- More precise than a fitness scale
- Ability to track individual muscles to identify where you need most work
- Great app which allows you to track progress over time
- Long battery life
- Positioning of the device can effect results
- Difficult to verify results
- No screen - so dependent on smartphone
When you think of fitness trackers, Skulpt products don’t readily come to mind. That’s because they’re a different breed, that measure metrics that you wouldn’t normally measure with more ‘traditional’ activity devices. Rather than monitoring daily activities, such as steps taken and distance traveled, the Skulpt Chisel measures muscle quality and body fat percentage.
Essential reading: Skulpt Aim – hand held body fat monitor
The Chisel follows in the footsteps of the original first generation Aim device, which we have been using for over a year now. The Aim was made after a successful IndieGogo campaign in 2014. Skulpt’s first device is now being used in various clinical trials around the US to study patients with neuromuscular problems. It has even been used in collaboration with NASA to study the impact of weightlessness on the muscles of mice that have been in outer space!
But how did it all begin?
Dr. Seward Rutkove, Skulpt co-founder, is a neurologist at Harvard Medical School. As a physician and researcher, he was frustrated that there were no good ways to measure the muscle health of his patients. 15 years ago, he embarked on a mission to find or develop a better way to measure muscles. In collaboration with physicists at Northeastern University and engineers at MIT, he developed and tested the earliest prototypes that measured EIM (Electrical Impedance Myography). In 2009, Dr. Rutkove and Dr. Jose Bohorquez, an electrical engineering graduate from MIT, co-founded Skulpt to develop EIM devices.
Body fat percentage is a great measure of fitness level, since it is the only body measurement which directly calculates a person’s relative body composition without regard to height or weight. The widely used body mass index (BMI) provides a measure that allows for an estimate of healthy weight of an individual based on their height. While BMI largely increases as adiposity increases, due to differences in body composition, other indicators of body fat give more accurate results; for example, individuals with greater muscle mass or larger bones will have higher BMIs. What this means is that BMI may not always be an appropriate or precise indicator of healthy weight in an individual.
Skulpt showcased the new Chisel at CES Unveiled in New York in late 2015. The company then started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the tracker which does pretty much everything the original Aim does – without the need for a screen, thus improving battery life and lowering the cost. By the end of the campaign, the company raised over $500,000, well above their $100,000 initial goal.
Just like the original device, Chisel has 12 sensors on the back with optimized configurations and frequencies. It sends a small current past the subcutaneous fat and through the muscle fibers, picking up thousands of data points per second. The technology then evaluates the flow of that current to measure the fat percentage per muscle, and rates that muscle’s fitness.
Before Skulpt, there was no consumer gadget that could measure the quality of one’s muscle (a term in medical space that refers to the force your muscle produces relative to its size). If it all sounds complicated, don’t worry. It’s not. Chisel measures muscle quality and simplifies it into a score of the muscles’ fitness – MQ. A higher MQ represents a stronger, leaner, and more fit muscle.
Chisel measures 24 different muscles on your body, providing the fat percentage and the MQ value for each muscle. The 24 muscles are (both left and right side): abs, biceps, calves, chest, forearms, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, quads, shoulders, triceps, and upper back.
On the back of the tracker are 12 sensors; once you have chosen which muscle you would like to measure, simply spray the sensors with water and place the Aim on your muscle. The sensors will then painlessly send a small current past the fat and through your muscle. If the reading was successful, the ring around the bezel will turn from red to blue.
To get a total body fat percentage or a total body MQ score, you will need to measure three areas: triceps, abs, and quads. You can however measure other muscles as well. The Aim is water-resistant and can be used while in the shower. This makes it much easier to conduct measurements as it takes away the need to constantly wet the sensors with the spray bottle. After using the tracker for a few days, we have eventually reverted to splashing water on the individual muscles as this this is a quicker route to obtaining measurements.
The gadget has a LED light ring around its edge. When taking a measurement, the light ring will be pulsing in color, and then it will turn to a solid color when the measurement is ready. You can then view a ‘heat map’ on the app to conveniently track your strongest muscles and those that need improvement.
A mobile app is required to use the Chisel. An iPhone 5 or newer, and Android phones with OS 4.3 or later are all compatible. The original Aim can be controlled from both the smartphone app and the device itself for added convenience.
Skulpt trackers aren’t the first to measure these metrics. Bioimpedance scales and skinfold calipers have been used by gym goers for years, but Skulpt devices are the first to measure fat percentage from individual muscles. But as it is difficult to independently verify the results, it comes down to whether or not you trust the sensors on the device to deliver accurate results. The manufacturer and a number of other professionals in the fitness industry claim that it is accurate. As mentioned, we have been extensively testing the original Aim gadget for over a year now, and our impression as well is that it is accurate.
Essential reading: Devices that help you keep tabs on your body fat
According to the Skulpt website, clinical trials have shown that its devices are within 1-2% accuracy. Well above other methods of measuring body fat. The gold standard of course is DEXA/Hydrostatic weighting – this however costs upwards of $150. And its a one off measurement so you would need to pay that amount each time you go. Additionally, Skulpt trackers also measure individual muscle groups, as well as your muscle quality (MQ). Something that bio-impedance scales, or any other device on the market, cannot give you.
Having said that, what you will find in practice is that measurements vary depending on where on the muscle the sensor is placed. Even moving the tracker an inch or two to the side, can sometimes result in a slightly different reading. One way around this is to measure the muscle 3 to 4 times, and obtain an average reading. And do it at the same time in the day, preferably as soon as you wake up in the morning. Which is what we eventually reverted to doing.
Check out the official video.
As mentioned, the main difference between the first and second generation devices is that the original Aim has a screen, while the new tracker has no screen. This enables the Chisel to have a battery life that is twice as long. A full charge will take about 2 hours, and can last up to one and a half months with regular use. With heavier use, it should last between 2 and 4 weeks. The Chisel is lighter than its predecessor, allowing you to transport the device with ease. Also, at around $99, the Chisel costs less than the original device.
“The earlier success of the Skulpt Aim is helping to change the way people monitor fitness, so we wanted to create an affordable counterpart that gives a wider audience the chance to better understand their bodies,” said Jose Bohorquez, Co-Founder and CEO, Skulpt.
Chisel supports only one user at a time. It can however be re-paired to another person’s app at any time. If you are sharing your Chisel with another person, you need to make sure the device is paired with the correct app before use, to ensure the measurements are saved to the correct app.
With regular use, this little tracker will give you greater insight into your fitness and enable you to precisely measure the results of your workouts. This will help you to understand where exactly you are losing fat and gaining muscle. Next time you head off to the gym, you will have a much greater understanding on which muscles you need to place most focus on.
Essential reading: Skulpt Aim – hand held body fat monitor
The company is also developing a few interesting new features which will be enabled via app updates. The one that has recently launched, and is undergoing refinement, is tailored fitness device based on your fitness goals and metrics. The app suggests actual workout routines based on the quality of your individual muscles. What you essentially get is a personal fitness coach. Another upcoming feature are demographics, so you can see exactly where you stand compared to your age group, gender, etc. And finally Skulpt will add a calorie counter based on your body fat %.