Next generation fitness trackers

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We’re having a drought here in Central Virginia so I have not done much paddling during a time of year where I typically love being on the water and logging many of my annual kayaking miles.

So in the absence of much to talk about in terms of my kayaking and on-water adventures, let me  explain several of my recent posts involving fitness tracking technology.

I started searching for a fitness and gym tracker a few years ago in order to log and track my training both in the gym and on the water.  Being able to track paddle cadence on the water and progress in the gym would be very useful.

I started out with the Amiigo device, then moved to the Xiaomi Amazfit Arc followed shortly thereafter by the Atlas Wearables Wristband 2.

As a result of reviewing those units in YouTube videos and on this blog, two other companies reached out to me and sent me devices to evaluate in exchange for fair and honest reviews.  Those devices were the Actofit Wearables tracker and the MBHB Sport Smart Bracelet.

I have also researched countless other devices to find the right one.

So far not a single device meets all my needs.

Many of them do not count paddle strokes as “steps”, some are not reliably waterproof, and some do not have the battery life to last for an all-day outing or ultra-marathon kayak trip or race.   Some let you train new movements or exercises while others do not.

The one device I am truly in love with is the Atlas Wearables wristband for in the gym.  It recognizes my exercises, lets me train new ones and allows me to enter the amount of weight on the bar or edit the number of reps right on the wristband during my workouts.  It has completely replaced my clipboard with paper exercise log in the gym and the online dashboard lets me review my training progress and areas of focus over time.  It is a great training tool for the gym, but is not intended for all-day wear.

I am looking forward to seeing what Atlas Wearables comes out with next.  This is the one company that seems to be truly innovating and delivering on their promises and their customer service and support is awesome.

Aside from the Atlas device, there are many, many other fitness trackers out there that all do the same basic things and maybe have one or two unique features such as blood pressure measurements that set them apart.  There is no lack of affordable trackers with basic functionality if that is what you are looking for.

But, again, I have not yet found one device that meets all my needs.

I have also been approached by a few companies doing market research asking me what I’m looking for in a fitness tracker so I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in a next generation device.

My ideal next-generation fitness tracker would be/have:

  • Waterproof
  • Comfortable and stylish enough for all-day wear even in professional settings
  • 5+ day battery life before the need to recharge
  • Good tracking exercises in the gym and allow you to train new, custom motions/exercises (such as kettlebell sumo squats and the kayaking wing paddle stroke)
  • An online dashboard that allows you to track progress over time
  • Export capabilities of all data so data can be imported into a spreadsheet for long-term tracking and analysis
  • A display on the device that allows you to edit exercises and change functions during exercises and activities without access to the paired phone (my phone is either in a kayak hatch inside a dry bag or in a gym locker people!)
  • Automatic sleep tracking
  • Ability to measure blood pressure on-demand
  • Heart Rate (HR) capabilities both on-demand and automatically at pre-set time intervals
  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements to better understand recovery
  • Basic functions such as steps, calorie burn, distance, etc.

I just don’t understand why this device is so elusive.  There are trackers already that do all of these things, but not one single one that does them all.

If you find it or know of this elusive beast, please let me know.

 

 

Training and tracking

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I am a firm believer in tracking and measuring as much as possible when it comes to training.  If you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it.

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That’s why I was one of the first people to buy a Skulpt Aim when it came to market. (I actually pre-ordered it before it was commercially available.)

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The Aim is a small, handheld Electrical Impedance Myography (EIM) device that attempts to measure body fat and muscle quality.

I very much loved the device when I first got it but then they changed the firmware at one point and the measurements for body fat were significantly higher than they were before the firmware upgrade. (Less accurate in my opinion.)  For a device that claimed to be more accurate than a DEXA scan when it launched, I couldn’t but wonder, did they lie to me about that accuracy before the firmware update or are they lying to me now?

Within the past few days they’ve rolled out a new version of their app and I’m happy to see they now allows users to export historical data.  It is important to see how you are trending and performing over time because measurement-to-measurement variations seemed to be fairly high in my opinion.

Now that the device seems more useful, I’m blowing the dust off it and will start using it again in my training in addition to the Atlas Wristband tracker for in the gym, the Amiigo wristband for Heart Rate Variability (HRV) while sleeping, the Amazfit Arc for general steps and sleep tracking, and GPS and heart rate monitor while I’m training on water.

