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A digital fitness app that comes impressively close to a real-life PT

January 31st 2018 / 0 comment

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The Freeletics app will push you, but the payoff will be great. Here’s the lowdown on possibly the most advanced digital fitness coaching out there…

As every one of us knows, there are literally hundreds of barriers to getting, and staying, fit. The gear, the journey to the gym, long working hours, family and social commitments and sheer fatigue can often get in the way of a well intentioned commitment to exercise. The ideal would be for a personal trainer to drop by, celebrity style, and whisk you away for a HIIT session before depositing you back home, smoothie in hand while they run you a hot Epsom salt bath.

So yes, the app we’re discussing today won’t do all of that (still waiting on that ‘warm bath running app’), but as digital personal training goes, it’s astoundingly slick. Here’s the deal on Freeletics, and what sets it apart from the competition. Not that fitness ought to be competitive - the fact that the app’s in-built social media-like feed features a clapping icon rather than a like button hints at the congratulatory community mood they’re trying to create. Whether you choose to engage with the social aspect or not, this is what the Freeletics Bodyweight app brings to the table…

It’s hard

You don’t hire a PT to go easy on you, and as such the sports scientist and athlete developed Freeletics workouts are tough. The app’s makers don’t beat around the bush on this one, but while aspects such as Hell Week (a workout a day for a week) and a burpee challenge (50 burpees in one burst with the tagline ‘sore today, strong tomorrow’) are undeniably not for the uninitiated, every move is demonstrated in a video tutorial with training instructions to teach correct form and help to reduce risk of injury, and you don’t start from zero either…

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It’s tailored training

Using the premium Coach version of the app gets you a tailored workout plan in line with your fitness level and goals, from gaining muscle to losing weight to increasing general fitness across the board, and your first workout will certainly let you know if you’ve aced self-assessment (over embellish your sporting potential and you may just end up in a sweaty heap on the floor, which is slightly the point, but wowzas). You can adapt your fitness profile if you’ve been a little optimistic as to where you at.

The Coach uses a personalised algorithm powered by AI to build a killer bespoke training schedule, using feedback and information from the app’s 20 million users to calculate a fitness regime that aligns with your ability, age, goals, preferences and preferred training methods and frequency. An initial fitness test establishes where you’re at, you tell the app how you performed/ coped and the app will constantly adapt to your needs, desires and time available while cajoling you towards your goals and reminding you to drink water, eat well, sleep and all of the other basics of health and life that we often casually disregard. You can tell it to go away, but it’s actually quite effective at giving you an enthusiastic virtual fist pump of encouragement mid way through a heavy workout, and sessions are many and varied, lasting between 10-45 minutes, which brings us to the next plus…

It’s low maintenance

You’ll need to stick to a plan to achieve the promised results (although the sheer number of options means that boredom shouldn’t be an issue), but otherwise all you need is a yoga mat, 2 x 2 metres of space and your own bodyweight to ace the workouts. The app’s community function helps you to find free places to train in your area if you’d like to move beyond your front room, and Freeletics meet-ups and group training sessions take place all over Europe if mass workouts motivate you. Speaking of keeping you stimulated…

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It does whatever you want it to do

Within reason. Apparently there are thousands of exercise and training options to explore. Good luck nailing them all. Under the Freeletics banner you’ll also find a specialised running app, helping you to get started with specific distances, get into the swing of interval training or pick up your speed, and a gym specific app with guided weights workouts to ensure that you make the most of your gym membership, if you have one, and give you the lowdown on the best ways to safely benefit from free weights. Because let’s face it, we’re not always in the zone during an induction. If you simply want to hone a particular exercise to perfection, that’s an option too, and you can select single exercises and exercise combos according to your overall aim on any particular day (say, diamond push-ups for strength, reverse lunges for endurance).

There are enough full workouts and guided exercises in the free version to keep you going, but upgrading to the Coach gives you access to the full roster of personalised Freeletics Bodyweight, Running and Gym plans. The Coach can also detect if you’re overtraining or putting yourself at risk of injury depending on how often and how you’re working out, and will adjust your training regime and exercises accordingly. We’re yet to find ourselves in the position of being ‘overtrainers’, but given its attentiveness in terms of wellbeing on a good day, we expect that the app will encourage you to put your feet up (and run a bath?) should this be the situation. Basically, tell it what’s up and the app will listen and remix your fitness programme to suit, although clearly it can’t give you a medical physical assessment, actually see you attempt a deadlift or gauge your stress levels on any given day, so remember to put common sense above the Coach.

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Workouts are Olympic inspired

Or at least, you’ll feel like one if you score a PB on a full body “Hades“ workout. Bodyweight workouts are named after Greek gods and goddesses to apparently instil a sense of achievement (even if you take 40 minutes to finish a 20 minute workout- it’s all good and still counts). They’re graded according to difficulty and tailored to how long you have, and you can accumulate points as you tick them off, game show style. Again, whether you get involved with the gameplay is up to you, but either way you’re getting an expertly choreographed workout with clear demos of every move involved, including guided warm-ups and cool-downs (you get points for these too, because, important). Runs are less structured- choose your distance and the app can plot your route, with tips and peppy encouragement as you jog on. For the true Olympians among you, Hell Days and Hell Weeks come along every seven weeks, aiming to accelerate your progress, fitness and sense of accomplishment. There’s a ‘cruel to be kind’ mentality there, and clearly don’t participate if you’re not ready, but if you’ve been seeking a challenge, this is it.

Whatever goes down, the app calls you an ‘athlete’ at all times, which can be comical or nigh-on appropriate, depending on the kind of day you’re having. It’s used by actual pro athletes too, from wheelchair tennis players to female pro BMXer Steffi Marth, and the Freeletics blog also details accounts of how firefighters, new mums and other general life heroes have found the app helpful.

It’s pretty affordable

For starters, there’s a 30% sale on all Coach subscription running from now until mid February.

Otherwise, here are the vitals:

One month’s Coach training (including Bodyweight, Gym and Running apps): £12.99 (Android Only)

Three month’s training: £32.99

Six month’s training £54.99

One year’s training: £74.99

Given that it’s more bespoke than most other fitness apps on the market, and gets smarter all the time thanks to crowd-based intel sourcing, research and development and input from sports scientists, it’s a good investment if an actual PT is out of the question, you need to be able to work out anywhere and don’t want to be thrashing through the same old routine every week. If you really want a sense of what the vibe is all about, get thee to a Freeletics meetup - the London Facebook group has 3737 members to quiz, train with and debrief afterwards, possibly in the pub. Anywhere’s a training ground, remember...

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