“MuscleWiki” Is a Free, Unassuming Internet Tool That Will Improve All Your Workouts
It's a barebones, no-nonsense affair. That's the point.
The same summer that I maxed out in the bench press, I was maintaining an Excel “lifting spreadsheet” with a friend of mine from college. We’d open the file at different times throughout the week and jot down weights, reps and assorted notes on form or feel. Anything we’d noticed during our most recent workouts was fair game. As a result, it was a messy, oversized doc, doomed to never make out of August. Still, while it lasted, I remember marveling how DIY, completely free fitness tracking could be just as motivating and effective as mediums I have spent (and continue to spend) good money on.
The recent wellness revolution, after all, has relied on the pitch-perfect packaging of apps, wearables and niche studio spaces tailored to everything from boxing to recovery training to working out in an icebox. I’ve gladly taken most of these trends out for a spin. And yet, similar to earning results with a dusty set of cast-iron weights or at an ancient corner gym, your body doesn’t care how Instagram-friendly your fitness routine is. It’s ultimately loyal to consistent effort. Whatever medium you employ to make that happen is entirely your prerogative. I’ve had personal trainers, I’ve used monthly subscription apps and I’ve dropped notes in a spreadsheet that looks like it’s trying to solve a murder. But recently, I’ve been all in on an online tool called MuscleWiki.
Founded by Ryan Watson, a British engineer who works for Brave Software, MuscleWiki is a database dedicated to making fitness simple. It accomplishes that, in part, by presenting as an extremely simple website. The crux of the user experience always comes back to the musclebound figurine you see pictured above. After you select a male or female frame, you can scroll around the body, and muscle groups light up red one by one. Once you’ve found one you’re interested in — say, shoulders — you can choose between Exercises, Stretches, Bodyweight or Kettlebells. Each category has around four or five moves, with corresponding GIFs on endless loops and bullet explainers on how to pull them off without hurting yourself.
The “wiki” suffix used here is actually a slight misnomer: MuscleWiki is not open to edits from the general public. (Although it does keep an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, so feel free to suggest an addition or deletion, at your own discretion.) The website is run by Watson, an editor, a videographer, a manager and four contributors. That said, time spent on MuscleWiki is remarkably reminiscent to clicking through Wikipedia, and that is by design. Each hyperlink leads to an accessible, digestible bit of knowledge. Only, these factoids — and the multimedia that accompanies them — aren’t meant to just enrich the brain. They improve the body, too.
My latest MuscleWiki workout centered on the shoulders. I generated a four-move circuit from the Exercises page (seated dumbbell shoulder press, side lateral raises, front raises and bent-over rear delt fly three times through, with varying weights and reps for each move) and closed with two moves from the Bodyweight section (bench dips and decline push-ups, three sets, 15 reps each). The total routine took me just 25 minutes, but that was all I had time for on that particular day. I’d gladly do it again, and I could incorporate more bodyweight moves next time — especially if I find myself somewhere without access to dumbbells — or mix in another muscle group, like the chest, traps or triceps, to extend the total session and expand the upper-body focus.
Therein lies the beauty of MuscleWiki, godsent life hack that it is. There are zero limitations or expectations on what you should do, what order you should do it in, or how long you should do it. That’s not to say you can’t mess up — strength training without a personal trainer always leaves lifters open to working too hard, or not hard enough — but that learning curve is encouraged by the no-frills notes MuscleWiki offers to help you become your own boss over time. In the site’s About section, it vows to create an environment that “isn’t intimidating or exclusive.” Watson and Co. are well on their way.
MuscleWiki obviously didn’t discover or pioneer the wisdom it offers. But it’s done better than most in a crowded, overly flashy industry to make that material simple and accessible, if a bit boring. But boring is sometimes good. The most successful fitness journeys subsist on a dull patriotism to routine. MuscleWiki doesn’t have to oust whatever app you’re spending cash on, or whatever class you’re hoping to rejoin in the next month or so, but consider it a reliable wellspring of advice and ideas in a fitness future that remains full of question marks. You can turn to it for a full workout or to better understand whatever workout you just completed. Like the more famous Wiki that inspired it, it’ll deliver what you’re looking for quickly and succinctly, and always free of charge.
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