These workout pants know whether you’re working out hard—or not

Athos injects new energy into the fitness tracking space with apparel that can sense which muscles you're using, and how hard you're working them.
(Photo: Athos)
(Photo: Athos)

Monitoring heart rate and calorie burn is practically passé these days. But Athos is injecting new energy into the fitness tracking space with apparel that can sense which muscles you’re using (and how hard you’re working them) during your work outs.

The San Francisco-based company expects to ship its first products—tops, bottoms, and a sensor called the “core”—in early fall, and its founders say the system will help those who can’t afford a personal trainer or just want to work out more efficiently to monitor their sweat sessions in a whole new way.

“It’s meant to give you that insight that you couldn’t get otherwise,” says Dhananja Jayalath, who founded the company with college roommate Chris Wiebe. Such as, if you’re doing squats to get a firm booty but are leaning too far forward, you’re probably just building quad muscles, instead.

The app shows “a clear right side bias” during these preacher curls. (Photo: Athos/Facebook)

How does it work? Athos re-engineered EMG (electromyography), technology used in the medical world that tracks electrical signals sent out when muscles are activated. You slip the core (like the brain of the operation) into a pocket on your sleeve or pant leg, and sensors built into the fabric communicate with the core, which then communicates with the app on your iPhone.

The app then shows real time info on the muscles you’re using while also counting your reps, tracking heart rate, and providing scores that help you compare how hard you worked, from cycling to boot camp and even to doing dishes, if you want.

I watched an Athos employee outfitted in the apparel do squats, lunges, and tricep dips and could see the muscle groups lighting up on the screen. It was darker in places where the work was more intense.

The idea, Jayalath says, is that more information is always useful. For instance, you may notice you’re constantly working one leg harder than the other when you run (PT visit!). “You can tell quantitatively if you’re in a muscle building zone or a toning zone, so you know you’re in the right zone for what you want to achieve,” he says.

Of course, some experts say that a glut of technical information can sometimes lead to the opposite effect for those who don’t have the know-how to actually put it to use. “It could drive people crazy,” says Jordan Metzl, MD, a renowned sports medicine physician and fitness instructor. “Of course, if you’re just someone who wants more information, it certainly can’t hurt you to have this info. But I’m not sure, for the average person, that it gives you a huge amount of actionable knowledge.”

In other words, it seems like a tool that elite athletes and trainers will put to use way before gym-goers who just want to get in their hour of cardio. Then again, who would have predicted the popularity of devices like the Jawbone a few years ago?

Plus, he says, “It’s cool.” That, it is. —Lisa Elaine Held

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