Face-Off: PKRS Vs. HumanGo AI Coaching
Two relatively new coaching platforms use artificial intelligence to create highly customized multisport training plans, but do either stand up to the tri Turing test?
Pre-written training programs are easy to come by—on websites and in books, or even from race directors. To be sure, generic programs have advantages, most notably, that they’re readily available and come at little or no cost. But they’re also static and can’t adjust to scheduling issues, illness, injury, or other variables that are sure to arise for even the most disciplined real-life athlete. So, by their nature, they have to treat every athlete the same. Conversely, a good coach can take an individual’s logistical concerns into account, and more importantly, can customize a program based on an athlete’s physiology, psychology, and other factors as they monitor their athlete’s progress out in the real world. But credentialed, experienced coaches are sometimes hard to find, and don’t always come cheap.
For years, triathletes who sought training guidance could choose from generic pre-written programs, and fully coached plans, but little existed in between those categories. With the recent introduction of sophisticated artificial intelligence-based programming, a new, third category is emerging, filling that void. In this face-off, we examine two of the most prominent and promising AI offerings available to triathletes today. Both are thorough, technologically impressive, and visually appealing, but can they really make you a faster, healthier, more successful triathlete? Let’s take a look.
$30/mo. for basic, $90/mo. for premium; pkrs.ai
Backed by heavy hitters like world champions Jan Frodeno and Leanda Cave, PKRS (pronounced “Peakers”) is an iOS- or Android-based app that is quickly becoming a major player in the AI game, for both its style and substance. As you’re guided by your AI “concierge”, PKRS utilizes a thorough onboarding questionnaire to get things rolling. Among the topics are the obvious ones, such as what you’re training for, and what type of athlete you are, but they also ask if you want to work with a coach who is more of a “scientist,” “motivator” or “mentor,” what type of food and nutrition plan you prefer, and what your strength training goals are. Additionally, they ask about your scheduling preferences and realistic time commitments. PKRS links directly to your Garmin, Suunto, or Apple Watch device, and also integrates with Strava and/or Apple Health.
Athletes are teamed not only with the AI concierge, but at the premium level with a real, live head coach, strength coach, and nutrition coach, each of whom provides guidance in their area of expertise. Regardless, the AI is the primary point of contact. At first, the constant notifications and messages may seem a little overwhelming, but when you consider that communication allows any coach—AI or human—to do their job best, the messaging feels thorough and comforting, rather than annoying and spammy.
Workouts are prescribed in detail, including duration and intensity (generally determined by heart rate). Each workout includes written “prep” information that can be adjusted by the athlete if necessary. PKRS uses not only the “nuts and bolts” info such as pace, distance, and heart rate, but also a thorough debriefing of information including perceived exertion, muscular fatigue, breathing, and sleep information to guide subsequent workouts, making the training program dynamic rather than static. The athlete can also rearrange their own workouts if necessary.
In terms of nutrition, dietary guidelines are based on the day’s workouts, as well as the preferred eating habits, with options for meat eaters, vegetarians, and more. Despite an occasional quirk (such as their repeated and inexplicable preference for gluten-free bread), the nutritional programming is sound and varied. There is also guidance on holistic fitness and mental training as well.
Zwift, TrainerRoad, and more smartwatch integration would make PKRS even more thorough and user friendly, but overall, the product is easy to use, thorough, and feels very different than a predetermined training program.
$30/mo., $280/yr.; humango.ai
HumanGo is currently in web-based beta testing, though an app is in the works. The sign up process is thorough and detailed. Variables including your current skill level and experience in each of the disciplines are examined, as are your injury and illness status and history and your sleep habits. This deep dive instills confidence that their AI will have all the necessary information about you as an athlete and person in order to design an appropriate training plan. Their stated goal is to find a balance between sports and life, and they proudly announce that they have been “recognized by the National Science Foundation as a project worth funding.”
The concern that an AI-generated program will be overly regimented is the case of Humango. Programming is very flexible, depending on how much time you can dedicate to training each day, and how often you can work on each discipline, acknowledging that an athlete has a life beyond triathlon. The ability to change plans at a moment’s notice is another important feature. Like any good coach—flesh and blood or AI—Humango is designed to provide gradually increasing challenges, but is also particularly attentive to signs of overtraining.
Once you’re logged into the site, there’s robust information available to the user. All the graphs and charts a data geek could ever ask for are available, so if you’re inclined to study training trends, metrics, environmental information, and more, Humango will keep you satisfied.
Another interesting feature is a social network that Humango calls “tribes,” which allows you to interact and train with other users of comparable abilities and goals to yours. You can find others and join their tribe, or start your own. Presumably this will be sparsely populated early on, but grow as Humango gains more users, and be a real benefit to athletes who like accountability and camaraderie.
Because they both rely on AI, PKRS and Humango will get lumped into the same category, but in truth they are markedly different products. Both are a significant step up from any program that can’t be adjusted based on your scheduling needs, or can’t adapt to your progress. PKRS has a more polished and futuristic feel to it in terms of content and appearance, while HumanGo wins the data battle for those who want to crunch their own numbers. I’m confident that either one can and will help self-coached triathletes of all skill levels and aspirations become faster, but overall, for the more comprehensive product, and the ability to interact with real-live coaches, I have to give the nod to PKRS for the win.