CrossFit is a zeitgeist among fitness gurus and iron-lifting junkies. With 2 million CrossFitters globally, 12,000 CrossFit gyms, and 300,000 NCAA college athletes, numbers alone prove real gains in the industry. If you’re a CrossFitter or athlete yourself, you know this only means more competition. While there are many wearables that track running and cycling activities, there’s a gap in the CrossFit industry that maps and analyzes your form; a gap where Form Lifting found its fit.
Form Lifting is a weight collar 3D printed electronic for your barbell that provides real-time feedback on performance and style, while juxtapositioning these numbers against your own progress and others in the community, even worldwide. Every measurement you keep at the gym, is now tracked and recorded through analyzed metrics on your phone, without interrupting your workout. Your personal lifting coach now fits in your gym bag.
rhubarb’s Kelsey Coppetti sits down with Scott Mahr, CEO and founder of Form Lifting, a CrossFit-aficionado.
K: Tell us about Form Lifting and how it works:
S: The form collar is a device that measures the form and performance of olympic lifts. It’s a weight collar just like any lifter uses, but our weight collar has special electronics in it to measure lifts and collect data that’s sent back to your phone. It breaks each lift down into a series of metrics, and color-codes good lifts versus bad lifts. By knowing how you performed in each part of a lift, you can improve those lifts and compare to other lifters at your gym and around the world in a social network. You can share metrics with friends or view people’s public lifts. The CrossFit community are early adopters of lifting, and are wanting to share this information and compete with each other.
K: How did you come up with the idea?
S: I’ve been involved in sports for a long time, and all of those sports have tools to help you measure your progress and improvement, such as GPS watches for running, power meter for cycling. Once I started CrossFit, the key idea was to measure your performance on a larger scale, like how long it takes you to do a workout. It seemed crazy to me that there wasn’t a way to measure the smaller scale of an individual lift. As an engineer I know if you can’t measure it, it’s very hard to improve it.
K: How are you validating your idea?
S: We are lifting with lifters every week. That is by far the main validation. Working with lifters directly shows us how the product performs in these sometimes stressful, high-energy environments. It’s especially exciting to go to a gym and see two lifters competing with Form Lifting because it lets you measure people who are lifting different amounts of weight on metrics that aren’t related to weight. Someone who lifts 300 lbs can compete with someone who lifts 150 lbs for let’s say, a better hip drive. It’s as if you can measure something like body fat on every single rep.
K: How did you come up with these metrics?
S: We talked with lifters, coaches, and people who already use technology, to measure lifts in various ways to accumulate the most obvious metrics. We looked at a whole bunch of lifts and we knew who the good and bad lifters were by where their metrics fell. Currently, the metrics are very abstract and we don’t have a way to talk about them directly, so when you say a certain number corresponds to a certain aspect of the lift, CrossFitters and lifters know what you’re talking about — you’re putting a number to a form. It allows you to see progress and performance without needing a coach to provide feedback.
K: What kind of technologies are you using to create Form Lifting?
S: The landscape for hardware development engineering is amazing right now; it’s very easy to get a quick prototype. When I started Form, within two weeks we had something to strap onto a bar and see output on our phone. Before we did any work with data analysis, we saw great results from that. We’ve been through probably five or six electronic prototypes so far, with our most recent created by a professional at a production level, that’s ready for mass market. One of our strategies is that we use a collar already made for lifting, and attach electronics to it. The collar part of it is standard and normal to lifters.
K: Do you feel 3D printing is leading the next industrial revolution?
S: Absolutely. I own a 3D printer so when we were doing iterations on the mechanical design we were able to print a new one every day. We could rapidly test three different colors in three days. The challenge with all 3D companies right now is they’re trying to make it usable by the mass market and not just by engineers, but the toughest part is generating content. As an engineer it’s pretty easy for me to draw up what I want to create and print it. Whereas, non-engineers don’t have the tools or knowledge to make the product what they want; it already has to exist on the internet so you can download it and print it. Let’s say a knob breaks off in your car and you want to print it out and snap it on — that’s coming very soon.
K: How is Form fitting into and bettering the realm of health and fitness therapy?
S: One side of Form is about performance. If you are a NFL level athlete, Form can track your performance and fine-tune your training regimen towards specific goals. The other side of Form is towards safety. There’s a form of training where you keep a constant speed on your lifts, and as soon as you go below that you can drop the weight and keep lifting. By doing things like this, you can see where Form is breaking metrics down before injuries happen. Then you can either stop lifting or reduce the weight to prevent them. It helps beginner athletes and leads to engagement of people in the weightlifting community, which is something that is extremely beneficial health-wise that many people feel intimidated by.
K: Can you walk us through Form Lifting’s user experience?
S: We collect data at 200 times a second and that data is sent in real time to your phone. Depending on what lift you’re doing, there’s different key metrics that are important to a successful lift. The key metrics you have selected will tell you the value of that metric numerically. We have mapped those numbers to red and green, but you can also just focus on improving those numbers. A good use of that is doing five lifts, seeing your baseline, and doing drills to improve one aspect of your lift. Then at the end, you do five more of that lift and see if you’ve improved. So it’s measuring to get better. The raw output is a graph of the force you applied throughout the whole lift. From that, we take those key metrics that are tailored for those who aren’t used to the product. For advanced users, if you look at the raw data you can see a wealth of other information that wouldn’t show up in the key metrics.
K: Do you have plans of expanding the product outside of lifting?
S: Yeah. The challenge of any kind of wearable is not collecting data, that’s easy, but feeding back to the users in a useful way. That’s why we’ve chosen to focus on olympic lifting and barbell lifts, because in narrowing our focus we can deliver very specific and actual data on those activities. The obvious next step would be to make other products around measuring barbell lifts, and also move into measuring other sorts of movements in CrossFit like kettlebell. Or more complex video analysis tools for lifting.
K: What advice can you give to other entrepreneur’s building a startup?
S: The most important thing is to do something you’re excited about. It’ll be way more work than you can anticipate. If it’s something you’re excited about, all that extra work will just feel like more fun. It’s much easier to keep going and finish.
K: What’s your vision for Form Lifting?
S: We’re turning lifting from an art form into a science. Right now when you lift, you have coaches that direct you on your form but really, it’s all about trying new things and seeing what feels good and what works for yourself. Form lifting is changing that art into a science with numbers and metrics and changing how we think about lifting. It’s the logical extension of measuring and quantifying your exercise. For every lift there are three numbers that define that lift and make it easy to compare to your stats with others or previous lifts.