It’s not hard to find women sprinting down a trail or holding a tree pose in any number of fitness apps, but there is a striking dearth of ladies demonstrating dead lifts or push-ups.
Women are no strangers to strength training. All sorts of workouts include some level of body-weight exercises or full-fledged weightlifting. Still, most apps only feature women in cardio routines, as if to say that’s all they’re interested in or capable of doing.
The creators of apps like Spitfire Athlete, Nike Training Club, Fitocracy and Workout Trainer know better. Many, if not all, of the strength training routines in their programs are demonstrated by women. And judging by the tens of thousands of downloads the apps are getting, there’s an appetite for more equality in mobile workouts.
Take Spitfire Athlete, an app that exclusively shows women weightlifting, interval-training and just crushing all kinds of fierce workouts. About 78,000 people have downloaded Spitfire Athlete for free since its April 2014 debut in the Apple App store, according to co-creator Erin Parker, an Olympic weightlifter.
Parker and her partner, Nidhi Kulkarni, a competitive rower, set out to create the kind of program they would use for training. The two software engineers were disappointed by the way the fitness industry portrayed and marketed to women.
“We both felt like every single resource out there was not only condescending, but way too focused on how people looked instead of their actual athletic ability,” Parker said. “We wanted to bring the kind of structured, performance-oriented training we do to the everyday woman. If she’s committing to her workouts, then she could do that in a more intelligent way.”
Users can choose from nearly a dozen plans designed to teach them how to train like a pro, with dynamic warm-ups, routines that get progressively harder and cool-downs to reduce injury. Each plan lasts at least four weeks and features professional athletes, including Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor Rebecca Reuben and powerlifter Emily Hu.
Parker encourages users to start out on the “warrior,” a plan designed to get people comfortable with basic weightlifting moves such as squats, dead lifts and bench presses. You can get stronger as the plan ratchets up the amount of weight used in each exercise over the course of four weeks.
“That kind of linear progression is the quickest way for a novice to get all the strength gains that they can before progressing to a more intermediate plan,” Parker said.
Instead of focusing on how lifting can give you sexy arms or a firm butt, Spitfire’s descriptions tout the health benefits of strength training — protection against osteoporosis, increased metabolism or muscular endurance. Parker and Kulkarni are working on new training plans, including tutorials on how to do a pull-up or a one-arm push-up, as part of the roll out of the “pro” edition of Spitfire this month.
“The weight room is intimidating, but it can be really helpful to look to the routines of inspiring women like Erin and all of the women featured in her app to get started,” said Krista Stryker, a personal trainer who develops workouts for Spitfire.
In addition to the work she has done for Spitfire, Stryker creates routines for her own app, 12 Minute Athlete. The program focuses on high-intensity interval training, with explosive moves like burpees followed by strength exercises like pike push-ups. Stryker packs in some heart-pumping routines in — you guessed it — 12 minutes, or 16 for those who can spare the time.
“You can do three sets of push-ups, and if you’re working as hard as you can during that 30- or 50-second interval you’ll build strength and endurance,” said Stryker, who stars in all of the demo videos for 12 Minute Athlete. “Not everyone is meant to be a powerlifter, but you’ve got to try different things to find what works for you.”
One of the most popular fitness apps, Nike Training Club, also shows that strength training can come in a variety of forms and be incorporated into all types of workouts. The app, which has been downloaded by 19 million people since 2009, supplies more than 135 routines to get users lean, toned or strong.
The routines are designed by celebrity trainers and feature a good number of celebrity athletes, including tennis great Serena Williams, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and basketball star Skylar Diggins. Naturally, everyone is sporting the latest Nike gear. But once you look past the product placement, there is an impressive mix of workouts that are all performed by women.
Although Nike says the app is “ideal for men,” the company designed it for women. On its Web site, Nike calls NTC a “women’s fitness community offering expertise, inspiration and motivation” to help ladies achieve their goals. While there are no powerlifting moves like on Spitfire, NTC does have a similar you-can-do-anything attitude to encourage women to break out of their comfort zones.
In a sign of true egalitarianism, Workout Trainer gives men and women an equal shot at performing all of the exercises included in the app. You’re as likely to find men demonstrating Pilates moves as you are women doing a biceps curl.
“Fitness should be accessible to anyone,” said Maria Ly, co-founder of Skimble, the tech company behind Workout Trainer. “We don’t say these are moves specifically for men or women — everyone should be able to adapt any of them.”
Ly said Skimble works with many female trainers to design workouts. Besides, showing that men and women can both do dumbbell rows or downward dog makes the exercises a lot less intimidating. It’s no wonder that Workout Trainer has about 15 million users, almost evenly split between men and women.
The app, which launched in 2010, features a range of routines to build strength, increase flexibility, improve endurance and burn calories. Users can find multi-week plans or pick and choose shorter routines in a database of workouts.
“We release workout-of-the-week challenges so people can get exposed to workouts they might not have realized they could do or should do, like yoga or body-weight exercises,” Ly said. “Fitness should always be inclusive.”