Review: PUSH Band, get accurate insights about your performance in the gym

PUSH Band

PUSH Band
7.875

Design

8/10

    Ease of use

    8/10

      Use of information

      8/10

        Motivation

        8/10

          Pros

          • Automatically counts and logs reps, sets, velocity and power
          • Accurate data
          • Lets you know if you are lifting too much or too little
          • Great software and website portal
          • Does not slow down your gym routine

          Cons

          • Mostly for upper body workouts
          • Misses the occasional rep for certain exercises
          • You need to educate yourself on VBT

          While most activity trackers count steps, distance and calories, a limited few have been designed to enhance athletic performance by tracking each lift performed in the gym. These devices also keep tabs on workout history, set goals, and tailor gym routines.

          PUSH is a sport technology company that designs solutions to help athletes perform at their best. Their flagship product PUSH Band is used by professionals across most major sports. The Canadian based outfit ran an Indiegogo campaign back in 2014 to fund product development and has been going from strength to strength since.

          We know that the best way to main gains when you hit the gym is to workout with weights that will require you to exert near your maximum effort. This arm-based activity tracker is able to detect exercise repetitions and send real-time actionable feedback to your smartphone, so you can decide whether to keep pushing or hold back. The company says that PUSH is the first scientifically validated wearable to provide true objective insights about your performance in the weight room.

          Essential reading: Boost your gym session with these gadgets

          With its most recent software update called Free Movement, PUSH is no longer confined to classic gym-based lifts. It now allows for the measurement of key metrics beyond the barbell, and provides you with the ability to monitor any athletic explosive movement that you define.

          I’ve been taking the wearable through its paces during the past few weeks. These are my impressions.

          Design
          Velocity Based Training
          Functionality and software
          Free Movement
          Overview

          View technical specs


          Design

          In the box PUSH arrives with the core unit, a Velcro strap that comes in a small or large size, a USB charging cable and some reading material. The strap slides through the sides of the plastic pod to secure tightly around your forearm or upper arm. For certain tests and Free Movement, it can also be attached to your torso, leg or equipment. A single button on the front switches the device on or off.

          PUSH is very lightweight and comfortable to wear. The main unit measures 77.5mm height, 53.3mm width and 15mm depth, and weighs only 32 grams. There is no metal in the armband, device body or any parts that touch the skin so its unlikely to cause skin irritation.

          The device is able to withstand rain, water spills and sweat but you should not submerge it in water. The armband is sweat-wicking, so you do not need to wash it often. Just remember to remove the plastic pod that houses the smarts before cleaning the band.

          On the front of the core unit you’ll find a LED light for visual feedback. A flashing Red colour means PUSH is searching for your phone, Red means its connected, Green means its tracking, flashing Yellow indicates low battery, plugged into USB and Yellow shows its charging and plugged into USB and Green that it is fully charged.

          In terms of internal smarts, the clever work of capturing your motion in 3D is done by a triaxial accelerometer and triaxial gyroscope. They sample at 1,000 Hz each and then do a sensor fusion to produce a 200 Hz fully resolved signal. The device uses enhanced Bluetooth 2.1 (giving a 30 foot range), to transfer the data to your smartphone for processing. This is done through a collection of custom algorithms which are specifically-designed for each exercise, hence the accuracy.

          When it comes to battery life, PUSH comes with a built-in rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery that will run for an impressive 7 hours of continuous motion recording. This should easily get you through a weeks worth of gym sessions. A standard micro USB cable refuels the device and this takes about 3 hours. If the battery is running low, plug it in for just 30 minutes and it will charge to about 50%.


          Velocity Based Training

          Before we begin, lets run through some basics.

          Not many people are aware of the concept of Velocity Based Training (VBT). This type of training can take the guesswork out of exercising by helping you choose the correct weight to maximise results. However, it does take a bit of time to get your head around it, which is the reason for this introduction.

          VBT has been used since the 1960’s in the old Soviet Union. Olympic coaches at the time were looking for ways to optimize training regimes of shot putters and weightlifters. Ultimately, they concluded that the velocity (or the speed) of the lift can be used to determine the best weight-load for training. This approach was later adopted by many professional strength coaches around the world.

          This is very different from the more often used method of Percentage Based Training (PBT) – where you are using the percentage of your best lift (1RM – one repetition maximum) to determine the appropriate weight-load. This approach requires a lot of guess work and doesn’t take into account how you are feeling on the day.

          VBT is in a sense a form of autoregulation. It adjusts the training session based on the velocity at which the chosen exercise is completed, which gives you immediate and objective feedback on your performance. This has the benefit of allowing for real-time adjustment, thus lessening the risk of overtraining and injury. And we’ve all been there – some days you’re simply not at the top of your game. Put more simply, velocity output helps dictate how much load you should be adding or removing on a particular set, or if you should move on and try a new exercise altogether.

