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At this year’s CES, new fitness-focused smartwatches, smart shoes, smart belts and a bevy of Bluetooth capable items hit the show floor. Hardcore bodybuilders and mainstream fitness heads let out a collective yawn.
“I don’t know that there’s any fitness tracker yet that can help a lifter learn more about himself than what he can learn by just listening to his body,” says Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S. and Group Training Director of Muscle & Fitness and Men’s Fitness. “Unless you’re a competitive athlete who needs to monitor his performance and recovery to an extreme degree, I think just tracking your workouts and how you feel day to day in an old-fashioned journal is enough.”
Here’s our issue with wearables is simple: they will only help in small amounts, and only to a certain extent. When you move on to smart shirts, many provide heart rate and calorie burn information — what good is that if you only use it for one workout? What’s the point if you’re performing exercises with bad form? On the latter note, gear like the “GymWatch” monitors form but until just recently required gym-goers to haul around and strap on cumbersome bands. Sure, it can be done, but wouldn’t a notepad be a lot cheaper (and more effective)?
Collegiate and professional sports teams incorporate technology such as the Catapult GPS system, instant replay and the Kistler Force Plate to track performance. For this population, fitness tracking doesn’t come home with the athletes and performance is measured by coaches during training. The average fitness enthusiast is mostly likely using a fitness tracker to measure calories burned, not the difference in bar speed between years of training. The amateur lifter simply isn’t the main consumer of today’s wearable.
“Wearables are generally used by people just beginning to get serious about exercise or people with endurance goals,” says Hyson. “Lifters typically aren’t as concerned with how many steps they take in a day, how many calories they burned in a workout, or what their sleep patterns were the night before.”
If we look at bodybuilders, you’d think that population would be hyperaware of every movement they make and calorie they burn, but the reality is that nutrition and body fat percentage is more important for them.
“Sometimes I use a wearable device while weightlifting to monitor the calories I’ve burned at that time,” says Pierre Vuala, IFBB Men’s Physique Pro and fitness model. He adds that the ideal fitness tracker would “give me an accurate reading of my body fat percentage daily.”
Programs like Skuplt Aim provides body fat percentage measurement using a handheld device and this product has direct utility in bodybuilding. In addition, apps like “My Fitness Pal” and the “Bulk Up Protein Tracker” use slick organization tools and barcode readers to help bodybuilders keep track of macros. Aside from that — it’s more of a mind game. Vuala says he thinks the bodybuilding community prefers a combination of notebook and mirror to track their progress so tools that can make that easier would likely appeal to lifter.
Us weightlifters are still waiting for a versatile, non-invasive, body fat-tracking, form-checking device that’s durable enough for a workout and stylish enough to wear every day. The past crop of wearables spent far too much time finding flashy ways to visualize data and not enough time gathering it. It’s nice to see snapshots of a day’s work, but there’s some untapped potential that, if used correctly, could be a game-changer for peope who are serious about fitness.