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This Startup Wants You to Wear Your Coach on Your Clothing

Fitness trackers like Apple Watches and Fitbits are so Wearables 1.0. According to Steven Webster, CEO of Asensei, “connected coaching” is where the connected fitness movement could be heading, and his startup’s sensor-equipped apparel delivers insights beyond the usual heart rate and step counting.

Under Armour has probably made one of the largest connected fitness plays to date, though its sizable investments in an ecosystem of devices, apps and apparel that monitor health and body data may not be paying off quite as expected.

Fashion tech innovator Wearable X launched the Nadi X yoga legging last year with an array of accelerometer sensors positioned at the hips, knees and ankles that offer feedback via haptic vibration. This vibration can tell the wearer how she performed each yoga pose so she knows whether her form needs correction or if she nailed that downward dog.

For many practitioners, yoga is not just an exercise or workout but a lifestyle, though travel schedules, growing studio class sizes and other disruptions can interfere with how often and how accurately yogis can get their om on. “We’re providing people that convenience, that accessibility and that initiative to actually practice when they want,” Olivia Burca, garment engineer, said at WEAR 2018. The Nadi X enables something akin to “a new form of communication” and language, and a feeling of touch similar to guidance from a yoga instructor that’s built right into the pants, she said.

Asensei also taps into that concept of guidance and feedback, but for performance-based athletics and activities, like competitive rowing or golf, for example. To date, most connected devices give up their insights on your activity after the fact; they’ll tell you how your run was—your distance, time, pace, etc. What’s missing, according to Webster, are innovations that interact in the moment. Practice makes perfect—or permanent—after all, so the time to improve an errant golf swing or incorrect rowing stroke is the moment it happens, not when the practice session is over and you’ve logged dozens of (wrong) reps.

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“The sweet spot for us is practice,” Webster said. He wants Asensei to reverse the trend of simply collecting data and then handing it off to the athlete afterward.

The company works with manufacturers to incorporate its trio of sensors—gyroscope, accelerometers and magnetometers—into textiles at the factory. Asensei apparel can deliver insights immediately to the athlete or upload to the cloud for review later. Webster said the company’s approach lets the wearer process the data in the moment without being distracted. “The sensors that we have on the body sees what the coach sees,” he explained. Coaches don’t speak to their athletes in overly technical terms, he added. Their feedback isn’t “straighten your back 27.32 degrees” but more along the lines of “straighten up and square your shoulders.” That’s how Asensei communicates with wearers, offering actionable input on the go so athletes can “train better and ultimately deliver results,” Webster noted.

But just like any good coach, the feedback shouldn’t focus solely on the negative. Encouragement and reinforcement go a long way toward propelling athletes to the next level.

“We really need to think about not just telling you if you’re doing things wrong. The best coaches tell you when you’re doing things right,” Webster said. “They’ll lay down an anchor: did you feel this or did you see the following? And so that’s a big part of our coaching platform…how to make sure we’re delivering the right cues at the right time to help cement coaching.”

Webster said his company has its own take on the saying, “you haven’t taught them until they’ve learned.” For Asensei, “we haven’t taught until we can measure and monitor that the athlete has actually learned the skill that we’re trying to teach them,” he said.