March 1·8 min read

Four ways to fitness: weighing the pros and cons

By Kyle Gonzalez | From DIY programs to on and offline personal training, take a closer look at four ways to make fitness work for you.

You know you want to change your approach to working out. But the question is: what’s the best method for your movement? Is face-to-face personal training worth it, or are you better off working remotely? Does it make sense to pay for expertise at all when you can save money by going it alone? These are just some of the questions you may find yourself asking. And whether you turn to friends for advice or see what people have to say on social media, everyone has a different answer. 

I’ve always been passionate about helping folks find the approach that best fits their lifestyle, fitness level, and personality — even if it isn’t working with me. So with that in mind, I want to help you get a sense of the pros and cons associated with the four major approaches you can take to get fit: free/DIY programs, paid (virtual) programs, traditional personal training, and remote coaching. By the end of this process, you’ll hopefully have a confident understanding of how each method does or does not mesh with your goals and needs. 

First, get to know yourself. 

To find the approach that makes sense for your needs, you’ll need to understand those needs. That means taking an honest inventory of your current limitations and the obstacles you expect to face. You can start by working backwards from your goal. For example, if one of the reasons you want to work out is to build a routine full of good habits, then picking an exercise approach that layers in some level of accountability will serve you well. 

Especially if this is your first serious venture into exercise, it’s totally fine if you don’t know what you don’t know. Browse this list of common things people want from a workout program, and see which attributes feel most relevant to you. 

  • Guidance to perform movements efficiently and safely

  • Accountability to follow through on your exercise commitments

  • Motivation to push through plateaus and setbacks

  • Expert advice to handle the thinking and planning for you

  • Personalization that accounts for your unique goals 

  • Rewards that celebrate consistency, personal bests, etc. 

  • Advice on sleep, stress, nutrition, or any other input beyond exercise.

As we run through the pros and cons of some of the most popular ways to get working out, remember which items from this list feel important to you. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, nor one single approach that checks every box perfectly. With this personal inventory, you’ll find  it easier to determine which approach will be most relevant for your wants and needs. 

Free programs and apps: no cost, but no coaching. 

From articles on workouts in digital publications to the Instagram and TikTok accounts of fitness influencers, the internet is filled with free advice that you can turn into workout plans. A bit of Googling can help you find reputable trainers, websites, and forums (like the fitness-oriented corners of Reddit, for example) that are chock-full of useful information. Free fitness apps, which can give you workout ideas and tips while also tracking your progress and layering in a reward component (by tracking streaks, personal bests, and more), are another option. 


The price of these resources is literally unbeatable, and there’s absolutely no commitment. That can make them a great place to get started. You can also completely customize your program to your needs, whether you’re getting in shape for a triathlon or just trying to lose a few pounds. With enough dedication and a little luck, you can totally find an approach that sticks on your own.


Beware the information overload and cognitive effort. Between all the Googling, vetting, planning, and second-guessing, creating a free program means you’ll be paying with your time and brainpower. You’ll also have to track your workouts, analyze the data, and go back to the drawing board if you aren’t getting the results you’re after. There are no safeguards to ensure you’re exercising properly or safely, which can increase the possibility of injury. Without accountability, people often either lose the willpower or motivation required to keep going. And without expertise, many end up stuck in a plateau because they’re afraid to redesign their program.


With no cost or commitment, designing your own free program can be a great place to start experimenting with your approach to exercise. But if you want expert advice, specialized help, or a source of accountability, taking the free route forever may end up costing you in the long run.

Paid Programs: expert guidance, minus the connection. 

Whether you’re accessing a coach-created training program, a subscription-based app, or signing up for on-demand fitness classes through your phone or smart TV, there are a lot of ways to introduce a little structure and expertise into your fitness without leaving home or breaking the bank. 


Paid programs take the guesswork out of creating a routine, and are built with long-term progress in mind. Often, you’ll get a range of workouts with the right mix of movements and intensity you’ll need to make progress over weeks or even months, but there are plenty that let you take an ad hoc approach as well. You can find paid programs or coaching methods oriented to your specific goals, and there may be some further room for customization or modification. These programs and apps sometimes integrate advice on things like nutrition, sleep, and recovery into their offerings, which can kick your progress up a notch. Add in a bit of pre-recorded motivation from a coach, visual aids that show you how to perform exercises properly, and the accountability created by paying for something, and you have a great foundation for fitness without the frustrating research period.


