I run 15--20 miles a week on New York City sidewalks and through parks without aches or pains, which I attribute to good shoes and good luck. I'm not particularly diligent about stretching or paying attention to my form. Foam rolling? Forget it. But I'd eventually like to start adding longer-distance runs to my routine, and I know I need to be mindful of injuries. So I bought a pair of smart socks--yes, smart socks--to see if intelligent textiles can help me improve my performance beginning at the most basic level: the way my feet hit the pavement.
Sensoria, a maker of sensor-filled clothing like heart rate-monitoring sports bras and T-shirts, is back with a pair of socks that can tell you if you're running wrong. The company's fitness bundle, which includes two pairs of smart socks, one Bluetooth anklet, and an anklet charger for $199, officially went on sale in May, but the company has been working on the technology built into its smart socks for years. A successful Indiegogo campaign in 2013 helped the company exceed its fundraising goals, and Sensoria took its finished socks to this year's International CES, where it was honored at the trade show's Innovation Awards. Press previews of the product were glowing, for the most part.
But while intelligent clothing certainly sounds impressive, that doesn't mean it improves your athletic ability more than, say, run-of-the-mill devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches. So I put these smart socks through their paces to see if high-tech clothing makes a difference.
When your socks require set-up
Getting the socks ready to hit the pavement requires a little more effort than pairing Bluetooth headphones to your iPhone. You have to charge the anklet (which needs to be charged daily, in my experience), then install the Sensoria app. Use the app to pair the anklet with your iPhone. The socks are helpfully labeled right and left so you know which sock goes on which foot (normally, I have to go it alone on this part). Then affix the anklet to the magnetic strip on either sock and fold extra material over the device to keep it secure. It's a bit more set-up than I normally prefer before a workout, especially on early morning runs when getting myself out the door is a feat in itself, and I haven't even grabbed the Apple Watch and Bluetooth headphones I wear, not to mention the Spotify playlist selection that precedes a typical run. After all that work, I open the Sensoria app, start a new workout, and take off running.
Each sock has three textile sensors sewn in, two in the ball of the foot and one in the heel. According to Sensoria, the socks are made of conductive fibers and function as "textile circuit boards" that send data from the sensors to the Bluetooth anklet. The anklet has an accelerometer to detect your movement, which it then communicates to the Sensoria iPhone app.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.