Tech Savvy: StrongLifts pulls its own weight

Technology has seeped into every aspect of our lives, most notably in the realm of fitness. Tech gadgets geared for fitness are a billion-dollar industry, from health trackers to apps. They're so pervasive I'm betting there are people out there w...

The StrongLifts 5x5 smartphone app provides a simple weightlifting plan. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
The StrongLifts 5x5 smartphone app provides a simple weightlifting plan. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Technology has seeped into every aspect of our lives, most notably in the realm of fitness.

Tech gadgets geared for fitness are a billion-dollar industry, from health trackers to apps. They're so pervasive I'm betting there are people out there who would be totally lost if they went to the gym without their Fitbit or their smartphone.

Confession time, Tech Savvy readers: I'm one of those people.

I've been using a weightlifting app called StrongLifts regularly for the past two years or so. It's so ingrained in my workout routine at this point I wouldn't know what to do at the gym on weightlifting days without looking at my iPhone.

The app is centered around a 5x5 weightlifting routine: three exercises, three times a week, for 45 minutes per workout, according to the app's website. The 5x5 name comes from the focus on doing five repetitions, or reps, of each exercise for five sets.


The app has two different workout routines built into it. The exercises in one routine are squats, bench press and barbell rows. The other routine includes squats, military presses and deadlifts. It automatically alternates between the two, so if you do workout A on Monday, it brings up workout B when you start a new workout on Wednesday.

If you noticed squats in both workouts, it's not a typo. Stronglifts "is about simple, effective strength and muscle building," according to its website, and squats are a key component of that.


How it works

Here's how a workout, um, works. You open the app to the home page, which shows a brief summary of your past two workouts and the next workout you're slated to do. From the home page you can also access your workout history, a calendar of the days you worked out, graphs of your progress and videos of how to do the different exercises.

The app's design is simple and understated, with a red and white color theme throughout, which provides appreciated consistency.

The workout page is where you'll spend most of your time in the app. It lays out each exercise and the weight for each exercise in a simple, clear way. Tracking your progress during the workout is simple, once you complete a set of reps, push an empty circle directly under the name of the exercise. It will fill up red with a 5 in the middle, to indicate you completed 5 reps of the exercise. If you did less than five reps, it's OK: just tap on the filled in circle again until the correct number appears.

This action in the app works remarkably well and I can't remember a time when I went to punch in the reps and the circle failed to fill in or register my tap. It's easily the most frequent part of the app I use and I haven't had problems with it.


Once you punch in how many reps you did, a timer starts counting up on the bottom of the screen, indicating how much time will pass between sets. It recommends 90 seconds between sets if the previous set was easy, or waiting three minutes if the set was hard.

This timer is extremely helpful and helps enforce one of the most important parts about a workout routine: rest between sets. I've never used a timer between sets before I started using this app and have found it helps me stay consistent and focused during my workout. Instead of going into my next set too quickly, or waiting too long between sets, it keeps me on track.


Warm ups and alternates

The app also offers warmup sets for the exercises in order to get you ready for your sets of your work weight. These are easily accessible from the current workout screen and slide over to a screen where your current exercise appears with recommended warmup weights and reps. I'm not sure how the warmup weights and reps are calculated, but they always seem to get me ready for my work weights without burning me out beforehand.

Recording your warmup progress works the same as the regular workout, you tap on a circle once you've completed a warmup set. Once you complete all the warmup sets for a certain exercise, it automatically slides back over to the workout screen. It also starts a timer to let you know when three minutes have passed and you can start your next set of your work weight.

The app offers assistance exercises, which might be more accurately called secondary exercises. These are exercises you can add to the A and B workouts if you want to do more than the three basic exercises. These are things like dips, pushups, planks, chinups, pullups and barbell curls. I've added a couple of these to my A and B workouts in order to keep things interesting.

I have very few qualms with this app, but the biggest one I do have is the inability to create a workout C, where you could pick from the different exercises to create your own routine. I'd like to be able to create a workout from the different assistance exercises, in order to offer some variety to my routine.



How do I do it?

One of the best parts about the StrongLifts app might be its extensive database of how to perform the various exercises in the routine. This information is available on the app's website, as well as in the app itself.

The home page of the app features a Videos tab, which brings up a page of eight videos. These range from a full demonstration of workouts A and B to a video showing how to perform the warmup exercises. There's also videos showing the proper form and common questions for each exercise.

The website features a page for each exercise in the app and is full of valuable information on the different exercises. These pages take you step by step through each exercise, answering any question you could possibly have about how wide your grip should be for a pullup or how to position your feet when you perform a squat.

I can't stress enough how much I love these tutorials and this information. I didn't do squats much before I started using this app, so I spent a ton of time on the website and watching the videos to make sure I was using good form while performing the exercise. You can get hurt performing an exercise incorrectly, so I'd recommend familiarizing yourself with each exercise before jumping into the program.


Other options


I've been using the StrongLifts app for a while now, so I decided to check out if there were other weightlifting apps around that worked as well as StrongLifts. Some intense investigative journalism, which may look to the untrained eye like Googling, revealed a few other options for reliable weightlifting apps.

A post on "Muscle and Fitness" titled "5 Best Fitness Apps to Dominate Your Routine" seemed like a good place to start. People who work at a place called "Muscle and Fitness" seem like they'd know a thing or two about weightlifting.

Interestingly, the first app featured in the post was the StrongLifts app. The next app up, iWod Pro, for 99 cents in the app store, features workouts and recipes catered to the Crossfit crowd. I've never done Crossfit or felt the need to call a gym a "box," so this app isn't a good option for me.

The Fitness Point workout journal, free or $4 for a Pro version in the app store, seems like a reliable workout journal. It comes with hundreds of exercise descriptions and videos for different muscle groups and allows you to customize your own workout plan. This seems like a good option for someone looking for flexibility in creating their own weightlifting plan.

Just to see, I decided to look in the app store at the StrongLifts 5x5 page to see what other people thought of the app. Turns out I'm not alone in loving this app. As of this writing, the app has 9,042 ratings for all versions of the app, with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. The current version of the app, version 2.7.4, has 483 ratings and a 5 stars out of 5 average.

Another place to look for alternate weightlifting apps might be the Related section of StrongLifts 5x5's page in the app store.




I really enjoy the StrongLifts routine and I think the app is one of, if not the best out there for weightlifting. It's easy to use, has a simple, clean design and is accessible for hardcore weightlifters as well as those looking to start from scratch. The only criticism I really have is the inability to create your own customized routine, as opposed to just adding alternate exercises to the three core exercises. Overall, I'd give it 4 out of 5 barbells.


SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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