Measure of success
Going for a run is no longer enough – Jenny Southan reveals how a data-driven approach to your workout can help you become fitter, faster and stronger
My induction to Third Space gym in London’s Soho involves standing on a futuristic-looking weighing machine and gripping two metal prongs while an electric current passes through me (thankfully, I can’t feel it). On the screen, the outline of a figure begins to fill in, and readings show what percentage water, protein, mineral and fat I am. I won’t share the numbers, but it was certainly enlightening.
Weight is a crude reading of one’s physical make-up, while BMI (body mass index), derived from your weight divided by your height, is not much better. Using this calculation, someone muscular could be considered obese because muscle is heavier than fat.
The InBody Analysis machine is more scientific, giving comprehensive readings of your entire physiology – whether your skeletal muscle mass is normal, how much visceral fat you have around your internal organs (not too much, hopefully), how much water is in your system (both intra- and extra-cellular), and the distribution of lean mass versus fat around your arms, trunk and legs.
A typical gym induction might include a questionnaire about your lifestyle, the taking of a few vital statistics, and some advice on how to use the machines. At Third Space (thirdspace.london), which has four clubs in London, you won’t start training until your data has been analysed. The body scanner will also provide a meaningful map of your progress – work hard, and after a month you’ll see an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat.
Third Space’s free “Out/Set” biometric assessment was developed by personal trainer Luke Worthington. For £150 (US$195), you can also take a DNA test to find out your genetic strengths and weaknesses. Worthington sets a series of exercises so he can see your movement capabilities – so if you don’t have perfect form when it comes to a hip hinge (effectively bending down to pick something up), he won’t put any deadlifts in your regime.
“The purpose is to get as much information as possible about people before setting them loose in the gym,” he says.“I come from a professional sport background so my idea was to bring some of what we did in that world to the public. The industry is very goal-oriented – get the beach body, run the 10k, get to point B, but without any conception of what point A is. That was where we were going wrong. Not all beginners are rubbish at everything, and even someone very advanced will have weak spots.”
TRACK YOUR PROGRESS
As the demand for personal training continues, we can expect more gyms to offer data-based programmes – and more body scanning machines in reception. Fit3D scanners have recently been installed in high-end gyms such as Equinox, which has dozens of locations in the US, UK and Canada, while Styku 3D scanners are now available in more than 25 countries.
The technology is seen to be effective not only at getting people off the couch, but in motivating them to continue exercising as they see their body change. It also pairs well with wearable fitness trackers for real-time readings. In 2016, more than 50 million fitness trackers (not including smartwatches) were sold, according to research company CCS Insight. By 2020, they are expected to exceed 165 million.
Keen triathloner Gemma Taylor uses cycling and running app Strava. “It tracks all my activities so I can quickly see an overview of all the training I have completed over many weeks at a time,” she says. “This helps me to push harder and further. I am training for a marathon so I’ll use it to track my weekly mileage and make sure I’m hitting my targets.”
David Howaston, master trainer for fitness equipment manufacturer Technogym, says: “Apps and tracking devices have changed the way we approach exercise, making users more self-aware of their habitual movement. Technogym helps people to track their workouts via Mywellness.com. This [cloud-based platform] allows users to log in to their own workout anywhere in the world, be it outdoors or in a hotel gym with Technogym Unity screens. When travelling, you can use the My Running Logbook to re-create your favourite outdoor run on a treadmill.”
The final piece in the puzzle is the role your genes play, and the good news is DNA testing has finally become affordable and easy (see “All in the genes”, June 2017 issue). In 2013, UK fitness trainer Matt Roberts began offering personalised training based on your genetic response to nutrition and exercise.
He partners with DNAFit (dnafit.com), which interprets 30 genes and their variants. Anyone can order one online and a saliva sample will, for example, highlight the ACTN3 “power gene”, which is common in Olympic athletes, and the FTO “fat gene”, which determines how likely your body is to store saturated fat. Other sensors indicate sports injury resilience and whether you are better suited to power or endurance
activity. Roberts says a DNA test can show “exactly what it is about your body that would make training easier”.
If you don’t have access to a trainer or gym that can provide you with a biometric workout, DNAFit can provide one for you virtually. Once you have your results, you can sign up for one of its “Elevate” programmes (100 Day Fat Burner or 100 Day Muscle Builder), which use the “world’s first and only proven genetic training algorithm” to create a bespoke schedule. Knowing, for instance, that you have the potential for fast recovery and that you respond best to power training means you could cope with daily weight lifting and spinning classes.
Still, personal trainer and former Royal Marine Commando Philip McDougall warns that it’s also important to listen to your instincts: “Fitness tracking tools can help beginners to gauge things such as pace and distance, but I’m personally against tech being involved in fitness monitoring for regular exercisers, apart from a simple stopwatch or interval timer. Runners should plan their route, memorise distance markers and rely on feedback from their own bodies.”
Above: Technogym’s Myrun home treadmill streams data to your tablet