Yes, I’m a tech geek and a gizmo guy.

NewSkulpAppMy user history from the Skulpt Aim (last used in January) at least indicates I’ve been moving in the right direction, body fat down, muscle quality up.

I’ll keep you posted on how I like this device post-software upgrade after I return to using it for a little while.

PS – And after a new, full body measurement tonight and only plotting the data since November, I can see I did indeed make progress in the gym over the winter. Now let’s see how much I can make that body fat % drop in the next 6 weeks to be lighter on water.

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My review of the Atlas Wearables Wristband 2 gym tracker

atlasI’ve been looking to replace my Amiigo fitness tracker ever since the company announced they were abandoning the project and all of their customers (a foregone conclusion after 18 months of total silence after they commercially launched the product.  Yes, I’m more than just a little bitter about those sleezebags.)

I was never really happy with the Amiigo device because it was never very good at recognizing activities and only after you would synch workouts with the app would you discover that it failed to recognize many exercises and only recorded them as “upper body burst” or “lower body burst.”  Not at all useful if you take workouts seriously and want to track progress over time.  Especially not useful if you do supersets and don’t have a good memory to remember each and every sequence of exercises you did and the amount of weights you used for each set so you can then painstakingly enter each one into an app after the fact.

Heck, I got the thing to get away from a paper workout log but found the paper more effective.

The activity recognition was horrible.  I hoped they would improve upon the exercise recognition algorithms but the company never did and then announced they abandoned the project.  (Did I mention I’m bitter about the whole experience?)

I conducted research online for months and determined that Atlas Wearables had developed a tracker that looked like exactly what I wanted.  (In fact, I had been scouting them before they even launched their product.)

I already have the Amazfit Arc for tracking steps and sleep and heart rate on-demand, so I wanted something that would do one thing very well.  Track my workouts in the gym.

After a month of using the Atlas, I am happy to report it is an excellent device for this task.

Once you tell the wristband which exercises you plan to do during your workout (it can store 15 exercises,) its recognition is very good and when you are done with each set of lifts, you can enter the amount of weight on the bar and even correct the number of reps in case it gets it wrong (which isn’t very often.)   That’s right, it has a touch screen so you can edit after each set and you don’t need your phone to access the app during a workout.  Sweet!

The device is not designed for all day wear and, in fact, it will not track steps, but it excels in the gym.  The battery will probably last two or three workout before you need to recharge it, but I find I prefer to turn off the power saving mode when I’m working out so I only expect to get one workout per charge.

By turning off the power saving mode, the LCD display stays on during my workouts so I save a press of the button every set just “waking up” the device to then enter a weight amount or correct the number of reps.  That might not sound like a big deal to you, but I start with lighter weights and work up to heavy ones and then back down to light ones so it saves me a whole lot of extra button clicking in the gym so I’m happy to sacrifice battery life for that.  If you do all your sets of exercises with the same weight it might not be that big of a deal for you.

Atlas also provides the ability to make edits to your workout post-workout and has an online dashboard to achieve this and the dashboard provides good insights into your training history.

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I am very happy with the device and can report that it does an excellent job recognizing each exercise.  Training new exercises that are not already in its database is easy and straight forward (see video review below.)

I highly recommend it as a gym tracker for the serious gym rat.

You’ll find a link to my video review below, but I do want to give you a “head’s up” that a new tracker claims to be coming out from a company called Actofit that looks promising as an exercise tracker.

Heaven knows that these companies can make any claims they want to prior to launch and I will never again buy another one based on pre-launch hype from an unknown company (like I did with Amiigo,) so I’ll wait to see what early users of the Actofit report.

But I’ll give them some guidance.

The only way to top Atlas as a gym tracker at this point would be to have greater memory so you can keep more exercises loaded in the wristband, better battery life, a sleeker design that would allow it to step out of the gym and be comfortable for all-day wear, waterproof design for swimming and kayaking, and good sleep tracking that includes Heart Rate Variability in order to assess recovery and over-training.

If Actofit or any other competitor wants to send me a tracker for early review I will be happy to oblige, but until then, Atlas reigns supreme as the best gym tracker on the market.