AI-powered personal trainer:
the present and the future for fitness apps

Image credits: Zing Coach
The global fitness app market is expected to reach $15.6 billion by 2028, while in 2019, it was only valued at $3.3 billion. The Personal Trainers industry is estimated at $10 billion in the US, with an average industry growth of 2.4% (2015 to 2020).
It's not the pandemic that accelerated the market growth. Also, the point of a coincidence when developing hardware and software meets today's people's current needs, says Tanya Parfenyuk, Co-Founder & CEO Zing, a company that invented the virtual fitness coach and was co-founded by Palta.

Tatiana says that 30 years of sports and fitness have taught her that it's all more about motivation. Our mission is to make personal training accessible to everyone. We democratise personal fitness training. Everyone deserves to have a personal trainer. Our coach provides motivation and support. Our methodology focuses on changing behaviours and building healthy habits.

The one-to-one approach not only helps to personalise the training programme but also provides emotional support. According to Tatiana, Zing's mission is to motivate people to move and be active each day. It is quite a tricky task.

Dr Michelle Segar, who developed science-based systems of sustainable change, claims that the main challenge here is to understand the process of sticking to one's behavioural changes. In her research, she has found out that even those with life-threatening diseases, who are strongly recommended to exercise regularly, aren't motivated by a long-term benefit and are likely to quit quickly. However, people are not motivated by the knowledge that they are doing something to improve their body shape, health, etc., but rather feel good when exercising, Segar concluded.

In this way, Zing aims to release its users from the idea that they have to exercise (because "should" is always associated with guilt) and infect them with the desire to satisfy themselves with good personalised training regularly. What helps here, she says, is that in recent years people have changed their behavioural patterns and habits towards a better quality of life. But this is not the only factor affecting the way fitness apps are now evolving. Tanya Parfenyuk shares the main trends and gaps still to be filled in the industry. The planning horizon for such services as Zing is shrinking year by year and is already too short for large-scale forecasts.
Emotional contact
The Zing methodology is an entirely personalised virtual coaching app based on advanced AI technologies and the expertise of fitness and wellness experts. The app uses an AI coach chatbot to curate a customised fitness journey that includes workouts, support, motivation, daily energy, feelings and emotions check-ins, health analytics, real-time health data tracking & workout optimisation.

"It is a lot, but we realise that at the moment we lack emotional contact, which is one of the most important things in the relationship between a trainer and a trainee. So, we are working on it, and the future of such services lies definitely in bringing emotional intelligence to machines", says Tatiana. Zing will explore how they can bring different coach personalities, which usually attract people depending on their inner desires.

The best examples in the field, according to Tanya, are the Replika app. It aims to fight loneliness and explores a semantic part of the bot-human connection. Other examples are a digital therapist, Woebot, which has raised $90 million; or Wysa, a Google-backed mental health bot that has raised $5,5 million.
Immersive fitness experience
Tatiana believes VR/AR fitness is the industry's future in the coming years, bringing a sense of belonging to training and making it a game and an entertaining experience. Peloton recently debuted its own in-app video game.

With all pandemic-related problems around the world set to close in 2020 and 2021, connected fitness companies came to the forefront of the industry and received a powerful boost for development. "Peloton made the first step towards bringing the experience of being physically present at a workout remotely. Another good example of this is Mirror".
Image credits: Zing Coach
Health checkers
One of the best examples of very sophisticated health checkers are Babylon health, which has raised $550 million with a valuation of more than a billion dollars and Flo (a company co-founded by Palta), Tanya points out. Zing also provides you with a health checker that shows the correlation between different fitness activities and body & mood feelings. It tracks your energy score, performance rate and metabolic level to help you maintain healthy workouts. The app developers plan to create a comprehensive benchmarking system of tests and checkers.

"The lockdown only proved our mutual fear of the lack of movement that has been growing in us for the past years, as influences have been repeatedly pointing out that the lack of movement is horrible for the human's overall health", Tanya recalls. This definitely boosted the field of health checkers, and will stay in trend in the nearest future, she believes.
Dealing with physical risks
One of the main functions of a personal trainer in real life is educating their clients, Tatiana points out. This includes watching out for techniques of an exercise execution to prevent health risks. And mimicking that is quite a challenge for training mobile apps, while potential traumas are one of the main barriers for people from starting to exercise.

What could be a solution for this is pose detection, that is already used in such apps as Zenia, Artifit, and Wade's service, which identify the position of points of your body in space and correct you. And also Apple has recently opened its Core ML libraries to public access. The company is actively trying to popularize its body pose detection technology among fitness apps developers. It gives you the possibility to track many visual points. But though apps might get quite sophisticated, there are some hardware limitations for them, such as the camera on your smartphone, CEO Zing highlights: "Let's say there's a square that you should fit it to get caught by the camera eye. So, you have to make efforts to reach a certain level of precision. This might distract you from your motivation to exercise".

Zing now focuses only on those users with some background in fitness, who know basic techniques at least: "Our training is not like a usual training when you repeat after a coach, often trying to keep up with their pace. Using Zing, at first you explore the recommended training and then you do it at your own speed. This eliminates the risk of traumatizing while getting too focused on following someone", shares Tatiana.

"Also, our team is also very inspired with the concept of voice interfaces. That's why we develop a section with podcasts, music and educational audios for our app, to entertain our user while they exercise without looking at the screen", Zing CEO shares.

Other stories