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New apps help women find strength in weight training

Spitfire Athlete is an app that exclusively shows

Spitfire Athlete is an app that exclusively shows women weightlifting, interval-training and just crushing all kinds of fierce workouts. Credit: THE WASHINGTON POST /Nathaniel Taylor

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 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 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 jiujitsu competitor Rebecca Reuben and powerlifter Emily Hu.

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 pullup or a one-arm push-up, as part of the roll out of the "pro" edition of Spitfire this month.

Krista Stryker, who develops workouts for Spitfire, 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.

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.

In a sign of true egalitarianism, Workout Trainer gives men and women an equal shot at performing all 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."