Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Personal Trainers?

Everyone has a hot take on AI right now. Cognitive and computer scientist John McCarthy may have coined the phrase...

Everyone has a hot take on AI right now. Cognitive and computer scientist John McCarthy may have coined the phrase artificial intelligence in 1956, but the release of ChatGPT in November 2022 started an AI arms race between major tech companies. McKinsey defines artificial intelligence as "a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we associate with human minds, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting with an environment, problem-solving, and even exercising creativity."

The origins and evolution of artificial intelligence are beyond the scope of this post, but it is worth touching on why AI has advanced so much in recent years.

  • Computers are faster and smarter now, making it easier for artificial intelligence to learn and understand things more quickly and efficiently. Imagine what AI programmers worked with in the age of AOL Messenger and dial-up Internet.  

  • The sheer quantity of information stored on the internet means that AI can access vast amounts of data and knowledge, which aids its learning process. Humans have been accumulating knowledge in a similar, albeit slower, way for thousands of years, reading manuscripts and books.  

  • People can now take advantage of this faster processing and mass data storage to build complex algorithms that solve increasingly complex problems, which is why people are excited about the potential for computer programs to automate more areas of their lives.  

What makes artificial intelligence intelligent is that it can do more than just follow instructions; it can also learn from its past experiences and, crucially, its mistakes. This helps it predict future outcomes with more accuracy.  

Examples of everyday products and services using artificial intelligence include 

  • ChatGPT 
  • Smart home devices like Siri and Alexa 
  • Car navigation systems 
  • Wearable fitness trackers 
  • Self-driving cars 
  • RE:GEN Studio electricity-generating bikes 
  • Roombas 
  • Social media feeds 
  • Chatbots 
  • Fraud prevention on bank accounts 


For many of us, our first introduction to artificial intelligence was via film and television –Tony Stark’s F.R.I.D.A.Y, Skynet in The Terminator franchise or HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If nothing else, this small number of fictional examples shows how our perceptions of AI can range from suspicion to excitement.  

Within the next ten years, AI is likely to exceed human intelligence, and this has some people very worried about their future employment. We’ve seen this before with industrialisation in the mid-eighteenth century and the acceleration of digitalisation in the late twentieth century, which rendered some professions obsolete. But what about the fitness industry?  

Technology in fitness has already made its mark.

By 2032, the global fitness tracker market will be worth an estimated $258.48 billionAI algorithms will continue to underpin much of this advancement. More people are also exercising at home. This trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be felt during the cost-of-living crisis. At the end of 2022, it was estimated that around 5 million people planned on cancelling their gym membership to save money.  

 robot in a white shell with a viser


Will AI Replace Personal Trainers? 

It’s unlikely that artificial intelligence will replace personal trainers anytime soon. We’ll outline several reasons below, but suffice it to say that it’s more likely instructors will find ways of integrating AI into their client offerings rather than finding themselves unemployed.  


PTs Do More Than Count Reps 

Personal trainers do more than just run someone through a set of reps. They provide a human connection with their clients, which artificial intelligence can’t replicate. This may be building someone’s confidence, making jokes, sharing experiences, offering help and advice, commiserating losses and celebrating wins. They can also be tough on a client when necessary, pushing them hard. A human PT also holds you accountable. This can be crucial at the beginning of a program or when someone is training for an event or challenge. It’s far harder to phone up and cancel on a human trainer than it is to ignore a notification or delete an app.  

Speaking to CNET, Jared Cluff said "the value of the trainer extends well beyond the tactical role they play and is much more about the motivational role they play, which won’t be commoditized by AI anytime soon." 

Research reflects this. In one study, people lost more weight when they had a human trainer versus those solely using AI. This study by Stanford University, found that human interaction had a ‘significant positive effect on weight loss.’ and that ‘people using the AI-only solution lost about 1.5% of their starting body weight, compared to 2.7% for those with AI-plus-human plans.’ The study also found that those who chose human coaches were more likely to set a bigger weight loss goal and then log their weight and food intake more frequently. 

And while artificial intelligence can also process information very quickly, it’s no substitute for an experienced instructor who can adapt a session based on how a client is performing. Artificial intelligence learns from previous experience to predict future outcomes, but a trained instructor can spot low-energy days even if their client has always given 100% in the past. A good instructor will also know when it’s safe to push someone harder if they’re not performing to their potential. Good trainers can spot the baggage we bring into our sessions and adapt accordingly, whether it’s sleep deprivation, stress, illness or just an off day. Artificial intelligence can spot a performance that’s under par, but it can’t provide much beyond flagging it up and adapting a routine. Artificial intelligence is a long way from replicating this in a meaningful fashion. Humans are much better at picking up micro-behaviours and expressions, reading emotions and taking cues from other people. AI is still learning, which puts it at a disadvantage when competing with humans who’ve had millennia's head start for understanding human expression and empathising with human experience.  

It’s why Energym works closely with gyms during the pre-installation period so that the AI in the electricity-generating RE:GEN Studio compliments the skill and experience of the instructor. The human and AI elements work to create the best workout experience for everyone.  


Instructors Can Demonstrate Form and Equipment 

Human trainers are hands-on, making it easier for them to demonstrate the correct form and use of any equipment. This gives instructors an advantage, but that may be about to change. Cameras can be integrated into equipment and software to track a user’s movements. The AI then interprets this information and gives feedback on form and control. Speaking to CNET, experienced PT Amanda Caprito uses the example of Perch, which has a 3D camera attached to a squat rack to measure the velocity of a barbell when it’s in use.  

