How to integrate iPhone into your strength training regimen

Posted:
in iPhone
Strength training may not be well-supported on iPhone or other Apple accessories, but there are a few options out there. We'll run through the three main paths: standard fitness accessories, specialized devices and a purely app-based approach.


Standard accessories

"Standard," in this case, refers to the majority of wrist-based wearables. These are what most people are likely to buy or own since they fill other roles such as notification alerts, making payments, tracking distance activities (walking, running, etc.), or simply telling the time.

These devices can actually be decent strength training tools as long as they meet a key requirement: a reasonably accurate heart rate (HR) sensor. That means going for higher-end products from Garmin or Polar, or yes, the Apple Watch. If you can afford it, it's also best to pick something durable and fully water-resistant, since gyms can be rough, and it's much easier to clean a device by wearing it in the shower.




Tracking heart rate during strength training may seem superficial at first, but it offers a vital piece of feedback: whether you're pushing yourself hard enough. Better products break HR tracking into "zones," and if you're not out of the base zone for a good chunk of your workout, chances are you need to up your reps and/or weights.

As we addressed in a recent editorial, the catch is that wrist wearables are typically oriented around cardio and distance-based activities, not strength. Their strength tracking modes (if any) are limited to figures like duration and heart rate, and any corresponding data that can be extrapolated.

Even then the wrist isn't the most accurate place to track heart rate, especially with the on-off intensity of strength exercises. The hardcore will want to invest in a chest strap, some better examples being the Wahoo Tickr X and Polar H10. These can pair directly with wrist devices, including the Apple Watch, but will also pair to an iPhone if you're willing to cart it around.

Specialized accessories

On paper there's no reason why we shouldn't have wearables that log weights and count reps, and indeed there are multiple devices that try to do this, like the Atlas Wristband and Beast Sensor. When they work, they feel like magic. The Beast even tries to gauge your output in watts.

There are just too many problems to recommend them at this point, however, include issues like "ghost" reps, awkward interfaces, and cumbersome human interface requirements, such as placing an iPhone in particular spot in the case of the Beast.

Apple Watch owners may want to try an app called Gymatic, which promises features similar to the Atlas -- a paid subscription is needed for full functionality however, and even its developer admits that the technology is "not perfect."

App-only

For beginners, the best iPhone app may be StrongLifts 5x5. It's dedicated to one specific program you may eventually outgrow, but it includes exercise videos, logging tools, and help tweaking workouts to increase weights and break through plateaus.




Once you have a solid foundation you'll probably want to upgrade to general-purpose apps such as Strong or Stacked, which primarily serve as logbooks, but can also offer features like timers, preloaded routines and one-rep max (1RM) calculators, depending on which one you go with.

Strong also includes an Apple Watch app, but you'll probably still want your iPhone nearby at the gym.
Strong also includes an Apple Watch app, but you'll probably still want your iPhone nearby at the gym.


One of the drawbacks, of course, is that you will always have to manually enter data, which can become tedious or easy to forget. You'll also be carrying your iPhone around the gym, which might demand a rugged and/or waterproof case. Some apps require subscription fees or one-time in-app purchases to get the most out of them, though you should be able to try before you buy.

Final notes

Strictly speaking, no one needs an iPhone or a wearable for strength training. A paper logbook and a pencil are often good enough for "serious" lifters -- it may be wiser to spend money on knee wraps or a few sessions with a trainer.

The best ways of using an iPhone often don't involve tracking hard data. Recording video of yourself will help fix bad form, and counting calories and nutrient macros using an app like MyFitnessPal is absolutely essential. High-energy workout music -- from Apple Music or elsewhere -- can push you harder.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    "Reps and Sets" in another good app which I currently use for planning/recording my weights sessions.  Haven't tried the ones mentioned in the article, I will have to check them out. 
  • Reply 2 of 12
    NIRS

    For example, https://www.moxymonitor.com/researchers/

    Everything else is just a fancy digital pedometer, and equally as useful. Measure physiological response, not reps.
    maciekskontakt
  • Reply 3 of 12
    I've tried many, and my favorite is Gym Log Plus. Tourough and Versatel. Gym Log Plus — Workout and Fitness Tracker by Minds Aspire, LLC https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/gym-log-plus-workout-and-fitness-tracker/id588922922?mt=8
  • Reply 4 of 12
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,427member
    Do any of these apps work with voice commands? If a bodybuilder could just speak the weight and reps per set that would be something useful. Change up the routine the app is logging just by speaking it. 

