The best personal training apps

Berne Broudy
  • Training for a fitness event requires dedication, time, and, often, space to run, swim, or bike outside - which isn't entirely feasible for everyone right now. 

  • Despite a lack of outdoor access, there are still plenty of options available to help anyone train effectively at home, whether it's for a marathon, an enduro mountain bike race, or to just keep fit. 

  • One of the best methods for doing so is via a home coaching app, many of which provide human and AI training routines, weekly workout schedules, and tracking capabilities while also providing access to a community. 

  • We rounded up a few of our favorite home coaching apps from brands like Nike, Zwift, and TrainingPeaks,d designed to help anyone train for whatever event they're looking forward to. 

'Tis the season for setting goals and riding the wave of motivation. 2020 encouraged us all, perhaps begrudgingly, to slow down and find personal satisfaction in other ways than CrossFit PRs, one rep max's, and marathon times. But going into 2021, a lot of people are ready to set new goals to push themselves to meet or get back into the groove of a good race training plan.

We don't actually know if in-person running events, bike races, and triathalons will be given the green light in the next 12 months, and with less socializing and exotic trips in the months ahead, the reasons for pushing yourself to hit the gym most days of the week have certainly changed.

But there are still plenty of online challenges that do well to scratch that competitive itch and personal goals for getting fit that have nothing to do with social validation. You won't get to thunder through the streets of Boston this year with 30,000 other runners, but that doesn't mean you should pass on training for a marathon, an enduro mountain bike race, or even a triathlon right now. 

Why use a virtual coach or personal training platform

Committing to a training program is one way to find balance in your fitness routine. As always, now is the best time to start in on whatever training or competition goals you have and online coaching is one of the most affordable and effective methods for doing so. It's also the best way to track your progress and, in many cases, to tap into a community.

But the difference between using a coach and using a pre-determined training plan is motivation and results. "Most people haven't experienced a true training program before," New York-based personal trainer David Otey, CSCS, chief content officer for the Pain-Free Performance Certification, told Insider.

told Insider. "The difference between working out and getting true results isn't that far apart. Unfortunately, most people don't cross that line with enough drive and consistency to see the results they are investing to get."

Bob Seebohar, RDN, CSSD, CSCS, METS II, owner of eNRG Performance in Lakewood, CO and an incredibly experienced trainer who works with endurance athletes and Olympians, added that without a coach, there's very little accountability when you're training for a specific event that requires you to hit benchmarks for proper preparation.

At the end of this guide, we cover more on how a personal trainer or coach can up your game, as well as what to look for in one.

But whether your goal is to build strength or to get ready for a real or virtual race, artificial intelligence (AI) programs and live coaches can help to tailor programming specific to your goals and availability.

If you're still apprehensive about whether a real (or AI) human is worth your money, remember that on some apps, you can start with a pre-set coaching program and then upgrade to work with an actual human if you want an experience with more feedback. But a coach has a lot to offer.

To find the best home coaching apps available, we scoured the internet, talked to athletes and coaches, pickup up the dumbbells, pulled out the bands, and got sweaty for the sake of sorting through the best currently available.

Here are the best personal training apps:

Updated on 12/23/2020 by Rachael Schultz: Updated intro, added advice of trainers, added section on the advantage of a personal trainer or coach and what to look for in one, updated the prices and links where necessary.

Best for bike racers: Zwift

Zwift Run Pod
Zwift

Created for cyclists but for runners now, too, the subscription-based virtual-reality Zwift app does more than transport you and your bike into Zwiftopia and other imaginary worlds.

Pros: Lets you connect with community, best site for virtual racing

Cons: Clocking miles to earn kit for your meme is distracting

Zwift features over 1,000 structured online workouts and a host of training plans for both riders and runners with workouts that range from 30 minutes to over two hours. Its training plans are goal-oriented programs designed by world-renowned coaches with backgrounds training Olympic athletes, pro cyclists, and more. and your AI-coach builds you a customized, step-by-step training plan off these based on what's right for you and your goals.

Its workout offering is incredibly diverse, too. If you want to increase your endurance, there's a program for that. If you want to train for a 5K or 10K, just scroll through the workout directory, choose your program, and hit start. 

Zwift is a massively popular platform, with roughly 35,000 members on the app simultaneously, and up to 8,000 participants in a single race or event. Run participation is on the rise, too as Zwift says daily run mileage has seen a 6x increase year-over-year.

Whether or not it's taboo to meet your friends in person to train, Zwift lets riders and runners meet-up in the virtual world. You can plan to meet in one of Zwift's virtual worlds at a set time, arrange to be in the same event, or you can schedule your own private, invitation-only virtual hangout that's a Zoom-style meeting and training session with up to 100 friends.

If you're worried about being all trained up with no place to go, Zwift is also the virtual starting line for many running and cycling races. Just hop on your trainer of choice and you can ride with and compete against your peers and heroes. 

Equipment required: 

  • For cyclists: Rollers and power meter and bike, or smart trainer (like the Wahoo Kickr) plus bike.

