Why all fitness gadgets don’t work and why you’ll eventually hire a trainer.
Lululemon bought Mirror for $500M. Peloton has a $16B market cap. My Facebook feed is filled with ads for AI-powered fitness gadgets, devices, and apps. Unfortunately none of them will make you fit. This is why.
If real fitness is easy, everyone would be fit.
I’m an elite personal trainer and for 5+ years, I worked in the gym underneath the Twitter building in San Francisco. My clients were mostly Twitter and Uber engineers and executives. Invariably, when they started training with me, they all said the same thing: I only need a few sessions, just show me how to do these things and I’ll train myself.
Personal training is expensive. The gym I worked at charged at least $125 an hour for private training. Training 2–3 times a week adds up really fast. In a month, my clients typically spend over $1000 for private training alone. It’s difficult to wrap your head around this if you’re not used to it and if you haven’t experienced the value first-hand.
To these new clients I would smile and say, “okay.”
Yet every one of them trained with me for years, only leaving when they changed jobs or when I left. Every single one.
The first reason why fitness is hard: consistency is key.
It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently. — Tony Robbins
There are 720 hours in a month. If you train only one hour a week, that’s only 4 hours in a month. It’s clear why 10 hours a month is the minimum you need to train in order to see any results. Most people need way more.
Consistency is more than just hours. You can’t train 10 hours in one week and take the next 3 weeks off. That doesn’t work either. You must train on a regular schedule and not have long gaps between sessions.
Consistency is hard for people with demanding jobs and real life stresses. I can’t count the number of sessions when my clients showed up feeling upset, annoyed, and tired. The only reason they showed up is because they already pre-paid for the hour, and there’s the social awkwardness of standing up someone you see regularly.
No matter how smart your fitness gadget is, it can’t force you to use it when you don’t feel like it. When you have a bad day or a bad week, you drop-off. No consistency equals no results.
The second reason why fitness is hard: you need to be pushed.
You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone. — Roy T. Bennet
Fitness does not happen in your comfort zone. Your muscles must be stressed and pushed, beyond what you’re used to, in order to grow. Most people can’t do this by themselves. Not even me.
I have a trainer. I pay him to torture me 3 times a week. He’s a great coach and keeps meticulous record of my training. He knows exactly how much more weight to add and when to dial it back. There’s a fine line between not enough and too much, between not growing and getting injured. It requires judgement based on his experience and how I feel on that day.
With gadgets like Mirror and Peloton or apps that you use on your own, it’s just too easy to dial back the intensity. What feels like a workout to you right now is probably not enough.
The third reason why fitness is hard: good feedback is crucial.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. — Ken Blanchard
I still need a trainer to give me feedback. I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, yet when I’m being pushed to my limit, my mind isn’t thinking about what my form looks like. I make mistakes and if those mistakes aren’t corrected quickly, they become bad habits.
This is why athletes need coaches. Every Olympic athlete is an expert in their sport, but when they’re pushing performance they need to be corrected by their coach. To lose those pounds that you struggled for years to lose, you need to be pushed like an athlete. And you need feedback like one too.
Some of the Mirror-like gadgets do claim the ability to give you feedback. One glance at their ad tells me it’s utter BS. For example, many weightlifting moves must be seen from the back to see if you’re using the correct muscles. Unless the Mirror puts a camera behind you, or asks you to turn around (which then you can’t see what you’re supposed to do) — it’s a joke.
The last reason why fitness is hard: great trainers are the minority.
The Pareto distribution, named after the Italian civil engineer, economist, and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto  , is a…
Trainers, like most highly skilled profession, follows a Pareto distribution. Out of the 50 or so trainers that worked at my gym underneath the Twitter building, more than 80% of the training hours were sold and conducted by less than 10 trainers. I was one of them, ranking in the top 5 highest earning month after month. This is typical of all gyms.
Chances are if you tried personal training and didn’t get results, you had a bad trainer. Anyone can become a trainer, and some certifications only takes a weekend to get. Never mistake a fitness model with a top trainer. Just because they look good, it doesn’t mean they can make you look good.
It requires a lot of knowledge, experience and intuition to give proper feedback, push clients to their best, and hold them accountable. The learning curve is steep and brutal. Gyms churn trainers at a high rate for that reason.
Gadgets and AI fitness apps must be better than 80% of the human trainers in order to get the results you want. Do you want to wait for that to happen before losing those quarantine pounds? It’s your life. Tick tock.
This is why I created my startup The Bright App. Trainers as a group are among the most underserved by technology, yet they perform such a vital service for their clients. I built The Bright App originally to help trainers efficiently manage their clients, scheduling, session tracking and billing all in one convenient mobile app, saving busy trainers hours of tedious admin work each week.
When the Great Pandemic hit, trainers were severely affected. Gyms all over the world closed and most trainers lost clients and income. Clients started working from home, eating more and exercising less. Even if they had a trainer before, chances are they lost them. Depending on commercial gyms for training has been a disaster for both trainers and their clients. This is a classic market dislocation.
We jumped at this opportunity and immediately created a marketplace for trainers that seamlessly integrated with the intuitive scheduling and in-app payment features that we already had. Now consumers can use The Bright App to find a great trainer to train them in person or via Zoom.
I have an unfair advantage. Because I am a great trainer, I know how to spot another one. While any trainer can use The Bright App to schedule and manage clients, only the ones I approve are listed in the marketplace for you to contact. In effect, I’m creating a curated list of the best trainers in the world. Let’s meet some of them.
- Vincent Nguyen-Bui is the head coach of Golden State Barbell Club and trains weightlifters for national competitions. His job is to help people get strong enough to win. So yes, he can absolutely help you lose weight.
- Alicia Quinn is an Olympic silver medalist (Beijing 2008, Gymnastics). She is also a mom 3 and specializes in helping pre and post natal women look and feel the best they possibly can.
- Matt Grimm is my weightlifting coach. I train with him 6 hours a week (3 hours of private training and 3 hours of group classes). He helped this busy startup CEO stay sane during quarantine and lose weight.
You can find all of them in The Bright App and contact them for a free consultation. When you start training with them you’ll pay them for their time, just like in a traditional gym. Except, unlike a traditional gym, which takes 40–50% from the trainer, the trainers on The Bright App receives 93% of the amount you pay (we charge a 4% service fee and there’s a 3% credit card processing fee).
Of course, you don’t absolutely need a trainer to lose weight and get strong. You can read a book, watch some videos, grab a buddy and trial-and-error together on your own. Prisoners do this all the time. It just requires lots of free time and will power.
Chances are you’re like me. You have a busy and demanding job. You sit at your desk all day long. You have kids. You’re stressed. And you don’t have the time, energy or interest to deeply research kinesiology. This is why there are so many gadgets and gimmicks in fitness. And none of them work for real people.
The real question is how badly do you want to be healthy. Cheap isn’t good and good isn’t cheap. Just like all my clients, you can try a trainer I have on The Bright App for 10 sessions to start. Don’t be surprised if you end up staying.
Nerissa Zhang is co-founder and CEO of The Bright App, a marketplace and management app for fitness enthusiasts to find and hire a top trainer or coach. She is an elite trainer, a USAW Certified Sports Performance Coach, and an owner of two private gyms in San Francisco. You can find out more at GetBright.app and find Nerissa on LinkedIn. VCs ready to support Nerissa can email her at email@example.com.