Wearable Technology


by Dr. Reed Ferber, Ph.D. CAT(C)

It has been reported that 88% of runners who participated in official road races in the last two years have used wearable technology and/or running-related apps for training optimization and distance recording.Interestingly, over half of all runners who use a wearable sensor reported “mileage tracking” and “injury prevention” as the top two main reasons why they had such devices. In fact, for both 2016 and 2017, wearable technology was the number one worldwide fitness trend. Devices such as basic activity trackers, smartwatches with heart rate monitors and GPS tracking devices are found on nearly every runner.

Kris Acker

The most common type of wearable technology used by runners is the GPS-enabled sport watch. GPS-enabled sport watches deliver certain metrics related to running form, such as speed, cadence, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation (how much you bounce up and down with each step). These factors have been associated with running performance and gait retraining for injury prevention. Also, with recent advancements, optic heart rate monitors installed in sport watches now give the runner the ability to monitor heart rate zones along with indirect measurements of VO2 max and lactate threshold. These metrics provide the runner with physiological data related to performance and recovery, with the potential to provide insight into training, injury and performance. However, approximately one-third of runners abandon their devices within six months of purchase and almost all runners move on to a new device within one and a half years.

What is it about wearable technology that makes a runner purchase a different device or to seek out new data? This question is a new focus of our research group. Understanding the runner’s attitudes and beliefs towards wearable technology is a crucial first step towards designing better running-specific wearable technology and creating a better user experience. Unfortunately, very little research has fully explored the runner’s perspective or priorities when it comes to the function and output of wearable technology.

One exploratory study found that runners of different experience levels identified collecting personal data as the most important function of wearable technology, while interactivity, usefulness, connectivity, and personalization were reported as important characteristics to ensure long-term use of wearable technology in running. However, this study only involved 30 competitive runners between the ages of 21 and 40 and excluded recreational runners. Another research study suggested that there are sex and age differences for the use of wearable technology, with younger adult males being more likely to use wearable technology than females and older adults.

We are currently conducting a survey study (see below) to better understand the beliefs and opinions of runners about wearable technology. We’re excited to incorporate this survey research into what has generally been a more biomechanics-focused research agenda. Specifically, we are looking to determine the adoption of wearable technology by runners, outline demographic and consumer profiles, better understand attitudes towards wearable technology, and identify which metrics and data are preferred and/or what may be missing from the current devices. With all this information, our goal is to outline the design implications and requirements to improve running-related wearable technology. As wearable technology rapidly changes and grows, we need your input to make sure it’s changing to benefit you.


Dr. Reed Ferber is the director of the Running Injury Clinic, a world leader in running-related research and 3D gait analysis technology. For more information, visit www.runninginjuryclinic.com.


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