  • For runners: Foot pod (like RunPod), an optical sensor for a treadmill (like the Zwift NPE Runn), or a smart treadmill.

Cost: Cycling: Free for 10-days, then $14.99/mo. Zwift Run is free.

Best for mountain bikers: Enduro MTB Training MTB Strong

Enduro MTB Strong
Enduro MTB Training

Enduro MTB Training comes from bike coach Dee Tidwell and is designed to build rider strength, flexibility, and endurance.

Pros: Athlete-targeted; builds fitness, speed, power, and strength and helps prevent injuries; equipment-free programming and coach-led zoom workouts available

Cons: The full program is equipment intensive

Dee Tidwell, a soft tissue therapist and coach for the Yeti/Fox Factory Race Team, has been a trainer, mountain biker, and racer for 25 years. He's led thousands of mountain bikers through this program and it's the same program he uses to train himself. It's even put him on the podium of the Big Mountain Enduro bike race series for the past three years.

Tidwell's program helps riders get faster but for Tidwell, strength, and power go hand in hand with being limber, build flexibility and when you train, race, and on occasion crash, you're less likely to get sidelined because you're tight or muscularly out of balance.  

Tidwell's MTB Strong Program is three months, six months, or an entire year long. You're able to start wherever you're at skill-wise, whether you're a casual rider or an experienced racer. The first five weeks work out kinks and imbalances before getting into more guided sessions like building power, strength, and speed. 

One of MTB Strong's best features is that it isn't an AI coach but rather was developed by a rider, racer, and physical therapist. And, if you're in it and have questions, you can email Tidwell or set up a private coaching session.

Even if you don't have access to much home gym equipment, Tidwell currently shares weekly home workout videos and a step-by-step bodyweight exercise program for free. Twice a week he hosts free Zoom workouts that anyone can join.

Equipment required: Resistance bands, a bar and plates, dumbbells, yoga mat, foam roller, rolling stick, lacrosse ball, bike, and bike trainer. 

Cost: Free for seven days, then $29/mo or $99/6-months, enduromtbtraining.com

Best for getting fit and trim: Freeletics

Freeletics
Freeletics

TrainingPeaks believes that the confidence to perform comes from the perfect strategy combined with the best training tools.

Pros: The best place for remote athletes and coaches to connect; easy to import and export workouts

Cons: Data tracking most valuable when navigated with a coach

It offers a program that allows users to commit to a clear goal and structures their training so they can work out smarter. It also closely monitors their progress as they work toward a specific event or race.

Created as a coach/athlete interface, and a place for athletes to plan and track their training and chart their progress, TrainingPeaks also connects athletes with TrainingPeaks-certified coaches, and it sells a library of training plans geared towards specific goals. 

If you just want a training plan to help you reach your goal, the app has thousands of plans available, ranging from $5 for a three-week beginners running guide to $1,800 for a year-long personalized coaching program. Every plan shows sample workouts and gives you a coach bio before you have to enter your credit card. 

Whatever level of athlete you are, the app can connect you with one or more live coaches to meet your goals. All coaches on the site are TrainingPeaks vetted and high-level coaches are both trained and certified by the brand itself.

Choosing a coach can be done in one of two ways. The first is with a short survey that lets you indicate your sport from a list of 19 options, including adventure racing, collegiate cross-country, speed skating, and organizational wellness. You'll also enter your goal and how much you want to pay for coaching, from $99 for an hour consultation to $299 a month for an elite coach. Then, the app makes a recommendation and introduction. 

Athletes can also browse the coach database to find their best match, searching by services offered including 1-on-1 coaching, group training, biomechanical analysis, and more. You can sort by coach gender and narrow your list by where the coach is based — most TrainingPeaks coaches offer remote coaching, too. 

Whether you're training with a coach or solo, the app doesn't just record your workouts but it tracks your fitness and freshness, both current and predicted. Using its Performance Manager Chart, you can watch your fitness as it trends upward with training, and can also see when you need a rest day. When planning your workouts, the app predicts your future fatigue so you can plan accordingly.

Equipment Required: Variable; smartwatch or bike computer recommended

Cost: Free for Basic Membership, which allows setting goals and tracking workouts, then $12/mo or $75/yr (monthly and quarterly rates available) which gives you full functionality and the ability to work with a coach on the platform. 

Best for serious athletes: TrainingPeaks

Training Peaks
Training Peaks

TrainingPeaks believes that the confidence to perform comes from the perfect strategy combined with the best training tools.

Pros: The best place for remote athletes and coaches to connect; easy to import and export workouts

Cons: Data tracking most valuable when navigated with a coach

It offers a program that allows users to commit to a clear goal and structures their training so they can work out smarter. It also closely monitors their progress as they work toward a specific event or race.

Created as a coach/athlete interface, and a place for athletes to plan and track their training and chart their progress, TrainingPeaks also connects athletes with TrainingPeaks-certified coaches, and it sells a library of training plans geared towards specific goals. 