    Combine that with smart clothing that can count reps, and gauge muscle contractions, and you'd really have something ... 

    I havent written a thing down at the gym in years, and I even see pro body builders with their pro trainers at Golds, and nobody writes anything down.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    hmm i don’t know any serious lifter that doesn’t keep a log, Mac. for anyone other than those who just go to a gym to fuck around, having a planned out program is pretty essential. especially for competitive powerlifters and advanced lifters — once all the easy newbie gainz are obtained, training becomes more complicated and slow going, and for that a plan plus logs are needed. the adage “if you can’t measure a thing you can’t improve a thing” holds very true, even and especially for advanced level. pros like Jim Wendler plan out their programming for months at a time (and often make their templates available).

    thats why talk of having apps magically auto-record is a bit of a solution looking for a problem. because before you set foot in the gym you should already know exactly what you’re going to lift — yes the apps log your sets & reps, but more than that they are telling you what’s on the agenda for the day. it doesn’t come from your head, it’s part of your planned programming.

    spreadsheets were a big help, but smartphone apps are great for this. music, tracking, and videos for form checks. can’t imagine going back to not having it at all times. 
    edited September 2017 GeorgeBMaclolliversteveau
  • Reply 6 of 12
    I still see no benefit to tracking heart rate during a lifting session -- especially if, like the standard Apple Activity app, it only tells you the average HR for the session.

    But tracking workouts is very valuable.
    I have a number of exercises that I rotate through when I go to the gym, so its crucial I keep track of which ones I've done that week and which still need to be done.  For that, I developed a spreadsheet using Apple's Numbers where I list each exercise, the machine settings & weights, reps and sets. Then I add a column for that day's workout and simply check off each exercise in its check box as do it.   Very simple.   Very easy.  Very helpful.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    Well that last comment aside 🙄

    (Heart rate is always important friend - homemade spreadsheets are sooo cute)

    I heart this site. Perhaps maybe the two most relevant (to me anyway) posts in the decade I've read this blog and inside a week. Quite happy. Printed this last one out to share with my clients this week. 

    So adding my two cents - 12South has an armband that's fantastic. Pop the watch into an armband (out of straps) and then the logging required as you notate the lifts is less fanboy flavored and cumbersome... they claim the HR is more accurate and I can't confirm that but I do notice is variance is less weird

    i don't have a lot of faith theyre going to solve the notation (sets and reps)  issue but I hate paper in the gym so... I use the other pencil (53) and Notes to jot my work down quickly and in my own shorthand and then quickly transfer that data into a logbook on my iPad Pro. 

    From there i can program , graph and extrapolate for myself or a client but to those inclined - it isn't as fast as paper and it does require some finesse to do *live* in the gym without looking like a tool

    helpful stuff ! Thank you

    tools:

    Lte iPad mini (don't fuck with wifi)
    pencil (53) - it's magnetic at one end and easily sticks to the mini I use to log
    waterminder- app
    fitnessbuilder- subscription req. (worth it)
    notes

    :)

  • Reply 8 of 12
    sandor said:
    NIRS

    For example, https://www.moxymonitor.com/researchers/

    Everything else is just a fancy digital pedometer, and equally as useful. Measure physiological response, not reps.
    Good point. I also think about all those apps the same way. It is just a waste of time and money. The real deal is to monitor body and adapt training. I do know how to discipline myself so no need for devices, but what I do not know is how to work with body limits and optimizations. Real monitor would be much better. And I agree that everything else is pedometer, GPS, surveillence and wrapped HTTP content to read adn follow just like old good workout boooks that are now even provided by Special Operations military to public if someone is interested how it is done by those folks without iPhones and Android devices.
    sandor
  • Reply 9 of 12
    Well that last comment aside 🙄

    (Heart rate is always important friend - homemade spreadsheets are sooo cute)

    I heart this site. Perhaps maybe the two most relevant (to me anyway) posts in the decade I've read this blog and inside a week. Quite happy. Printed this last one out to share with my clients this week. 

