Although wearable technology dates back to hearing aids and calculator watches, it has exploded in the last several years, with the growing acceptance and rapid proliferation of tech devices in our lives.
Technical devices have been woven into clothing, such as hidden cameras in ties and headphones stitched into beanies or headbands. Sony Ericsson collaborated with the London College of Fashion in 2009 to create a Bluetooth®-enabled cocktail dress that lit up when the wearer received a phone call. In 2013, Google created Google Glass, eyeglasses that delivered text and notifications and had a camera to record video as well.
Today, multiple trade shows exist surrounding the expanding business of wearable technology, which is evolving quickly. According to the 2014 PriceWaterhouseCoopers Wearable Future Report, one out of five American adults has a wearable device. Some of the most popular are heart rate monitors, activity trackers, smart watches and headphones/earbuds. Fitness trackers and smart watches are reported to be the largest wearables categories, accounting for more than 80% of shipments in 2016.
With the abundance of options that exist, it can be confusing to know which wearable technology is best for you. Your ultimate decision depends on your goals, preferences, and budget, of course, but here we offer a basic overview of the main categories when it comes to wearable technology, specifically for activity, exercise and workouts. Know that this is just a snapshot, and that new devices are being introduced all the time.
Consider the following for wearable technology and how it will help your training.
Heart Rate Monitors
When they first debuted, heart rate monitors consisted of a bulky chest strap and a wristwatch receiver, and measured how many times your heart beat in a minute. Now, you can check the time, set target heart rate zones, track time in your zones, get a caloric burn estimate, measure distance traveled, log workout results and much more. Some monitors hook up with software to automatically download your workout performance, and chart progress over time.
The premise of knowing your intensity level during workouts is absolutely important to your progress, so a heart rate monitor is a great investment, particularly because it counters subjective assessments with objective, real-time biometric feedback. Heart rate monitoring is great information for any exerciser – from beginners to elite athletes. Whether you want all the other bells and whistles on some devices, and will take advantage of them, is up to you.
The leaders in pure heart rate monitors are Polar and Garmin, which offer simple models to sophisticated units, with some using a chest strap with ECG technology for highly accurate results. Others use a wrist device only for simplicity, and heart rate readings are reported to be good to acceptable. Prices can range from $50-$500.
For a while, Fitbit was all the rage, with people eagerly comparing step counts. Worn on the wrist, activity trackers range in capabilities, but typically serve as watches and deliver data in terms of number of steps logged daily, distance covered, hours and quality of sleep, activity levels, estimated calories burned and more.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ also includes a heart rate monitor and GPS, which is great for runners, cyclists or anyone who exercise outside in unfamiliar territory. The TomTom Spark 3 is a GPS running watch with a wrist heart rate monitor and a built-in MP3 player.
Most activity trackers connect to a companion app, where individual data is stored and analyzed. Multiple wearers often can connect on the app and arrange contests to motivate each other as well.
When determining what to purchase, consider the size and appearance of the watch – as some are bulkier than others, which may be bothersome if you have it on 24/7. Also check the readability of the screen and ease of use, battery life, and, of course, the features. Note what capabilities are important to you, and which you aren’t inclined to use.
If you’re a huge fitness fanatic, an activity tracker may be too simple for you, with just basic data reported. Conversely, if you aren’t yet a regular exerciser, and need to increase your activity, one of these trackers can provide valuable information and motivation. Costs can range from $25-$400.
A smart watch is really a tiny computer worn on your wrist, with multiple capabilities. The Apple Watch offers email, texts, voicemail, apps, heart rate monitoring and Apple Pay, but requires an iPhone to work. Some versions also have GPS and are waterproof.
Garmin has a variety of models specifically for runners that include steps tracking, heart rate monitoring, GPS, distance, pace and more. It also can display notifications from an Apple or Android smartphone. And the Garmin Forerunner 935 also measures VO2 max, lactate threshold and recovery time. Garmin devices work with the company’s Connect IQ app to keep track of all performance data.
The Moto 360 Sport watch interfaces with iPhones and Android phones, offers Wi-Fi for phone-less functions and runs the latest version of Android Wear. It has GPS and heart rate monitoring and uses a built-in app, MotoBody, to track stats. This model also has an easy-to-read display, even in the sunlight.
The Samsung Gear S2 watch is one of the few smart watches that doesn’t require a smartphone, as it has its own cell service and can work with any phone. With a speakerphone, it makes phone calls as well, but its own operating system limits app availability.
The bottom line with smart watches – decide what you want to use it for, and choose the one that you think offers the best capabilities, feels most comfortable and is easiest to use.
Most exercisers can get by with standard earbuds, but these devices are evolving. The new JBL UA Sport Wireless Heart Rate Headphones are in-ear headphones with Bluetooth and a heart rate monitor. They connect to Under Amour’s free Record app to track workouts and get audio updates for pace, distance, heart rate and target heart rate zones.
Dash wireless in-ear headphones also measure heart rate, body temperature, speed, number of steps and number of calories burned. The Pear Stride Earphones provide workout stats including heart rate, time, pace, distance and calories at the push of a button. BioSport also makes earbuds that track heart rate.
In a category of its own, Halo Sport headphones incorporate transcranial direct current stimulation to send electrical currents through the brain. The headphones’ foam spikes are designed to accelerate the neurons to the brain’s motor cortex, which Halo claims improves athletic performance, such as speed. Some professional and collegiate athletic teams use them, with anecdotal reports of success, but there isn’t much scientific evidence yet to support claims.
Do Your Homework
Clearly, a vast number of options exist, and this will only continue to grow in quantity and sophistication levels of wearables. It’s best to first determine what you want to measure and how you will use the device, taking into account how tech-savvy and comfortable you are with the devices and corresponding apps. Then research online, ask users and consult with tech salespeople to make the best decision.
Wearable technology definitely can help your training – provided that you fully capitalize on it.