After nearly two years of intermittent pandemic workouts, I decided I needed a push to get in tip-top shape. Instead of relying on my favorite Peloton instructors, I was willing to up my game and try the Future digital training app, which uses text messaging on an iPhone to help you build a remote personal relationship with an elite trainer.

After creating and assigning weekly, individualized video workouts, your trainer offers added motivation and accountability via daily personal texts and voice prompts on your phone. Fun fact: Future’s co-founder, Justin Santamaria, was Apple’s lead engineer and the creator of the infamous green/blue iMessage bubbles. This app offers a concierge, flexible and technically graceful training experience for a flat fee of $150 per month, which is much less than the $100 an hour a personal trainer would run you. Plus, if you don’t already have one, Future will loan you a gratis Apple Watch to help monitor your fitness.

I spent two weeks working out with Future and noticed a huge change in time spent exercising as well as a difference in my body. The daily check-ins and messages pushed me to work out, even when I wholeheartedly didn’t feel like it. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in getting in better shape and joining Team Future, though if you have an Android phone, you’re out of luck for now.

The who, what and how

Who this is for: The Future app is for iPhone users looking for more flexibility, support and accountability with their workouts, without spending hundreds of dollars a month for an in-person trainer. By building a virtual relationship with your coach via text, Future allows you to exercise anywhere and any time, letting you create and follow schedules that work better for your lifestyle.

What you need to know: Future is a wholly iOS app-based workout program offering elite virtual coaches to help manage a personalized health and fitness regimen. Which means you’ll need an iPhone to use it, though the team says it will be available for Android in 2023. Once you take a short quiz and choose your coach, you’ll receive weekly guided video workout plans based on how many times you want to work out each week, accompanied by daily text messages — and all of this comes through the app. You can also get nutrition guidance if you ask. Workouts are 100% tailored to you and can be changed daily according to where you are exercising, how much time you have and what equipment is on hand. That means you can head outside when the weather permits, hit any type of gym and even choose to add group classes or sports like tennis or basketball to your fitness schedule. Your heart rate, calorie count and general progress are tracked via Apple Watch, which, if you don’t already have one, will be loaned out and is included in the $150 per month subscription fee.

How it compares: Future offers a lot more than just streaming or even livestreaming video workouts. Compared with Peloton, which is either $39 per month for Peloton hardware owners or $12.99 per month for the app, you get customized video workouts pushed to you and the ability to tweak them whenever you’d like. Instead of a Leaderboard to help you stay motivated, you get a real person to communicate with, whether you need a push, want to discuss your goals or just are tracking your progress. And unlike similar virtual personal training apps like Life Time, which offers single sessions for approximately $55, or Caliber, which works out to about $300 per month, Future offers a monthly flat fee of just $150 for an all-you-can-exercise plan. Plus, unlike most IRL trainers who ask you to buy packages of 10 or more, there’s no long-term commitment because Future allows you to cancel at any time.

Getting started with your virtual trainer

The last two years of my pandemic workouts have been sporadic at best. BC (before Covid), I had a membership at the Brooklyn Dodge YMCA and enjoyed a mix of HIIT, Zumba, barre and Pilates classes as well as days spent on the cardio equipment and weights. Going to the gym had a social aspect as well, and I was motivated to get there as much for the exercise as to chat with friends, instructors and acquaintances.

When Covid suddenly prevented me from physically getting to the gym (I also have one in my building, which I frequented as well), I did my best to stay in shape in my apartment with a subscription to the Peloton app, a few dumbbells and an indoor Bowflex C6 bike. And though it kept me active, I missed the experience of being in a public place that was not my home — and my workouts became shorter and less intense. Plus, I quickly realized I was not a zealot of the spin class.

Though the Y is open again, classes are infrequent and masks are required, which is why I decided to give Future a try. The idea that someone would hold me accountable via text messages seemed like a boon, as I tend to convince myself I can skip workouts when not feeling motivated. Plus, after a nasty bout of Omicron-inspired, housebound holiday-itis, I was ready to try a new exercise regimen to help get rid of the extra few pounds packed on (I’m looking at you, pinot noir).

