Is Technology Hurting Or Helping Your Training? 4 Rules to Help You Decide

Technology can be great for lifting progress, but it can also hinder training when used irresponsibly.

If you’re anything like me, you have a pretty set routine that you follow before you begin training. I like to get to the gym, spend a few minutes chatting to help rid myself of the pre-workout jitters, and make sure to queue up my favorite songs on Spotify for when the heavy sets start rolling.

That routine helps to keep me grounded and focused during the actual training session — but if not monitored, things like chatting between sets and especially messing around on a phone can really derail your progress in the long term. It’s the latter I want to focus on in this article.

Recently, my Elitefts teammate Eric Maroscher wrote an article about how many lifters waste their workouts in a digital la-la land. He wrote:

“In my mind, I just think to myself, “You spent half your workout on the phone, and when you finally put that thing down, you did another set with the same incorrect technique as the set before, and the set before that, as well as the sets for the previous six months.”

In all honesty, if a lifter can’t stuff their phone away into their gym bag for a lousy hour or two in the gym and let their mind completely be immersed and completely dedicated to the time under the bar, the time in-between sets (which is critical) and the time as they get ready to lift again, then no program, no diet, no coach, no template, no gym, no lifting partner is going to get them where they aspire to be.”

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

The truth is, I can’t really disagree with Eric — at least, not exactly, I strongly believe that mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed between sets is just that: mindless. If you want to get the most out of your training, you need to focus for your entire session. Rest periods can be used more effectively by visualizing the next set, practicing deep breathing (to control your heart rate and speed between-set recovery), or spotting your training partner. Heck, even staring off into space is better than playing on your phone — at least you’re not distracting yourself!

That said, I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that technology can also improve your progress. Just take a look at some of the new training information we have available thanks to technology:

  • Slow-motion video can be captured on your phone and replayed to analyze technique
  • Velocity trackers can measure bar speed and help quantitatively evaluate your day-to-day strength
  • Heart rate monitors let you dial in the intensity of your cardio or determine how long to rest between sets
Lifting and Technology
Photo By Studio 22 Olas / Shutterstock

Clearly, these are all very valuable metrics to aid your programming. But how valuable are they? Arnold certainly didn’t have a slo-mo camera or a velocity tracker. Ronnie Coleman probably didn’t, either; nor did Ed Coan or Bill Kazmaier. So clearly they’re also not necessary tools. The question, then, is not whether using a cell phone during training will ruin a workout. The real question we should be asking ourselves: how can one use technology to aid performance, rather than getting mired down in the digital world?

Four Rules for Using Technology Effectively

Rule #1: Set Your Tools Up Ahead of Time

How often have you struggled to find just the right camera angle for Instagram, only to end up balancing your phone on the corner of a plate wedged between a collar?

Or how about all the time you spent scrolling through Spotify to find the perfect workout playlist? (Pro tip: hit up Fearless Motivation!) All that nitpicking is just more of a distraction — and in many cases, it’s probably happening just before your top set, when you most need to focus on the work to come.

So instead, just set up your tech ahead of time. If it’s a camera, get a tripod and find a position for it before you start lifting. If you use a velocity tracker, same deal. A heart rate monitor, headphones, and the like should be pretty straightforward, but again: take care of these prior to your warm-up, not in the middle of a workout.

Rule #2: Save Analysis for After Your Training

If you just filmed a set of heavy squats, you’ll be tempted to review that footage immediately. Did you hit depth? Was your bar path straight? How did your glutes look in the hole? Trust me, I’ve been there! But analyzing a video (or anything else, really) during a training session can be detrimental, and not just because it’s distracting you from your next set.

For example, let’s say you were squatting a bit too high. In that case, you might be tempted to lower the weight rather than sticking to your program. It’s even worse if you bury a set and it looks easy, so you decide to bump the poundages up. Even if you make the reps, you could end up overreaching and derailing your long-term progress.

Rule #3: Don’t Overthink It

On that note: be wary of information overload. Training is practice; not every rep needs to be competition perfect. If 80% of your lifts would pass in a meet, you’re probably good. Of course, this depends on where you are in your training cycle. You’d better be hitting depth and nailing your pauses a week out from a competition.

Same deal if you’re training for a physique competition. You’re not going to be able to find the exact angle the judges will be sitting at, so don’t stress over getting every pose 100% perfect. Instead, compare yourself to yourself — and only after the posing session is over!

Rule #4: Be Picky

Above all else, remember my golden rule: find what works for you.

In this context, that’s simple. It means you shouldn’t use tools or platforms that don’t directly improve your performance. For example, if watching stronger lifters or more powerful physiques athletes on Instagram gets you fired up to nail your top set or stick to your diet, that’s great! Use those videos as inspiration. If it discourages you, that’s great too — it shows that you are already motivated to keep pushing hard.  But in the latter case, you’re better off deleting your account to better focus on what matters: improving yourself.

What are your strategies for using technology effectively during training?  Share them in the comments below!

Feature image By Studio 22 Olas / Shutterstock

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

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