Workout Clothes Get the Technology Treatment

Sense-able clothing reminds exercisers to work out right.

ByABC News
August 17, 2012, 4:21 PM

Aug. 20, 2012— -- Bees do it. Cells phones do it. And now workout clothing does it too. Buzz, that is.

Say your stomach pooches out too far while doing a core exercise in a Pilates class. The sensors in the Move tank top spot your mistake and emit a mild electric shock reminding you to tighten up those abs. Same thing if your hip pops out at the wrong angle during a leg toning series. When the correction is made, the clothing delivers three buzzy "attaboys" to the area so you know you're back in alignment.

The garment, which was presented this July at the Wearable Technologies conference in San Francisco, has four stretch-and-flex sensors woven out of conductive fibers and embedded into its front, back and sides. The sensors are strategically placed to help correct the most common errors people make during a mat Pilates class.

Made from the same materials as regular exercise clothing, it isn't bulky or uncomfortable, and most of the garment can withstand the spin cycle. The battery and other components that can't be washed are removable.

Wearable instructor

The tank also transmits workout information to your smart phone via Bluetooth and has an app that analyses your technique and critiques your performance. You can download short animated movies that show you where you tend to go wrong, then offers suggestions on how you can improve.

Jennifer Darmour, the tank's designer, says the idea came to her when she realized how much money she was spending on Pilates classes, which can run upward of $200 an hour for a private session. She started to think of ways to help speed up the learning process.

"I thought putting sensors in the clothing could give feedback to help you improve your technique a lot faster," Darmour who is a technology expert, says."It's not meant to replace an instructor but it can certainly help you understand the technique even when the instructor isn't around."

Scientists are on board with the concept. Joseph Paradiso of the Massachusetts Information Technology Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass., believes this type of technology can be a great teaching tool, particularly for an activity like Pilates in which the movement is meant to be very precise.

"There is only so much information we can take in with our eyes and our ears and these types of sensors can be very effective at picking up mistakes and offering feedback. When they are in the right place they help you instinctively make corrections," Paradiso says.

Big Business

The Move system is unique to the Pilates world but so-called wearable technology is a hot clothing category. IMS Research, a British research firm that tracks statistics for the global electronics industry, reports that more than 14 million wearable devices were shipped last year, most of them in the fitness and medical category. By 2016, they predict the market will hit $6 billion in revenue.

While the Move tank is still in the development phase and won't hit the shelves for at least a year, consumers will find there's certainly is no shortage of workout gear that helps track stats, enhance performance or offer a measure of protection.

Shoe inserts, wrist watches and clip-ons serve as high-tech pedometers to track, download and analyze the mileage and speed of runners and cyclists. A waistband called the Lumobelt uses a sensor system similar to the Movement tank to remind those with back pain to stand up straight. There's even an "invisible bike helmet" you wear around your neck like a scarf; if you're in a crash it deploys like an airbag over your head. (The $600 helmet, designed by Swedish company Hövding, can only be activated once.)

Darmour is working on incorporating sensor technology into other types of gear where the sport calls for precise technique. She hopes in the future, she'll also have clothes that zap golfers, baseball pitchers and yoga lovers whenever they make a wrong move.