I used ChatGPT as a personal trainer. It didn’t go well

I love to run. I will happily jog for hours (and often will, during marathons). But ask me to do a push-up and I might cry. I really hate strength training.

Unfortunately for me, it’s very good for you and for runners who want to go faster. So I decided to add two strength training sessions per week in preparation for running the Boston Marathon this spring.

I wanted exercises designed to improve my pace, but I didn’t want to spend money on a personal trainer. Not sure how to start, I turned to ChatGPT.

The chatbot didn’t give me the training regimen I expected and after following its recommendations for almost a month, I was no closer to liking strength training. But I learned a few things along the way that might end up helping me become a better runner.

Lesson 1: ChatGPT is not much of a trainer

OpenAI’s free AI chatbot is trained on large amounts of data from Internet sources so that it can respond to requests with human-like text. To test his training recommendations, I first asked him to create a marathon training plan.

As a running coach who has completed more than a dozen marathons, I have a good idea of ​​what a solid training schedule looks like. ChatGPT results were not that. While he told me he runs about six days a week at various speeds and distances (so far, so good), he listed sprints and hill intervals without essential details like speed or distance. He also didn’t give me any races longer than 14 miles, other than the suggestion to run a full marathon a week before the end, which no legitimate trainer would ever recommend, as this is too taxing on the body to be beneficial, especially so close to race day. . I asked the question two more times, adding details about my fitness level and goals. Now, he just told me to run up to 12 miles. By comparison, the longest run in most respectable marathon plans is 18 to 22 miles.

Read more: Your brain doesn’t want you to exercise

It’s not hard to find a decent workout plan online. So while I didn’t expect ChatGPT to come up with a mind-blowing regimen, I was surprised that the plans he spewed out were so underwhelming and sometimes incomprehensible. But maybe it shouldn’t have been. What ChatGPT does so well is generate human-like natural language output, explains Richard Bayly, vice president of product, AI and data at PEAR Health Labs, owner of AI-powered fitness app Aaptiv. But while the chatbot is designed to look like it knows what it’s talking about, it doesn’t.

ChatGPT’s main skill lies in sounding human, not giving expert recommendations. The website even includes a disclaimer to check your facts, stating that the chatbot is not intended to give advice. Still, people are already using the site to make workout suggestions. (OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment for this piece.)

Lesson 2: ChatGPT generated some decent exercise ideas

Even though I failed my marathon plan litmus test, I still wanted to see if ChatGPT could give me some ideas for strength training. After asking what bodyweight-only strength training exercises would help me run faster, he listed 12 exercises that seemed pretty solid, hitting almost every major muscle group used in running. But when I started doing the workout, I realized that I didn’t have any information about sets, reps, or whether I should do each exercise one at a time versus a circuit.

I’m not the only one who has found that ChatGPT’s workouts are missing key details. A January 2024 study evaluating the workouts generated by ChatGPT found that its exercise recommendations were only 41% complete, meaning their responses did not include all six components of the exercise prescription. ‘American College of Sports Medicine: Frequency, Intensity, Timing, Type, Volume, and Progression.

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However, the researchers found that the trainings were 90% accurate. Most of the inaccuracies involved telling people to get medical clearance to exercise when they didn’t need it. This may sound innocuous, but Linda Pescatello, a professor in the University of Connecticut’s kinesiology department and one of the study’s authors, says it could discourage people from exercising altogether. Requiring someone to obtain medical clearance is a major deterrent to undertaking an exercise program, he says.

Done right, AI has real potential to get more of us moving. In a recent report funded by sportswear company ASICS, 62% of women named the high cost of trainers as a major barrier to exercise. A free and easily accessible chatbot that delivers targeted, on-demand exercise advice on a massive scale could be a boon to public health.

Lesson 3: Chatbot training is boring and uninspired

Two weeks into my strength training plan, I found myself skipping certain movements and changing others. The problem was that I didn’t trust Coach ChatGPT. Did I really need to do burpees or had the chatbot simply found them in some random runner training article? The answers had given me no information Because I was going through the motions, or links to learn more, so I kept questioning the effectiveness of the exercises.

Also, the workout was boring, consisting of basic American gym class exercises that felt cookie-cutter, despite all the personal information that was included in my directions.

There’s a science to exercise prescription, and there’s an art, Pescatello says. A robot could have completed my prescribed workout and gotten results, but I’m too human to do the same 12 smooth moves with gusto, especially without a coach to keep me there. It doesn’t take humanity into account at all, says Kristie Larson, a personal trainer in New York. Of course, I could write a very good training plan if you were a machine too.

Lesson 4: Turn to a human if you get hurt

At one point, my thigh sartorius muscle kicked in. I asked ChatGPT, can I still run if my sartorius muscle hurts? He gave me a long and vague answer that wasn’t exactly a no, but suggested that I stick to low-impact activities like walking if the pain is mild and improves.

I brought this up with NYC-based adidas running coach Jessica Zapotechne. Was this reasonable advice or too conservative? This question makes me think about a topic I talk about a lot with athletes, which is to distinguish between pain and discomfort, he tells me. There are different types of injuries, and determining what is simply part of training versus signs of an injury requires a list of questions, he says. This is another problem with AI trainers: they don’t ask questions, like a human trainer would normally.

Read more: Should I use a foam roller?

You have to be very careful with your inputs, because if you have bad inputs, you’re going to have bad outputs, says PEAR Health Labs’ Bayly. A generative AI chatbot relies heavily on information that is widely available. I don’t think there’s much difference between a generic program you could download from the internet and something the chatbot might return if you’re not specific enough. AI-powered training apps like Aaptiv have users answer various questions about their goals, experience, age and more in order to generate personalized recommendations, which are then further refined by tracking what the user does in the application, the Netflix.

The problem is that someone looking for ideas for AI exercises probably doesn’t know exactly what details to share to get the most useful answer.

The person who has the skill to write a great order probably has enough skill to write the workout, says Chicago-based strength coach Elisabeth Akinwale. On the other hand, he adds, if someone asks ChatGPT for help with training, they might not have the knowledge to realize when I’m spewing something absurd, like my marathon training plans. They don’t have the discernment to say, no, that doesn’t sound right, he says.

So what is ChatGPT for in the fitness world?

In a word: Variety, says Pescatello. One of the capabilities that AI has in any profession is that it can be a great search tool. With careful prompting, you could specify your preferences, and an output could be generated that gives you more options than you think there are now. Larson echoes that sentiment, saying it would be best used by someone with experience who is just looking to mix things up with a new idea to add to their rotation.

However, you will need to fit within a small population to get the best results. Pescatello says her team found that ChatGPT’s recommendations are currently biased toward adults and lack cultural awareness or consideration for disabilities. His analysis also rated college-level readability.

Read more: The 3 most effective exercise moves that don’t require equipment

While ChatGPT hasn’t turned out to be the free personal trainer I wanted, I’m still doing some of their recommended strength training exercises regularly. I haven’t been faster yet, but let’s see what happens on marathon day.

I find that I keep coming back to ask ChatGPT my 3am training questions that seem too silly or unimportant to bother another human. It has proven most useful after a session talking to a sports dietitian, when I needed a simple explanation of anabolic potential. The first Google results were too scientific, but when I asked ChatGPT to define it for an eighth grader, I got exactly what I was looking for: the body’s ability to build and repair tissue, especially muscle. Finally, I use it for what it’s designed for: not to give exercise advice, but to generate language that sounds natural and easy to understand.

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Image Source : time.com

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