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Wearable Tech

Depending on who you speak to, wearable tech and the idea of the “quantified self” is either the next big thing, or a load of rubbish created to get early adopters to spend money on gadgets that will inevitably end up wasting space in your desk drawer once the novelty wears off. On paper, quantified self sounds like a great idea for fitness enthusiasts. Wouldn't it be great to know every detail about the inner workings of your body, and be able to get updates on how fit you are, and how hard you work, whenever you want? Wearable tech gadgets were the star of this year’s CES show in Las Vegas. January saw the announcement of smart socks that monitor your gait, and even a smart bra that monitors your posture! The developers of the GoBe bracelet claim that their gadget, when development is finished, will be able to keep track of your level of hydration as well as the number of calories you consume. Are those claims realistic? More importantly, even if they are realistic, do we really need a machine telling us that we didn’t get a good night’s sleep, our posture is poor, and we need to drink more water? Wearable Tech Is Not Perfect The current generation of quantified self gadgets uses a mixture of heart rate monitors, pedometers, temperature sensors and galvanic skin response in order to determine things like your activity level and the number of calories you are burning. Consumer-grade body fat monitors use bio-electrical impedance measurements combined with user-input heights and weights to estimate body fat percentages. These measurements are far from perfect. They can be thrown off by things as trivial as sitting out in bright sunlight, or drinking a cup of coffee before you step on the scales. The GoBe, which promises to read your blood glucose levels through your skin and then estimate your calorie intake based on those glucose levels, will be even more fallible. Assuming that they can somehow overcome the technical challenge of getting a reliable blood or cell glucose level without actually taking a blood sample, tying that to your calorie intake will be challenging because the body regulates blood glucose levels quite efficiently, assuming you aren't diabetic. The GoBe creators could be on to something, but even if they are it will take a long time to perfect the technology to the point that it gives readings that are anywhere near as good as you’d get from just taking the time to weigh and log your food properly. Even so, the technology is nice to have, and it can be useful for some people, combined with more traditional tracking methods. Quantified Self Doesn't Always Mean Motivated Self Dick Talens, the co-founder of Fitocracy and a prominent fitness coach, believes that the current wave of quantified self gadgets don’t work, for most people. He questions whether there’s any point in providing the average person with the amount of data that gadgets such as the Fitbit, Jawbone Up or Bodybugg provide. He believes that people won’t make better choices just because a machine reminds them that they’ve eaten a certain amount of calories, and calls fitness a “human problem” rather than an “arithmetic problem”. Talens certainly makes a good point. The kind of person who is unable to count calories without the aid of a bracelet probably won’t miraculously find the motivation to make intelligent choices just because they’re wearing a fancy gadget, but I don’t believe that gadgets such as the Bodybugg – or the GoBe, should it somehow defy all expectations and be effective, are aimed at the average man or woman on the streets. Yes, the technology is imperfect, but in my entirely un-scientific trials of the Bodybugg, it has proven to be consistent in its measuring of my daily calorie expenditure, and with a few months of daily use I was able to figure out that it slightly over-estimated my daily calorie burn. From there, it’s easy enough to weigh the food that you take in and manipulate your calorie intake to slowly cut weight in preparation for a tournament. Wearable tech that tracks how hard you work and how well you sleep is a boon to any fighter or athlete that needs to track both their workouts and their recovery time. Personally, I already know that I'm an insomniac. I don’t need a gadget to tell me that my sleep efficiency is poor. I do like the reassurance I get from the workout readings, though. If I run a 5K that is far slower than my usual time, I can use the readings to help me judge whether I was slow because my body let me down, or slow because I just didn't work hard enough. Perhaps I'm overly dependent on a device to tell me things that I could figure out by listening to my body, but I think that lying to yourself is human nature. If I know that we’re going to be training De La Riva guard at BJJ class tonight but I’m feeling beat up, I’ll tell myself I'm fine because I don’t want to miss the class. If it’s cold in my home gym and it’s overhead press day, I’ll suddenly decide that I think I've been over-training and look for excuses to play EVE Online instead. When the only metric you have to tell how you’re feeling is how you actually feel, it’s easy to persuade yourself to do what you feel like, rather than what’s best for your training. When you have a graph right in front of you showing that the “killer workout” wasn't so killer after all, those excuses suddenly evaporate. I'm a big fan of wearable tech. Right now, it’s not perfect, but the technology is improving with every generation, and I think that in the hands of a motivated athlete it can revolutionize your training. Author: Lesley Harrison

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