PUSH Fitness Tracker: First Impressions

PUSH fitness tracker is unlike any fitness tracker out there. It doesn’t count your steps, your activity or calories. Instead it keeps track of your movements during strength training exercises and provides instant feedback. By tracking power and velocity it essentially measures how hard you work at the gym.

How is PUSH Fitness Tracker Different from other wearables?

This question needs to be addressed right away because I hear it all the time on Twitter, Facebook and at watercoolers. Even other websites that review tech and wearbales tend to lump PUSH with consumer level general purpose trackers such as Fuel Bands, Jawbones and Fitbits. They’re all great and have their own purposes but I feel PUSH deserves to be in its own category. Unfortunately, at this time I haven’t heard of or seen other devices on the market that come close.

First, there’s a general purpose fitness tracker like Fitbit. Anyone can can just wrap it around their wrist and get their steps counted. Then there’s a lab full of unattractive yet very advanced strength testing equipment that requires PhDs to operate with a team of strength coaches to measure their athletes’ training performance. PUSH sits somewhere in between.

Don’t get me wrong, Fitbit is great and I wear it everyday. But it’s a different use case than PUSH. PUSH band I only wear when I’m at the gym.  Fitbit is awesome for keeping you motivated and is intended for those who do need to get motivated. PUSH is for people who already are motivated, serious about their strength training and need to take it to the next level.

Let’s talk about PUSH

Since seeing its Indiegogo campaign I wanted one.  I was seduced by the metrics it was able to track, Power and Velocity – and instant feedback it provided on each rep and set. This instant feedback allows you to gauge if you’re lifting too much or too little, thus helping you better optimize the next set.  And that’s the strength and key differentiating factor of PUSH, its biometric feedback is based on Velocity-Based Training (VBT) approach.

Matt Kuzdub, the Lead Sport Scientist at PUSH described it best in a Breaking Muscles article:

VBT uses velocity as a biometric feedback tool to gauge your weight training on a day-to-day basis. More specifically, velocity output helps dictate how much load you should be adding or removing on a particular set, or if you should move on and try a new exercise altogether. It’s a similar concept to heart rate training zones – stick to a certain training zone and reap the physiological benefits associated with that zone.

This is advanced sport science, and I am happy to finally see it in a consumer level wearable.

Trainer Andrei with PUSH Fitness Tracker

I got my PUSH band shortly after it was launched and been training with it for just over a month now.

PUSH fitness tracker package

PUSH fitness tracker unboxed

PUSH Band and accessories

PUSH made in Canada

I’m fairly tech savvy and love playing with new gear. But it did take me a couple of sessions to figure it out. Not so much from the technical standpoint like syncing it with your phone but how can I use it to improve my training.  That required learning more about VBT and related metrics, how to use it properly during training and modifying my current workout routine.

How to use the PUSH Band during a workout

Before you start tracking your workout you need to do 3 things:

  1. Fully charge your PUSH tracker. Although official specs claim a decent battery life my experience has taught me to charge the band after every use.
  2. Download and install a smart phone app and setup your profile.
  3. Review all exercises PUSH can track before you get to the gym.  This is important because if your program includes exercises that aren’t in PUSH’s database your tracker will be rendered useless.  Build your workout session using exercises PUSH can track.  (You can use PUSH’s web portal to create new routines, but you’ll need to email the PUSH team for access.)

Using the PUSH app, select your training goal and all available training gear you have access to:

PUSH app screenshot

Based on your selection criteria a list of exercises will be generated. To see all available and trackable exercises just select ‘Free Training’ mode. Pick the exercise you’ll be performing, set the weight and away you go.

Press the button on your PUSH tracker as you’re about to lift. When the green light is on the device is in tracking mode. Once you finish a set, turn it off. Unlike other fitness trackers that are always ON, PUSH needs to be activated ON and OFF when you start and end a set respectively. When you complete your set and stop tracking you’ll get instant feedback on your performance:

PUSH bench press feedback

Above screenshot is one my first bench press sets. With PUSH Assist enabled in the app I get a recommendation on what I should do next in the following set as per my training focus, which at that time was Strength Training. Each rep is tracked, as represented by individual bars. If you roll over them you’ll get even more data such as weight used and average speed.

Here’s a screenshot of what feedback looks like if your training focus is Muscular Endurance:

PUSH overheadpress feedback

When you’re done with your training session you’ll be presented with your session summary showing how hard you worked and if you achieved any new PRs.

PUSH sessions summary

As impressive as PUSH is, it’s not perfect.

One, I wish there was were more exercises on the list. I had to alter my workouts slightly just so that I could include trackable exercises. For most of my workouts I ignore session summary data and only pay attention to individual exercises. Since owning the PUSH band there already was an update with more trackable exercises and I’m anticipating more to be added.

Second, there are some syncing imprefections. I’ve learned to stay close to the smartphone. If you wonder too far away you’ll lose the connection.  I had a hard time reconnecting it and resuming the current session. Had to restart it. Besides that it all works great with iOS8 on iPhone 4s.  However, I did try it with my new Android phone Sony Xperia Z3 and I couldn’t even get it connected via Bluetooth.  That’s why I’m keeping my iPhone instead of selling it.

Lastly, it’s much easier to use PUSH if you’re training with a partner, coach or with a team. Turning PUSH ON and OFF during some exercises creates extra ‘movement noise’ which causes the tracker to miscount reps. It usually adds or subtracts one, but you can manually edit the count after each set.  If you’re about to do Bench Press, for example, it’s easier to activate tracking because the arm that’s wearing the band can be in position to start the movement.  But if you’re doing something like a Standing Dumbbell Tricep Extension (aka Skull Crusher), you need to activate the PUSH band well before you get into position to perform the movement. You need to activate it before you get the dumbbell over your head. Between the time you press the ON button and the time you get the Dumbbell over your head there’s room for a lot of noise to develop.

These are minor issues that can are easily eliminated if you can live with existing list of trackable exercises (more are always added), can establish and maintain a good connection to your smartphone and can deal with rare movement noise. Note: I don’t remember where I read it, maybe in the app update notes, that algorithm is constantly being improved to help eliminate the extra noise. Good to know.  Anyway, for the most part, the automatic rep count been consistent and accurate.

In the short time that I’ve been training with PUSH Band it significantly changed my training by making me more focused on each and every rep.  The instant feedback has been extremely helpful in allowing me assess my performance and prep for the next set.

PUSH fitness tracker captures a lot of metrics that can provide valuable insights about your training and how to improve it.  Now that I’ve had a chance to use it during various workouts the next step would be to use it as a part of complete training program, and use the data to work towards my personal fitness goals.