Beyond powerlifters and bodybuilders, innovative tracking and app technologies are helping even casual athletes see better results with fewer injuries.
While technology for runners, cyclists and even walkers skyrocketed in the last few years, one group of athletes was left out of the “techified” party. Weightlifters, stuck with old-school methods of tracking progress and training programs, have to carry a pen and paper at the gym and log workouts in complicated spreadsheets.
Things are changing. Today’s lifters benefit from new apps, tools and weightlifting tech that bring them into the 21st century — ones that may empower a whole new community of athletes under the bar.
Why did it take so long? Eric Wagner, co-founder of Gravitus, a social and tracking app for lifters, has a theory.
“When people think about lifting, they think about it as a means to an end,” he said. “You go to the gym to lose weight or tone up, and people don’t think of it as a sport in itself.”
Because of this mentality, app developers overlooked this segment of the fitness market.
“As a sport, it is a fragmented community — powerlifters, bodybuilders, lifting bros, cross-fitters, athletes in other sports,” he continued. “We want to change that; we want to be the app for all types of lifters.”
Here are five tech tools that give weightlifters of all experience levels a boost.
Optimizing Competition: Gravitus
Gravitus, launched for iPhone in November 2015, is built on three pillars: tracking, social sharing and competition. Lifters can easily log their workouts in the app and track their progress over time.
“We know that tracking your workouts leads to better performance,” said Wagner. “We’re trying to minimize the time you spend typing so you can get back to working out.” The social aspect is key as well.
“We also know that being able to share, learn from and compete with friends pushes us harder and makes us more accountable,” Wagner said.
When users post their workout, friends can see and comment. The community enhances its shared knowledge through Vines, six-second looping videos supplemented by quick tips on form or training.
Crafting Innovative Workouts: Jefit
Lifters looking for an even deeper knowledge base can try Jefit and its comprehensive database of exercises. Available free for iPhone and Andriod, the app allows lifters to build their own workout program using thousands of detailed exercises or choose from an extensive array of pre-designed routines in categories including “bulking,” “cutting” and general fitness.
Searches can guide users to exercises with specific equipment — think kettlebells or bands — or ones that target certain body areas. Barbell Reverse Grip Skullcrusher, anyone? To help lifters learn and master new moves, Jefit also offers progress tracking and an active community forum.
Using a New Metric: PUSH
Serious lifters looking to take their sport to the next level can find it with PUSH, an armband with a sensor that measures force, power and velocity.
Rami Alhamad, an athlete and mechatronics major, was inspired at the University of Toronto when he saw a fascinating but clunky tool the football team used to measure barbell speed.
“It was a paradigm shift because we’ve always talked about how much we can lift,” he said.
The device, which had been around for 20 years cost at least $1500 and was used at elite sport levels, Alhamad said. The metric also had serious limitations.
“You have to put a device on the ground, tie a rope to bar, and it shows you numbers on little LCD screen and you have to write it down,” he explained. “It felt really strange seeing this in the 21st century. I couldn’t find anyone doing it better.”
Alhamad built a prototype of a modern version of the tool using an accelerometer — technology similar to that found in smartphones to track steps, except that his is more refined and can capture data in greater detail — and a gyroscope, which looks at orientation or direction of movement.
“When you combine that data, you have a pretty good picture,” Alhamad said. “Bar speed tells you when to stop, which is huge. There’s a lot of research showing if you push your athletes to failure that has a lot of negative impacts and increases likelihood of injuries.”
The PUSH app provides data management that lets users see trends and track progress, but also includes a unique “one rep max” test. The “one rep max” represents the maximum weight an athlete can lift for one repetition; training is based on percentages of that max.
The trouble is, an athlete can’t test their max every few days to adjust their training.
“We built this testing module in our app that lets an athlete figure out the one rep max,” Alhamad said.
The test starts with three reps of a percentage of an estimated max, then, based on the bar speed, the module tells the lifter whether to continue. After three sets, the app calculates the one rep max.
Knowing the Limits: Bioforce HRV
Before getting under the barbell, of course, the ideal scenario is for a lifter to have a clear picture of their abilities that day. This is Bioforce HRV’s goal. Using a heart rate monitor for three minutes in the morning, athletes can check their readiness by measuring variations in heart rhythm.
After using the full system — an app, a transmitter that’s plugged into a smartphone and the heart rate monitor — to set a baseline, the athlete can monitor daily fluctuations in the time between heartbeats.
Rather than relying on how they feel or other subjective measures to determine how hard to work out that day, lifters can use this metric to evaluate where they are on the fatigued-to-ready spectrum.
Armed with this knowledge, and a green, yellow or red flag from the tool, they can dial back training on days they need to rest and push to their max on days they’re ready for it.
Building Muscle: Bulk Up! Protein Tracker
As with other athletes, lifters need to monitor their fuel intake (nutrition). Calories and carbs count, but protein is often most important for anyone trying to build muscle.
It can become a part-time job to look up and log how many grams of protein that tuna, steak, or shake has; that’s where apps like Bulk Up! Protein Tracker come in.
With a few taps, iPhone users can look up and record their nutrient intake and easily monitor that all-important protein with colorful graphs. Android users aren’t left out in the cold; Protein Tracker performs similar duties.
With tools like these helping lifters up their game, it may prompt a shift in how athletes view lifting. Now that everyone can track and compare their progress and make informed decisions about training, lifting is ready for its moment as its own sport.