Fitness trainers fit for the wrist
Chronicling a personal fitness journey is nothing new. A nationwide fondness for walking clubs in Japan in the mid-1960s saw the birth of the first pedometer known as a “manpo-kei”, or 10,000-step meter. But the catalyst for the transformation of the fitness tracking industry into a multibillion-dollar market has been smart technology.
Wearable technology is one of the fastest-growing consumer electronic segments, with the global revenue for heart-rate monitors, cycling computers, activity trackers and pedometers expected to hit US$2.3 billion (almost Dh8.5bn) in 2017 (according to the health care electronic market research firm InMedica). It’s also becoming a dominant factor in fitness performance measurement.
Industry data supports this: a 2013 IMS Research report notes that 62.3 per cent of smartphone owners who exercised at least once a week, and had an interest in health and fitness apps, would be willing to pay for a fitness sensor that could connect to an app on their phone, with 56.2 million global shipments forecast over the next four years.
Devices are also becoming smaller and more efficient, with consumer demand further fuelled by the surfeit of available fitness apps. Close to 100,000 mobile health apps were available for download in 2013, as per data from the mobile tech consultancy Research2Guidance, with the top 10 apps generating more than four million free downloads per day.
While the continued popularity of fitness trackers from well-known brands such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike may be superseded in the near future by smartwatch/phone technology, innovation is shaping a new fitness landscape.
Hitting the market next month is the Skulpt Aim, which uses electrical impulse myography, a technology also used to study patients with neuromuscular problems. It uses an electrical current to discover muscle quality and body fat percentage. Connect this to a smartphone app and you’ve got a full body snapshot and the ability to track improvement over time.
Nike, developer of the Nike+ FuelBand, has opened its own lab to attract fitness app developers to join a growing community of innovators, and has already partnered with a number of third-party app creators including MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper.
Wearable technology is also moving off our wrists and onto our backs, thanks to the launch of the world’s first bio-sensing apparel from OMsignal, with this month seeing the first shipment of wearable smart garments. Embedded sensors in the clothing monitor heart rate, breathing and activity, while the OMsignal app displays your data in real-time on a mobile device.
At the other extreme, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, are working on developing a temporary tattoo designed to transform body sweat into usable power for smartwatch or fitness tracker devices. This works by storing electrons in the lactate found in our sweat to generate an electrical charge, effectively turning us into fully functioning power sources.
Fitness tracker face-off
A lightweight wristband that monitors daily steps taken, calories burnt, distance travelled and sleep quality, the Fitbit Flex is intended to be worn 24/7 and syncs wirelessly with PC or Mac computers and/or phone apps for iOS or Android.
Look and feel: Reminiscent of a charitable awareness bracelet and available in two sizes, the super comfy Fitbit Flex doesn’t need to be clipped onto a belt or bra, unlike the Fitbit One, making it less likely to end up in the weekly wash.
• Bracelet display with five white LED indicator lights that show daily goal progress (each represents 20 per cent)
• Free Fitbit.com membership with the ability to log and track activity, sleep, water, BMI and weight through programmed or custom settings
• Free mobile apps for iPhone and Android to log data, receive notifications and view graphs/charts based on last sync
• Automatic wireless syncing to PC and Mac within 20 feet of the wireless sync dongle
• The first all-day activity tracker to offer Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity to view stats in real time
• Five-day battery life when fully charged
• Silent Wake Alarm with vibration setting
• Water resistant to 10 metres
• Limited (US focused) food item listing for nutrition tracking
Functionality: A no-fuss solution to track general fitness performance, the Fitbit Flex is extremely user-friendly and you don’t need to be iOS or Android connected to get the benefits. While the band has a simple LED display, the online dashboard provides a great at-a-glance overview of the day’s goal progress plus recent history. Also ties in with third-party apps such as RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal for additional data analysis and has a strong social community component for added support and motivation.
Find it and buy it: Dh529, available from Virgin Megastore, Adventure HQ, Stadium Sports Store, IQ, iStyle and various online retailers
A ribbed lightweight wristband that tells you how many steps you’ve taken and how you’re sleeping. With customisable goal setting, UP24 connects wirelessly to your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth Smart to provide continuous feedback and instant notifications.
Look and feel: A ridged rubbery band available in three sizes (see the handy online sizing tool) that snakes comfortably around the wrist, it may draw the odd enquiring glance but has a certain fashion-meets-function cachet.
• Movement tracking capabilities include regular reminders to keep moving and hit daily goals
• Customisable idle alert
• Logs all kinds of workouts
• Logs food and drink to keep track of calorie intake
• Barcode scanner and expansive nutritional database
• App compatible with iOS and Android, iPhone 4s and above, iPod Touch 5th Gen and above, iPad 3rd Gen and above, iPad mini and select Android 4.3
• Tracks sleep with automatic summaries delivered every morning
• Smart Alarm and power nap functions
• Wireless syncing via Bluetooth Smart with constant low-energy connection to mobile devices
• Seven-day battery life, 80 minutes to fully charge
Functionality: This stylish bracelet comes with some interesting functions including the Idle Alert, which issues a preset vibrating reminder to get you up off the couch and hitting your goals. The ability to retroactively add sleep data is another unusual tool plus there’s the “Today I Will” feature, which gets users to commit to a daily task. The UP app’s Insight Engine generates a personalised steps-and-sleep statement and also celebrates milestone moments but, with no website interface, it’s only available to iOS or Android device owners.
Find it and buy it: Dh649; available from iStyle, Jumbo Electronics, Virgin Megastore, Sharaf DG and Dubai Duty Free
Find your (free) app
For women - Nike+ Training Club: Designed with women in mind. Choose an individual workout or follow a structured four-week programme to tone, add strength or get lean. Features more than 100 workouts by Nike master trainers and world-class athletes like Maria Sharapova. Stay motivated and achieve your goals with step-by-step instruction and advice, then celebrate your progress with friends via the Facebook and Twitter links.
For food lovers - My Fitness Pal: A calorie counter and exercise tracker with a database of more than 4 million foods, MyFitnessPal is a must-have if you are trying to monitor your weight or get an all-round overview of your fitness regime. Simply enter what you eat, plus details of your workout – whether it’s a gym session, swim or yoga class – and it will adjust your goals accordingly.
For cyclists - Strava: Compete against a virtual challenger with Strava GPS-tracking your performance over the same road distance. Follow routes you’ve created or found, and view your activity map along with key stats such as distance, speed, elevation gained and calories burnt. You can also set personal records and see how you stack up against real-life friends as well as your virtual opponent.
For swimmers - Speedo Fit: Swimming can be a lonely sport so spice it up with an app that not only allows you to set and track your goals, create swim-by-swim plans, and share successes with the swim community, but also offers virtual swim challenges. Escape from Alcatraz, swim the length of the Suez Canal or simply work on improving your technique with how-to videos.
For fun - Zombies Run: Join this 1-million-strong app community and immerse yourself in the world of the walking dead for a fun training session with added adrenalin. With over 40 different run scenarios available, put on your headphones and embark on an audio adventure complete with live update performance statistics and voice-over tips on avoiding any skulking zombies en route.
Updated: November 12, 2014 04:00 AM