Afew hours after I download the TruBe iOS app I’m standing in my local park under the shade of a spreading oak punching the palms of Alex, the 2013 ICO light welterweight World Kickboxing Champion. He’s not scared. “Thumbs out,” he barks, then dances towards me making me lurch backwards before smoothly reversing his trajectory while simultaneously urging me to punch faster. I’m most worried about falling over my own feet. He moves in a startling, elegant blur. Although he says he’s given up professional kickboxing these days, there’s more than a ghost of fancy footwork on display. I am rooted to the grass in comparison.
Personal training is of course nothing new. But booking a trainer can still be a scrappy business. Many people access them through a gym membership or set up weekly sessions. But the holy training grail is on-demand and London-based startup TruBe, officially launching today after a six to eight week trial period, has created an app-based platform to cut to the fitness chase. It lets you sign up, add your payment card details and book a personal trainer to come to you, in as little as an hour or up to two weeks hence. But be warned: booking the trainer is the easy part. An on-demand ass-kicking is a few taps away.
TruBe has around 30 personal trainers on its platform at this nascent stage, says CEO Daria Kantor. An hour long session costs a flat fee of £65, and there are a handful of types of training offered right now, including high intensity interval training, strength and power, ballet barre, plus pre- and post-natal workours — with the team having plans to expand to other categories, such as yoga and mat pilates in future. You can’t choose your trainer; it’s based on who’s free and willing to accept the job.
I choose ‘toning & conditioning’. Alex is already at my chosen meeting place when I arrive a little early and happy to start straight away, asking if I’d prefer to train in sun or shade. After we select a spot under the tree, he starts pulling various bits of resistance kit out of his backpack, along with a sandbag weight, and preps me with a bit of chat on what the session will involve, including Tabata — a high intensity interval training technique invented in Japan. And then we get to it. Or rather I do.
At one point a woman out walking her dog stops to watch the spectacle. I see this impromptu audience framed between my arms at the peak of each push up. At another point Alex compliments me on not swearing through all the burpees, planks and lunges he’s making me do. “What are you saying instead,” he wonders. “‘Sheesh’ isn’t it?” It is. Multiple sheeshes in fact. Sheesh. Sheesh. Sheesh. You’ll find it painful to sit down or stand up tomorrow, Alex concludes cheerfully at the end of an hour that feels like it stretched right through the afternoon. I’m too high on endorphins to take the news badly at this point, giving him a broad yet dazed smile.
I do remember to ask a few questions. He’s very positive about TruBe, saying the team seems genuinely interested in the fitness sector, unlike some other startups he’s worked with in the space, and notes they have been listening to trainer feedback and making changes to how the app works. From a trainer perspective he says the platform offers flexibility and convenience, showing how the app lets them toggle their availability for booking sessions on or off.
He’s also happy with the revenue share, which he says is far more generous to trainers than gyms (Kantor says the majority of the fee goes to trainers, with TruBe taking “a relatively small administrative commission”). Alex is also keen on how the app offers a way to get work during typically less busy parts of the day for personal trainers — i.e. away from the morning or evening rush hour.
Who is TruBe for? At £65 a session it’s clearly not for everyone. Although Alex says in certain parts of London — such as Knightsbridge — clients view TruBe’s pricing as cheap. Even more premium priced sessions may well be incoming. So the U.K.’s ‘squeezed middle’ likely isn’t the target. This is a fitness service for people who are time-poor and cash rich (the startup demographic of choice).
For her part, Kantor says TruBe is targeting “busy office workers, travelers, stay at home mums” — saying the idea came to her when she found it tricky to fit training around family duties as “a busy young mother”. “The idea initially came from the need to have a trainer built in around my schedule not the other way around,” she adds.
My session was paid for by TruBe’s PR company, and the price for an hour is about what it costs me for six+ yoga classes with my regular yoga teachers so, effective as the one-on-one workout self-evidently was (sheesh), I’m clearly not going to be a regular. Not least because bloggers need to not be in too much agony to be able to sit down at the keyboard to work. Personal training has always been a luxury fitness category, and the convenience of on-demand isn’t about to change that here.
TruBe is privately funded at this stage, with Kantor saying the plan is to look for investors in future to expand the business internationally. In London she reckons there’s no clear competitor but notes there are services that aim to make access to fitness easier, such as ClassPass, which overlap to a degree.
The TruBe app includes a five star rating system, where users get to rate trainers and vice versa. After I wince my way home, I find Alex has given me a four star rating. I’m not sure if that means four stars for effort, or four stars for not swearing. Admittedly I did (foolishly) select the fourth level of session intensity (out of five) in the app when I booked, but have a sneaking suspicion he was dialing the ass-kicking down a few notches on my behalf. And that is definitely worth five stars.