It all started with Couch to 5K. Launched by the NHS in 2012, the idea was that everyone could have their own personal running coach – for free. It worked: millions have downloaded the podcast to help them get into running, but eight years later and it’s booming now: 858,000 people downloaded the app from March-June this year, a 92% increase compared to 2019.
Lockdown is probably the reason why. Not only did people have no choice but to run, but they had no choice other than running alone. We know the impact of a workout buddy is huge, so having to clock up the miles without them probably felt daunting to many. Tuning in to some virtual encouragement was an easy way to feel more motivated – and it seemed to work for most of the Stylist team. “Having someone help me keep pace, encourage me through the tough bits, and supply me with ideal ‘match the beat’ running music has been a bloody godsend,” says Kayleigh Dray, Stylist’s digital editor-at-large.
“I run with an app called 5K Runner for the same reason that I do my home workouts with my PT Veowna on Skype: because I need someone who knows what they’re doing to tell me what to do. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence in myself? Maybe it’s laziness and accountability? Who knows,” adds executive digital editor Fliss Thistlethwaite.
So while Couch to 5K may be eight years old, it does seem as though our current, isolated situations are leading to a rise in audio-led fitness with virtual encouragement. It’s one thing to use that to get you through a training session, but what about recreating an entire race through the airwaves? That is what the most popular half marathon event in the country decided to do this year.
With coronavirus putting a stop to 60,000 runners gathering at the start line for the Great North Run in Newcastle, the event was ready to be cancelled. But the organisers didn’t want charities to lose out on the £25 million about to be raised, so they’ve decided to go ahead with the event – audibly.
“The Great North Run is different to other marathon events – we don’t promise amazing views, but the best atmosphere possible,” says Catherine Foster, brand director for GNR. “We knew if we wanted to translate that to a virtual event, we’d have to recreate the feeling, the noise and the encouragement of being there. That was why audio seemed to be the natural option.”
Using the platform viRace, participants will be able to go ahead with the biggest half marathon event in the country, and feel like they’re there. “The idea is that everyone will start at the same time, and it will feel as though they are running along with the other runners and the crowds,” explains Catherine. The app will tracks your distance in the background and gives you mile marker updates, as well as sharing sounds from the race and sending messages from celebrities to motivate you throughout your run. No physical race course or crowds has also meant that it’s free to enter, and you can sign up until 4 September even if you hadn’t entered the race previously.
You may also like
Running podcasts to listen to while clocking up the miles
And it’s not just running that is jumping on the trend. While Zoom PT sessions and Instagram Live workout videos worked a treat to inspire us when we trained from home, they’re not easy to translate onto the gym floor. Firstly, propping your laptop up and blast out a video tutorial in the middle of the weights room will probably be quite annoying to other members. But for many, it can draw extra attention to the fact that they are a newbie.
So, the app WithU launched to offer 30 programmes and over 1,000 workouts, all under the guise of audio-led personal training. Not only can it help you workout without distractions, but it’s a good guide for those who don’t yet feel confident enough to put together their own training plan. On the weekend gyms re-opened, the app saw a 114% increase in installs from the week prior.
Really, it’s no surprise that virtual training is booming right now. But using audio exclusively seems to be a fresh, accessible take on the world of fitness. What do you think – would you tune in to some virtual encouragement?
Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).