These days, it seems like somebody releases a new fitness tracker on a near-daily basis. While any gadget that delivers quantifiable information can help improve your activity level (after all, awareness is half the battle), we haven’t seen anything really, truly ground-breaking for a long while.
That is, until last week. I had a chance to try Athos, the fitness apparel line that wants to take the place of your personal trainer. But, rather than behaving like a shirt-version of your Jawbone or Fitbit activity tracker, Athos apparel is embedded with multiple sensors — electromyography (EMG) heart rate, and breathing (shirt only) — that collect, track, and assess muscle activity and effort, as well as heart and breathing rates. And, they do it all in real time, without wires. The goal? To help you understand exactly what your body is doing, so you can make the necessary adjustments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your current and future workouts.
I got to test the shorts, which are quite snug — along the lines of most compression apparel. On the outer thigh is a crevice, where you can wedge the Core device before your workout. The Core is needed to make the Athos apparel work; it acts as a data interpreter and sends information to your mobile device via Bluetooth. The sensors require skin contact, but unlike most heart-rate-monitor chest straps, they don’t need to be wet prior to use. The result is a seamless integration of tech and apparel, providing useful information without hindering your actual workout or requiring a ton of tedious data entry.
The app interface displays a body form with muscles that light up when engaged. After a quick calibration (walking up a few flights of stairs), my app/arel was ready to go. But, before I exercised, I played around with the high-tech shorts — tightening just my right quad, or squeezing just my left glute, to ensure the tech was tracking me. Then, I started to actually train. I tried a variety of lower-body exercises, including squat variations, lunges, and a glute bridge.
Using the app and its color-coded system, I was able to see not only which muscles were working, but which were working the hardest. I noticed that I was favoring my right side when squatting (hey, it was a pre-coffee training session). So, on the next set of reps I visualized pushing through my left heel to stand, serving as a reminder to engage both sides of my body equally. I was able to play with my form to activate different muscles, making an exercise more glute-dominated than quad-focused, or vice versa.
Of course, this isn’t the first high-tech fitness apparel to hit the market. Just a few weeks ago Ralph Lauren unveiled its Polo Tech Shirt, made by the company OMsignal. This top (currently in a men's sizes only) launches next year and tracks stats including distance, calories burned, intensity, and heart rate. And, there’s the Leo band, which also accounts for hydration. But, the Athos apparel line is definitely an innovative, exciting development for fitness tech that's delivering service-based information in a user-friendly format.
Investors seem to agree, as the brand recently secured $12.2 million in Series B funding. Of course, there is the barrier of price; the short and shirt retail for $99 each, and the Core device costs $199. (The collection is currently available for presale, and is expected to start shipping this fall.) If muscles could talk, though, Athos might just be the closest thing to an interpreter.