THERE'S ARGUABLY LITTLE room for improvement in Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps's butterfly stroke he currently holds the world record in the 200-meter. Nevertheless, Phelps, like many of his competitors and teammates in Beijing, opts to further improve his chances by wearing the latest in high-tech swimsuits: Speedo's LZR Racer. Using a fabric engineered to mimic shark skin, the suit streamlines bodily curves to reduce drag in the water.
While wearing the LZR Racer is unlikely to turn your average Olympics spectator into the next world-record holder, employing a little technology into a workout can do wonders toward helping wannabe athletes achieve results. "It motivates a fair number of consumers to exercise, who might otherwise not," says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise.
From software that tracks eating and exercise habits to running outfits that let you know when you're slacking, view our slideshow for seven technologically-advanced training helpers:
7 Gadgets to Help Get You in Shape
Suunto t4c wrist-top computer
Think of it as the watch equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. "It does just about everything," enthuses Pamela O'Brien, executive editor of Fitness magazine. Paired with a heart rate belt (included), the Suunto t4c monitors your average heart rate and calories burned in real time. Using that data, its personal training program coaches you on how to meet your goals say, for cardio or weight loss. Want more bells and whistles? Add on a Suunto GPS pod ($169), to track speed, distance and location.
Nike + iPod Sport Kit
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While you're jogging to "Eye of the Tiger," this shoe-worn sensor (Nike+ footwear, $59 and up) wirelessly transmits the time and distance you've run, as well as the calories you've burned to your iPod nano ($149 and up). Download the data onto a PC and visit
to track your progress, set goals and even challenge other runners to a virtual race. Expect even more out of the system in the coming year, as exercise equipment makers roll out cardio machines with iPod plug-in features, says Dan Havlik, editor of tech education site
. Also on deck: an add-on monitor for heart rate, temperature and hydration levels.
Adidas-Polar Project Fusion
for the full system, which includes the Polar RS800 running computer, WearLink WIND heart monitor, S3 Stride Sensors and Adidas Adistar Fusion shirt and running shoes; available throughspecialty retailers
Slack off on that uphill climb and this athletic monitoring system will have no problem telling you to step up the pace. Polar's heart monitor and sensors clip into Adidas's specially-designed shirt and shoes, communicating with the wrist-worn computer about every change in heart rate, speed and cadence. It even separates performance into zones based on the terrain. The system syncs wirelessly with your computer and compares planned workouts against actual accomplishments. Project Fusion also offers customized training programs to help users develop and work toward fitness goals.
Diet and Exercise Assistant for Palm OS
Turn your smartphone into a personal nutritionist by adding this application from handheld computing software maker Keyoe. "It tells you, if you enter a popular restaurant like T.G.I. Friday's, how many calories the different dishes have," says O'Brien. Based on your personal data and exercise logs, the software even tracks how many calories you've eaten, whether you're getting enough nutrients and weight fluctuations. The application is available on phones that use the Palm, Pocket PC and Windows Mobile systems.
Garmin Forerunner 405
Ditch the well-worn trail with this GPS-enabled watch from Garmin. The device tracks your course so you'll never get lost, says Natali Del Conte, senior editor for CNET TV. As an added bonus: The Forerunner 405 monitors time, distance and pace. Opt for the version with a built-in heart rate monitor ($350) and record heart rate and calories burned as well. Post-workout, wirelessly sync all that data onto a computer to review your progress.
Wii Fit videogame with balance board
Hula hoop, snowboard and tightrope walk your way to a more fit physique. This fitness pack for the Nintendo Wii videogame console ($250) combines games with traditional strength training, yoga and aerobics to get erstwhile couch potatoes up and moving. The balance board, which incorporates pressure sensors, records every movement and shift you make, and recreates them on the screen, explains Havlik. For those serious about shedding pounds, it also doubles as a scale, measuring weight and body mass index.
Who needs a personal trainer for $50 an hour when you can get one-on-one instruction for as little as $20? This video series made by portable-video maker PumpOne LLC is specially designed to play on video-enabled MP3 players and cellphones. Offering five workout-goal categories, exercisers can choose between gym routines that utilize machines and other specialized fitness equipment and home-based ones requiring little to no equipment. Try yoga, or go all out with a total body workout. Videos can be downloaded online or users can text message PumpOne.com to download them to their cellphone on the spot.