The first episode of our brand new 20 Minute Fitness Season 2 is finally here. And we’re bringing you nothing less than seven amazing fitness apps & gadgets that can help improving your strength training performance. Charlie will walk us through products from 3 different categories from ‘more accessible & easy to use’ to the very high-tech end of the spectrum.
Listen to today’s episode to learn about the benefits as well as some of the drawbacks of fit-tech innovations, like the Shape band by Atlas when it comes to strength training. And of course to find the one that will be the best for your personal goals!
Three Things You Will Learn
1) The Good & The Bad Of Our Top 3 Strength Training Apps
Fitbod, Gymaholic and Fitted Lifts are three amazing apps that definitely won’t disappoint when it comes to weight lifting. They all share some similarities, but their key benefits are quite distinct.
Fitbod uses AI to plan fully personalized workouts. Gymaholic’s augmented reality capabilities put the focus on visualization. And Fitted Lifts is on-point in everything tracking and logging. Of course this is not all, so press play now to learn about all the great features of the three apps as well as their potential shortcomings!
2) How Fitness Trackers Can Help To Optimize Your Strength Training
There are a ton of wearable fitness trackers out there. And even though it wasn’t always the case, the number of strength-training specific wearables are growing as well. It’s not a surprise as technology offers an opportunity to get some amazing insights into one’s performance. These insights can then be used to master your technique and ultimately reach your fitness goals more effectively.
Listen to this week’s episode to find out how wearables, like Shape by Atlas, Strenx by Gymwatch, and the Beast Sensor can aid your weight training. Believe it or not, but their benefits extend beyond the gym as well.
3) Increasing Your Training Efficiency Through Improved Brain Plasticity
As you could’ve probably guessed, we are hitting our most high-tech “wow” category here. Halo Neuroscience is “the first headset that stimulates the part of your brain responsible for muscle movement”.
The headphones apply mild electric field to your motor cortex, which is the area in the brain that’s responsible for controlling movement. In today’s episode you can learn a lot more about how Halo Neuroscience really works and whether it is a device that’s worth using for the everyday weight lifter or designed more for athletes.
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00:03 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome back to 20 Minute Fitness. This is the first episode of season number two. I hope the trailer really got you excited for what’s to come and that you’re interested by the new direction the podcast is taking. As it is a new direction for us, we would really appreciate any feedback you may have at the end of the episode. Let us know what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you’d like to hear more of, etcetera, just get in touch with us by emailing email@example.com or connect with us via social media. And of course, 20 Minute Fitness is powered by ShapeScale. ShapeScale is a 3D body scanning scale that digitize your body in three dimensions and tells you all sorts of unique insights such as your body fat percentage, your lean muscle mass, and your muscle dimensions. You can even visualize these changes happening to your body on your own avatar. But make sure you move quickly and pre-order from shapescale.com.
00:53 S1: So if you have listened to the teaser episode, you know that we’re going to be doing two series within season two starting with an episode from the How Technology Can Help Us series. And today we’re looking at how technology can help with our strength training performance. So let’s first look at what I mean by strength training performance. And what I mean is, how can technology help us lift a heavier weight of a certain movement such as a bench press. How can it help us increase our bench press? How can it help us increase the amount of reps we can do at a specific weight? And we’ll also look at power outputs. Physicists amongst you might know that power equals force times velocity. And so to increase power, you need strength and speed. And so we thought it’s important to consider also if you’re doing power lifting or something like that. If you are an avid 20 Minute Fitness listener, then you’ll know that the way we increase strength is through progressive overload and that is by potentially increasing the amount of weight that we put on the bars to try and lift or we decrease the rest time in between each set, we increase the volume, there’s lots of different ways we can do this, and we’ll usually try and be in a caloric surplus to give us more energy to fuel our muscles. You can of course look more into this by taking a look at the ultimate guide to tracking progress, which is on the ShapeScale blog.