The expertise and structure is great, but you’re just one use of thousands (maybe even millions) working the same program. You may be able to ask a human coach the occasional question, but there’s no real one-on-one time to focus on your unique goals and starting point. These programs can also be one-size-fits-all in terms of what you’ll need, so keeping up with the curriculum might mean buying equipment or joining a gym. The structure of these programs is handy, but it’s also limiting. While there’s flexibility over when and where you work out, there’s not always clarity about what you should do if you miss a day or can’t keep up with the pre-planned phrases. That’s great for fostering accountability, but some paid apps or programs may be too rigid for those with more hectic schedules.


If you have a little bit of experience, only need a little bit of guidance to hit your goals, and can build your schedule around the cadence of your program, then a little investment can go a long way. But if you have a busy schedule, no equipment, or a desire for a bit more personalized attention, then one of the next two options might be better suited for your needs. 

In-Person training: face-to-face fitness. 

This option is exactly what it sounds like: working with a human personal trainer at a set time and place. Usually, you’ll find that trainer through a gym you might already belong to, or else you can shop around for one in your area with relevant expertise for your needs.


Traditional personal training is where individualized attention meets expertise, motivation, and accountability. A good personal trainer will create a fitness program that addresses your specific goals, and also provide hands-on coaching so you can confidently perform each movement. When everything goes right, there’s almost no thinking required: all you have to do is show up, listen, get moving, and enjoy the company of someone who’s there to celebrate your success. If your trainer is dedicated enough to create workouts you can do on your own throughout the rest of the week, you’ll get a little extra bang for your buck. 


With that said, an hour of a coach’s undivided attention can cost you anywhere from $50 to $150 (or more) each week. That price point is a powerful source of accountability, but it robs you of your flexibility. Traveling means you have to skip a session, and a hectic workday or a last-second schedule change means you’ll be paying that cancellation fee for reasons beyond your control. When you also consider that sought-after trainers are often juggling many clients, you may have to plan your week around exercising in a less-than-ideal time slot. Tying your training to a physical location also restricts your options to a pool of nearby coaches, which can be frustrating if you live outside of a metro area or you have a specific goal in mind. 


In-person coaching can be a great way to find the personally-relevant expertise and powerful source of accountability you’re after. But the price point, rigidity, and limited options may make the fourth and final option a better fit.

Remote or app-based fitness coaching: a modern way to do personal training. 

This is all the benefits of personal training without the need to share any personal space. It can be as ad hoc as working with a personal trainer you’ve met offline via Zoom or FaceTime, but there are also dedicated remote personal training apps like Future. If you’re interested in learning more about how Future works, here’s a detailed rundown.


Think of remote coaching as a hybrid model that blends the best elements of the last two options we discussed. Take all the expertise and personalization of in-person training. Then, add the ability to work out when and where you want while staying in contact with your coach as much (or as little) as you want. In addition to a steady supply of accountability and motivation, this means you can also tap into your coach’s nutrition expertise at mealtime, ask for in-the-moment tips to manage stress, and constantly work together to make sure everything’s moving in the right direction. Because you aren’t limited by geography, it’s easier to find a coach with the right mix of knowledge and personality for your needs.


You’re never in the same room as your coach, so they can’t provide (literal) hands-on guidance  or spot you on the bench press. Every remote coaching option also has a slightly different approach to how — and how often — you’ll communicate with your coach. Some rely strictly on a chat interface. Others allow for voice or video calls with your coach. And in some cases you can exchange progress pics and form videos to get even more out of the coaching relationship. While the pool of remote coaches is much larger than what you’d find at a gym, those recovering from certain injuries or who have highly specific physical needs or goals may not always find what they’re looking for. 

Cost may also scare some away from this approach. At $149 per month, a remote coaching option like Future feels expensive when you compare it to those one-to-many programs. But instead of paying a minimum of $200 a month for four one-hour personal training sessions, you can save $50 and get near-unlimited access to your coach and all the workouts you can handle. And the more you work out and communicate with your coach, the better that value gets.


Remote coaching works well if you want to pair the power of personal training with more freedom and flexibility. If you’re willing to pay a little more than you would with other paid programs, you can find that missing layer of accountability and customization you’re looking for.  In time, those who take this hybrid approach realize they don’t need to be physically near their coach to move closer to their fitness goals.

In the end, progress is possible no matter how you choose to handle fitness. It’s just a matter of determining your budget, being honest with yourself about the type and level of help you need, and following through on your efforts. You aren’t locked into any one of these four options forever, so the most important thing is to make a choice, start moving, and adapt as needed. There’s no substitute for direct experience when it comes to figuring out which approach will work for you, regardless of whether there’s a coach in your corner or you’re going it alone.

If you think that working remotely with a Future coach is the way to go, well, we like the way you think. And to add one more item to the pro column, you can sign up for Future today and pay just $19 for your first month of modern personal training. Claim that offer and find your ideal coaching fit here.

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