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Weighing Up The Merits Of A Virtual Coach


Monday, January 19th, 2009 Weighing Up The Merits Of A Virtual Coach

Great article in the Guardian by Alok Jha (13 01 09) on how to train yourself via a computer based personal training system. All it involves is wearing a wrist band as you carry out your walk or daily exercise.

The introduction of this article stresses the unending war some people have with their bodies the eating versus the exercise. The author will jog, cross-train and swim. He is also passionate about his food. He argues, “Children learn early that when your stomach is full it is a good idea to stop. It is a skill I have yet to develop”.

Welcome to MiLife, a web-based system that claims to be the world’s first “personalised online coaching system”.

Jha does not see the point of a real personal trainer as a virtual trainer could achieve the same goal.

Indeed the system comes with a wristband that records all movement during the course of the day. Moreover, when connected to a computer via bluetooth, uploads this data to a personal profile on the MiLife website.

There is the facility to monitor your progress or lack of. As you make your personal progress, the software will automatically adapt the plan within the week taking into account the exercise you seem best at and separating from the ones you are not.

For the author, he had chosen to give himself a regime of both exercise and weight targets. He found the latter to be more difficult to achieve.

The weight control requires recording a daily food diary, of which Jha found extremely tedious even though he had put everything in to achieve targets. Hitherto, ‘I gave up after just a few weeks of semi-completed diaries and, during my weekly online coaching sessions, the software duly reminded me of my laziness’.

The author was more successful with the wrist band in that he wore it obsessively. The MiLife programme in effect breaks down into significant categories from low activity to high. He claims like everyone else given a target, he tried to do everything within his power to go as far as he could.

All information was recorded by MiLife. Jha says, and it was useful: days when I took the bus home, for example, instead of walking, appeared as conspicuous gaps among the skyscrapers of activity in the days where I had been more diligent. I could monitor my minutes of high activity from jogging or cross-training to ensure that I kept up the levels suggested by the software. All of this was motivational, too - I was surprised how far I would go to get a perfect set of bar charts.

If you happen to choose this method of approach, MiLife will email or text to get you exercising, and chide you if you miss too many sessions.

The virtual trainer is powered by something called the “Idapt engine”, a computer model that MiLife says is the result of five years of research collating data from hundreds of people to tease out successful strategies to, for example, lose weight or keep motivated to exercise.

During the first few weeks of use, this builds up a profile of the kinds of exercise that seem to work for you. By matching this to the profiles it stores, it can suggest exercises or ways to break consistent bad habits. I was advised, for example, to try an exercise bike and do more gentle jogging, but the longer you use the programme the better the suggestions should be.

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