If you just want a training plan to help you reach your goal, the app has thousands of plans available, ranging from $5 for a three-week beginners running guide to $1,800 for a year-long  personalized coaching program. Every plan shows sample workouts and gives you a coach bio before you have to enter your credit card. 

Whatever level of athlete you are, the app can connect you with one or more live coaches to meet your goals. All coaches on the site are TrainingPeaks vetted and high-level coaches are both trained and certified by the brand itself.

Choosing a coach can be done in one of two ways. The first is with a short survey that lets you indicate your sport from a list of 19 options, including adventure racing, collegiate cross-country, speed skating, and organizational wellness. You'll also enter your goal and how much you want to pay for coaching, from $99 for an hour consultation to $299 a month for an elite coach. Then, the app makes a recommendation and introduction. 

Athletes can also browse the coach database to find their best match, searching by services offered including 1-on-1 coaching, group training, biomechanical analysis, and more. You can sort by coach gender and narrow your list by where the coach is based — most TrainingPeaks coaches offer remote coaching, too. 

Whether you're training with a coach or solo, the app doesn't just record your workouts but it tracks your fitness and freshness, both current and predicted. Using its Performance Manager Chart, you can watch your fitness as it trends upward with training, and can also see when you need a rest day. When planning your workouts, the app predicts your future fatigue so you can plan accordingly.

Equipment Required: Variable; smartwatch or bike computer recommended

Cost: Free for Basic Membership, which allows setting goals and tracking workouts. $20/mo or $120/year (monthly and quarterly rates available) gives you full functionality and the ability to work with a coach on the platform. 

Best for training for 5k, half marathon, or full marathon: Nike Run Club

Nike Run Club App
Nike

Whatever running event you're training for, Nike's Run Club is designed to get you ready for race day with an app that has training plans for 5k to marathon-length races.

Pros: Run-focused; welcoming, accessible, and motivating; free

Cons: Not as functional for experienced athletes; Nike Training Club is a separate app, but also free

When you're running, Nike Run Club's app tracks your distance, time, speed, pace, elevation, and heart rate and records your mile splits. You can geo-locate with the map screen if you get in the zone and miss a turn, or when you want to try a new route. On guided runs, Nike trainers, coaches, and athletes talk you through the workout via Headspace, providing encouragement, and helping you focus.

The app is also compatible with custom Apple Music playlists to help energize your session, and there's even a social media side that lets you share your workouts or give high fives to friends.

In the Nike Run Club App, the workouts aren't restricted to just running, either. Hybrid workouts combine running with core or upper body training. Because it's Nike, the Run Club App also lets you track the wear and tear on your shoes and when you need to replace them, even if it happens to be a pair of shoes from another brand.

Equipment required: Running shoes, headphones; smartwatch recommended

Cost: Free

What else we considered

SimpleHabit is like a personal trainer for the mental side of fitness training, with 2,500 mood-specific meditations, yoga sessions, and sleep-enhancing bedtime stories. It costs a flat $100 per year, but if the stress of work and life are your biggest roadblock in achieving a PR, that money could be well worth it.

Trainiac is ideal if you're looking for (and willing to pay for) a bonafide person trainer experience at-home. You're connected 1-on-1 with a trainer for coaching sessions and have access to messaging that person to work through any kind of personal constraints or roadblocks. At roughly $100 per month, it's pricey, which is why it was edged out by cheaper AI services above. But if you're looking for truly personal coaching, this app is one of the leading options.

How a personal trainer or coach can up your game

"Many people think coaches simply provide training plans but with good coaches, creating a training plan is quite easy. What coaches really do is help the individual monitor progress, change progression and periodization based on physiological adaptations (which happen at different rates for each person), and provide unbiased, objective feedback," explained Seebohar.

What's more, having a coach instead of a printed training plan helps keep you safe, which is incredibly important as you start to increase the load or frequency on your body. "The ability to adjust while going through a performance-based training protocol is so important to avoid overuse, potential injury, or simply being demotivated," Otey added.

And, as anyone who has ever trained for a race knows, having someone there to remind you why you're waking up at 5 a.m. in the cold to go sweat for 60, 90, 120 minutes is huge. "Without a coach, there is very little accountability," Seebohar said.

What to look for in a coach or personal trainer

Seebohar and Otey both said there are a few key things to make sure your virtual coach has before you sign on to their training plan.

Knowledge
Look for someone or a program with years of experience in the sport you're training for (particularly the kind of race you're looking at), with positive client reviews, and who is accredited by national sports institutions like the Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (NCCA), the American Council on Exercise (NCCA), American College of Sports Medicine (NCCA).

Easy communication
You should have the ability to communicate frequently with the trainer to learn proper form, ask questions about the program, and ask questions about your lifestyle challenges so the trainer can adapt your program. And make sure they actually listen to you, Otey added.

Personalization
One huge advantage of having a trainer is the ability to work through your personal roadblocks, be that scheduling, equipment, nutrition, or injuries. You want a trainer who is giving you a program appropriate for where you specifically are starting, not a one-size-fits-all program.

Read the original article on Insider