Sports Tech: Back to the Future pt. 2

The Now and Next

With our ridiculously brief summary behind us in “The Build Up,” let’s slow down and talk about where the industry has turned in recent years. What’s the biggest trend? Where are we headed?

To be sure, many of the functional improvements in wearables aren’t all that surprising. In the technological era, we’ve come to expect that technology will rapidly improve. And for the most part, it has. Wearable tech has seen dramatic improvements in hardware, battery life, storage capacity, accuracy, integrations, etc. – but for the purpose of this post, I’ll skim past those for now. I want to zero in here on the driving force that technology has unleashed, because that gives the best idea on where it’s going.

And that force? A good old return to the basics: the rise of sports science in technology.

After all, that was the focus of Polar’s original heart rate monitor. The product helped athletes gauge energy expenditure and target training zones by analyzing a reliable metric. The problem, however, is that isolating one physiological measurement doesn’t give an athlete much to go on. It was like going at a math problem without enough variables. That’s why the rise of Fitbit and the like was such a novelty to users. Athletes and fitness folks suddenly had access to a swarm of data from their workouts, which they could use to chart progress, share with friends, and even compete for GPS-route records.

Yet still, something was missing. It all kind of left a “so what?” feeling. “So I took 6,000 steps today, so I ran exactly 6.122 miles—that’s kinda cool but what does it really mean for ME!?” That’s when you post your workout to Facebook, let your friends revel in your fitness glory, and forget about it until next Saturday.

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there must be a reason Nike completely abandoned the Fuelband, right? That thing was awesome!

Well, thanks to the huge strides I’ve mentioned (skimmed past, really) in technology, sports science has moved into the driver’s seat and the whole thing is getting way more interesting. This may seem obvious – sports science dictating the development and use of sports technology – but many of the products we’ve seen in the past decade have actually been limited by the technology itself.

How’s that possible? Let’s look back.

Whether it was bulky hardware, slow software, inaccurate measurements, short battery life, lack of integration, or even slow market adoption, wearable technology has been forced to live and die by the activity-tracking model. Our old Fitbit gave data on our activity… MapMyFitness shared data and a map from our runs… Fuelbands provided data almost indistinguishable from Fitbit (although they did it looking way cooler)… It’s all just been mountains of data! And again, it’s great and has real value, but users have often been left without much of a sense on what to do with that information. Aside from tracking progress over time or comparing data to an “ideal” goal, there hasn’t been a whole lot you could do for insights on improved wellness, fitness, or sports performance.

With the technological advancements we’ve seen in the last decade, however, science-backed insights are beginning to play a larger role. Wearables are increasingly leveraging the improved functionality and data-flow from devices to give automated prescriptive feedback, especially in devices analyzing movement patterns. Instead of simply tracking and logging distance, speed, and basic movements to be filed away with the workout, developers are continuing to layer sports science and orthopedic principles into products to provide valuable insights that will improve your next workouts!

And this is where Torq Labs helps me bring the point home. Through innovative movement-mapping technology, Torq’s K-tech Performance Leggings represent a product that has moved beyond the technological purgatory of activity-tracking and into the realm of prehab and athlete coaching.

The technology utilizes sensors embedded in an athlete’s clothing to monitor gait symmetry in real-time. The sensors establish a baseline of functional ranges of movement and bring any adverse movements and stresses to the user’s attention. Finally (and in case you’re still waiting for it, this is the “so what?” part), the app provides a visual aid to monitor progress over time and recommends exercises to target and fix weak areas.

Torq Labs encapsulates the idea we’ve been kicking around here, that sports science has been the critical driving force behind development. The product wasn’t created to just track your activity. It does do that, but it was created with the specific aim to provide scientifically sound insights on injury prevention and rehabilitation of the knee. It was built for the injury-prone athlete, for the rehabbing construction worker, and for any number of us that just want to live a more functional life.

Takeaway

The world turns and technology improves. We watch as innovations continuously blow us away, sometimes rocking the industry like the Nike Air and sometimes sputtering out like Google Glass. You know this though, because hi-tech mania is easy these days. Your ticket is a little intrigue, an open imagination and, in the case of sports technology, a desire to be BETTER.

Better than who your fitness tracker said you were last week. Better than your last race. Better than the person struggling to move each morning.

For all its bells, whistles, and whatchamacallums, sports tech is really just a vehicle for you to meet these goals. So, if you take one thing away from all this (and god-willing you better after reading this far), it’s that sports technology like Torq Labs is riding the wave of sports science, the ongoing pursuit your absolute physical best. What happens next – man, can’t wait.