Fitness Gadgets for Getting in Shape
Everyone loves labor-saving devices. If we can purchase something that is more streamlined, and easier to use, that will get us results, we'll do it.
Fitness gadgets used to consist mainly of plastic frames with attached springs, that you could step on and pull to get a resistance workout. This and similar devices were often advertised on late-night TV, with dubious and hard to verify results.
Nowadays, with the explosion of technology, the design and goals of fitness goals have changed. Many of today's gadgets are smartphone apps, with a physical component that syncs and transmits data. These include posture trainers, sleep trackers, activity counters, and unusual exercise equipment. Often this equipment will be portable. Other gadgets, which may not even have electrical components, are hacks of existing fitness tools.
In this article, we round up ten gadgets that, if used properly, can help improve your overall fitness.
This is the best product on our list that is currently in stock:
Lightweight--weighs just 5 ounces
Comes with a coaching app
Can fit inside most bags and some pockets
Made of durable material
Best 10 Fitness Gadgets
1. Tangram Smart Rope
Displays number of jumps in floating digits
Charges with a micro USB
Comes in small, medium, large
Battery charge lasts 36 hours, and does not use battery when not jumping
Have to use a mobile app to get all the possible data--no LCD on rope
Studies show that jumping rope is one of the most effective cardio exercises you can do. It is difficult, especially at first, but this tech-enhanced rope can make it a bit easier.Read more
The Tangram rope may even make your workouts more fun if you enjoy challenging yourself and setting mini-goals for each workout. LED lights and an onboard microcomputer display your jump count in the air, like something out of a sci-fi movie. You can link the rope to a smartphone app, which gives you calorie and elapsed time information.
The features don't end there. You can set up competitions and challenges with friends, and you also get awards in the mobile app. The rope syncs with fitness trackers and other wearables, too. Supported apps include both Apple HealthKit and Google Fit. MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness are supported as well.
The Tangram Smart Rope fits users from 5 feet 6 feet 2 inches tall. The design features 45-degree handles for wrist comfort. There are ball bearings inside the handle for a clean, smooth motion. Each 360-degree turn of the rope, as you jump and it goes over your head, counts as one jump.
2. Activ 5 Isometric Exercise
Lightweight--weighs just 5 ounces
Comes with a coaching app
Can fit inside most bags and some pockets
Made of durable material
Requires three AAA disposable batteries, which are not included.
This innovative, portable, compact exercise unit is a convenient way to get a quick no impact full body workout.Read more
The tiny foam squeezable uses isometric resistance rather than aerobics or traditional strength training. This means the muscles are in a static, not dynamic, position. Pushing against the Activ5 causes your muscles to oppose each other while contracting. If you are sitting at a desk, try leaning forward slightly and pressing your palms on the desk, with your arms up and your elbows parallel to the desktop. You will feel the isometric contraction all through your arms, chest, and back.
Isometric exercises can help you maintain strength. They have a slight strength-building benefit, too. The Activ5 is best used between more strenuous exercises and is not meant to replace body weight or free weight training. Isometrics won't help make you flexible, either. Gentle isometrics will even help lower blood pressure if done over time.
Those are some good benefits for something so small and simple. You can work your entire body in less time than a gym workout would take. Activ5 also has the advantage of letting you work out anywhere--at your desk, while watching TV, in a public place, or during a flight. The unit comes with access to a coaching app that takes you through an array of five-minute workouts and includes challenge and game modes to keep things interesting.
3. Tekxyz Boxing Reflex Ball
No batteries, never needs charging
Foam ball won't cause injuries or damage to walls
Simple to use, can work out quickly
Allows you to rest easily during sesssion (just stop punching)
Looks like it could get sweaty, uncomfortable after a while
Fitness boxing, whether for sport or general fitness, is an exciting and dynamic way to improve your overall health or bring variety to your practice. This low priced gadget lets you attach a mini speed bag to your head and punch your way to cardio health no matter where in the world you find yourself.Read more
The ball hangs from an elastic cord, and the game is to keep it in the air with your hands and fists. You won't need bag gloves, because the ball is made of soft foam, but light lifting gloves may help with accuracy. The foam construction also means no head injuries, no matter how many times you miss the target when you start out.