          When you start a set, the first few reps will typically be done at high velocity. When one or two consecutive reps fall below a certain threshold, this is the signal to terminate the set. This ensures that fatigue has set in and you are performing to achieve the desired goal. The weight is adjusted as the training goes on to stay within the desired range, developing the traits you want to see improved.

          Athletes and gym buffs have different goals when they resistance train. This includes working on basic strength, hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), power, speed and muscular endurance. For each of these, the amount of exercises, repetitions and weights you should use are different.

          VBT is similar to heart rate zone training in the sense that you target different velocities for each of these qualities. For example, for maximum strength, your velocity, expressed as metres per second (m/s) is going to be very low, hence the weight-load is going to be high. To develop speed, you are looking at a much higher m/s and lower weight.

          You could, of course, do a very basic form of VBT by having someone time your reps with a stopwatch. But this approach is going to be extremely flawed and will end up with inaccurate and inconsistent readings. This is where PUSH Band comes in.


          Functionality and software

          The wearable counts and logs your sets and reps. It also calculates the velocity and power of your lifts, which can help you decide whether to increase or decrease your workload or change the number of reps.

          To use, you first need to download and install the PUSH smartphone app, create an account and register your user details. Then switch PUSH on by long pressing the single button, and pair it with your smartphone. This is typically done through the accompanying smartphone app, but you can also do it through the Bluetooth settings on your phone. You are now ready to hit the weights.

          Depending on the exercise you are tracking, the band is worn on the top of your forearm, or the lower part of your upper arm. In both cases you need to make sure the light and button are facing up. Adjust the strap so that it is snug, but still comfortable. For most exercises you can just leave it sitting on your forearm. It is only for certain exercises, such as pushups and pull-ups for example, that you will need to reposition it to your upper arm.

          Now its time to choose the exercise. PUSH measures movement speed and power on over 250 exercises. You can find a full list on this link. Each move requires a custom algorithm so the band can accurately assess the speed from your arm. The company says that every exercise that is added to the list is tested and validated against lab grade equipment to ensure optimal accuracy and reliability.

          Essential reading: Compared gym wearables with our interactive tool

          You will probably find that some adjustment to your regular routine is necessary. But with a couple of hundred exercises in the database, and more continually being added, finding a replacement should not be too difficult. Also, for exercises that are not tracked automatically, you can manually log the weight, sets and reps completed – but you will not get detailed performance data for those. It’s also worth noting, at the moment PUSH Band does not work for most lower-body routines.

          The app will show you a database of exercises, with accompanying short video clips that show you how each is performed. There is also a short description and guidance on where to attach the band. There are various filters which allow for easier searches, plus you can mark exercises as favourites, in which case they will appear at the top of the list.

          Once you have chosen your exercise, simply type in the weight-load for a particular set, get into position and press the button to begin the set. PUSH does the rest of the work automatically. When you are done, simply press the button once again. Rather usefully, you can also start and stop each set through the smartphone app and I eventually reverted to a combination of the two. It is easier though, just to use the button on the plastic pod.

          For me PUSH has been spot on in detecting the number of reps for most exercises. For a small number it might miss the occasional rep which I suspect may have something to do with my not so perfect form. Luckily, there is a feature to correct the number in which case it will search through the recorded data and add the missing rep/reps. There is also functionality that allows you enter or amend the weight-load after you’ve done a set, which I found myself using a number of times.

          The app will then take you through to a detailed breakdown of your set.

          You can now gauge your performance based on the velocity and power of your set and each individual rep. You’ll also see how the set compares versus the previous one and view trends. For some exercises, such as back squat, bench press, and deadlift, the performance metrics are displayed as you are performing the exercise, for others you can use the time between your sets to review the data.

          A useful feature of the PUSH band is that it also measures rest periods. This serves as a reminder that shows you at a glance how long you should wait before beginning your next set.

          The data is very compelling to look at and adds a totally different dimension to your workouts. You can see the details for each set and rep, how well you are doing and how fatigued you are. As all this is very detailed, it is good to schedule some time after you’ve completed your daily workout to sift through the data.

          To this end, there is a website portal which provides even more details on your reps and sets, and allows you to program workouts into the device. While it can be used by individuals, my impression was that it is more a tool for coaches and personal trainers to monitor the progress of their athletes and clients.

          The portal allows you to export team or individual data and easily identify trends. You can access secondary metrics such as peak and average force production, tempo, and duration of the movement phases. A newly added feature is a leaderboard which is aimed to promote competition amongst athletes.

          One important feature to note for the PUSH Portal is the ability to create a custom exercise. This allows you to schedule yourself a custom exercise, and select an algorithm with a similar motion to give you an actionable velocity score. This is useful when training with an exercise outside of the currently supported library of exercises.

