Monitor your exercise progress (and improve your workouts!) with the leggings, socks, shirts, and more activewear that acts like a fitness tracker
Wearable Technology You Can Actually Wear
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Almost as soon as wearable tech was developed, engineers started trying to find a way to incorporate it into clothing. In fact, as early as 1984, adidas stuck a microsensor into one of their shoes to record runners’ distance, running pace, and calorie burn. By most accounts, that shoe was pricey, clunky, and hard to use.
But fitness tech has come a long way since then. Now there’s a growing number of clothing items—shirts, leggings, shorts, and more—that feature the same type of tiny sensors that are in your Jawbone. While they’re wicking away sweat, these clothes also monitor things like heart rate, breathing rate, calories burned and more. Some even keep tabs on your form, alerting in real time you when you need an adjustment. (That’s in keeping with a new trend replacing your old fitness tracker—trainables.)
“One huge advantage of smart clothing is that it often gives more accurate heart rate readings than wearable tech you wear on your wrist,” says Molly Maloof, M.D., a physician and consultant working with healthy tech companies. “The problem with wrist monitors is that they deal with a lot of noise. To get the best heart rate reading, the best place for the monitor is near your heart. Shirts and bras can do that.” (Finally, a way to stop being fooled by your fitness tracker.)
But it’s important to remember that this technology, and this use for it, is still in relatively early days. Some smart clothing can’t be easily washed, notes Maloof. “Many pieces are undergarments or just aren’t designed to look fashionable,” so you may not want to swap your Lululemon gear for it quite yet.
What’s more, these clothes can be a little clunky. Yes, there are sensors woven right into the fabric. But typically, you also have to purchase a separate sensor that snaps onto the clothes or fits into a special sewn-on pocket and transmits the data from the sensors to your phone. “For the market to reach really dramatic penetration, the tech will have to get smaller and more invisible,” asserts Maloof. “And that’ll definitely happen in time—just look at our phones. But it’s just a matter of when.”
A final roadblock: Smart clothing is really, really expensive, admits Maloof. “Right now, this is really something that makes the most sense for semi-professional and professional athletes, who need any edge they can get.” Your regular gym-rat may not be ready to shell out hundreds of dollars for a shirt that’s hard to wash, needs to be charged, and favors function over fashion. (Check out eight more items of workout gear too expensive to get dirty.)
Still, there are always early adopters to new tech. And Maloof expects we’ll soon see more fashionable, cheaper options come onto the market as the tech becomes more advanced and demand grows. Until then, check out these six smart gear options.
Photo: Corbis Images
Sensoria Smart Socks
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These socks ($200 for two pairs, one compatibility anklet, and one charger; sensoriafitness.com) have three textile sensors woven into the sole of the sock to detect foot pressure. These sensors monitor your cadence and where your foot is landing as you run—the heel or ball. It’ll let you know if you need to try to take more steps, or rethink your form. Bonus: The socks are machine-washable, and are made with an antimicrobial fabric.
Photo: Sensoria Fitness
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This compression gear ($350 for the capris and Athos Core compatibility device; liveathos.com) is fitted with 14 bio-sensors that track your heart rate, breathing, and muscle activity, which means they can sense how hard you’re working and even which muscles you’re using. The companion app offers a Live View that shows you which muscles are firing—so if your glutes aren’t actually engaging while you’re doing squats, you’ll know to adjust your form. The clothes also keep tabs on your progress from workout to workout. (Women’s shirts are coming soon.)
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This smart shirt ($400 for the smart shirt, compatibility device, and USB cable; hexoskin.com) is unique in that it tracks your sleep in addition to heart rate, heart rate variability, breathing rate, breathing volume, and activity (intensity level, steps, pace, and calories burned).
Ralph Lauren POLOTECH Shirt
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Unfortunately, right now, this shirt ($300 for the shirt, compatibility black box, and USB cable; ralphlauren.com) only comes in men’s styles. But it proves that smart clothing can be as stylish as it is functional. The sleek shirts have silver fibers that read activity, heart rate, and breathing depth and balance woven in. Plus, the companion app offers exercise routines that work with the shirt—if your shirt senses that you aren’t working as hard as you could, the app will suggest harder moves next. Here’s to hoping they release a women’s version soon.
Sensilk Flight Tech Sports Bra
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Besides keeping the girls in check, this sports bra ($140 for the bra and transmitter; sensilk.com) tracks heart rate, heart rate variability, calories burned, heart rate recovery rate, and distance traveled. It also gives your workout a Sensilk Fitness Score so you can track your progress, and syncs with MapMyFitness, RunTracker, and Strava. (Another option: This high-tech sports bra seen at New York Fashion Week.)
Digitsole Smart Sole
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These insoles ($200 for insoles, AC Adaptor, and USB cord; squareup.com) won’t be available until October 2015, but you’ll be glad to have them in the winter: The Bluetooth-equipped insoles actually heat up with a few taps on your smartphone screen—no more freezing tootsies during the first couple miles of your outdoor run. The soles also track your activity (steps, distance, and elevation) and calories burned.