Running Coach In My Ear, And A Year Of Using Aaptiv – App Review
I’ve been playing with Aaptiv for the last year or so. I say “playing”, because I have never used it exclusively for more than few weeks at a time. It started as an attempt to find something semi-motivating, as I tried to find ways to exercise, while staying at home with a baby during my maternity leave. In the last few months, I have been using it mostly for some yoga flows at home, as well as treadmill and outdoor runs.
For those not familiar, Aaptiv is like Spotify, but for fitness – a huge catalogue of audio-led workouts, varying from yoga and meditation to strength training and outdoor running.
What I Loved
The voiceover instruction is set over modern music, so you feel like you are in a fitness class. You can even choose workouts based on the music you prefer. 80s or hip-hop, they got you covered.
You start getting a feel for instructors, but all of them are positive and enthusiastic. In longer workouts, they do not “hover”, but rather pop in regularly to provide encouragement. They also did not strike me as “cheesy”, which can be challenging when your primary role is “rah-rah-rah!”.
Ease Of Use.
It’s super easy to use – no different than cueing up a song in your phone. In fact, a number of times I wondered how on earth would I ever go back to following a traditional strength programming on an ugly Excel spreadsheet.
Here’s my running warm-up from yesterday:
This ties into ease of use, but there is something about “not having to think” that makes the workout that much more convenient to follow.
For example, if I am going to follow along with a yoga video, I have to find a yoga video, cue it up on my laptop, set up the laptop somewhere I can see it, and then keep looking at the screen, as I follow along. With Aaptiv, you can have your phone in your pocket, or nearby, and simply follow the voice instructions. That was probably my favorite aspect of the app – not having to look anywhere, and not having a separate device.
This came in especially handy during outdoor runs, as you are “taking your coach with you”. I’ve never followed guided runs before, and I loved loved loved that aspect of it. For bonus points, give one ear bud to a friend, and voila, you have a partner workout. [Just make sure to use wireless headphones, so you don’t trip over each other.]
At $14.99 per month, it’s quite affordable.
There are many pre-set programs if you wanted to follow something a bit more structured.
For example: “Train For A Half”, or “Touch Your Toes In Two Weeks”. I completed “Run Your First Mile” program few months postpartum, and it was a great way to get back into running slowly.
It is also both motivating and satisfying to see your own progress through the program, as you check off one workout after another in a given set.
What I Didn’t Love
Yes, I loved having the music in the background, but I would love the option of cueing my own soundtrack, and having the instructor guide me through the class as well. Right now, the voice instruction is often tied to the music though – for example, the instructor may say “on the next drop, you’ll pick up the speed”, or “you’ll maintain this pace until the end of the song”.
The Lottery Factor.
Having an app where you can easily pick out a workout from thousands of options, and then having an upbeat coach guide you through that workout is awesome. It’s awesome for beginners, it’s awesome for travelling. It’s awesome for being stuck all day at home with a baby, and not being able to get out to the gym.
It will never ever replace a high quality periodized program – for strength, for running, for… anything, really.
Aaptiv would be a great option for beginners (assuming they are relatively healthy AND relatively fit with no injuries), but I would not recommend this as the sole source of movement and exercise for any extended period of time.
You are essentially just doing a bunch of random workouts, instead of following a thought out program.
The tracking options in the app leave a lot to be desired. For the most part, your tracking will be limited to “done” or “not done” status. You’ll be able to see whether or not you have completed the workout on your calendar. However, there is no way to track time, performance, weight used or anything else really.
Once again, this would be fine for beginner exercisers starting to get into the habit of regular movement. Advanced exercisers would want a more consistent way of assessing their progress.
Progress is most obvious when the same workouts are performed at regular cadence over time. You can SEE the numbers going up.
Aaptiv is aimed more at “I get bored easily” crowd, where the focus is on “do something every day” and “do something new every day”. That’s fine. Just not as effective. 🙂
Injuries / Special Conditions.
I did not find a place anywhere to specify that I had a particular injury. There are some options for prenatal training – yoga, breathing, etc.
However, mostly, this app is aimed at general population, relatively healthy, and without injuries or special conditions. Otherwise, rotator cuff tear or not, you are doing overhead shoulder presses with dumbbells, and push-ups.
There were multiple instances when completed workouts did not show up as completed.
I did reach out to Aaptiv support, and after quite a bit of back and forth, and a bunch of screenshots, some of those workouts have been marked as complete. However, the client care team was not particularly helpful or apologetic in the matter.
[By the way, the “right” reaction here would have been to 1. apologize, and 2. offer partial refund to the client. Neither was done.]
Changes In Programming.
Now, I can accept an occasional glitch as the reality of all things tech. However, here we are talking about the company deciding to remove workouts, training programs, or entire categories of workouts (like rowing) after they have already been launched for weeks or months with no warning to the users.
In practicality that means that some people were weeks or months into a marathon training program, and then logged in one morning to find that the entire training program is gone.
This has happened to me three weeks into a 10k training program. I opened up the app, and…. all of my check marks have disappeared, and it looked like I was starting the program all over again. If anyone has ever followed a program of any kind, you know how defeating it is to seemingly start from scratch. Some days I only get my butt out of the door for that little check mark.
It happened again with another training program, at which point it’s made me lose enough faith to NOT kick off any training programs within the app, but rather use individual workouts only. Quite a loss to the company, I would say, as getting “hooked” on a program is exactly the kind of thing that would KEEP the users paying the subscription fees.
It is plausible to make the user experience more smooth here – the company would need to ensure that the announcement about intent to remove certain programs is done well ahead of time, AND all users who have started the program have an opportunity to finish that program.
At some point, Aaptiv introduced the coaching aspect, as well as the group support aspect. You could now fill out a questionnaire with your goals, and the app would make recommendations for your daily workout, as well as help you track a daily habit, and other goals. You could also join others in group challenges, as well as share your workouts on the built in forum on a social media feed.
Honestly… that’s too much. This is an app trying to be all things to all people, rather than focusing on the ONE thing they do so well – audio guided workouts for many modalities, and many levels.
I don’t need a coach, and I don’t need an app to remind me to drink water. And if I do, surely, there is a better app out there, focused on JUST the water consumption.
With all the added functionality, I started feeling overwhelmed.
My subscription is coming to an end, and I do not think I will renew. There are other apps and services I want to try (Fitness Blender, SOFLETE, Street Parking and Noom are currently on my radar).
However, I will continue to recommend Aaptiv to some people – specifically, people who want to start working out at home, people who get bored easily, people who would love having a new workout every single day, and people who are relatively healthy and fit with no acute injuries.
Meanwhile, any other apps or subscription services I should look into?