Men's Fitness

Gym Trackers

Why the perfect gym watch doesn’t exist and what’s being done to change that


Pick up a Garmin or an Apple Watch, head to the exercise screen and you’ll

nd the promise of being able to track pretty much every activity under the sun. Except that when you hit that Start button before a lifting session or a CrossFit class, the reality is pretty limited.

It’s simply not a level playing eld when you see the level of monitoring, metrics and insights on o er for a runner or a swimmer, compared to someone who favours muscling up over running quicker.

For many sports watch companies, it’s clear the kind of features that can bring real value to strength training hasn’t been high on the list of priorities. But that’s beginning to change, and there’s now a greater appreciati­on that people are taking a more multimodal approach to tness. Doing one single thing is not the optimal way to train. Building a watch better suited for gym-based training feels like the last frontier. Great progress is being made, but there are many reasons why there’s still some work to be done.


Polar has spent decades in the pursuit of building an accurate tool for heart-rate measuremen­t. at pursuit has taken the form of chest-strap monitors and then watches. While it’s made great strides in o ering a better way to gauge e ort levels during a workout, as Tom Fowler, president at Polar, acknowledg­es, “there is a gap” in terms of the recognitio­n of what exercises you’re doing, as well as the recording of both reps and velocity. It currently doesn’t o er the ability to track gym-based movements.

However, the introducti­on of its FitSpark feature on its latest watches, which suggests strength and mobility exercises based on workout history, is seen as a step in the right direction towards better serving gym users.

Fowler believes the level of tracking and data for gym training does exist, but it’s currently scattered across many di erent services. “ere are platforms and online

tness providers that don’t make hardware,” he says. “ey are all ghting for mindshare and subscripti­ons. e biggest challenge is that you have to stitch together, on your own, from four or ve di erent companies in order to get the complete package. It can be done, but from a consumer perspectiv­e it’s asking quite a lot.”


Like Polar, Garmin has served runners, swimmers, cyclists and outdoor adventurer­s well for some time now. But it was only over the last few years that the brand recognised it should be doing more to support strength training and other gym training. It rst introduced automatic rep counting and

automatic classi cation of strength movements on its watches in 2017.

More recently, it’s added animated workouts using motion capture to create animations that show correct form when lifting. While these features were clearly a step in the right direction, Phil McClendon, lead product manager for Garmin’s consumer

tness products, admits there’s more that needs to be done.

“ese features are limited by what you can measure from a wearable on the wrist,” he explains. “While it allows users to capture curls, bench presses and then automatica­lly characteri­se them, you can’t track leg motion. We’d say the rep counting does quite well for simple non-compound movements using the arms. I nd it gets into the neighbourh­ood of the correct count. at’s why we allow the user to adjust the rep count and enter weight on the watch.”

e complexity of delivering reliable rep-counting features lies with the variety of movements, and being able to correctly recognise those movements. ere’s no indication of pace or speed, like you’d get for an activity – running and cycling, for example – that can make use of a GPS sensor.

Peter Li, founder of Atlas Wearables, has built a watch that promises that level of exercise tracking, and he feels some technologi­es that have become more mainstream and crucial to how these watches work have been taken for granted in the developmen­t.

“Bluetooth was not designed for what it’s being used for today,” says Li. “When

“e complexity of delivering reliable rep-counting features lies with the variety of movements, and being able to correctly recognise those movements”

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