Tech for your connected self

Be like Messi: Pathonix's muscle sensors could help you play like a legend

Pathonix could change how athletes train

Many wearables give us checks on how our bodies are doing throughout the day. They detect heart rate, movement and even sleep, and for the most part these metrics are an indicator of how much stress you're putting your body under. If you're running hard, your heart rate is going up. If you're not sleeping well, your sleep stages numbers are off.

Kevin Reilly, CEO of Pathonix Innovations, wants to go further with the company's new wearable sensors. Reilly is no fan of tracking metrics with wearables. Step counts? Miles? Floors climbed? He argues that they don't tell you the entire story of your body's performance, they're just tallies.

Read this: What athletes want from wearables

"What does that mean in the context of who you are? Are you an Olympic athlete or are you an 80-year-old man? Those 10,000 steps mean very different things to your body."

Pathonix's wearable sensors tell you how efficient your muscles are

Instead, Pathonix's technology allows the company to look at the metabolism of muscles. It can see how hard the muscles are working and how good a job your body is doing in providing that muscle with oxygen, which in turn can keep it functioning for a longer period of time.

This is done with a series of sensors that are about the size of rubber bands. They can be lined into clothing, from muscle shirts to compression pants. Pathonix wants to be able to track muscles, so it needs to be able to keep tabs on your entire body. If you're a runner or a cyclist, the compression pants will do. If you're a baseball player or a cricketer, a muscle shirt that logs your back and shoulder muscles is a better option.

It's like a video game… there's an energy meter that tells you how much stamina your character has – except for real life.

The sensors shine a near infrared light into your muscles, and that tells the device how you muscles are consuming oxygen and how efficiently your body is supplying it.

"It allows us to measure how hard the muscle is working but more importantly how the athlete's body is actually responding to that level of intensity," Reilly tells Wareable.

From there, Pathonix is able to use the data to determine how much energy your body uses. Reilly compares it to a sports video game, where there's an energy meter that tells you how much stamina your character has.

This allows Pathonix to determine how much energy a person has, how quickly they'll burn that energy and how much they're using before it's depleted. More importantly, determining how the body uses energy allows Pathonix to be able to game the system. It means that Pathonix can figure out what workouts an athlete might need to do in order to increase their body's energy use.

The player factor

Pathonix's wearable sensors tell you how efficient your muscles are

Player management is undergoing a transformation. For nearly a century, coaches have used intuition to help determine how to manage a player's workload. They had to feel out how a player was feeling and determine whether they were working them too hard or too lightly.

Even worse, when a player comes back from injury, a coach had to try to figure out the balance between easing them back into the game and not over-training them and aggravating an injury. Pathonix's technology would help avoid injuries, as increased efficiency usually means your body is doing less work, thus giving it less of a chance of getting injured. It also means that coaches would be better able to see how well rested a player was, avoiding over-training.

That's the basic stuff though; the real meat of Pathonix's technology lies in how it can help players prioritise exercises for their desired skill set. For example, in the world of soccer a midfielder needs endurance; they need to be able to run for a long time and not get tired. Pathonix's tech would allow coaches to measure the energy output of a midfielder in the context of endurance and then recommend exercises that could increase those endurance levels.

If someone wants to learn how to play soccer like Messi, we can tell them how to do that

A striker relies on bursts of energy and the ability to quickly recover so that they can do it again and again and again. Pathonix would be able to monitor how fast they use energy for their burst and how quickly they recover it, recommending exercises that improve both.

So while strategy, natural skill and hard work are often seen as reasons athletes succeed, Reilly argues that efficient energy use is the thing that ties it altogether into a great athletic performance. He points to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who was able to recover energy extremely quickly. "It's a lot easier to keep your head in the game when you're fresh and rested."

Must read: Trying out PlayerTek's smart vest

Pathonix is in final testing right now, but it plans to roll out beta testing in fall 2018 before shipping to professional teams in early 2019. The company isn't stopping there though; once it has enough data from professional athletes, from all manners of sports and positions, it's hoping to be able to use its data to help regular people train like the pros.

"If someone wants to learn how to play soccer like Messi, we can tell them how to do that," says Reilly. "And we can tell them what they need to be in order to perform well at those sports."


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