          While it is useful to be able to review your data in more detail through the website portal and to add custom exercises, there is a monthly subscription fee – $8 for single athletes, $58 for coaches and $135 for teams. Before you jump in, you can opt for the 14 day free trial to decide see whether this is for you. While I found it a nice feature to have, for my purposes the smartphone and tablet apps were entirely sufficient.

          PUSH can also help you to determine your 1RM for a select group of exercises including back squats, bench press and deadlift. As mentioned, this is the most weight you can lift with one repetition. By establishing your 1RM and tracking it, you can observe your progress over time. Furthermore, the app provides a number of other tests such as countermovement jump, squat jump and Reactive Strength index (RSI) which give you with an overall assessment of your athleticism.

          As 1RM is the maximum weight you can lift, if the test is not done correctly you risk causing yourself an injury. A spotter is, of course, absolutely essential.

          PUSH simplifies this process by instructing you to perform the exercise with a predetermined load for 3 repetitions. You are meant to do this as quickly as possible and rest adequately between sets. At the end of your final 5th set, your predicted 1RM score will be shown.

          This is a much safer way of determining your 1RM because you don’t actually need to lift the maximum weight-load. A way of doing it without taxing your body and messing with your workout programme. I’m guessing PUSH uses a similar technique to online tools and formulas you can find that work from your existing back data.


          Free Movement

          Free Movement is PUSH’s newest feature. Functionality that enables you to monitor any athletic explosive movement. You can track anything from medicine balls in the weight room to sport-specific movements on the field.

          My first Free Movement test was a baseball pitch. The procedure is not complicated. Start the test, have someone hold or position the camera so that its pointing at you and perform the movement. A 5-second video is recorded automatically. Press record again to do another movement and so on. It’s much easier to do this if you’re with a partner or coach.

          The results show the video overlaid with the velocity of the explosive movement. The scrub bar highlights the point of peak power output to show where you are the most explosive. You can also scroll over the bar for slow motion replay to pinpoint key areas of focus and use the pull down for session analytics. When you conclude your session you will get a graph showing your daily averages for that movement, your all time best velocity and the two week average.

          You can also add exercises that are not not in their pre-defined database. As a bit of a tennis buff, I was successful at using the Free Movement to monitor practice serves. After all, the motion is not all too dissimilar from a baseball pitch.

          The data is helpful in that it allows you to compare how changes in your technique impact the velocity of your explosive movement. This in turn allows you to tweak your technique for maximum effect. Its also useful as it provides you with a way to monitor your progress over time.


          Overview

          Summary

          The idea behind PUSH is a wearable that takes the guesswork out of lifting, something to help you achieve your workout goals and reduce the risk of injury. A form of auto-regulation. The technology is not very intuitive at first, and there is a learning curve involved if you are not familiar with the concept of VBT.

          The company says their target market are professional strength coaches or very dedicated “prosumer” athletes. And this was my impression as well. I can see gym buffs, professional athletes, coaches and personal trainers absolutely loving the wearable. The occasional gym goer would, however, need to put in some effort to learn how to interpret the data. The device isn’t for everyone, and its not trying to be.

          I am probably somewhere in between these two groups – not a dedicated gym buff but someone who does try and go at least three times per week. I would guess, it probably took me about 3-4 sessions to fully understand how to interpret the data. But its definitely worth the effort if you stick with it.

          Push Fitness Band
          See it on trainwithpush.com

          After I figured out how to use PUSH, it became simple. With a glance of the stats it was easy to see how I was performing on the day. If the velocity for a particular set was high, I would increase the weight. A slowdown indicates that fatigue is setting in. You’ll become more focused on each and every rep.

          You eventually find that you can move from one set to the next without losing any time. Furthermore, every training session is recorded in the slick and simple to use app and website portal, so that you don’t need to log repetitions, sets or any other information by yourself. There were a few hiccups along the way in terms of miscounting a rep or two for certain exercises, but these were quickly rectified by manually adjusting the count.

          Essential reading: Q&A with Chris Chapman, Director of Sports Science at PUSH

          On top of my wish-list for future updates would be a something that helps you interpret the data based on your training goal, as this would be very helpful to the novice user. The company is working on this functionality, but there is no immediate release date for it. Also, a larger exercise database and more lower body exercises would be nice. This could all be delivered via firmware updates as the hardware is already there.

          PUSH is a product that delivers. Tried and tested by pros, it churns out a plethora of very useful and accurate stats and does a great job at providing instant feedback. The device adds an extra, scientific dimension to your strength workouts and motivates you to constantly set new goals and improve your personal bests.

          For more info or to purchase PUSH, head over to trainwithpush.com.

          View technical specs

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