The Wearables Coaching An Optimal Version Of You

By PSFK Labs, iQ Content Partner @PSFK February 24, 2014

In The Future of Wearable Tech, iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs explore the evolving form and function of our Internet-connected devices. This series, based on a recent report, looks at the rise of wearable technologies and their impact on consumer lifestyles.  

Do you want things that exceed in quality and features found in typical consumer-grade products? Although you desire what the professionals use, you don’t want to pay professional grade prices? Consider yourself a “prosumer,” a term coined in 1980 by Alvin Toffler.

Prosumer demand drives manufacturers to create top-of-the-line consumer products but it also encourages daring companies to introduce entirely new types of products. That desire for new cutting edge products has put prosumers at the heart of wearable technologies and the trend some are calling Responsive Coaching.

Fitness trackers and health-monitoring devices continue to evolve, but for the most part they’re still data collectors used by joggers, weekend cyclists and dedicated swimmers curious about the benefits of having this personal performance data. Miles covered, time spent on the road, heart-rate and breathing stats – it’s all there in a colorful collage that tells you something about how you’re doing.

Even with all this data, there’s one thing that pro athletes have that amateurs lack: a coach that observes and absorbs the sum total of an athlete’s performance and proposes tweaks that will accelerate the curve of excellence. “How am I doing?” quickly shifts to “Here’s how you’re going to win.”

If it weren’t for Mickey Goldmill, Rocky Balboa would have been just another schmo, slugging it out on the weekends, and those high school kids in Dillon, Texas? Just teenagers in mismatched pads until Eric Taylor turned them into champions.

As we study the next wave of wearable tech, we’re seeing that joggers, cyclists and swimmers aren’t satisfied just rejiggering data and calling it “fitness,” they want Mickey and Eric to help them play like the pros. This is Responsive Coaching.

The latest generation of wearable technologies is there to help users improve everything from posture, caloric intake and athletic performance, providing recommendations based on accumulated data and algorithms that match your stats to research. 

“The technology won’t make us fit on its own, but it can monitor our efforts and motivate us to make better choices in our everyday lives,” said Shannon Miller during a keynote at the recent FitnessTech Summit.

With prosumers, the motive is already there: to rise above the level of average Joes and Janes and do stuff that would have previously been considered beyond the grasp of a weekend warrior. The technology, though, provides a means to that end in the same way that the contractor-grade table saw open doors to better home improvement or a smart stainless steel blender turns out chef-quality smoothies.

Beyond the purely symbolic, it’s the real-time analysis of our performance and proposal of tweaks for improvement that define this wave in wearable technology.

Imagine soccer shoes that analyze every kick then uses GPS tracking of the ball’s progress to make suggestions for improved technique.

“As other wearables come to market, anything that helps people make better micro-decisions throughout their day gets us really excited,” said Jason Jacobs, whose company, FitnessKeeper, produces a suite of tools for performance analysis and improvement that works with multiple fitness-related devices, promising to put a coach in the game for every wearable user.

And what are those micro-decisions but the halftime adjustments of every good athlete? Plus, by gamifying the workout process through social networking and side-by-side comparison of statistics, many devices are bringing a competitive dynamic to a pursuit that, for many fitness athletes, can sometimes feel, well, amateur.

Of course, a coach isn’t just trying to turn wimps into winners – he or she is also looking out for the safety and well being of his players. Increasingly, health and fitness-related devices and their attendant apps are making the argument that they can help prevent injuries at the same time that they improve performance. Amateurs can hammer away at their sport of choice, unknowingly putting ligaments at risk or unnecessarily taxing muscles at the expense of endurance. 

Devices like Sensoria smart socks and MentorBike provide feedback that protects against overextension and bad form simultaneously with the promise of elevating your capacity and potential. 

Athletes aren’t the only ones benefiting from over-the-shoulder coaching provided by wearable devices. LumoBack, Spire and Vigo have targeted general and more specific aspects of users’ well-being. LumoBack CTO and Co-Founder Andrew Chang says that using trackers to encourage active lifestyles was the first step in the process.

“We see it moving to deeper more focused problems such as rehabilitation, injury prevention, and optimizing athletic performance,” he said.

All the data in the world, all the charts and graphs alone don’t translate seamlessly into lost pounds, lower blood pressure or better performance. It’s always been on each of us to devote time and energy to get where we want to be as healthy people or competitive athletes, but after those miles and laps, an amateur still can find himself at a loss for how to take his performance to the next level.  This is where wearable tech is promising to give the prosumer athlete what, until now, only the pro’s had access to: a coach who knows us inside and out, and is committed to getting us there. 

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

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