- Provides deep insights into your sleep and recovery
- Data and graphs are awesome
- Provides raw data on HRV, blood oxygen saturation and respiratory rate
- Ability to train the device and create custom exercise library
- Comfortable to wear
- No display
- Short battery life
- No built-in GPS
- Not for everyone
- Poor support
We all know that working out regularly is important for improving health and fitness. But an often neglected part of the equation is rest.
If a training program is to be successful, it needs to factor in recovery time. This is because it is during this period that the body adapts to stresses placed on it during workout sessions. It is when the body replenishes energy stores and rebuilds damaged muscle fibers. Inadequate rest or over training leads to underperformance and can sometimes result in injury.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
It seems most wearables these days can count steps, distance, calories and spit out basic info on sleep. There’s nothing particularly impressive about that any more. Biostrap is a bit different. This is a fitness band that helps you optimize sleep and recovery with clinical accuracy, which in turn improves your performance.
So how well does it work? I’ve spent the last month with Biostrap strapped to my wrist. Here’s what I made of it.
How to use
Data and insights
Out of the box Biostrap comes with a wristband which houses the main unit, shoe pod and charger. If you hunt around long enough, you’ll also find tucked away in the box a couple of extra bands and two shoe clips for securing the shoe pod to your footwear.
The extra bands are a nice touch. You get three in total to swap between, including a white, blue and black. All of these fit wrists with a circumference between 120 and 200 millimeters. They are very soft and feel comfortable. Not a hint of a rash which I sometimes get with smartwatches and fitness trackers.
However, the method for securing differs between the bands and I found that some options work better than others. For the most part I opted for the white band as it seemed the most discreet.
Changing the bands couldn’t be simpler. Simply slide out the little pod that houses the smarts, and push it into another band. It takes all of about 3 seconds.
The core unit measures 91 x 91 x 91cm and weighs only 23 grams. It is where the Red Infrared PPG, 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope and Bluetooth sensors are located.
I should stress, the design is very minimalistic. There is no display screen, no vibrations for notifications or anything of that sort. That’s not what Biostrap is about. I’m guessing this is to do with preserving battery life and minimizing distractions. And while it might seem a bit over simplified, the design choice has the benefit of Biostrap looking almost like a bracelet.
I actually reverted to wearing my sports watch on one wrist and Biostrap on the other and no-one noticed that I was, in fact, wearing two fitness tracking devices. This served me well because as you’ll see, you can use Biostrap on its own but I found it has more value if you use it alongside a sports watch.
The shoe clip works pretty well, too. The pod slips nicely into it and feels pretty secure.
A word of warning, though. The first time I attached the clip, I threaded it with my shoe lace going across one way, then the opposite way. All it took was about 70 meters of running for the shoe pod to fall out and about a half an hour of trying to find it. Lesson learned! When securing, make sure your shoelace goes across the clip only once.
The shoe pod itself is very small and lightweight. It measures 35 x 23 x 15mm and weighs a mere 8 grams. The pod houses the same sensors as the core unit, apart from Infrared PPG. You can even use it independently and leave the core unit behind when going for a run. But more about that later.
A further difference is to do with water-proofing. The core unit is rated 5 ATM, so can withstand depths down to 50 meters. The shoe pod, however, is only splash proof.
Both can be charged wirelessly. The charger configuration works well and looks cool and elegant. There’s space for the core unit and shoe pod so you can refuel both at the same time. Two LED lights work independently of each other to let you know when each device is charged.
Battery life is dependent on settings. The smartphone app allows you to choose how often the core unit takes readings. Ten minutes is the default setting but you can ramp this up to every five minutes. This allows for battery life anywhere between 3 and 5 days between charges. The shoe pod only has one sample setting and can last just over a week on a single charge.
For testing purposes I chose the high sample rate for the core unit which meant I had to charge more often. After a few days I reverted to popping the little clip on the charger for a half an hour each day. This was typically enough to take the battery to full capacity.
Those of us that have been following wearable tech since the early days know of Amiigo. This was a device that was funded via Indiegogo back in 2015. It measured and tracked specific exercises, reps and sets in the gym, heart rate, calories burned and more.
Some may be wondering if Biostrap is in fact Amiigo 2.0. We are told it is not. Although Biostrap has acquired an exclusive license to Amiigo’s core biometric and activity tracking technologies, it has delivered an entirely new product. The outfit behind the Amiigo fitness band has, on the other hand, transitioned into Wavelet Health and now works with clinics, academia, pharmaceutical companies, insurance providers and other organizations in research.
Having said this, Biostrap does maintain a partnership with Wavelet Health which enables it to stream raw data from its devices through Wavelet Health’s proprietary signal processing engine and machine learning algorithms. But this is to crunch the data generated by the Biostrap fitness band and generate relevant insights for users.
