Having a device that tracks steps and calories is a great fitness tool for many people. But for those who know the difference between a drop set and a superset, a tracker that can identify different weightlifting activities may be more useful.
Now that fitness trackers have been around for a while, developers are taking them to the next level. The resulting products are more robust than the glorified pedometers we’re familiar with, but the added functionality is not without a cost. Not surprisingly, the more specialized the tracker the more it costs.
These devices are primarily designed for people who are comfortable in the free weights and cables area of their gym. Here’s a closer look at some of the trackers specifically designed for strength training.
The Atlas Wristband is a recent offering from Atlas Wearables. As with most fitness trackers, it includes an app that you download to your smartphone, which then syncs to the wristband via Bluetooth. The app is compatible with both iOS and Android phones.
There are three options for using the device.
Freestyle mode allows you to choose your own routine from a list of exercises within the app. Each exercise comes with a short how-to video. After you choose up to 15 of the exercises from the list, tap the sync button and they are downloaded to your Atlas Wristband. Hit the weights! The device will automatically track your workout, displaying the exercise, number of reps, and weight (which you’ll likely have to edit since the app can’t detect the actual weight you’re pushing). You can edit what you’ve done on the fly, or simply keep going. As long as you are doing the exercises on your list, it’s recorded. When you’re finished with your workout, sync again with your phone and the data is moved to the app, where it delivers feedback to help you reach your goals.
Coach mode gives you the option of a number of predetermined routines. Choose from workouts that focus on whole-body toning, core and chest, or absolute strength. As in Freestyle mode, choose your routine, sync with your device, and begin your workout. Again, you’re able to edit your weight and reps after completing a set. After you finish, sync again with your phone to see your workout data displayed. Coach mode also offers a vibration alarm and timer to mark the beginning and end of sets, while tracking reps, rest, and active time to give you feedback on your endurance.
Heart-Rate mode can be used if you’re going for a run or ride and simply want to monitor your heart rate and calories burned, which is also available in the two other modes.
An accelerometer and gyroscope create a 3-D trail associated with the unique path of each exercise. In this way the device is able to provide feedback on your form. It also makes it important for you to closely follow the form demonstrated in the video, or the device won’t recognize the exercise. The device itself has an easy-to-read touchscreen, making it unnecessary to carry your phone with you during your workout . . . unless you want to listen to music.
The Atlas wristband isn’t designed for use outside the gym, but the Atlas website promises a number of upgrades in the coming year, including all-day use features such as step tracking and sleep tracking. These additions would also require better battery life, which currently is advertised to last for one week of one-hour workouts. Charging takes one to two hours via micro-USB. Although the device is waterproof, it doesn’t track swimming.
There is a comprehensive blog with specific instructions for a variety of exercises, and lots of information and other support available on the website, which also promises regular updates, more exercises, and more functionality forthcoming. If Atlas can deliver on these promises, the $250 price tag might just provide you with a truly functional, and reliable, gym buddy.
This space-age looking device was actually developed with elite and professional athletes in mind. Like the Atlas, PUSH tracks and analyzes your weight training and provides actionable feedback designed to help you improve performance and reduce your risk of injury from overtraining. It doesn’t track your calories, steps, or sleep; it’s specifically designed to measure your performance and provide feedback to help you improve during strength training.
PUSH measures both the velocity and power you exert during each rep using an accelerometer and gyroscope, paired with highly advanced algorithms. Velocity and power have been shown to be excellent predictors of performance. For example, if two athletes lift the same weight, measuring the power each applies can determine which athlete exerted themselves more during the lift. The speed at which the lift was performed (velocity) indicates whether the weight is too heavy or the individual is fatigued. For the individual looking to improve his or her performance, PUSH can help adjust the intensity of your training — the weight and number of reps — based on the training focus you set, such as strength, endurance, or speed.
The PUSH device does not have a screen. An LED light indicates whether it’s on, needs to be recharged, or is in workout mode. The band itself is designed to be worn on your forearm, just below your elbow, which keeps it out of the way for most activities. It’s paired with an app that you download to your phone, and is compatible with both iOS and Android. Data is transferred through built in Bluetooth. Battery life is about 7 hours in workout mode, and it charges using a micro-USB cord.
PUSH gives you feedback about each rep, set, and workout, and allows you to review your progress over time, which can help you spot trends. For instance, you can look at your history for a specific exercise — a back squat, for example — and see what your max weight was for that exercise and when.
Like the Atlas, PUSH has a database of exercises (also available on their YouTube channel under the playlist labeled Exercises) that are automatically detected by the device. Those not in the database can be manually logged. After you determine your workout, you must start and stop each set by pressing a button on the device as you progress through your routine. Through a feature called PUSH Assist, the app makes recommendations for how to improve at the end of each set: for example, increase your weight by 10 pounds and reduce the number of reps.
