New Athletic Apparel With Muscle Sensors Tells Athletes Whether They Are Training Correctly

Elite athletes are wearing smart shirts and shorts that tell them how hard their muscles are working during an exercise.

I'm often a bit dubious about new high-tech fitness products. There are a lot of great ideas, but very rarely is something done right.

Sometimes it's a technology issue. Sometimes it's an execution issue.


I'm often a bit dubious about new high-tech fitness products. There are a lot of great ideas, but very rarely is something done right.

Sometimes it's a technology issue. Sometimes it's an execution issue.

So when I heard about Athos Wearable Technology, I was initially suspicious.

Athos Wearable Technology is designed to detect muscle activity. Historically, this was possible only with an electromyograph, an expensive and bulky piece of equipment reserved for laboratories.

Athos miniaturized the electromyograph and married it to a compression shirt and compression shorts. This "wearable technology" detects activity in the muscles covered by the clothing and transmits the data to a mobile device via a small chip that attaches to the shirt and shorts. An app on the mobile device with a diagram of the body shows muscle groups lighting up when they are working. Dark red means the muscle is maximally firing.

This is nothing short of revolutionary. Having the capability to detect muscle activity by wearing a shirt and/or pair of shorts gives athletes and coaches a portable laboratory they can use in a gym or on the field without interfering with movement, making it possible for them to make data-driven decisions on correcting imbalances, selecting exercise intensity and fixing form in real time.

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We had the opportunity to check out Athos Wearable Technology at Proactive Sports Performance, where owner Ryan Capretta and his staff used it in their preparation of football players for the NFL Combine.

"Athos gives us the ability to look deeper into an athlete and understand what's happening," said Capretta. "It's a valuable tool to see where they're at."

Here's how Proactive is using the tool in their training.

Detecting Muscle Imbalances

Imbalances exist in even the fittest athletes. Your dominant side is typically stronger and more coordinated than your non-dominant side. And sports often reinforce those imbalances.

Training programs are often designed to eliminate imbalances. With Athos, it's possible to identify specific muscle imbalances and thus more intelligently target corrective training—whether by strengthening a muscle group, increasing mobility or fixing technique.

Capretta provided an example of how Athos is used to identify imbalances on the Vertical Jump. By assessing muscle activity, he can determine if an athlete is pushing equally with both legs or one leg is working harder than the other—and if it is, he can address the issue. "If we can balance that out, they're going to have the capability to produce a lot more power," he said.

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Preventing Injuries

Despite the best intentions to prevent injuries, sometimes an issue lurks silently under the skin. For example, glutes that don't fire properly might lead to overactive hamstrings, which can result in a hamstring pull.

During a sprint, Athos technology shows this issue by revealing the glutes hardly firing and the hamstrings lighting up a bright red. Not what you want to see. However, the information allows you to fix the root cause of the problem and scale back the workout to prevent a serious injury.

"We were working on 10s yesterday, and we had a guy nursing a hip flexor injury that he's coming off, so we shortened his distance and watched his Athos," Capretta recalled. "It was showing he wasn't firing the proper way he should've been firing, so we were able to back him off and work on his technique."

Optimizing Exercise Form

Every athlete is different, so there's no one-size-fits-all way to perform an exercise. Yes, the general rules apply for everyone. But for example, some athletes do better with a wide squat stance, whereas others are more comfortable with a narrow stance. The same applies to grip on the Bench Press.

Athos allows Capretta to make slight adjustments to exercise form to force the primary muscles on an exercise to do most of the work, ultimately making his athletes stronger. This was particularly valuable during his work with Combine athletes in improving their 225-pound Bench Press.

"When we take an athlete through their sets and we're looking at, 'Ok, you got a little too much tricep going on, I'm just going to bring you out an inch.' When you see that makes a difference and you can show an athlete, that is huge," Capretta said.

According to Capretta, in combination with his cutting-edge training methodologies, the Athos contributed to improvements of between 5 and 13 reps on the athletes' Bench Press numbers.

Coaching Athletes Visually

If you're an athlete, you've probably heard a coach tell you to fire your glutes. A good cue, no doubt. But it's sometimes difficult to know if your glutes are firing properly on dynamic movements, although you can usually feel the burn when you squeeze at the top of a Glute Bridge.

Athos allows athletes to see if a muscle group is actually firing. If not, they can try again and consciously think about activating that muscle group. If it lights up red, they know they performed the move correctly and should be able to master the form in the future.

"A lot of these guys are visual learners," said Capretta. "So if we give them a visual cue where we can say, 'Light that up. Make that red,' nine times out of 10, they are blowing it up quickly."

Currently, Athos technology can be found only at elite performance facilities. But we expect it to stick around and gradually filter down to individual athletes and fitness-minded individuals. Time will tell what impact it will have on how you work out.

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Athos Wearable Technology

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock