I'm not an athletic guy. Sure, you can see a few of my abs at times, but that's usually because I've just woken up, my stomach is empty, and I'm in the middle of some motion that causes me to clench. This made the trial workout with Ralph Lauren's new PoloTech SmartShirt more than a doozy — but in the best possible way.
The company debuted this new smart shirt at last year's U.S. Open on the backs of a few ball boys and tennis players. The shirt touts silver fibers woven into the fabric and a small sensor-filled black box created by OMSignal to measure biometric stats and gather data on everything from heart rate to breathing depth. Before your workout starts, you let the gear know whether you want to you want to focus on cardio, agility or strength. A video pops then up on your smartphone and walks you through your set.
Basically, the shirt knows everything about you and uses it to hurt you. But it's a good sort of hurt.
For my first bout with the shirt, I chose a cardio workout. After measuring my vitals and establishing a baseline breathing and heart rate, the PoloTech adaptive workout app created by health and fitness media company Galvanized was off, demanding I jump down into a plank position and then start hopping my feet from their extended position to up between my hands. When I thought things were going a little easy, the app urged that I go a little faster and add a little more force. Eventually, those exercises turned into a straight plank, squats, squat jumps, some newfangled jogging in place action with locked knees.
My phone had turned into the hardest trainer ever.
A big question when I first donned the PoloTech was comfort, but honestly the shirt's tech is barely noticeable, even with the black sensor box clipped to my chest — although I did start to wonder how I'd keep my knees over my toes and control my breathing while keeping my eyes locked on my phone screen.
When my workout was over, the app offered a deep dive on my biometric data, from how many steps I'd taken (my trainer remarked it was the most he'd seen all day) to the progression of my heart rate, caloric burn and breathing depth throughout the session
This new wearable tech is basically a stand-in trainer, and a fairly tough one at that. Sure, Chris Ryan, the fitness expert who walks you through your sets on your phone screen, makes it look easy, but it's not. The app will push you harder on every successive set if it senses you're slowing down but have more to give. When I thought things were looking up during that casual jogging in place set, the app sent me into a spurt of sprinting that left me winded for the rest of the session.
While slightly overwhelming with metrics in its first iteration (although fitness geeks will probably cream their pants with all the info), the SmartShirt is quite novel. With seamless video that tailors workouts to your needs for that day, it's the trainer you never asked for that we all desperately need.
Walking out of the gym for the first session I was still a little winded, but the mid-day pick me up was that bad-sort-of-good that I could definitely get addicted to.
Buy yours now for $295 which might be a little lofty for a machine washable shirt but is definitely a steal for a full-time trainer.