The set comes with the headpiece, cord, and two balls. The black ball is for beginners. Once you have mastered it, you can move on to the red ball, which Tekxyz calls "much more bouncy." Either ball will help you with speed, accuracy, and motor skills, all while giving you a decent cardio workout from all the movement you'll be doing.
Since the balls bounce and swing unpredictably, you'll burn calories trying to keep up with them. It's a good way to get in a sweat session, even if you don't have much time or can't even change into gym clothes. You'll build some of the muscles in your legs, arms, back, chest, and shoulders, too, with all the punching and dodging. Reviewers indicate the boxing ball is effective, even for martial artists, and that connecting with the 5.6-ounce ball is harder than it looks.
4. Urbn Fit Balance Board
Budget friendly price
Wobble component on bottom is durable rubber
Wood or plastic nonskid top piece
Comes with a workout guide
Good for injury recovery or more strenuous strength exercises
Make sure you are stable enough to use, especially if you have an active leg injury
This portable tool is a round wood or plastic board with a hard rubber rounded bottom, bolted to the board and held still in a plastic frame. The balance board will challenge you to stay stable while performing a variety of exercises, or even just standing in place.Read more
The product was originally used by surfers. The unstable platform emulates the motion of waves, and lets surfers practice staying on their boards without going to the beach. But anyone looking to move in new ways can have fun, and balance is just as important as strength or endurance when it comes to overall fitness.
Using the board can build strength in your lower back. it will also encourage your hip flexors to open. The hip flexors are the hinge muscles in your pelvis, including the massive psoas muscle that connects your spine and trunk to your legs. Most of us have tight hip flexors, especially if we sit a lot for work. This pushes the hip flexors down and keeps them from expanding. Opening the hip flexors with standing balance exercises can relieve lower back pain.
You can use the Balance Board anywhere--at home, in a hotel room, your office, or even outside. Carrying it to the gym will be easy since the whole unit weighs just 4.5 pounds. If you are wondering what exactly you can do with the board, don't worry. Each board comes with an illustrated workout poster that you can also view digitally on your phone or tablet.
The Urbnfit Balance Board can also help people with injuries in their rehab progress. With the board, you can make your workout as low impact as you need it to be while also strengthening any muscle group in your body.
5. Lifebeam VI Sense AI Trainer Headphones
Uses AI to customize your activities
Onboard heart rate sensor
Stream your music, answer phone calls
Comfortable, durable, ergonomic design
Expensive to buy, and coaching app needs paid subscription after a year
These headphones are as compact as any other Bluetooth earbuds, so they won't get in the way of your workout as they coach you towards greater strength using an AI trainer who talks to you when the earphones are connected to an app.Read more
The app is called Vi trainer. It is compatible with iOs and Android. It is a paid app, costing 9.99 a month, though the first year is free when you purchase the headphones. Sensors in the earpieces track your heart rate as well as sensing motion and even your elevation.
The headphones are moisture-proof, so you can wear them outside in light rain. While you can't go swimming in the Vi Sense, you can drench them in sweat without any worries. When you put the earbuds in, customized music starts playing to accompany your activity. Since the trainer is AI, it learns to work with your strengths and suggest workouts for you, giving you an extra boost when you need it.
The headphones are remarkably durable and well-engineered. The Vi Sensor won an award for package design in 2018. You can answer calls and play music from your smart device, and the battery will go for around 8 hours before it needs a charge.
6. EmFit Sleep Monitor
Sensor is small and thin enough not to interfere with sleep
Includes heart rate measurement and pattern monitoring
Web app can be used on a PC or laptop
Can help you stop unwanted wakefulness, restlessness
Setting up the sensor, app takes some time
This is a mightily enhanced version of the sleep tracker that is now standard issue on fitness tracker watches and bands.Read more
When you order the Emfit, you get a sensor unit that slides under your mattress. There are no wires or electrodes to keep you from falling asleep like you normally do. The sensor tracks your breathing and heartbeat, while also monitoring your periods of deep sleep, light sleep, and stirring or restlessness.