The app allows you to review your workouts, interact with your data, and review videos of exercises. There is also a web portal that allows you to dive more deeply into your data and schedule workouts in advance. It’s is free for the first month, and $10 a month or $100 a year thereafter.
The device and its associated app and web portal are also intended for use by personal trainers and team coaches, and are being used by professional football, basketball, baseball, and hockey teams across the United States and in more than 25 countries.
You can order PUSH from the website for $289 with free shipping worldwide. The site also features lots of geeky information about velocity based training and other topics, and offers robust customer support.
Using the trio of speed, power, and velocity, Beast is another wearable specifically designed for the weight room. Unique to this device is its magnetic sensor, which you can wear on a wristband, in a vest for core workouts, or stuck right on the bar or weight you’re using. The sensor sends real-time data to your Android- or iOS-enabled smartphone via Bluetooth. Data is then stored in the cloud, so you can access it from anywhere.
Like other sensors, Beast uses an accelerometer and gyroscope to accurately track movements, and adds a compass to the mix for greater precision. An 8-hour battery life is relatively short, but it’s similar to other trackers of this type, and because it isn’t intended for continuous wear it shouldn’t be an inconvenience for the average user.
Using preprogrammed goals such as max strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth), power, or metabolic (high-calorie burn), the Beast app is able to analyze your effort and provide feedback to improve your performance. Using your personal data compiled over time and taking into account your goal, Beast makes recommendations designed to optimize your workouts in ways that will provide faster results while avoiding overtraining. Recommendations can include adjusting your weight, changing the number of sets or reps, and increasing or decreasing rest time.
To use Beast, download a pre-determined workout from the web portal to your phone. Workouts can also be customized, or you can create one of your own design. While you are completing a set, the app streams details of your effort in real time, and provides a visual comparison of your current workout against your best recorded workout. In this way Beast provides useful data so you can adjust your exercises immediately to get the most out of your time at the gym.
Comparing your current workout with your best effort can also give you needed motivation to improve. A magnetic mounting device is available for your smartphone so you can position it where you can see it on the rack or floor while you’re doing a set.
For $199 you get the sensor, a wristband, a micro-USB charging cable, a user manual, an online account to save your training data, and a 1-year subscription to Beast Webportal ($29 per year thereafter). You can order Beast directly from the website, which also provides a number of video tutorials, an FAQ, and various avenues to ask questions and get support.
The Gymwatch is a fitness wearable similar to the PUSH in that it measures your power, force, and velocity while you’re working out. It is specifically designed to improve your performance when doing strength training. The name is a little misleading because there is no display; you have to have your phone and associated app with you during your workout. In addition to the app, which is compatible with iOS and Android systems, there is also a free web portal. The website allows you to drill down into your existing data and analyze your workouts, and enables the creation of custom workouts. The online app automatically syncs with the mobile app.
Using sophisticated motion sensors, the Gymwatch counts your reps whether you’re doing bodyweight exercises, working on machines, or using free weights. A stretchy Velcro strap allows you to place the Gymwatch in various places on your legs and arms, depending on whether you’re working your upper or lower body.
A button on the device starts a three-second countdown after which the app starts monitoring your set. A unique feature of the device is the live coaching option, which counts your reps out loud and gives verbal feedback to correct your form or tell you you’re going too fast. Depending on the setting and your workout style, this feature may be a drawback, but you can make the coaching private by using headphones, or you can disable it.
The app is pre-programed to track hundreds of different exercises, which you can choose to create a custom workout, or you can choose from one of the predetermined workout templates loaded in the app. Help videos are available to show you what exercises should look like. You do have to start and stop each set using a button on the sensor. You also have to stop between each exercise to select the next one in your routine on the app.
Although live coaching is offered during your workout, there is less guidance for how to interpret your data. The graphs show you the history of your workouts and the power, force, and velocity of each set, but doesn’t offer much interpretation or make suggestions for improvement. If you’re a novice in the gym, you may find yourself wanting more feedback and guidance.
An LED light on the sensor will tell you when the device is in workout mode and if the battery is low. The battery reportedly lasts an impressive 30 days and recharges using a micro-USB cable. The Gymwatch is made in Germany and can be ordered online for $149.
A word of caution
These and many other fitness trackers have been and continue to be developed using the crowdfunding model. Although it appears most companies have successfully raised capital for research and development, not all products have made it to market. If you’re considering investing in a tracker that isn’t from a well-established company, make sure you do your homework. If the website or other seller says the item is “sold out,” proceed with caution.
Additionally, just because you have a device in hand doesn’t mean it’s a good product. In order for these devices to continue to be useful, they will need regular updates and customer support, which requires the company to be actively working to improve and support their products. A good way check into a company is to read user feedback on its website and social media pages if they are available.
January 28, 2016