Setting up Biostrap is no different to your run-of-the-mill fitness device. Make sure the thing is fully charged and download and install the accompanying smartphone app. There’s a version on the App Store and Google Play. Open up an account in the app by answering a few basic questions and pair the main unit and shoe pod. Pretty straightforward stuff.
Although you can wear both the wristband and foot pod, I found there’s little point. When going about your day or sleeping, the wristband collects all the necessary data. This includes info on steps, active calories, sleep, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation. The shoe pod is important for activity classification. You can also use it instead of the wristband when running.
Since I also wear a sports watch, I found that it was more convenient when running to wear the shoe pod instead of the wrist band. It makes no difference to the data gathered as the wristband does not track active heart rate, only heart rate at rest.
Having said that, you can pair the smartphone app to an external heart rate monitor when exercising, and it makes lots of sense to do so as it will stream heart rate and HRV data in real-time. You’ll get a richer summery of your workout including info on heart rate zones. Devices that you can pair include Polar H7, Polar H10, Polar OH1, Rhythm+, Wahoo Tickr, Adidas X_Cell and a few others.
A recent software update has also enabled the Connected GPS feature. This means when exercising outdoors, Biostrap can tap into your smartphone’s satellite signal for more precise tracking with metrics such as distance, altitude, pace and a map of the activity.
Workouts must be started in the Biostrap app manually for the exercises to be detected. To save battery, the gyro is not always running but it does kick in when a user starts an activity. At the same time, the accelerometer also increases scanning frequency.
There are around 40 different activities listed in the app. This includes everything from meditation to swimming and weight training.
As mentioned, Biostrap is not your typical fitness band. Sure it tracks the basics such as steps, calories, sleep and exercise. But in addition to this it uses clinical grade sensors to help you to optimize recovery by measuring and analyzing your resting heart rate, HRV, breathing rate and oxygen saturation.
Heart rate variability
At this point it’s probably worth saying something about the importance of HRV. This is a very important metric that not many people are aware of.
Your heart does not beat with a steady rhythm and this is where HRV comes in. Put simply, it measures the variation in the time interval between heartbeats.
All of this is linked to your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These are parts of your autonomic nervous system that control your body’s survival functions such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, organ control and blood pressure. The first is linked to the fight or flight instinct, the second is the counterpart which kicks in to facilitate recovery. A region of your brain called the hypothalamus controls the whole process. It send signals to your body to either stimulate it or relax it.
HRV is a way to determine the resilience of your autonomic nervous system, i.e. how quickly it can shift from one to the other state. It is a bit counter-intuitive but, unlike your resting heart rate, you should be aiming for a high HRV. This is linked to better stress resilience, cardiovascular fitness and a younger biological age.
Your HRV values vary from day to day depending how stressed out your our, how well you’ve slept, exercised and more. If the daily value is high as compared to your normal value, you are well rested. If it’s low it might be better to take it easy that day to give your body time to recover further. For much more information on the topic of HRV, I suggest you read this post on Biostrap’s website.
With the science lesson out of the way let’s continue.
The smartphone app and web dashboard
During a 5 day period, the dashboard in the smartphone app will gradually fill with data. Biostrap needs a few days to understand your body at a more personalized level and determine your baseline values. You will then get insights into how ready you are for action, how well you’ve slept and how this is changing over time.
The dashboard assigns you an activity, recovery and sleep score on a daily basis on a scale up to 100. You are also shown your daily/average steps, active calories, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, breathing rate and oxygen saturation.
Tap on any of these to be taken to further breakdowns. All of this can be viewed on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. As mentioned, apart from steps and active calories most of these other metrics are taken at rest. There is little use in taking them while you are on the go.
The numbers you’ll focus most often on are the Recovery score and Sleep score. Glancing at each of these in the morning tells you everything you need to know as to your readiness for exercise. If you’re interested in seeing how they are calculated simply tap on them.
For example, this morning I was assigned a 90 as far as my recovery. The value is calculated by combining the nocturnal HRV, resting HR, sleep efficiency and sleep duration. In this particular instance, the nocturnal HRV and sleep efficiency had room for improvement.
The sleep insights in particular are very detailed. The Sleep Score is broken down into positive contributing factors (total sleep, deep sleep, efficiency) and penalties (number of awakenings, low SpO2, etc). This is accompanied by sleep stage data (awake, light and deep), detailed charts on heart rate, SpO2, HRV, respiration and disturbances.
What particularly impressed me about Biostrap is its ability to pick up on afternoon naps. I often sleep little at night and make up for it the next afternoon. For me there would be little value to the product if it didn’t factor the naps into the overall score.
