Coach vs. App


Apps are like the modern version of the exercise VHS. While there may be value in hopping along to some gorgeous woman with muscles on her muscles, it doesn't ring true when she hollers from deep inside our televisions that we're doing great. For all she knows, I'm sitting on my sofa with a pint of Americone Dream and a shovel. 

We have a world of fitness apps at our fingertips. We can download tools to track our calories, our distances, even our sleep. Many of them are free and relatively simple to use. 

People choose running and walking apps for a variety of good reasons. Beginners may like the low intimidation factor; there's no one to see us begin something new. Without much effort, we can have a standardized workout in the palms of our hands. It will tell us when to walk and when to run. It will guide us through steps and miles. Apps help athletes workout solo, and at their own convenience. Many of them build us up with digital praise for our work. We think apps provide one-on-one training. They don't make us stand around and be social, or ask us to wait for anyone. 

Pulling back the curtain, though, these reasons are threadbare.

The truth is that while apps may be beneficial to get started and may help to close some fitness gaps, people who work out in groups see improved performance, personalized attention, more accurate distances and more. 

While there is definitely a social risk in joining a training group, coaches and instructors are trained to make everyone feel welcomed. They make it their goal to learn names and paces and goals. Coaches ensure the success of every member of the group, whatever success looks like. Studies show that people who run in groups experience improved performance. We tend to take on the pace of those around us, thereby pushing ourselves more than we would if we ran or walked alone. Having a group waiting for you is also motivation to stop pushing the snooze button and get that morning workout done. 

A well-planned program will be standardized, but with a coach, the training can be personalized. Coaches can modify the distances or paces to suit each athlete. A good coach understands that while everyone in the group may want to walk a 5k, they each want to do it in their own ways. This means that coaches are there to provide feedback and answer questions as well. Apps won't explain interval training, or figure out that wicked chaffing issue. They won't be able to suggest a good hydration plan or exercises for plantar fasciitis. 

Perhaps one of the most important benefits is accurate distances. Because the apps rely on code, data connection, and up-to-date maps, distances are often wildly inaccurate. A coach running with a dedicated GPS watch device will make certain that her group runs exactly the distances outlined in the program. New runners often don't want to run one step farther than they need to, and distance runners have a thing about making sure to get exactly the prescribed miles, not a jot less. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to improve your pace per mile if your mile times are off because of an app. 

And maybe best of all, coached running groups provide the human touch that cannot be replicated with any code. Coaches work to see athletes succeed. Whether someone just walked his first mile or ran his 50th marathon, a coach, and often the members of a training group, will celebrate all those successes together. It's much more genuine than the instructor on TV patting your virtual back. 

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