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Data from apps help athletes raise the bar

The mobile app from Ubersense is used by elite athletes from 20 different sports — among them bobsledders.ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE 2010

Olympic triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker made a critical change in his fitness regimen, based on input from one of his trainers. But it didn’t come from his running, swimming, or biking coach; rather, it was from a Web program he uses to monitor key biomarkers in his blood.

The program, InsideTracker, found that Shoemaker had high levels of Vitamin D, which could lead to muscle fatigue and weight loss. So at InsideTracker’s suggestion, he cut back on eggs and milk and started eating more strawberries, corn, and celery. His vitamin D levels dropped, and Shoemaker avoided hitting a wall in his training.


“Blood biomarkers are the key to understanding fitness and well-being,” said Gil Blander, cofounder of Segterra, the company behind ­InsideTracker. “If you know what’s happening in your body, you have a good chance of reaching your goals.”

Once the province of elite athletes, such specialized or sophisticated training help is now available to weekend warriors who want to get more serious about improving their sports performance. Recent advancements in mobile technology have helped spawn a cultural phenomenon known as “the quantified self.” And as it has in so many other lines of technology, the Boston area is developing a large family of companies that have created apps, Web programs, or clever devices to usher in this age of self­measurement.

“It’s personalized computing meets self-help,” quipped Ryan Moore, a partner at Atlas­ Venture, a Cambridge venture capital firm that invests in health and wellness technologies.

Companies such as ­RunKeeper, Lose It, FitLinxx, and EveryFit make apps that can track movements, distance, or calories, while more health-focused programs such as InsideTracker and RestWise measure key biological data.

Even the average duffer can have a professional-level coach — or a workout program worthy of an elite athlete — thanks to programs such as UberSense and GoPro Workouts.


GoPro Workouts provides eight-week sport-specific workouts designed by professional athletes, so that skiers looking to get ready for winter can follow Olympic medalist Hannah Kearney’s workouts, or soccer players can see why US Women’s National Team captain Christie Rampone is in such great shape.

“The things that make you better as an athlete are fitness, training, and the information you have access to,” said Jared Antista, cofounder of GoPro Workouts. “What better way to give you information than from the elite athletes themselves.”

Ubersense was founded by two competitive athletes who wanted to improve their golf game, but it is used by elite athletes in 20 sports, including tennis and baseball players and figure skaters and bobsledders. The mobile app uses video to diagram an athlete’s stance and swing for the proper positioning and mechanics. With split-screen comparisons and on-screen markups, coaches are able to show players what they did right or where they went wrong — even from remote locations.

“Video is key in sports,” said Amit Jardosh, who cofounded Ubersense in 2011 with his friend Krishna Ramchandran. “Why not use your phone to record yourself and share the video with a coach who can provide feedback?”

For a group of companies in the highly competitive tech sector, the Massachusetts makers of sports and fitness aids are unusually chummy with each other. Some of that is because of the cross-discipline nature of their subjects; if a runner wants to record his distance and times, he is likely to be interested in counting calories and watching pounds — and wants to see all this information in one place.


Happily, many companies are designing Web-based or mobile applications that work with complementary programs.

“Because everyone has their own niche, it’s better to partner rather than compete,” said Blander, the Segterra cofounder. His company is currently working with the United Kingdom-based mobile app ithlete to gather heart-rate data and with RunKeeper, the mobile workout tracker, to integrate weight data in InsideTracker.

“That’s why I like all these companies that measure sleep, distance, and calories,” he said. “All that information is great for us to be able to tap into.”

Cambridge-based RunKeeper is also collaborating with Lose It, a mobile app that combines calorie tracking and social support to help users lose weight. Anytime a Lose It user logs a workout in RunKeeper, that workout shows up in his Lose It account as an exercise. The more he uses RunKeeper, the more credit is recorded in the daily calorie budget.

The partnership is the brainchild of Patrick Wetherille, vice president of product marketing at FitNow Inc., the Boston company that makes Lose It.

“There’s something about the Boston start-up community that is fairly unique,” Wetherille said. “It’s small and tightknit. We’re able to make connections.”

Even though a crowd is developing in Boston, the fitness-technology business is in its early stages, said Jason Jacobs, founder of RunKeeper, which has 14 million users. “There are a lot more start-ups than five years ago, but compared to [Silicon] Valley, we’re still a pup.”


And they have barely dented the market: 15 percent of adults with cellphones use health applications on their devices, according to the Pew Internet & American Life survey, while more than one-third of Americans are obese.

Meanwhile, at InsideTracker, improving fitness begins with quantifying what’s in the blood. The program monitors 20 key “biomarkers,” such as iron levels and hemoglobin, when samples are submitted to designated labs and then recommends dietary changes or other interventions when it detects an adverse amount of one of the biomarkers.

“Especially as an endurance athlete, if any of these markers are off, your performance is going to suffer,” said Shoemaker, a native of Sudbury whose training this week will include swimming 4,000 yards, running 50 miles, and cycling for 10 hours. “Having all the data in one place has been invaluable for my career.”

Some popular apps

GOPRO WORKOUTS: Provides sport-specific training programs designed by professional athletes, including skier Hannah Kearney.

UBERSENSE: The video tool diagrams mechanics and form for athletes such as US skeleton racers.

INSIDETRACKER: It tracks key biomarkers and provides dietary advice to competitors such as triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker.

RESTWISE: A way to get training advice based on vital signs and other health indicators, it was used by US Olympic rowers.