On November 4, Jason Shaw ran his first full marathon in Indianapolis, finishing in 5:11:09. If you asked the 35-year-old Chicagoan last year if he ever thought he’d log 26.2 miles, never mind all at once, he would have said no, absolutely not. But that would have been before he found his secret sauce: audio training.
Picture yourself amped for an upcoming workout. Maybe you want to take a spin class or tackle an interval-based treadmill workout. Perhaps you just missed the cut-off time to sign up for Vinyasa yoga at the gym, or just want some meditation help. With audio training, all you have to do is slip in your earbuds, tap and drag, and let a voice guide you through your fitness routine of choice.
One outlet for audio training is an app called Aaptiv, where users like Shaw click into pre-recorded audio workouts (including 5K, 10K, and full marathon options) to instantly hear a coach in their ear introduce herself and go through a rundown of the day's workout. Set to music, it’s as if the instructor is right there, pounding pavement next to the user while providing insight to proper form, giving reminders to avoid heel striking, and shouting encouragement in between intervals. With an experience that mimics one-on-one, in-person coaching, Shaw was able to shave 10 minutes off of his half-marathon personal record, which encouraged him to pull the plug on the full. And he was able to do it all on his own time.
“I don’t have to worry about keeping up with my neighbour,” says Shaw, who has lost 10 pounds and gained noticeable muscle definition since logging in for the first time over a year ago. “It’s pushed me farther than I thought I could go when I didn’t think I had anything left in the tank.”
With an experience that mimics one-on-one, in-person coaching, Shaw was able to shave 10 minutes off his half-marathon personal record.
Shaw isn’t the only one hopping on the sweaty, audio-infused bandwagon. Motion Traxx, another audio workout app, enables its 105,000-plus subscribers to access similar coaching tracks to make otherwise mundane gym machines—ranging from the treadmill and elliptical to the stair climber and erg—seem something close to fun. Vi, a newcomer to the audio workout market, goes one step further by offering a system powered by AI and tailored to your fitness goals. Ready to hit a few miles on your bike? Using bio-sensing headphones that pair with a mobile app, Vi coaches users with real-time feedback based on speed, pace, heart rate zones, and past records. It’s as if your personal trainer had immediate access to your biometrics, and then used that data to better motivate and analyze your performance. “We wanted to deliver a fully gated experience that feels personal for every single user,” says founder Omri Yoffe.
The one-on-one approach is certainly different from trending boutique fitness classes. Any major studio gives attendees full access to motivational superpower in a well-decorated, Instagram-friendly space. The issue, however, is that the $30 price tag (or more—one of the priciest classes in the nation is SLT at $40 for a 50-minute session) isn’t exactly palatable for everyone. For far less—$99.99 annually, or $9.99 per month—both Aaptiv and Motion Traxx users get top trainers in the palm of their hand. Vi fans pay a one-time fee of $249, and get access to app updates at no charge.
“The vast majority of fitness companies create video content,” says Aaptiv’s founder Ethan Agarwal. “It would never make sense to be running—or be doing most cardio for that matter—while staring at a screen. The reality is, video is inconvenient for the most popular fitness categories and isn’t a true mobile solution. And that’s why audio really is the future.”
But are these workouts safe? Clifford Stark, DO Medical Director of Sports Medicine at Chelsea in New York City, says it’s situational.
Video is inconvenient for the most popular fitness categories and isn't a true mobile solution. And that's why audio is really the future.
“The potential for injury in some ways might be increased, since the instructor is not present to observe any issues with the person's technique, which also may break down as fatigue sets in,” says Stark. “On the flip side, many people feel certain pressures when attending classes where others are around them, and might have a tendency to push themselves harder than they would if they were alone, often leading to injury.”
Translation: It’s good, to a fault. University of Florida researchers found that many workout apps fail to meet the majority of guidelines for physical activity from the American College of Sports Medicine, the world’s largest sports medicine and exercise science organization, mainly because they base “success” off body metrics like heart rate and pace, instead of implementing safe guidelines for physical activity. (Note: Aaptiv, Motion Traxx, and Vi were not included in this trial; Aaptiv and Motion Traxx do not provide body metric feedback.)
Another selling point: For instructors on subscription-based audio services, it can be a gut check on just how sharp they are on their skills.
“In a studio space you have an interaction of the people in the room with you, which brings a great energy,” says Ed Hall, instructor at New York City’s Aqua Studio and New York Sports Clubs, as well as on the Aaptiv app. “In the app, I need to pay even closer attention to the programming and what I’m saying out loud. Since they can’t see me, I have to be very specific—almost impeccable—with my words. I have to paint a picture verbally.”
Audio training app users are paying minimal fees for 24/7 access to highly skilled experts who provide quality content—sometimes better than a class-goer would get at a big-box gym. That means the rest of us have to stop and evaluate: What’s the point of our monthly $150-plus gym membership, anyway? With Aaptiv already toting 2,500 workouts (and adding 50 to its inventory each week), the craving for audio workouts is growing. The market is real. All that’s left for you to do is enable push notifications and get moving.