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The iPhone ecosystem needs strength training accessories - especially from Apple

For people into running and other cardio activities, there's a plethora of apps and accessories available in the iPhone ecosystem. So why are major accessory makers — including Apple — largely ignoring strength training?

There are plenty of third-party strength apps available, to be clear. Options like StrongLifts 5x5 and Strong Workout Tracker are practically standard, it's just that they demand entering things manually. There's also a constellation of supporting apps, such as MyFitnessPal for managing calories and macros.

Whenever you look into hardware however, strength training seems to be an afterthought. Devices — and their companion apps — almost always assume that you're running, walking, or cycling, and that your main goal is to lose fat. In fact the companion app for a smartscale we reviewed, the Polar Balance, automatically assumes weight gain is a problem.

Trackers like Garmin and Fitbit's do let you record strength training, but often with the barest of details, such as time elapsed and heart rate/zones. On the Apple Watch, there aren't even any default strength-related options in the Workout app — you have to create one yourself using the "Other" button.

Creating a strength routine in the watchOS 3 Workout app.

Sometimes, Apple and other device makers seem to be supporting everything but strength. The Apple Watch Series 2 handles swimming and wheelchair activities, and Garmin's products even manage things like golfing and boating.

The main issue seems to be the ease of tracking. It's relatively simple to record actions like running — by default, an iPhone will even use its own accelerometer and gyroscope to track steps, albeit poorly. Motions like squatlifts and deadlifts are inherently more complex, especially since form varies from person to person and rep to rep, and people need to rest between sets.

Attempts have been made in the strength field, most notably by the the Atlas Wristband, which can log sets, reps, and weights. Its implementation is still pretty rough though, and it's annoying that a company with deeper pockets isn't giving it a shot.

The Atlas Wristband 2.
The Atlas Wristband 2.

With its gigantic research budget and elaborate health testing facilities, it's almost mysterious that Apple hasn't built complex strength tracking into watchOS. It could be that it feels the market is too small, but that's unlikely — the dumbbells at chains like Planet Fitness and Gold's Gym aren't just for show.

The greater probability is that Apple has higher priorities, and/or has done testing, but it hasn't met the standards for a shipping product. While early adopters might be willing to put up with quirks, many Apple shoppers have been conditioned to expect a product that "just works," whether or not that's realistic in every circumstance.

Serious strength training probably won't appear on the Apple Watch Series 3 or in watchOS 4, though it remains a possibility. Many more workout types, including strength training, are coming to watchOS — it's just that most of them are liable to be barebones options.

That may leave it to third parties to pick up the slack, and there doesn't seem much hope there either, based on a lack of rumors.

One day, hopefully, companies will overcome technical hurdles and cater to a long-neglected fitness segment. Until then, logbooks — paper or app-based — may remain a staple at gyms.