    So adding my two cents - 12South has an armband that's fantastic. Pop the watch into an armband (out of straps) and then the logging required as you notate the lifts is less fanboy flavored and cumbersome... they claim the HR is more accurate and I can't confirm that but I do notice is variance is less weird

    i don't have a lot of faith theyre going to solve the notation (sets and reps)  issue but I hate paper in the gym so... I use the other pencil (53) and Notes to jot my work down quickly and in my own shorthand and then quickly transfer that data into a logbook on my iPad Pro. 

    From there i can program , graph and extrapolate for myself or a client but to those inclined - it isn't as fast as paper and it does require some finesse to do *live* in the gym without looking like a tool

    helpful stuff ! Thank you

    tools:

    Lte iPad mini (don't fuck with wifi)
    pencil (53) - it's magnetic at one end and easily sticks to the mini I use to log
    waterminder- app
    fitnessbuilder- subscription req. (worth it)
    notes

    :)

    ROFL... 
    .... Lay off the steroids -- friend.   They apparently killed some brain cells.
  • Reply 10 of 12
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,427member
    sandor said:
    NIRS

    For example, https://www.moxymonitor.com/researchers/

    Everything else is just a fancy digital pedometer, and equally as useful. Measure physiological response, not reps.
    Good point. I also think about all those apps the same way. It is just a waste of time and money. The real deal is to monitor body and adapt training. I do know how to discipline myself so no need for devices, but what I do not know is how to work with body limits and optimizations. Real monitor would be much better. And I agree that everything else is pedometer, GPS, surveillence and wrapped HTTP content to read adn follow just like old good workout boooks that are now even provided by Special Operations military to public if someone is interested how it is done by those folks without iPhones and Android devices.
    Yup. I track my progress at home, and go into the gym with a plan. I know if I've hit my goals or not. Gold's Venice is the "Mecca of Bodybuilding" and there's not a lot of paperwork happening with the pros working out there, at least not during the workout. The trainers aren't either in large part. It's really not that hard to track a workout with goals established, in order to notate the results after the fact. That said, I would buy some smart workout clothes in an instant if that information could be interpreted and streamed to a device in real time. 
  • Reply 11 of 12
    sandorsandor Posts: 523member
    sandor said:
    NIRS

    For example, https://www.moxymonitor.com/researchers/

    Everything else is just a fancy digital pedometer, and equally as useful. Measure physiological response, not reps.
    Good point. I also think about all those apps the same way. It is just a waste of time and money. The real deal is to monitor body and adapt training. I do know how to discipline myself so no need for devices, but what I do not know is how to work with body limits and optimizations. Real monitor would be much better. And I agree that everything else is pedometer, GPS, surveillence and wrapped HTTP content to read adn follow just like old good workout boooks that are now even provided by Special Operations military to public if someone is interested how it is done by those folks without iPhones and Android devices.
    i am glad someone in these two threads finally took note :)

    it really is the beauty of technology in the realm of exercise physiology.
    we have human-mountable wireless devices that can monitor physiological response @ 95% the accuracy and 1/10th the price of full cart.

    between blood lactate monitoring & muscle oxygenation monitoring (NIRS) i can chart progress, shape workouts & find weak points.
    yes, lactate is a bit more invasive (pin prick, non-instantaneous readings) but the development of multiple competing NIRS devices allow instant, track-able muscle response to work, with bluetooth links to any of your favorite workout apps.

    moreover, these devices allow measurement of recovery, allowing adaptation of training plan to your body (gains are, of course, made on the recovery days/hours)


    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 12 of 12
    Going by the detailed and informative comment to this and the editorial, there is a lot of interest in strength training functionality for the AppleWatch and related kit. I hope that Apple will pick up on this and establish a small team to bring us some solutions. One possibilitymight be machines like the one being developed by Drive Interactive that LarryLivermore posted in a comment to the editorial (he posted a YouTube video of it too and it looks interesting).
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