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Virtual or real? A psychological view on digital coaching

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It’s no doubt that having a personal trainer knock on your door and drag you from the couch to workout, will make you train. But what is it that motivates us to follow what a digital Coach tells us to? How come we are also willing to follow this advice and take on a challenging workout that we would never choose ourselves? Let’s have a look into psychology and sport science to find out why a digital training Coach might make you achieve way more than you would by yourself.

The Coach as your drill sergeant – it all starts with a plan

Every decision we take requires effort: We first have to consider possible options, weigh them and try to find the one that meets our needs best. For example, after a long day at work or university, it’s pretty likely that a short and easy workout  – or even no workout at all – will seem like the best option, rather than a long and tough training session. A training plan changes this as it keeps you from taking the easy way out and reduces the cognitive load that’s put on your brain when you need to make a decision. Instead, you are given the exact workouts that guarantee the most progress from a sports scientific point of view, without having to think or consider anything. The Coach knows exactly which workouts match your personal fitness level, selects them for you and thereby takes the inner struggle of making a decision away from you. And believe it or not: Your body is capable of way more than you think is possible.

Craving for more – the Zeigarnik effect

Just like a real coach, your digital coach not only creates a training plan that is designed for you personally but also becomes responsible to keep you going. But why should you feel accountable when your Coach is not a person but an app? This is where psychology can give us a potential explanation: According to the “Zeigarnik effect” humans are more likely to recall tasks that are started but not finished, rather than those we never began in the first place. It also shows that our brains actually want us to complete the tasks we start. An unfinished Coach week leaves you with a slight feeling of not having completed your tasks – these unfinished tasks play on your mind, making you feel uneasy until they have been completed.

Motivation on the go – why a training plan keeps you going

Sports science has proven that progress is an important reason for athletes to keep going. However, especially when it comes to fitness, results don’t always happen overnight and after a couple of weeks many people give up on their goals. A good coach therefore makes sure to highlight even the slightest bit of progress and reminds you that each step brings you closer to your final goal. This will give you a feeling of accomplishment and pride and motivates you in two respects: 1) Since our brains naturally anticipate the consequences of our actions, knowing that a workout will make you feel good afterwards makes it easier for you to start your next one. 2) According to the competence motivation theory, people are motivated when they get the chance to feel competent and worthy. By visualizing your progress with features such as the ghost mode, or just by successfully completing a Coach day or week with a new personal best, the Freeletics Coach ensures you stay focused on achievement and keep going.

Let’s recap

When it comes to motivation and persistence, there are certain psychological mechanisms that both personal and digital coaches make use of to, how should we put this…kick their athlete’s ass into gear. This is why, chances are that you will be more motivated and successful when training with a plan that was designed for you by someone else with the correct expertise, rather than just selecting exercises and creating a training routine yourself. The Freeletics Coach considers insights from sports psychology and science to make sure you get the most out of your training.