Push talks building a Swiss Army Knife wearable for the weight room

CEO Rami Alhamad talks fitness tech, working with Intel and more
Push's wearable for the weight room

"So what's a good wearable for the gym then, not just one that counts steps?" It's one of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I write about Fitbits and Apple Watches.

The problem is that while fitness trackers are a dime a dozen, the same can't be said for trackers that will help you to build muscle, or that are aimed at people spending more time in the weights section than on the treadmill.

Read this: Work out smarter with these gym wearables

Toronto-based startup Push realised the very same thing when it decided to develop the Push band three years ago. The $289 wearable is worn on the forearm and houses accelerometer and gyroscope motion sensors that, along with its software algorithms, monitor weight training to offer actionable workout analytics. A recent Free Movement software update now also means a greater range of exercises can be tracked, and it can even measure jump height much like Vert's dedicated jump wearable.

It's already being used by sports teams, including the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion. But that's just the start for Rami Alhamad, CEO at Push, who told us he's used every fitness device under the sun. He recalled his first encounter with wearable tech that sparked the idea to try and build his own.

"My background is in engineering and I played rugby throughout high school," Alhamad told us. "A few years after graduating and working in the field I was interested in seeing in what the Nike Fuelband had to offer. The thing I found really lacklustre from an athlete's perspective was that I didn't find the metrics they were providing very useful.

"I thought about whether you could use those same accelerometer and gyroscopes sensors to monitor training load in the weights room, to give athletes a better insight into their strength training program, progressing and showing them where they can fit in more training and push themselves."

Elite athletes over casual step trackers

Push on building a Swiss Army Knife wearable for the weights room

Rami and his team of engineers, designers and sport scientists decided early on to shift their focus to elite and aspiring athletes, as well as coaches that want to gain that extra edge on the competition. Alhamad believes early adopters and power users are still benefiting most from fitness-focused wearables. So why not target the Fitbit owners out there?

"I think there's still a long way to go when you think about the general population and the average amateur athlete," he told us. "I think we are still in the 1994 days of the internet with wearable tech. Everyone is in agreement that there's great potential ahead and there's much more that can be done. For everyday consumers there isn't one or two pieces of technology that can cover everything."

Getting in shape for the gym

Push on building a Swiss Army Knife wearable for the weights room

While the sensors delivering the motion tracking have been knocking around in fitness trackers and smartwatches for a few years now, there were still some pretty serious technical challenges to overcome in getting Push gym-ready. Whether that was the rigorous testing to get accuracy where it needed to be, or stressing and obsessing over the final design.

Read this: Best wearables for VO2 Max tried and tested

"In our initial iterations we looked at thousands of different designs," Alhamad said. "Very quickly we realised that if you put this on the wrist you immediately obstruct movement and a lot of different exercises that athletes commonly used. So we pushed it further up the arm closer to the elbow.


"We also had to think about giving it a low profile. We work with rugby athletes, a host of football teams, volleyball teams and even work with a ballet company. We wanted it to work with a wide variety of people, both men and women. On the software front we had to think about what would a weight session look like for the typical user to try to design our application so you only need to see it during your rest period. You can theoretically do an entire session without looking at the screen once."

As far as testing goes, Chris Chapman, director of sport science at Push, breaks down exactly what was required to get it up to standard. Chapman's training is in quantitative biomechanics and he previously worked as a strength conditioning coach at the Canadian Sport Institute. That's where he got to see early prototypes of the device.

"We'd bring the wearable over to the biomechanics lab at the University of Toronto and validate the output against gold standard motion capture," Chapman explained. "The goal is to get to close as gold standard as possible. You're never going to get it to the accuracy of a quarter of a million dollar motion capture system, but that being said we got it at a point that it's so close that it can actually be a valuable tool. There's various academic institutions around the world that have looked at our product and literature out there that has shown our product is reliable."

The rivals and teaming up with Intel

Push on building a Swiss Army Knife wearable for the weights room

Push is not the only wearable out there that's promising to offer better tracking for weight training, and we've already encountered a few of its competitors: the likes of crowdfunding success story GymWatch, or Atlas and its Wristband and upcoming Shape fitness band. Like any good company, Push is well aware of its closest rivals but still believes it has the edge over the current crop of gym wearables.

"We've tried and tested them all and pay attention to the way the industry is going," Chapman said. "GymWatch is a little bit more consumer based, but we don't see many of them. I've lived this. I'm the end user for these products. The focus for us is still on this accelerometer and gyroscope combo inside a small wearable that can measure human movement. That's where we think the industry is going to move forward.

"Most people are using single sensor models, but what you're going to see is the fusion of multiple sensors on the body to get more 3D stuff. The beauty of the accelerometer and the gyroscope is that you're more limited by the software than the hardware."


Another way to stay ahead of the competition is to continually improve the device you already have. Alhamad and Chapman say the Push Band has evolved dramatically since they started working on it back in 2013, whether that's tinkering with the form factor or getting the software to become more streamlined so users can focus on the heavy job at hand.

It's also well aware of the big trends in wearable tech, in particular in the realms of machine learning or AI. A recent report revealed that one in three wearables will ship with AI in 2017, and Push is already looking at how it can create a more personalised workout experience.

"We have a project that we are working on with Intel at the moment that has to do with miniaturizing our sensors and embedding them right into the apparel for a more seamless user experience," Alhamad said. "It looks at how we use machine learning to build a tool that can create a smart coach in the moment and long term to help you get to your goals. Those are the kind of things we expect to see in the next two or three years from the wearable industry."


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