Those that are interested can unlock even more in-depth data with a subscription to something called Sleep Lab. This dives deeper into your sleep disturbances by quantifying snoring, leg and arm movements and more. You’ll need to wear both the wrist band and shoe pod (which attaches to your leg with a special strap). The subscription currently costs $9.49 per month and the first month is free so you can decide for yourself if it’s for you. For me the basic data was more than enough.
A particularly interesting section in the app is called Insights. This spits out a histogram on how your baseline metrics stack up against others (or just those in your particular demographic).
You can filter the data to show HRV, resting HR, SpO2, respiration rate and more. The radar chart lets you identify areas of improvement at a glance.
In my case its clear there’s a lack of sleep as compared to the population average and low HRV. That jives with reality as I have been on work-related traveling the past few weeks, getting little sleep, lots of walking, stress, hence the poor HRV.
It is very interesting and eye opening to see how the condition of your body changes depending on the circumstances. The last few days all the values have started to recover, in parallel with arriving home and getting more sleep and rest.
Biostrap also has a web dashboard which is a simplified version of the app. This allows you to export (as CSV or JSON) but only “the values presented in the app itself and not the raw waveform data.”
The running data is on par as to what you’d get with a normal fitness band but not as detailed as info you’d find on a sports watch with built-in GPS. This is why I found value in wearing both a sports watch and Biostrap. The fact that you can just wear the shoe clip when exercising makes this even easier.
Because there are no physical buttons or a touchscreen, all exercises are initiated from the app’s Activity section. For running, the app will ask if you want to switch on Connected GPS and whether you are wearing the fitness band or shoe clip.
Post run you’ll get a map of your workout, info on calories, pace, watts, duration of session. Below this is a chart on stride rate and number of steps, followed by heart rate (if you’ve connected a HR chest strap), exercise zones, a timeline (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly) and averages for the session.
In the gym
When it comes to exercise tracking, perhaps the most novel aspect of the wearable is its ability to automatically detect, track and analyze any repetitious exercise. Needless to say, this is great for the gym as it allows you to build up your very own exercise library.
You will need to train the wearable the first time you perform an exercise. This is done by doing 12 clean repetitions. Once that’s done, the wearable will automatically detect the exercise, it will count the reps for you, duration, form and consistency. There are also a few ready-made exercises in the Biostrap database that you can simply import.
All you need to do then is enter the weight after each set. This can be done by saying it outloud or typing it into the app. The best part about this is that it doesn’t slow down your gym routine at all. You also have the option of strapping on a heart rate chest strap for even more detailed data.
Is it perfect at detecting the reps and sets? Not in my experience. I tried it out a few times and found that it’s pretty good – but it does make mistakes. Also, you do not know until the end of your workout session and your data is processed if the exercises were identified correctly. I would have preferred something that informs me in real-time.
Having said this, with enough training I am sure I could get Biostrap to track my gym session with very good accuracy. It’s all to do with your technique and how well you’ve trained the wearable.
For example, you’ll find the app sometimes misses the last rep in the set. But this is typically because you have not done a clean rep. If you feel you deserve credit for it, simply amend the number of reps for that set post exercise. It’s easily done. You can also reclassify exercises if they were not identified correctly.
I’ve also tested out the meditation activity as this is something I try and factor into my daily routine. This taps into your HRV, heart rate, SpO2 and respiration readings to let you know how calm you were during the session. There’s also a timer.
All of this works very well. Its eye-opening to actually see your efforts at meditation quantified. It also provides you with a means to compare how chilled you were from session to session.
For a bit more info you can subscribe to Meditation Plus. This slaps on a Zen score, increased time limit (up to 90 minutes), music to help you get chilled and increased frequency of biometric readings. The subscription runs at $4.49 per month.
Biostrap is not your run-of-the-mill wearable. Instead of predominantly focusing on tracking activity, it lets you know how well you are recovering. It’s only real competition is Whoop 3.0 which dishes out a lot of the same data.
Using Biostrap has been an educational experience into the importance of getting enough sleep and rest, and how this impacts performance. There is some activity tracking data, too, including the novel rep and set tracking functionality. But you will find most value in the recovery info. Biostrap doesn’t really double up as a standard fitness tracker so you should be aware of that.
This is one of only a handful of wearables that provides you with access to raw HRV data, in addition to SpO2, breathing rate and more. You are able to see how individual variables effect your daily health and readiness for action.
Having said this, Biostrap is not for everyone. Those that exercise regularly and run/cycle every few days will be able to extract more value. But if you’re after a device with rich fitness tracking data as well as recovery statistics, the Polar Ignite or Vantage series might be a better fit.
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