Forget step tracking, a wave of new super intelligent tracking devices are due to land in 2015, and the sports stats we obsess over could be about to change forever.
Essential reading: Fitness wearables tips and guides
At CES 2015, we were treated to an array of new fitness wearables, from smart garments to sensor-filled sticking plasters, and most of them tout brand new metrics, that are trickling down from pro-sports.
From breathing rate to high metabolic load distance (we’ll explain later) what you’re able to monitor is hitting pro sport levels, but will do us mere mortals really want or need it? Wareable’s fitness tech expert, Kieran Alger, delves deeper.
24/7 heart rate
The AmpStrip is a thin, sensor-filled waterproof wearable that looks like a giant plaster you stick to your chest. More discreet and comfortable than a chest strap, it offers the potential for accurate around-the-clock heart rate and activity monitoring.
It uses hypoallergenic medical-grade adhesives, to stick onto your skin to track heart rate and zones, resting heart rate, and heart rate recovery, not only during workouts but also during rest, recovery and sleep. It’ll also pick up respiration, skin temperature and posture and can store data locally or fire it data wirelessly to a mobile app either in real-time or at the next connection.
Aside from looking like the kind of product you could wear all day, the really clever thing about the AmpStrip is that it automatically picks up when your activity changes from say a walk to a run, without you having to press any buttons. That’s the theory anyway. This opens the door for 24/7 data that also breaks out your day-to-day activity from your workout sessions.
We’re yet to test the device but the AmpStrip looks very capable, enough at least to land an innovation award at CES 2015. I’ll have to wait until one’s been stuck to my chest for three days before I comment on the comfort but the idea of 24/7 heart rate monitoring is definitely going to be a big trend. The ability to assess the impact of that third cup of coffee or the post-lunch 3pm slump in real time will be a powerful selling point.
However, 24/7 monitoring is already coming to the wrist, in the form of the Jawbone UP3 and Basis Peak, and those don't require buying new sticky pads, or losing your body hair. Whether this is the right solution remains to be seen.
High Metabolic Load Distance
If you’ve been watching any TV football news recently, you may have noticed players running around training grounds in what look like sports bras. The Premier League’s finest haven’t all suddenly developed man boobs that need strapping down – what you’re seeing is the STATSports Viper system.
It’s a GPS unit with accelerometers that pair with a heart rate chest strap to track the players as they train.
What makes the STATSports so interesting is the extra data it gives coaches. In addition to heart rate, they also get stats like High Metabolic Load Distance. This reports a player's distance cover running at high speed and the distance covered while they're accelerating or decelerating above 2m/s². It allows credit to be given to players who don’t get into high speed running zones because they spend more time covering short, sharp distances. It recognises the intensity of the work can be just as great as running for longer at high speed.
In laymen’s terms, a player who has only done 4km in short sharp bursts can have worked as hard as someone who’s run 11km over 90 minutes. These stats have started to replace the slightly lazy “run further equals worked harder” numbers commentators have been used to dishing out.
You’ll hear commentators spouting these stats soon.
The STATSports system is easily the most powerful tracking tool I’ve ever worn. At the moment it’s very much a professional sports tool but with a big trend for things like CrossFit, Insanity and BootCamp fitness, where short, sharp explosive movements are key. I can see a place for a consumer-friendly Viper system that tracks those activities better. Anyone playing fast moving team sport will also benefit, for example amateur footballers, rugby and basketball players out there would find this data fascinating.
There is one caveat: the data the Viper’s partner software provides does quickly move into deep sports science so any new product would need to come with meaningful, easy to action recommendations that us mortals can understand.
State of mind
Spire claims to be the first tracker that’ll monitor “activity, breath and state of mind.” The Zen master of fitness wearables, it wants to provide data that can help you manage stress, breathe better and stay focused.
The Spire is a small clip that can be be worn on your waist or attached to your bra. Inside isa patent-pending sensor delivering 7-axis data that tracks breathing patterns and activity to help you “see moments of tension, focus and calm” all of which can be streamed wirelessly to your smartphone.
The Spire claims it can look at your breathing rate and record the amount of time you spend in a state of focus, tension, calm or activity. When you’re in danger of getting stressed or losing focus, it’ll also alert you and offer guided breathing exercises to help restore your state of serene sharpness.
I’ve been breathing on and off for about 36 years now and being told I’m doing it wrong is a little hard to take. However, I’ve seen first hand the dramatic effect a good run of deep breaths can have on your resting and active heart rate, and I’m open to the idea that paying more attention to your breathing throughout the day could be beneficial.
Stress levels affect everything from heart health to how much fat we store and where we pile it, so maximising calm could play a crucial role in over all health and fitness.
However, even if the Spire can convince us of the benefits of tracking out breathing, I think it will be quickly surpassed by smart garments that offer the same information but without the need for a clunky clip on.
True calorific burn
SmartLife smart garments
Calorie counting is something most people are familiar with. A long-standing habit of the health and fitness obsessed, the problem is that most products rely on accelerometer data to guess what activity you’re doing and then use standard equations based on age, gender and weight to estimate your calorific burn. This leaves you with a guestimate but not the real number.
If you then use this to calculate how much to eat, you could be in trouble. You’ll either be allowing yourself a treat you’ve not earned or not giving your body the fuel it really needs.
SmartLife smart garments aim to fix this. A new range of clothing that’s due to land sometime this year, SmartLife want to use sensors built into your clothing to give you a range of previously unseen data - one of which is an accurate calorie burn, based on how your heart rate responds to exercise and activity. A stat which can’t be cheated.
Just like the AmpStrip, if SmartLife can offer 24-7 heart rate monitoring in way that’s comfortable and simple, the uptake will be huge, not just from sports people but for the everyday too.
However, having sensors built into our normal clothing is still something I’m struggling with. Will all boxer shorts and bras carry sensors?
Will men need to wear chipped vests for accurate stats? It will happen eventually but I think it’ll be a while before every fashion brand you love carries tiny trackers. Expect it to become ubiquitous in sports wear first.