02:00 S1: The next thing to bear in mind, which is also touched on in the teaser episode, if you want more clarification on this, is that any how technology can help a series, there will be three distinct categories that we put each technology into, moving from the most accessible/least complex and usually most cost-effective to the most complex and most expensive item or wearable or gadget. So now let’s look at the very first piece of technology within the most accessible category. And in this category, we are looking particularly at apps that will help improve your strength training performance. And the first app we’re looking at is called Fitbod. Fitbod uses machine learning to design a workout plan personalised to the user based on your strength training ability, your past workouts and the equipment you have available, wherever you train. Fitbod was created with the vision of bringing authentic fitness coaching to the smartphone. Co-founder and CEO, Allen Chen had always had a passion for strength training, and he also captained the rugby team at UCLA and so, Fitbod is a direct product of his experiences and lifelong passion.
03:00 S1: So why should you download Fitbod? Well, if you’re relatively new to the world of fitness and going to the gym and trying to plan out your own session, Fitbod will help you navigate and design your own workout with hundreds of exercises. We all know that a personal trainer can cost up to hundreds of dollars an hour to continuously adapt our training programs, and so Fitbod’s been created to reduce this cost and let someone take it into their own hands. It can really be difficult to understand progressive overload, but Fitbod makes it really easy to understand how to truly stimulate and overload your muscles. It reduces the guesswork and lack of preparation that you may feel as you enter the gym, and ensures you’ll always be training optimally. So, what amazing features does it have and what can it do for you? As I mentioned, it’s based off a machine learning algorithm. Fitbod will vary the intensity of your workouts including your weight, your sets and your reps according to your progress and your past performances and to ensure that all muscle groups are hit each week. So this means that users will not under or over-train a muscle group as Fitbod will plan each and every session for you, really optimising and focusing on your strength progression.
04:02 S1: You can connect Fitbod with another popular app, Strava and therefore your strength training program will be analysed by Fitbod along with the strength exercises will be recommended for you and Strava will do your cardio exercises ensuring you aren’t overdoing it in the gym or missing out on those dreaded cardio sessions. So this can benefit you because if you’re doing too much cardio and your goal is to really bulk up and build muscle mass then excess cardio could lead to being in a calorie deficit, which means that you’re not providing your muscles with the excess calories you need in order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. You can even compare your progress with other Fitbod athletes in Strava and therefore exchange of words of encouragement or set challenges, share tips and so on. So you can really build a community around your workouts and find someone who could be your accountability partner, someone who really checks in with you and makes sure that you’ve done that workout. We have some really exciting uses, well, because it’s just be announced that Fitbod will integrate with ShapeScale. So ShapeScale will import workout data logged in Fitbod into the ShapeScale mobile application and then export body measurement data captured and collected by ShapeScale to the Fitbod mobile app. You can read more about ShapeScale’s future integrations on the ShapeScale blog and I’ll also include the link in the show notes.
05:10 S1: Within Fitbod, there are over 400 HD video tutorials so you’ll never have to worry about being too nervous to try and exercise or feeling that you’re not gonna give it the right form. And form, as we know, is so important. I’ve honestly found this myself recently. I’ve been working on my bench press form, and just really refining it and working out where I’m going wrong has helped my strength accelerate massively. So this is a really great feature so we’ll make sure that no one has that sort of fear of trying out something new. Another great feature is that Fitbod utilises a visual calendar and I feel so much more prepared when I can see something visually. And so within the app, you can select a day from the past and look back on your sessions or click ahead to see what your next workout will be if you get excited about your next training session like me. The list of great features that Fitbod has is extensive and so I’ll just say one more, you can see a heat map projected onto your body to understand which muscle groups each exercise you’re doing is training. And this help will help you to learn how to build a better understanding of how to stimulate each muscle more and how to focus on that mind-muscle connection, so which muscle am I really trying to actually stimulate during this exercise.
06:11 S1: Fitbod has been fine-tuned by certified personal trainers to bring you the very best training techniques to help you to continue your progress optimally. And what’s great is that it’s based in the way you would like to train. So you can choose to get a workout matching general conditioning or strength training, which obviously, we’re focusing on here, muscle tone, body building or Olympic lifting, so you could even try out something new or just find the right style for you. It was actually really hard to find any drawbacks of Fitbod as the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Paul Wallace on his blog on Medium, which will be linked in the show notes as well, did mention that he would have liked more information on the goal he selected. So for example, he selected that he wants to focus on muscle tone and he would have liked to see something, a sort of summary that says, what sort of volume or rep range is typically carried out for this programming. And typically what kind of character might want to select this plan. Are they someone looking to gain muscle mass. Are they someone who has lots of experience in the gym, etcetera, etcetera?