The tracker also tells you how many hours you sleep. This is important because many of us do not fall asleep right away. We may wake up during the night or have unwanted wakefulness before our alarm goes off. All these intrusions can prevent you from getting about eight hours of sleep per night, which fits the needs of most adults. The Emfit helps you resolve these problems to get proper sleep, which helps you feel alert and efficient throughout your day.
The data from the sensor display is an attractive, full-featured app on your smartphone, tablet, or PC. The application is web-based. We are excited about the PC feature because many fitness apps will only make data available on a phone or tablet. There are still many fitness buffs who prefer the bigger screen, mouse pointer, and full keyboard of a PC or laptop.
7. Chill Pal Cooling Towel Band
Simple to use
Many ways to wear
Can be chilled in the refrigerator
Breathable material that also protects from the sun
Doesn't come in different sizes
While we have reviewed cooling towels elsewhere, we didn't look at any Chill Pal products. This one has a unique band shape designed to go around your neck for targeted heat relief.Read more
The band is suitable for outdoor workouts, cooling down in the gym, attending outdoor events, or even just relaxing at home if you live in an area with hot summers. The band shape means you can do more than just wipe yourself down or drape the product around your shoulders, too. The Band can serve as a bandana, head wrap, scarf, turtleneck collar, scalp pad, and a few others. This is why Chill Pal calls their product a 12 in 1.
To use the pad, you just have to submerge it in cold water, wring it out, and wear it. When the cooling wears off, you can resoak it to reactivate the effects. The Chill Pal works as a cold compress for migraine relief in addition to its swear fighting applications.
The band is just .2 inches thick, and won't feel heavy even when wet. It is 4 inches wide and 6 inches long. The band comes with a leaf pattern, or in a solid blue color. The material, similar to that of a cooling towel, is breathable and allows for circulating air. Chill Pal suggests keeping the wet band in the refrigerator until it is ready to use. You could pack a few of these in a cooler if you are doing a picnic or outdoor event.
8. Lumo Run Smart Sensor
Analyzes your gait and form to give coaching
Sensor is small and unobtrusive
Real time coaching during run
GPS when used with phone during run
Currently only available for the iPhone
This is not a pair of shorts, but a sensor that clips to your existing run shorts. It interfaces with your phone as it analyzes several dimensions of your stride to give you personalized coaching suggestions.Read more
Part of the appeal of the Lumo sensor and app is that any runner can use it and benefit from it. New runners will get help with form and learn how to condition themselves for speed and endurance. More experienced runners can get tips for injury reduction and work on improving their race times. The technology is adaptable, learning from each runner and then using the results of its analysis to give useful feedback.
The app tools focus not on speed drills or adding distance, but on breaking down form. Many runners do not recruit all the muscles they may need during their run, resulting in lower performance. Habits become hard to break, once we are used to them, and the Lumo app will aid in identifying those gait patterns and helping you improve. The enhanced form and lower incidence of pain or soreness are what will help you run faster and farther.
After an initial 10-minute settings run, you have the option of running with or without your phone when you wear the sensor. After your run, you can check the app for a summary and trends tracker. You can compare your performance to earlier runs quickly. If you run with the phone, you will receive GPS map data as well as distance and pace. The Lumo app only works with the iPhone, not the Android, at the time of this writing.
9. Upright Go Posture Trainer
No straps or bulky garments
Creates a personal posture plan for you
Sends data and posture scores to your phone
Adhesive won't stay on during sweaty workouts
This tiny sensor uses adhesive to stick between your shoulder blades and monitor your posture, feeding data to an app on your mobile device.Read more
Posture, the way we hold our bodies in space, has a huge impact on our fitness and overall quality of life. Slouching and other acquired habits will put pressure on our spines, ligaments, joints, and muscles. The pressure can lead to chronic pain and reduced physical capacity. A non-neutral spine also leaves us susceptible to injuries.
