Experts weigh in on what the future holds for fitness trackers
Some emerging fitness technologies could come with detrimental downsides, experts say
Swarms of drones follow you while you run, recording video of your workout. Sensors hidden in your T-shirt track your heart rate and how many calories you’re burning. Your sunglasses log your miles and respond when you ask, “How’s my pace?”
No, you and those sci-fi gadgets aren’t starring in the next action-packed Marvel flick. Rather, those gadgets might be the future of fitness trackers, according to sports technology experts.
As wrist-worn wearables phase out, less invasive and more personalized devices may phase in, said Gina Lee, founder of the Legacy Sports Institute, a health-care facility for professional and amateur athletes slated to open in Alpharetta, Georgia, by the end of the year.
“The future of technology is definitely to develop the most invisible, smallest, least detectable technology for consumers that can track the most biometric data and be consumer-friendly and have accurate outcomes,” Lee said.
Here’s a look at how fitness technology of the future may become more hidden, more like a coach and more personalized than ever before.
It’s about preventing injury, too
“I see the emerging trend of technology becoming more and more invisible,” said Mounir Zok, director of technology and innovation for the US Olympic Committee.
Wearable technologies that track your physical activity, heart rate and sleep patterns are now being designed into clothing, Zok said.
The idea isn’t new. In 1984, Adidas released the first shoe integrated with technology to electronically measure the wearer’s running distance, average speed and calories burned. The shoe, called Micropacer, had a microcomputer hidden in the left tongue to collect data.
There are smart accessories, like a ring by the personal technology company Motiv and a sports bra by the bio-sensing clothing company Omsignal, that can discreetly track your heart rate and physical activity.
Wearable tech companies, from Athos to Hexoskin, are even offering compression shirts, tank tops, leggings and shorts embedded with biometric-tracking sensors to measure how your body is performing during a workout.
“Think of the textiles taking on the electronics by picking up data points from athletes, rather than having rigid wearable technology solutions on a wrist or on the chest,” Zok said. So, “athletes would be wearing a sleeve, or would be wearing just a compression shirt, and integrated inside the shirt would be the sensors.”
Smart clothing could revolutionize not only fitness but injury prevention and physical therapy, said Dr. Jiten Chhabra, a physician and research scientist at the Interactive Media Technology Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“The thing that I am most excited about, probably because of my medical background, is the prevention and early detection of injury,” Chhabra said. “This kind of physiological surveillance is now part and parcel of the highly personalized training regimens that are enabled by sports wearables.”
For instance, biosensors could detect unusual muscle contractions or abnormal heart rate or respiration patterns. That data, if presented to a doctor, could hold many clues to your health, said Chhabra, himself a swimmer who wears a Moov motion tracker around his wrist to track his laps.
Some fitness technologies are being used and developed to help remind physical therapy patients to perform rehab exercises at home and to guide patients through those exercises, said the Legacy Sports Institute’s Lee.
“It’s great, as a physical therapist, to be able to know that there’s reminders of what’s so important in order for them to achieve their rehab goals,” she said, adding that fitness trackers can help patients and their doctors to monitor and assess recovery from injury, too.
Indeed, fitness technology of the future could play more of a coaching role.