- Lightweight, supportive
- Comprehensive data
- No power button
- Questionable HR accuracy
- iOS only
Ask any millennial in yoga pants what's cool right now and they'll tell you it's all about living mindfully. Eating mindfully, shopping mindfully, and even exercising mindfully. That's where the OMbra comes in. The first wearable specifically designed for women from Canadian tech startup OMsignal, the $169 OMbra is smart sports clothing that promises to get women running 'mindfully'.
But what does running mindfully mean? A mindful run, by OMsignal's definition, means getting to your goal faster and with less risk of injury. This smart sports bra wants to help you get there by analysing various biometrics during your run, and providing comprehensive feedback.
So, the OMbra aims to help women listen to their bodies for that ultimate mindful run. It sounded like an odd concept to me at first, but the more I wore the bra the more I bought into the idea. Hey, I'll take a shortcut any day, so the OMbra sounded right up my alley. But does it work? And – possibly more importantly – did it fit?
OMsignal OMbra: Design and fit
A sports bra is an important piece of kit for any woman who wants to go running. It's got to provide some serious support (depending on your anatomy), and in my case at least, it had its work cut out for it. Being top-heavy it's difficult to find a sports bra that's not only comfortable and lightweight, but does the job too – and the OMbra gets a ten out of ten from me. It's incredibly supportive while remaining as comfortable as a sports bra can be.
The bra itself is made of a lightweight moisture-wicking stretch fabric to help keep you cool, and is interspersed with mesh panelling for breathability. There are adjustable front straps as well as an adjustable hook and eye closure at the back so you should be able to find a combination which works for you. A thick panel at the bottom of the bra helps keep everything in nice and tight, and there's also an ever so subtle fabric underwire.
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Five clip pins sit on the left of the bottom panel – these connect to a small black box which you'll have to clip in every time you want to use the bra. The black box stores all your data and is the brains behind the bra. You can chuck the bra in the wash as long as you've detached that black box – the box is rain, sweat and splash proof, but not washing-machine proof.
If you're not used to wearing a chest strap for heart rate monitoring you might find the bottom panel slightly tight and restrictive. Small sensors embedded into the panel pick up both your heart rate and breathing rhythm so if it's not tight enough it won't do the job. You get used to the feeling – and it also helps keep everything nicely supported – but you'll probably want to take off the bra as soon as you've finished your run.
OMsignal OMbra: How it works
So, back to that mindful running. The idea behind the OMbra is that it will let you know when you're training in either your Endurance, Race or Peak zone by analysing your heart rate and breathing rhythm. The theory is you'll get fitter faster and reduce your risk of injury by spending 80% of your training time in your Endurance zone, and 20% in your Peak zone. Race zone is somewhere in the middle.
Audio prompts when you're running not only let you know your distance, cadence, time and heart rate, but also what zone you're in. Follow the 80/20 rule like gospel – and that's running mindfully.
The sensors sit on the inside of the OMbra's bottom panel, reading your body's bio-signals. The sensors help figure out which zone you're in by picking up your heart rate bpm, and by recognising when your ribcage is expanding and contracting. This information is converted into how hard your lungs are working at any one time and the data is transferred into the data box which also contains an accelerometer to track your steps. Cadence, pace, stride length and calories burned are calculated using OMsignal's algorithms.
The bra is currently only for runners, so if you're a gym junkie this one might not be for you. You'll also have to be running outside under an open sky for the GPS tracking to work, although an indoor running feature is coming soon.
OMsignal OMbra: Run tracking
After using the OMbra five times, the tech figures out your own personal Anaerobic Threshold (AT) and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) – the points at which your body changes 'zone'. Running below your VT (the point at which your breathing gets faster but you still feel in control of it) means you're in your Endurance zone; running above your AT (the point at which you can no longer control your breathing) means you're in Peak zone.
Keeping within that zone 80/20 zone quota should see you "maximize progress and burn more fat while helping to reduce risk of injuries and unnecessary fatigue".
I tracked the OMbra against the TomTom Runner sports watch for heart rate and distance accuracy. While the two presented similar heart rate graphs after my run, the HR average given at the end by the two differed by almost 10bpm – which is concerning. Pace was also slightly off, with the TomTom watch putting me at 5:22 min/km, and the OMbra at 5:30 min/km. It's up to you whether that's a dealbreaker and it probably depends on what you're aiming towards.
OmSignal OMbra: App
After your run, you can analyse how well you did at sticking within your zones through the iPhone app or a web browser. The information syncs automatically and you'll get a congratulatory email after every run. If you're running on an Android you're out of luck – the OMbra is currently only compatible with iOS devices. OMsignal hopes to have it available on Android sometime next year.
The app is relatively basic, and only shows limited data from your latest run including zone information, average pace, time and distance. For a complete breakdown of metrics, you'll have to head to the web page. There's currently no third-party support, although there are plans to release the API which will enable you to import your data into other applications.
OMsignal OMbra: Battery life
The battery life of the black box is solid, decreasing by around 10% every time I took it out for a 40 minute run. The issue is there's no manual power switch, so the box will turn itself on every time it senses movement.
This means you could put the box in your gym bag before work, throw it around during the day and come to use it in the evening after work only to find the battery is completely dead. This happened to me several times, and it was seriously frustrating. Luckily it only takes around 15 minutes to get to a 30% charge, which is plenty enough for one run – but it's still annoying. It charges through a micro-USB port hidden at the back of the box.
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