The Posture Trainer aims to help solve those problems by coaching you throughout the day with an app. The product consists of a small sensor that you wear on your back. The sensor is just a rounded piece of plastic with circuitry inside. There are no straps to adjust or extra garments to wear. When the sensor feels you slouching or settling forward, it sends a silent vibration that reminds you to sit or stand up straight.
Besides the alerts and reminders, the Posture Trainer gives you little exercises you can do to train your body. helping you correct your posture until it becomes habitual. The programs are designed to make you more aware of how you hold your body. The app also gives you daily reports and a score for how well you maintained posture that day. Tracking your score helps you feel more confident, putting you in competition with yourself. The result is better posture, less pain and fatigue, and a better understanding of how your posture affects your physical health.
The sensor charges with a micro USB cable. It is not waterproof or sweatproof. Upright Go cautions against wearing the sensor during sweaty activities. The package comes with nine adhesive strips, which will not irritate skin and which are reusable.
10. The Skulpt Scanner
Easy to use
No calipers or suction cups
App is full featured and looks good
Can give you some guidance
Does not provide any fitness tracking
Results not as accurate as professional body fat measuring
This device, which is shaped like a smart phone, will measure your body fat and point out the quality of your various muscle groups for training purposes.Read more
Skulpt says their invention will measure the quality of 24 different muscle groups, pointing out imbalances where one muscle is weaker than the one on the other side. You also get body fat percentage, which many people look to as an indicator of overall health.
Using the device regularly can give you an idea of which muscles to focus on during training. This will balance out your body, increasing performance and also helping protect you from injury. The device is useful for athletes in all different sports, and for almost any physical activity as a training tool.
After scanning your muscle groups, the device analyzes your stats and progress. It then offers up guidance for your future workouts. The Skulpt connects wirelessly to most iPhone and Android devices. It uses Bluetooth and will work with Apple Health. This is not a wearable, but something you can keep close at hand or put in a gym bag. It is not designed to be used as part of a workout.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
Most fitness gadget shouldn't be one size fits all.
The idea behind a gadget is that it is a simple, portable piece of gear that anyone can use. None of the ones on this list will give your a ripped core or help you bench press like a beast, but they are all good ways to add variety or get in a workout when you are strapped for time. We looked for gadgets that could be tailored to the user. With interactive apps, this becomes simple. An AI trainer will literally adapt to you, monitoring your strengths and weaknesses and encouraging you to do your best. Some items, like the jump rope, are one size by necessity. We haven't seen a jump rope that you can let out or take in depending on your height. But Tangram offers their rope in different lengths, which you can order from their website.
Ease of Use
If a gadget is hard to use, it stops being convenient and isn't much of a gadget.
Imagine how quickly you can attach a boxing ball to your head and start punching. Or how quickly you can learn the isometric moves of the one-piece Activ5. Gadgets do come with instructional manuals, but they aren't the huge packets of paper that you'd get with a new weight bench. Gadgets require little to no assembly. They are small enough to go where you go. This is what makes them appealing because using one is almost like a shortcut to gains in some area of fitness. We didn't look for products that had a lot of bells and whistles. We looked for ones you can learn, grab, and use to get going right out of the box.
To rate effectiveness, we had to look at what each gadget was designed to do.
The Chill Pal band is an example. Is it effective for strength training and conditioning? Of course not. But it can enhance your strength training by preventing overheating. From all the reviews we read, and the Chill Pal stats, we are sure the band will do what it says it will do. It may do so more effectively than a regular cooling towel because the Chill Pal is so adaptable. We kept expectations realistic while holding each prospective item to high standards. None of the ones that made it are cheap. They will not break down and disappoint you. They will deliver on their promises, and you can be satisfied as long as you understand what each one does and does not do, and how it will meet your needs.
Features are sources of pride and selling points for most fitness gadgets.
