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It took a pandemic for me to finally break up with my trainer.
We had been working out together for almost three years. But as in any long-term relationship, things had started to feel … routine. Sometimes I didn’t break a sweat. He really wanted to be a tattoo artist. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sometimes I think we would have worked out together forever had it not been for, well, 2020. I continued to pay him through the first lockdown because it felt like the right thing to do, but really because I hate confrontation.
Like so many people suddenly stuck at home—healthy and grateful but nevertheless trapped—I auditioned a series of exercise apps. I’ve always been a runner, and the Nike Run Club’s free, audio-guided runs were a welcome companion. I’m one of those road-warrior freaks who enjoy the mind-erasing endorphin rush of a great hour-long run. (Shout-out to Coach Bennett and his awesome dad jokes.) And I’m good at cardio.
I finally had the time to really get in shape. I just needed a push. And a push notification wasn’t cutting it.
But strength training? Conditioning? Impossible on my own. On an academic level, I know that cross-training will make me a better runner—and keep me out on the road as I get older—but I can’t find the focus. No matter how hot or enthusiastic the trainers were on any number of free-trial apps I sampled, it wasn’t enough to get me to swing a single kettlebell. Or lift a dumbbell. Or use any of the equipment I had managed to buy online in the middle of the night.
Elastic bands and rope-y things sat in the closet, nestling with dust bunnies, while I watched any definition I had built up in my arms and upper body wither away. Sometimes I was running 25 miles a week. But I was also eating so much artisanal ice cream and drinking so much cheap red wine that I needed to log all of those miles just to fit into my pants.
Of course, as the pandemic stretched out endlessly, everybody stopped wearing pants. But I was tired of making excuses. I finally had the time to really get in shape. I just needed a push. And a push notification wasn’t cutting it.
That’s how I found a newish personal training app called Future that was so expensive ($150 a month), it forced me to commit.
One of the app’s selling points is its deep bench of trainers, most of whom have degrees in kinesiology (whatever that is) and are all way overqualified for my fitness level. Before coming to Future, coach Kurtis Rayfield worked with the Golden State Warriors, training Steph Curry. Jason Pryor competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Samantha Lam trained with Cirque du Soleil performers.
Future’s user experience is wonderfully smooth, which makes sense since one of the founders used to work for Apple and led development on iMessage and FaceTime. I set up an account, entered my goals (“become Chris Evans”), and picked from a list of trainers, and after I had a 15-minute FaceTime call with my coach later in the week, he programmed seven days’ worth of personalized sessions into the app.
Oh, I forgot the future part: You can pair the app with your Apple Watch (and if you don’t have one, the company will loan you one) so your trainer can monitor your heart rate from afar.
I’ve started to notice progress in surprising ways. When I get out of the car, I no longer make that involuntary “oof” noise.
The algorithm offered me three coaches based on my goals. I picked Matt, a PhD candidate from Seattle who had been a runner in college. But I really chose him because his headshot seemed approachable. Like he wouldn’t shame me. Or shout Maya Angelou quotes at me in the middle of a set. Or whatever happens at those studios.
I fell into a groove pretty quickly. I was already working from home. Now I was working out from home, too—yet another trend line accelerated by the global shutdown. I dusted off my kettlebells, managed to untangle the elastic bands, and started doing isometric push-ups and single-leg deadlifts (among other punishments) for around 50 minutes per session. Matt also added interval training to my runs, forcing me to care less about the mileage and more about the effort.
Sometimes the whole thing made me laugh. I had never had a trainer comment on my heart rate (which Matt does often). Or text me to say: “The data looks good!” He was taking it way more seriously than I was. Which was the point. Because it is serious. I’m not 22 anymore. And yeah, I really do want to look like Chris Evans. But I also don’t want to have a heart attack while waiting in line for a cold brew.
Sure, the Future app has its quirks. When I’m out for a run and away from my phone, sometimes the data from the watch gets wonky—the app doesn’t yet use the cellular feature on the Apple Watch, so it works only when it’s in range of your iPhone. Also, the beep telling you to advance to the next exercise sounds annoyingly like a microwave oven timer. But I am working out five days a week—really working out—and I’ve started to notice progress in surprising ways. Like when my dog sees a squirrel across the street and forcibly jerks the leash, my whole body doesn’t crunch. And when I get out of the car, I no longer make that involuntary “oof” noise. Also, I’ve stopped flinching when I catch my reflection in the mirror.
I could have found comparable workouts elsewhere for less money (though they wouldn’t have been customized to my needs). But I’m not paying for the program. I’m paying $150 for accountability. I am accountable to someone. To a real person. To Matt. If it’s getting late in the day and I haven’t worked out yet, he’ll text me to “get at it.” And although that sometimes creeps me out—like I’m wearing an ankle monitor—the end justifies the lean. Besides, the AI overlords already know too much about me. Now they also know my deepest secret: that sometimes a good workout is just 25 minutes of hardcore stretching. Check out my pigeon pose.
There’s something else I like. I’m a few months in and definitely not about to step out on Matt. But if I ever do want to move on from him, it won’t require an awkward conversation. Or a burner phone. I can just hit the button that says “Change Coach.” And that is worth every penny.
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