Awesome Wearable Gadgets That Will Take Your Workout To Next Level

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Suppose someone told you that a special "smart" shirt would enable you to lift more weight? Would you put this magical shirt on and head straight to the gym? Or would you consider it cheating? Or would you consider it cheating…and still wear it? Be honest.

What might have once seemed like a hypothetical question is becoming more real every day as designers and engineers develop electrically powered super-fabrics. Initially conceived of as a way to help disabled people move their limbs more naturally, these new garments, and other wearable technology, may soon help people of all physical abilities lift more weight, run faster, and take their athletic performance where it probably had no chance of going otherwise.

One of the epicenters of this new technology is Sweden, where researchers have developed fabric that, when give an electric charge, is able to lift very small amounts of weight. That may sound silly, but it represents a pivotal milestone on the road to create "soft robotics." Unlike the sometimes clunky prosthetics that use mechanical means to move limbs, "fabric exoskeletons" made possible by soft robotics could make externally assisted movements more lifelike, natural, and, ultimately, powerful than ever.

Here are a few of the wildest innovations that may soon be landing in a gym near you.

The Rise of the Electrified Bodysuit

Like something out of a superhero's closet, bodysuits made of futuristic fabrics emerge from the complex intersection of microelectronics, artificial intelligence, and materials science. Leaving spandex far behind, these garments are constructed out of new materials such as carbon nanotubes, shape-memory alloy wires, and even tiny nylon "muscles."

It's all very high tech and not ready for prime time. But across the U.S. and around the world, in laboratories large and small, entrepreneurs are bringing fitness-related products to market that apply these new technologies in a mind boggling number of ways.

No, these engineers on the edge don't yet openly promise that these bodysuits will increase your bench. But the fabrics and the sensors embedded in them already provide valuable information to help wearers improve their form, develop their sense of balance, optimize their performance, and monitor their health. And that, in the long term, can definitely boost your strength.

Sensors and Stick-Ons to Optimize Posture and Performance

The Australian design company Wearable Experiments has a more ethereal goal in mind for its body sensor network. The company's Nadi X pants detect muscle tension and transform this data into vibrations that silently alert the wearer to imbalances in their yoga poses.

Rather than capture and export the biometric data for further analysis, the Nadi X suit is designed to provide immediate feedback to improve the wearer's performance in that instant. The goal is to help the wearer perform better yoga postures and movements. The U.S.-based company Somaxis has developed Cricket sensors, which are like training suits without the suits. You can attach the adhesive sensors anywhere on your body to measure activity in your muscles, heart, and brain. You can also use the system to measure your posture and your movement patterns, guide your recovery from repetitive-strain injuries, and even discover where in your body you are holding stress. As with many wearable products, Cricket sensors are used in combination with a phone app and a web portal where you can view and interact with your biometric information. So far, purchasers have used the system for physical and occupational therapy, sports science, and physical rehabilitation.

Fitbit, Meet Fit Ink

This intersection of microelectronics and new materials has spawned dozens of companies that are embedding sensors in everything from shoe inserts to tattoos.

Rotex, a U.S.-based biotech company that emerged from Chinese research, takes the concept of wearables to the max by creating disposable "e-tattoos" that bind with the skin. They collect real-time measurements including EKG activity, respiration, temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, and hydration.

Wearables Just for Lifters

Many new wearable products are designed specifically for use with resistance training. For example, Delta Gloves by U.S.-based company PureCarbon contain three pressure-sensor circuits per glove that record exercises, sets, reps, and weights lifted. They continue to capture data whether you're using free weights, machines, or bodyweight. The current generation of sensors are capable of detecting up to 90 pounds of force per sensor, or 270 pounds per hand.

Delta Gloves use artificial intelligence and your workout history to build new customized routines. Paired with headphones, the system can talk you through your workout step by step, telling you which exercises to do, how many sets and reps, and how much weight to use. Haptic motors in each glove vibrate to let you know that you have finished a set or that your rest time is over. A Delta smartphone app enables you to review your history of specific exercises, and track and compare your workouts in terms of power and other performance markers.  


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