Today's gadgets will track nearly every physical metric you can think of. There is one to meet nearly any need. Usually, there are several to meet any need. How did we pick out the best sleep monitor, best balance board, and best coaching headphones? We looked for the ones that had the most useful features, not the most features. If you get a balance board, you really just need it for balance and stability exercises. The Urbnfit represented the most useful and beneficial product we could find at its price point. Its features include the nonslip surface, the choice of wood or plastic, the reinforced rubber bottom, and the digital or paper workout poster that comes with it. A balance board doesn't need a lot of extras to deliver on its promises, just check out the Simply Fit Board we reviewed. It's simple and easy to use.
A low price tag doesn't always mean the best value.
In fact, the price could mean the unit is cheaply made and the maker is looking to unload them. We use research data, including customer reviews and personal experience, to weed out products like that. We think the boxing balls are one of the best values on our list, and they do have a low price. They are made of a foam ball, cord, and headband. Three simple pieces, but they can train your hand-eye coordination and are actually used by professional martial arts trainers. The boxing balls have something in common with most of our other picks, too. They are fun. Whether you practice martial arts or are just looking for some light cardio and muscle pump, you will enjoy yourself as you try to punch the ball before it falls. The foam construction is great too because it will not cause any damage if it hits you or a friend in the head. You can get a lot of hours of training out of the boxing ball, without having to replace any parts, and for us, that will always be a bargain.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
We picked a jump rope for our number one spot, and with good reason. It isn't just because the Tangram uses floating jump numbers and it looks awesome. Jumping rope can help you lose weight, build endurance, and power up your legs for running or virtually any other sport. And you don't even need a smart jump rope to get started.
For one thing, you can use a jump rope anywhere. It will fit in your bag, backpack, suitcase, glove compartment, or oversized pocket. The jump rope needs virtually no maintenance, and if you do need to repair or replace one, it won't be a costly affair. You can pick up a good jump rope for around twenty dollars at any sporting goods store.
You can also share your jump rope with a friend, as long as they fall into the same height range as you. You never have to worry about wiping down or washing a jump rope. Jumping rope for just twenty minutes can burn off between 200 and 300 calories--the equivalent of a 12 ounce serving of soda.
Jumping rope is also good for your heart. It gets the heart rate up quickly, helping you torch calories and fat. And while jumping rope can put a strain on your knees and hips, it is lower impact than a run if you do it on a padded or rubberized floor.
If you are new to jumping rope, don't get discouraged. It takes time to get the jump height correct, so you aren't flying too high and landing too hard with each jump. Everybody steps on the rope when they start. Try setting a goal, perhaps to jump without stopping for one minute, and then go from there.
Items like the Activ5 foam pad seem too good to be true. Can you really get a good workout just by squeezing and holding, with no weights and minimal sweat? Well, yes, you can, but it is important to understand the limitations of isometric exercise. If it could build muscles and endurance the way lifting weights does, we might all be watching the World's Squeeziest Person contests on television.
One big limitation is that each exercise will only make you stronger in the hold position. When you do a barbell curl, the expansion and contraction of the muscle targets your bicep through a whole plane of motion. With isometric exercises, you need to work, squeeze by squeeze, through your whole arm to get similar benefits. And no matter what anyone says, isometric exercises won't improve your speed or performance in your sport. What they can do is help you stay in shape for more strenuous conditioning.
One thing isometrics will help you with is stabilization. This makes them well suited to injured athletes. If you injure your shoulder in a way that prevents you from moving it, you can avoid losing strength by isometrically working your shoulder stabilizers in your rotator cuff. Trying to do that with dynamic exercise may prove too painful.
Isometric exercises are not a replacement for weight training, and won't give you the same results. The makers of the Activ5 are honest about this, and that is why their product made our list.