There’s the Magic Mirror, too. It’s a wall-mounted screen using the same AI technology currently being developed for self-driving cars. It’s got a sleek and futuristic design, too, which gives it a high-end look. Its camera counts your reps and then tracks your movement, providing feedback and corrections in real-time. Interestingly, its website writes, ‘a whole month costs less than a single hour with a personal trainer.’ It allows people to workout more effectively at home, confident that they’re managing their form even if they’re a beginner. While we’ve talked about the benefit of having a human PT that offers support and encouragement, it does come at a cost. There’s also the time commitment, which makes PT sessions less suitable for those without a consistent work/life schedule. Exercising at home is often more convenient. AI-integrated equipment negates the need to pay for an expensive in-person training session.  


 RE:GEN Studio with electricity-generating bikes

Don’t Believe Everything You Read 

OpenAI released its large-language model-based chatbot in November 2022. ChatGPT provides AI-generated answers to questions and prompts. But unlike Google, it doesn’t return results as clickable search results but rather as a long-form written answer. You could be forgiven for thinking a real person was quickly typing the answer back to you. Some people have used it to build workout and training plans and programs. With ChatGPT, you must enter the correct prompts to generate a reasonable answer. For example, if you just ask for a workout plan, then you'll get something very generic and potentially unsuitable. You’d have to know to offer additional information, including gender, age, and fitness level.  

In January, Rhiannon Williams, writing for the MIT Technology Review, used ChatGPT to generate a marathon training plan. She’d run the distance the previous year, and so could, therefore, use her own knowledge and experience to judge the AI’s recommendations.  

ChatGPT's first response was to suggest that she prepare by running ten fewer miles than what’s generally accepted as sound training advice. This would make running the distance on race day exhausting and miserable. When she asked the AI the same question a second time, it recommended she run 19 miles the day before the race. This is equally terrible advice. Again, it would make running that distance exhausting and miserable. It also increases a runner’s risk of injury.  

Rhiannon’s article concludes by saying that ChatGPT can’t develop original suggestions. It has no fundamental understanding of the ideas and concepts its regurgitating. Compare this to a trainer with even just a couple of years of experience. This doesn’t mean that ChatGPT or other forms of AI can’t create effective training plans, but that right now, it’s still in a learning phase. The advice it gives may need to be revised. 


AI Advantage for Data Collection  

AI algorithms are at the heart of wearable fitness devices. They’re smart. And they’re getting smarter. It’s made data more accessible, presenting it in ways anyone can understand. For example, heart and resting heart rate can tell a person a lot about their cardiovascular fitness. This information can help develop training plans or provide an indicator of progress. Heart rate is tracked on almost all fitness trackers (although accuracy may vary).  This information is then saved and presented in an easy-to-understand way that even beginners can understand. Using the app, people can also track their calorie intake, sleep quality, menstrual cycle, stress levels, etc. It gives a much broader picture of someone’s health and fitness beyond just what happens in a single PT session.   


PTs Aren’t Cheap, But Neither is AI 

The average price of a PT in the UK is £30 to £60 per 1-hour session. In London, the price can be as high as £150. PTs deserve to be paid a rate that’s appropriate for their skill and experience, but it’s understandable that some people are turning towards AI and wearable tech as a more affordable alternative. Justifying £60 per session may be more difficult in a cost-of-living crisis. But while cheap and mid-range wearables and apps can be easy to justify, premium products with AI-embedded equipment are often far more expensive than standard equipment.  

The Magic Mirror we mentioned earlier ranges from £1399 to £1999. There’s even a US-based gym built entirely around AI. Lumin Fitness is the world’s first AI gym with a $250-a-month subscription. It costs far more than a regular gym membership but uses gamification and feedback to make its classes and workouts more fun and engaging.


PTs Are Safe from AI (For Now, at Least) 

Artificial intelligence is here to stay. The real question is what type of impact it will have on wider society and on professions like fitness instructors and personal trainers. In November 2023, UK Prime Minster Rishi Sunak hosted an AI summit at Bletchley Park. Elon Musk described AI as “one of the biggest threats to humanity”.  

People are taking the future of AI seriously, and what’s concerning is that many AI experts aren’t even sure what exactly that future will look like. Interestingly, there’s a website dedicated to predicting the likelihood of Artificial intelligence eliminating certain jobs. The aptly named Will Robots Take My Job? website predicts only a low possibility that AI will replace fitness instructors.


Will Exercise Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors be replaced by AI & Robots?

Ultimately, AI can’t replicate the human connection between a trainer and a client. It sometimes also struggles to generate appropriate answers to training and health questions, which could be dangerous. For the time being, it makes more sense that trainers will lean into their own experience and knowledge, supplementing this with artificial intelligence. 

Digital fitness equipment can complement an instructor's knowledge and experience, helping them create experiential classes and sessions that draw on the advancements in artificial intelligence while providing a service that only a human trainer can provide. 

It's why Energym has designed and developed the RE:GEN Studio, an electricity-generating indoor cycling bike for your gym. Find out how powerful your classes can be when you put your instructor in the right saddle. 


Man in grey gym shirt and black shorts sitting on an electricity-generating RE:GEN in a green-lit studio


 RE:GEN for gyms
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