or are required) to train at home. For many Australians, going to the gym is as much about connection, whether it’s the shared challenge of a group exercise class or the sense of belonging to a particular fitness community, as it is about attending the facility itself. The bricks and mortar gym or fitness centre will likely stand the test of time as a place for people to connect and feel that sense of shared identity.

There are two things a personal trainer should be thinking about as artificial intelligence enters the fitness arena.

1. Specialise your offerings

Niche down and focus on your target client. Are you highly skilled in sports performance? Do you have expertise in bodybuilding? Do you specialise in working with NDIS clients? Maybe your value proposition is being a family-friendly gym or offering ultra-affordable membership fees. Once you’ve got a clear picture of who your customer is, you can create the best possible value for them.


2. Deep human connection

How can you provide value that a highly sophisticated app can’t? Build communities and offer as much real-world value as you can. Consider how you can forge relationships with other local businesses in your community, whether it’s a members discount with a local massage therapist or a merchandise collaboration with a local brand.


In every industry, AI is here to stay and we can either ride the wave and figure out how to work with it or get left behind. There are certain skills that will likely become obsolete when it comes to being a fitness professional, but the human backbone of health and fitness remains. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to offer something to your clients that AI simply can’t.


Thanks to What's New in Fitness (WNIF) one of our SPONSORS for this article.

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