BRAINS AND BRAWN ARE USUALLY CONSIDERED TO BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE — especially for women. Spitfire Athlete, an app that provides strength-training programs for women that focus on performance, is changing this misconception. Spitfire Athlete creators Nidhi Kulkarni and Erin Parker were tired of workouts designed for women that focused on creating a certain aesthetic instead of making them strong. Both women are former athletes and just so happen to be engineers also (with degrees from MIT and Stanford, respectively). Together, they created an app to help women focus on and motivate themselves through strength-training programs. Kulkarni and Parker spoke to Lady Clever about creating a fitness app different from all of the others, using Kickstarter to further their app ambitions, and the difference between “Bikini Bodybuilding” and exercising to get that “beach body.”
What was the inspiration behind Spitfire Athlete?
Erin: I used to be an avid distance runner that never strength-trained. After three marathons and a number of knee injuries later, I realized I should probably start strength-training, but I didn’t know where to start.
Everywhere I looked, resources were either about aesthetic training instead of performance training, or they didn’t explain how to train towards a specific strength goal in a credible, scientific way. Resources that were created for women seemed to be about physique, and resources created about performance-oriented training seemed to only be created for male athletes.
What if there was a credible resource about all aspects of women’s training, but made for women and catering to their needs from the very beginning? What if it was about how great you could be instead of only how great you could look? What if it covered the entire spectrum of goals from strength-training, to endurance-training, to speed, power, agility, and physique? This was the initial inspiration behind Spitfire Athlete.
Who creates the workout plans for Spitfire Athlete?
Erin: We have various certified trainers and coaches creating the plans, including: Traci Swearer (ISSA), Krista Stryker (NSCA CSCS), and Rich Thurman (NSCA CSCS).
Was it important for you to create a community for female athletes with Spitfire Athlete?
Erin: Many women’s first-time experiences in the weight room are really tough. Even after women are acquainted with the weight room, it can still be a negative place to be. People are constantly staring at you, and then people come up to you and try to give you “advice” which is probably wrong and probably very much unwanted. We thought: “Why does it have to be this way?” Young men often have older-brother figures acquainting them with the weights and “teaching them the ways.” Why can’t we have older-sister figures acquainting us with the ways of how to optimally build our strength? This is why we care a lot about community. We want to change this entire “beginning” experience for most women, so that they can be part of a supportive community of women.
Spitfire Athlete’s mission statement says that it wants women to be valued for their strength and power, but it does offer “Bikini Bodybuilding” plans. Is Bikini Bodybuilding the same thing as working out for a “beach body”?
Nidhi: Bikini Bodybuilding is an actual category within the sport of bodybuilding, and these plans are not about getting a “beach body.” Our plans show you how to train like a bodybuilding competitor in this category. If you’re constantly bombarded with pictures of sculpted physiques and six pack abs, it is far more preferable to know exactly what goes into having such a physique — hours lifting, doing very specific exercises, and planning your meals carefully over a long, long period of time. There aren’t any shortcuts. If you know how one has to live and train to have a certain physique, you will be far less susceptible to fad/crash diets, products that promise unrealistic results, and most importantly, fear-based eating/training patterns.
How did your background as athletes help you to develop a fitness app different from others on the market?
Nidhi: It was mind boggling to me that so many fitness apps and products out there promoted doing random workouts, circuits and exercises with no sense of progression or building on top of previous progress. Structured training is something every athlete is familiar with and it is the fastest, most efficient way of achieving a goal. We were able to ask ourselves: What does a coach do when designing a training program? How does she adjust it over time, based off the athlete’s performance or lifestyle? How can we embed that process in our product, and how do we scale it across many users?
Have you faced any challenges in the tech world based on your gender?
Nidhi: When I first started programming in high school, I was unnerved to find out that I was the only girl in the class. It took me a long time to accept that I had just as much talent and a right to be in that class pursuing this subject as any of the boys in that class.
Fast forward to MIT. I started to hit my stride here, because by this time I had a lot more experience coding than a number of my peers. Around my senior year, when I started interviewing for jobs at startups, I realized that most of the companies I interviewed for had very few female engineers, or none at all.
Once in Silicon Valley, the challenges became a lot more subtle. Now as founders, the set of challenges we face as women are slightly different. As a founder, you often have to convince people to take a chance on you. It’s a vicious double-standard that men are usually judged for future potential and women on past experience, so you have to carry yourself with extra confidence. On top of that, pitching a women-focused product is harder to do when the room of people you are pitching to has no women in it.
How important was it for you to partner with HealthKit and Google Fit to implement nutrition, sleep, and period data-syncing with Spitfire Athlete?
Erin: We’re really excited to do these integrations for Pro because adapting your training based on your data is exactly what a coach would do. So why should your training be static when it can be smart and adaptive?
Why did you choose the name Spitfire Athlete?
Erin: Spitfire used to describe a woman with a fiery temper. Today, the word spitfire embodies the strength, intelligence, and ambition of the modern-day woman. We are intelligent, dauntless, and driven. We are spitfires.
Well, if you’re looking for us, we’ll be up in the gym working on our fitness… with our sisters over at Spitfire Athlete.