There are a growing amount of high-tech fitness options out there, but are they really better than high-technique, form-focused methods? Here I examine the top 3 advantages of each. Find out which one is right for you.
Like many people out there, I love my gadgets. This is probably rooted in a long-term love of computers and science fiction, but having a high-tech device that increases my productivity, fun, or overall perceived coolness is pretty neat. Better yet, all you need to do is spend some money to gain all of these advantages!
Sure, you could use those funds on something more practical (like saving for retirement or making your home more livable), but you know what? Who cares about all of that if you’re DEAD? For that reason, investing in high tech fitness is easy to justify.
If I buy this gadget, I’ll start working out more. If I download this app, I’ll track my diet better and improve my nutrition. If I use this high-tech fitness-related service, I’ll get the best results. There is no end to the new high-tech fitness products and services that are becoming available, but how many of them have actually improved your fitness?
I’ve tried quite a few fitness gadgets and high-tech fitness services in my day. As the Chief Fitness Officer of Onnit Labs I experienced cryotherapy, float tanks, and even a unique training system called Kaatsu upon the recommendation of Olympic medalist and world champion Bode Miller. As the marketing director for a fitness start up, I sought to build exposure for a new type of indoor cycle that swayed to enhance core strength and used a patent-pending drive system to minimize maintenance (the device was called the Evo Fitness Bike). I’ve researched the biggest fitness manufacturers and reviewed the latest in treadmills, wearable tech, and commercial equipment.
All of this has given me an insight into the industry of fitness tech and the desire of the market for high-tech goods, but I have also been involved in low-tech fitness since I got back into shape in my late 20’s.
The flip-side of high-tech fitness is an emerging trend in low or no-tech fitness. Trail running, jumping over obstacles, swinging clubs, crawling on the ground, and lifting irregular objects like tires and stones is getting more popular. Essentially turning yourself into a beast of burden by pushing sleds, pulling heavy loads with ropes, and carrying heavy loads for long distances is “cool.” You can go even further by taking away ALL of the equipment and you’ll find an entire crew of amazing people who can use their own bodyweight to build incredible abilities and physiques (that’s called bodyweight training or calisthenics).
I call these no/low-tech fitness solutions “High-Technique.” This assumes that you’re using proper movement patterns and safe practices, of course. No sloppy form or ego-driven progressions that your body isn’t ready for allowed!
High Technique means that each movement and exercise focuses on the most efficient and effective way to utilize your body to accomplish a task. The tasks themselves are rooted in functional activities that humans perform (they don’t perform them much today, but did them often in the distant past). That’s why it includes so much running over difficult terrain, lifting random, unbalanced objects, and carrying heavy things around; this is what homo sapiens became when we showed up 200,000 years ago. That’s why most of the High Technique training starts to look like a manic version of manual labor if you don’t understand the purpose.
When I say that the movements are highly “efficient,” I don’t mean that you’re performing them in a way that minimizes the amount of work you’re doing, or that the task is done in the fastest time possible. I mean that they efficiently enhance your performance in regards to strength, conditioning, agility, or mobility. This is a difficult concept to grasp if you don’t have an appreciation for your body’s longevity over immediate performance and aesthetic gains, but it is an important one if you want to move the same way in your 50’s and 60’s that you did in your 20’s and 30’s.
To reiterate, do I love fitness gadgets and high-tech fitness services? Yes. Do I think that High Technique methodologies offer fantastic, long-lasting benefits if done correctly? Yes. Do I think that one is better than the other? No. But saying that high tech is better than high technique (or vice versa) is like saying that bikes are better than cars. The argument is infinite on both sides.
So, I’ll do what I usually do (and advocate that everyone else does as well), provide useful information and let you make a rational conclusion yourself.
I’ve always found that the ability to consistently track data leads to greater results. You can cheat on your diet or your workout journal, but you can’t cheat on that unfeeling device on your wrist or the cardio-machine under your feet. Computers don’t care about what you say you did, they’re just tracking what you did.
Whether you’re trying a machine, app, or service for the first time or not, it’s going to be hard to screw it up. They’re built to minimize the potential liability for the company that made them (lawyers don’t want you to kill yourself any more than you do). They’re built so that the maximum amount of people can use them, meaning that they’re going to be easy to use or at least easy to learn.
As much as trainers and motivational speakers try to advocate that “you just need to love you for you” and whatever, people still like to connect with others, even if that means that they need to do it through cool fitness watches, hot new high-tech gyms, or the latest and greatest in fitness recovery services. People like being on the cutting edge, and if you have the funds, the easiest way to do that is by buying a $17,000 Apple Watch (yes, there is one that costs $17,000).
There is one thing that will be with you your entire life, no matter how long you live, and that is your body. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to think in the long term. For fitness, this means decades of non-stop training. This goes beyond the next bikini season, 10-years high school reunion, or any number of short term goals to lose weight. High-Technique fitness will help you develop lasting skills that you can use to enhance and maintain your body over the span of your life; pretty useful.
At the very worst, you’re going to spend a couple of hundred dollars to buy a set of kettlebells, maces, clubs, or battle ropes. At best, High-Technique fitness is absolutely free. For most people, bodyweight training can get you into excellent shape and help you stay there. You also get the added benefit of learning how to read and control your body, enhancing injury prevention and progression.
The biggest difference between a high-tech machine like modern ellipticals, treadmills, and cable systems and something as simple as a kettlebell or a pull up bar is the ability to progress. Sure, you could run longer or faster, but could you learn entirely new ways to use and move your body on a machine? Probably not. Methods like kettlebells, calisthenics, maces, and clubs all have endless options for movements. Each one affords hundreds of exercises, and each can be combined or modified into endless amounts of variations.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed if you follow my blog, I’m a huge proponent of unconventional training. Even so, I also love feedback and technology. That’s why I like to combine the two into something that gives me the best of both worlds. While I never use machines for my workouts, I love wearable technology and tracking.
At the end of the day, it’s always going to be what solution (or solutions) work best for you and you alone. You’re in it for the long hall, so try everything and never be afraid to commit the tech or technique to your workout routine.