Once I downloaded the app and signed up, I filled out a short quiz that included my physical assets as well as what equipment I had access to and what I wanted to accomplish. Out of the four coaches I was sent to choose from, which included pictures and extremely impressive backgrounders, I decided on Aretha, who is not only a personal trainer, yoga teacher and dancer but also has an M.A. in Sport and Performance Psychology. The next step was setting up a video call over FaceTime where she asked about my goals (it may be shallow, but at this point I’m hoping to look passable in a swimsuit), areas of the body I want to focus on, where I’d be working out and how many times I want to work out per week.

Together, we decided to begin with three days of hourlong workouts and two days of 20-minute programs, with new weekly workouts uploaded each Sunday. The first text from Aretha was the longest and included an introduction to how she decided on the movement patterns and weights, and a request that I offer feedback to help her improve the experience. (Lots of emojis too.) Aretha also informed me that by hitting the “record my form” button on the app during workouts she could check I was doing everything correctly.

Varied, detailed workouts help you hit fitness goals

Because I was lucky enough to already have home workout equipment and a full gym in our building, I was able to try Future in both scenarios. The first week was dedicated to working out in the apartment, and after the initial 20-minute workout, I realized it was easier than expected. I texted her my thoughts and she immediately bumped those days up to 30 minutes.

The longer workouts were much more challenging, with mixed weights, stints on the bike and full body-weight cardio. Each day’s video includes several blocks of work, like “Dynamic Warm-Up,” Strength Block” and the dreaded “Push-Up Challenge;” each exercise is usually about 30 seconds or in chunks of 10 to 12 reps, and comes with basic instructions to help you keep good form. You can follow along on your phone or use Apple AirPlay to mirror your screen on a TV, which I did this first week for a better view of the exercises.

When it comes to music, I liked how you could either choose inside the app, from categories like High-Energy Hits, Throwback Jams and New and Fresh, or simply start playing your own playlist from any music app you have on your phone. The app automatically incorporates your music with the workout at the proper volume. There’s no fiddling while you exercise.

This is also where your Apple Watch comes in. The app automatically syncs with your watch and records your entire workout on your wrist, along with your heart rate. When you finish a set and want to move on to the next, you can hit the arrow on your watch or the one on your iPhone. For me, it was easier to just tap the watch most of the time.

During week two, I decided to go down to our building’s gym, so Aretha rejiggered the experience and included equipment like medicine balls, benches and some of the machines. She also added movements that required more space, which I appreciated, like the lateral duck walk and grapevines for warm-ups. Not only was it freeing to be in a larger space, but I appreciated the change of scenery and getting out of the house to exercise (even if it was just 15 flights down).

But most importantly, none of these workouts felt forced or too long. There were times when I was working out and concentrating so hard I didn’t realize we had finished. And that may be the best props I can give Future.

Future’s text messages are a super-motivator

Most people who hire a personal trainer are looking for extra motivation. Yes, you get a better workout plan that suits you and your fitness or weight loss goals, but you are also paying for someone to hold you accountable for showing up.

Which is why Future’s text-based virtual structure worked so well. There may not be someone physically waiting for me, but it’s hard to ignore those daily messages reminding me to get in gear. Fact: Motivation can wax and wane. But Aretha knows how to get me up and out. Our favorite text, sent after the first full week of workouts, read: “Tobey!! Motivation is like a passionate, hot and cold boyfriend. Commitment is a reliable husband. Stay committed and don’t overthink! Just do it!”

You think I could say no to that logic?

I also got texts asking how I was feeling about the workouts, discussing mindset influences and congratulating me when I burned extra calories. She also recorded short videos discussing personal motivations and to help give a push to get everything done. It was never overwhelming or annoying, and I could engage at any level without worrying that I was snubbing her.

And, of course, you can go through the texts to see all your stats from every workout, including heart rate, calories and steps.

The bottom line

Future is a fully digital, remote workout app for the iPhone that pairs you with a personal trainer and encourages a close relationship via text and video messaging. Perfect for anyone looking to either up their fitness level or get started on a path to better health, it not only provides challenging weekly workouts you can do on your own schedule, but also offers a high level of individualized motivation.

After two full weeks working out with a Future personal trainer in both my home and a gym, I not only feel better knowing someone has my back when I’m feeling less ambitious, but also can already see a change in my body.

For $150 per month, it’s less expensive than a live trainer but certainly not cheap, though I have spent significantly more time working out than I have in the last two years, and for me, that’s priceless.