07:04 S1: But as mentioned overall, the app has had great feedback and we are very excited for the integration with ShapeScale. The next great app we looked at is Gymaholic. Gymaholic is a fitness app, utilising augmented reality. You can watch 3D animated exercises performed by your own avatar to help guide you through each exercise and ensure you’re doing each exercise with the correct form. Once you know the workout, you can see the progress on your actual avatar. So this adds a sort of dimension of gamification to the app. And I believe that this makes you feel more motivated because you can see the actual results that are happening, and this might actually translate to your body, giving you a visual cue of where you might be making muscle gain. Thanks to the augmented reality feature, you can change the angle of your avatar and this means you can see how the exercise is being performed, from all angles, giving you a real idea of how to perform the exercise with the correct form. And as I’ve previously mentioned, form is so important when trying to optimise your strength.
07:56 S1: In the album section of the app you can create photo albums of your process. We all know that seeing how far you’ve come since starting your fitness journey from your very beginning point can really help boost your motivation and also keep you accountable. You put in so much effort and work, you can see the transformation you’ve already made in say six weeks and you don’t want to ruin that. So you can check back on your previous photos to keep you accountable and keep you away from potentially ruining your diet over the weekend or something like that. Again, you can read more about tracking your progress in the ultimate tracking guide on the ShapeScale blog. And what’s really cool also about the albums feature of the Gymaholic app is that you can create a video or a GIF of your body transformation just to have a real visual understanding of the changes that are occurring to your body, and it will give you a real timeline of what’s happening, how far you’ve come. I think it’s a really great feature.
08:45 S1: Gymaholic allows you to track 55 different stats and metrics to get a full understanding of your progress, whether it be your one-rep max, which we obviously are particularly focusing on with your strength training performance, to your body fat. You can track any kind of workout such a supersets, tri-sets, drop-sets. And this is a great feature because not many apps actually have this functionality. So when you’re looking back on your training, you can actually understand how you performed this set of exercises. Potentially you did a superset and so now you know to actually progressively overload and improve on these exercises next time. You need to increase the weight, not only on this exercise but also on the supersets. Unfortunately, Gymaholic does not have the machine learning capabilities of Fitbod, and so those that want a session pre-planned for them, this won’t be a feature that they can access, however it does show which muscles have rested recently and which have been trained recently, but it’s not as comprehensive as Fitbod’s way of designing a new workout based on your history and the equipment you have available.
09:40 S1: The final app we want to mention, which will really help boost your strength is Fitted Lifts. Fitted Lifts is a really simple app that is designed to make it easier to log your sets and reps while you do them. It’s been created to replace the pen and paper method of recording your progress. It’s really minimalistic. And it’s really for those that just care about seeing those numbers increase, seeing their strength increase, whether you’re chasing that one rep max or trying to improve in your 5×5 at a compound lift. This is the app for you if you want a simple interface that allows you to forget that old notepad that you have at home and just really focus on your lift and record your progress. For those that are really chasing that one-rep max progression, which is historically what a lot of people track when they’re trying to increase their strength. Fitted Lifts provides you an estimate of your one rep max based on the previous lifts you’ve done so you can see where your strengths should be and either try and chase that goal or surpass it. And when you surpass it, set a new one so it constantly keeps you moving forward.
10:32 S1: Obviously with the simplicity, comes the drawbacks. For example, the app won’t show you how to alter your form, and a personalised program won’t be created for you. It’s really for those lifters that are confident in their own programming and their form and they just want a way to log their workouts without bringing the old notepad and pen with them. We are now entering into what we call the mid-level access ability category. This is the tech that we recommend for those with a bit of experience who are really starting to get well under way in their fitness journey and they’re really focusing on trying to improve their strength, they understand about progressive overload and eating in a caloric surplus and they want a piece of technology that will help them have a competitive edge over others, to optimally progress towards their strength training goals. As we mentioned before, the cost of the devices we’re now going to talk about obviously goes up, and also the complexity of how to use them increases.