Other Factors to Consider
We looked for gadgets that had one or two applications, not those that claimed to do everything for everyone. We've been around long enough to know that a posture trainer isn't going to increase your squat weight. However, it may increase your efficiency in the squat, while also helping you keep a neutral spine and avoid serious injury. Better posture also leads to a greater range of motion. So while we looked for products that do one or two things well, we are also happy to say that most of them can have benefits besides whatever small muscle group or aspect of fitness is being worked with them.
Compatibility means how compatible the gadget is with your lifestyle and fitness goals, not how well it meshes with the rest of the equipment in your gym. The wearable trackers we examined are small enough not to interfere with either your workouts or your daily work tasks. If you are a runner, the Lumo app and sensor will fit right into your existing routine and help you change it for the better. The Posture Trainer got slightly lower marks because you cannot wear it during certain activities. Excess sweat or moisture will cause the adhesive to come loose. But as long as you know when to take it off, the Posture Trainer also meshes with your life. It is small and nondistracting, and the improvements in posture will make you a more effective athlete, employee, and family member.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: How many hours of sleep should I be getting a night?
The National Institute of Health recommends that adults get from 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. As we all know, though, many of us don't do that. You may feel fine on as little as 5 or 6 hours, but over time, you will start to drag and have less energy during the day. This can make you irritable and inefficient. If you can put together a few days with the optimal eight hours or so, you will notice a big difference in the way you feel. Sleep monitors can't make you sleep, but analyzing your patterns for a while can help you be more mindful and aware of how your body feels. A big part of the problem is that we are on our mobile devices so much. Looking at the screen suppresses melatonin, the natural hormone that is in charge of your sleep cycle. You can try getting off your device at least an hour before you go to bed. You may be surprised how much faster you fall asleep and how much better you feel after a few days.
q: Do commercially available sleep trackers help?
Yes, they can if you use them according to directions. Be careful not to look at the tracker just before you go to bed or while you are in bed. Looking at the screen will decrease melatonin, make your brain alert, and defeat the purpose of using a sleep tracker. If you analyze your patterns for a while, the tracker will help you decide your best bedtime. You can also identify unhealthy patterns, like getting up frequently during the night. Sleep trackers are not a cure-all, and they are definitely not a replacement for medical help. But they can make a difference.
q: What can I do to improve posture without something like the Trainer?
One thing that helps is just becoming aware. You probably slump and slouch more than you realize. This compresses your organs and bones and can make it hard to breathe. It also affects your digestion. Just making yourself return to an upright posture, often multiple times during the day will get you on the right track. It is especially important to do this when seated since most of us tend to slouch at our desks.
You might also try straightening and stretching your neck periodically, or holding your phone higher so you are not bending your neck down to read texts or scroll through social media. Doing core muscle exercises, too, will bring you into an awareness of posture and will help you remember to self-correct. Yoga is especially good for this.
q: Is body fat a good indicator of how fit I am?
It can be, when used as part of an overall measurement, taking into account your activity level, height, body type, and BMI. We don't suggest using body fat as the only indicator of fitness, though. And remember, BMI does not measure the difference between fat and muscle. A person with large muscles, like a powerlifter, may have a high BMI and still be healthy.
With body fat percentage, it is important to look for a range, not one certain number, to indicate health and fitness gains. For most adults, a BMI 18 and 30 is good for women. For men, the optimal range is between about 10 and 24 percent. These numbers are based on researched data from WebMD.
q: Aren't gadgets just cheap trinkets and shortcuts?
The word "gadget" does have that connotation. We use it to mean a small, portable device, either electrical or mechanical, that has a clever design and that helps you with one or more dimensions of fitness. Gadgets can save you time, money, and space. We hope we have made it clear that no gadget can replace regular cardio and strength training, a nutritious diet, and good sleep hygiene. If you shortchange yourself in any of these dimensions, the gadget will not make up for the slack. They are time savers and accessories, not shortcuts.
- Are isometric exercises a good way to build strength?, Mayo Clinic ,
- Maintaining Good Posture, American Chiropractic Association ,
- What is Sleep Hygiene?, National Sleep Foundation ,
- 7 Benefits of Jumping Rope, American Council on Exercise ,