11:17 S1: So the first piece of technology in the mid-level accessibility category is the Shape by Atlas Wearable. Now the story of Atlas Wearable is an interesting one. Peter Li, one of the founders, has always been interested in helping people reach their fitness goals, utilising data-driven analytic solutions. Whilst at Johns Hopkins University, he developed a motivational platform for college students and faculty to help them lose weight and gain muscle. His partner Mike Kasparian learned how data could save lives when designing circuitry for defibrillators. So combining their knowledge and interests, they set out to develop products that could revolutionize the health and wellness industry, through wearable technology utilising top of the art data. And their latest product is the Shape wearable. First wearable to track reps and sets in the gym. It’s able to tell the difference from push-ups to bicep curls, squats and deadlifts. Shape comes with a whole host of amazing features. So, let’s run through them. And just before we delve into this, we’ve been hearing some rumours about the new soon-to-be launching product from Atlas. So keep your eyes peeled. So, not only can Shape count around 70 of the most popular gym exercises but you can also teach it new ones.
12:19 S1: So if your strength training program has you performing an exercise as an accessory movement to help with a compound lift for example, you can then teach Shape the movement and you’ll be able to track your strength improvements of the new exercise. Shape allows you to get real-time audio cues on your intensity and form. And so obviously, if you’re getting cues as and when you perform an exercise about your range of motion or whether or not the rep can count, if it was a probably completed rep, you’ll be able to adjust it and correct it. And this is so much easier correcting in the moment in real time and looking back on what you did wrong. And as we said, time and time again, proper form is so important to ensure maximal muscle stimulation and therefore progressive overload. Shape even allows you to chat with it, much like a personal trainer in between your workouts. So what’s really cool is you can let it know by SMS type messages what your goal is. So, in line with the topic of this podcast you can select the strength progression goal and you can let Shape know if you want to have a harder workout or if you feel you need more recovery time and Shape will adjust accordingly, using its artificial intelligence technology, and this will help you progress as you know your body best from a subjective point of view. We grow when we rest and recover. So if you feel that you need to rest more, you just let Shape know and then it’ll rethink the workout from there.
13:28 S1: As I’ve just mentioned, sleep quality and the duration of your sleep is so important for ensuring maximum recovery time and this is another additional benefit of Shape. Your sleep will be monitored and this is very important as inadequate sleep could impede your strength progression. So you can analyse your sleep results and adjust your sleep routine accordingly. There are tons of additional benefits we could go over with Shape, such as the fact that you can benchmark your last workout to get your personal best. Working towards a goal gives you that intrinsic motivation that’s needed to push above and beyond plateaus and reach new levels of strength. But obviously, we have more tech to cover so we’ll move on swiftly. Just quickly looking at the drawbacks, and the early real complaint I could find about Shape by Atlas was that it was difficult to pair up with the app. Users felt that alone potentially Shape is not enough, but when combined with the use of the Atlas Wristband 2, another wearable by the same company, it covers all of the functionality they need.
14:18 S1: Another point to just touch on is that the company has said that the AI tech adjusts your training following four-week message cycles to keep your muscles confused and to maximise your progress. However, there are many blogs and studies out there that say muscle confusion is actually just a myth. They write that muscles can’t think for themselves, they can only respond to stimulation, so they wouldn’t be able to get confused, if that makes sense, because they are just responding to an exerted force. But there is a shred of truth to muscle confusion. If you do the same thing over and over, your body will adapt and you’ll plateau. But the fundamentals of strength progression and muscle development, as you know, are built on progressive overload, eating a surplus of calories and resting and recovering well.
14:58 S1: The next device to look at in this category is Strenx by GYMWATCH and Fabian Walke, CEO of GYMWATCH, and inventor of the sensor within Strenx, said that he invented the device after he was noticing people performing exercises incorrectly in the gym. So what is it? It’s a wearable that you strap on during your workouts that captures data on pretty much any exercise you’d like to try out and also helps you train. The device captures a full range of motion and can tell you if you’re doing certain exercises too fast or too slow, and it can help you make sure you’re doing it with the correct form. Some of the great features for strength training include the fact that you can evaluate reps within a set and analyse your range of motion and time under tension, and this is great for users, because first and foremost, you can show you’re completing the rep with the correct form, and using the full stretch of the muscle as full range of motion ensures better muscle balance, joint stability and proper activation of the working muscles, and also time under tension is equally important.
15:50 S1: So this means the time your muscle is under load during a repetition, both during the eccentric and concentric, contractions, and several studies have confirmed the importance of time under tension for muscle protein synthesis. In fact in 2012 research performed a study to examine the effects of increased time under tension on protein synthesis, which is a major indicator of muscle growth. And in this study, eight males who’d been training legs twice per week for at least two years, performed three sets of single leg extensions, using 30% of their one rep max.
16:18 S1: On one leg, the participants performed sets with six second concentric movements and six second eccentric actions to failure. On the other leg, they performed sets with one second of the concentric and eccentric actions to failure. And researchers then took needle biopsies of the muscle tissue in both legs six, 24, and 30 hours after exercise. The results between the two methods were startling. After six hours, exercise induced rates of mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis were elevated by 114% in the leg that did the more slow contractions and only 77% in the leg that did the faster contractions. And even after 24 to 30 hours, mitochondrial protein synthesis rates were elevated at 175% on a 126% respectively, and so these results show that increased time under tension may actually lead to greater muscle protein synthesis and possibly because of that, greater muscle growth, which can translate to increased strength.
17:12 S1: Much like the Shape by Atlas, Strenx allows you to get real-time feedback for your headphones or visually using your smartphone, giving you that real-time audio cue to fix your form like the Shape by Atlas. You can select your workout from a template or create your own, in which case it’s for a whole spectrum of experience levels, and it ensures obviously you don’t get bored during your workouts, so you can go into a plan if you have one in place or allow Strenx to do one for you and monitor your reps and form. And much like the algorithm is utilised for Fitbod, Gymwatch uses algorithms to analyse and determine your specific goals, combining your personal data and also recording data to create a personalised training program. It calculates the optimal way to avoid overloading and under-loading your muscles, and this will help you to progress towards your strength training goals more efficiently. The downside is that if you’re doing a movement like dumbbell curls, for example, you may have to have one strap on each arm, or you’ll have to take your sensor from one arm and put it onto the other, and some exercises require you to wear the device on the forearm or lower leg, and this may interfere with the feedback given by Strenx and tell you your form is off when really it could be perfect.
18:13 S1: The final device we’ll look at in this category is the Beast, and Beast is another sensor designed to track the greatest amount of gym exercises, and it can be customised through the Beast web portal. As Beast is magnetic, it is compatible with a variety of machines, weights and body weight exercisers. The sensor is designed to magnetically slap on to barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, you name it, and you can also attach it directly to gym machines. Alternatively you can slot it into the wrist strap and the magnet and velcro will keep it in place. You can choose whether you analyse your speed, power or strength and you can then monitor your performance live. So obviously, we’re interested in power and strength as we classified earlier. So what are the cool features that Beast has? Well, Beast allows you to set training goals and it allows you to optimise workouts for max strength or power based on your actual performance that day, using velocity-based training. And we will go into greater depth on velocity-based training another time.
19:02 S1: As we’ve touched on earlier, power is made up of strength and velocity, so in order to build power, you need a multi-faceted approach, so you need to dedicate time to maximal strength training, but also biometric training and contrast training, and so on, and the end result of training for power is better performance in the gym in terms of the amount you can lift, but also in the field if you’re an athlete. And this means although maximum strength gives a foundation you need to train explosiveness, this explosiveness can then be re-engineered and translated into your strength training to help increase the amount you can lift. The Beast sensor will allow you to see all sorts of different metrics. For example, you can see if you’re training at 60% of what your one rep max, but you’re moving the bar faster than the training zone, you might have to bump up the weight to around 70% of your one rep max, and the sensor will allow you to understand this after analysing your results. You might realise that you’re responding to training well, and you might bump up your time schedule and your cycle to optimise your body conditions to go after an new PR.
19:56 S1: Beast’s portal is great to look back on your training, and to adjust your loads or sets or reps, based on your training goal, and really analyse your performance and plan and manage your training cycles. Again, a similar sort of drawback with Beast that you might have to take the Beast sensor off your wrist and strap it on your legs and it can often be difficult to find the counter-position for a leg curl, so you might have to strap it on your ankle to ensure accurate data. You also need to educate yourself on the concept of velocity based training, which is what Beast analyses and what it’s based off, and this can really lead to a steep learning curve on how to interpret the sheer amount of data that Beast gives you. It’s quite a lot of advanced performance indicators such as looking at your power output, which is in watts and your velocity in meters per second, so potentially moving into the category of tech which requires you to have a more proficient understanding of exercise and fitness.
20:45 S1: And finally we’ll now look at one product within the wow category, one which we really want to let our listeners know about that we think is just really innovative and out there and quite advanced and complex to use, and we think would really interest the listeners. And this is the Halo Sport headphones. These are over-ear headphones that deliver tiny electrical impulses directly to the motor cortex, the area of the brain that controls movement, and supposedly, this puts the brain cells in a state of hyperplasticity. And this means, it’ll make your brain temporarily more receptive to learning physical movements. The Halo Sport headphones are not only in the wow category due to their $749 price tag, but also because the complexity of their function and the science behind the device.
21:27 S1: Halo Sport uses a form of brain stimulation called trans-cranial direct current stimulation. For the use of electric fields, the part of the brain that controls movement, the motor cortex, Halo Sport claims it can create a state of hyper-learning where athletes will benefit from faster gains in strength, muscle memory and endurance. Strength relies on the motor cortex to ensure that your muscle fibres are contracting together and not competing of each other. Powerful output requires the coordination of the many thousands of neurons that activate a group of primary and synergist muscles. With plasticity, the brain learns to contract more useful muscle fibres and relax opposing fibres, allowing you to lift more and increase your strength. And there is a great deal of scientific interest in trans-cranial direct current simulation. Halo Sport do have evidence to back up their claims. In a study, athletes training for strength in power intensive sports received neuro-stimulation treatment in the form of trans-cranial direct current stimulation, from the Halo neuro simulation system during their training routine.
22:24 S1: Athletes who received stimulation, showed significantly greater improvement in their jumping ability to the plyometric movement compared to non-stimulation athletes. This study can demonstrate the ability of the non-invasive brain stimulation to improve athletic performance. However of course, further testing with larger populations and sham controls is needed in the future. Elite athlete participants actually increase their maximum outputs by an additional 2% per week training with stimulation compared to those training without stimulation. And it offered real evidence that the effects seen in the laboratory would translate to real world applications in muscle strength and explosiveness. It also found that fatigue was decreased and sleep quality was improved by simulation, all of which, of course, affects your strength training performance. And so, if Halo can do all this, it really is becoming a really comprehensive package helping you recover better, helping you to lift more and thus increase your strength over time. The major drawback surrounding Halo Sport is the fact that it’s difficult to determine the impact of the headphones alone, because there’s so many different elements affecting your strength progression, whether you are training effectively, if you’re eating right. Are you effectively achieving progressive overload? Are you resting your muscles for too long? All sorts.
23:32 S1: And so it can be hard to really refine it down to a sole reason. There are a number of professional athletes that are advocates of the headphones, and they will most likely have a greater understanding of how much of an impact the headphones have made in their training, as usually professional athletes will have tracked their progress over time, and so they may have seen an increased rate of progression when they started using the neuro-stimulation offered by Halo Sport. All in all, though very cool product, and we were lucky enough to see it actually and give it a test at CES in Las Vegas. So there we have it, the very first episode of season two in the subcategory, How technology can help us. I really hope you enjoyed finding out about all this different tech that’s designed to really optimise your strength training performance. I hope you found that the features were useful and also the benefits that we derived from these features, and potentially if you have used any of these or if you think you might go out and buy one, do let us know. We’d love to know your experience with them. And of course, stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll be airing an episode from the other sub-category, the Why I Built This series. So catch us next week for another episode of 20-Minute fitness.