Five fitness gadgets to get you up and running

Back in action

Back pain is a misery for sufferers, drains national economies and is getting worse globally. Physiotherapist Chongsu Lee, inventor of BackHug and a former engineer at Hyundai, is only too aware of the growing need for treatment – indeed, his inability to physically cope with providing manual physiotherapy to a growing number of clients led directly to his invention.

“I was getting really good results with some serious conditions, but the strain of using manual techniques for eight hours a day was too much for my fingers,” he says. “Humans aren’t designed to be doing that kind of thing for long periods.” What began with experiments using sheets of MDF bought from his local DIY store has, eight years later, evolved into a compact and sophisticated unit capable of delivering the deep-tissue pressure required to relieve not just back pain, but associated pain and headaches too.

The accompanying app gives you a short questionnaire about the problem – be it in the back, legs or head – and the intensity of treatment you’re after. Then BackHug gently unfolds, lifting your legs to the point where your spine becomes flat and perfectly aligned, and 26 robotic fingers start their work. Anyone who’s used a massage chair will be familiar with this idea, but this is more intense, more targeted and more personalised, with the unit learning about the progress of your condition over time.Physios like Lee can devote more of their time to tailoring the treatment, having outsourced the repetitive, manual work to BackHug. 

The devices are now operating in locations from Bishopsgate to Beverly Hills, with the ones installed in working environments proving very popular. “We’ve been told that people are coming into the office more often to make sure they get their session,” says Lee. I can feel the economy shifting gears already. BackHug, £4,150 or subscription from £89 a month, mybackhug.com


A watch to track down 

Google Pixel Watch 2, £349

Ah, smartwatches. The neediest of gadgets, relentlessly reminding us of their capabilities and only beginning to shine after we’ve clamped down hard on notifications. Google’s second iteration of the Pixel Watch is physically very similar to the first, but gorgeous inertial scrolling and the rounded, minimalist casing make it a delight to use. Fitbit (now a Google company) is deeply integrated, and while there may be better options for sports fanatics, its approach to health tracking (heart rate, stress levels, step count) is already familiar to millions and very user-friendly. Unsurprisingly, it’s incompatible with the Apple ecosystem, but couples beautifully with Android. Google Pixel Watch 2, £349


Hear to stay

Loop Switch earplugs, £54.95

Noise can be a beautiful thing, but according to Loop it’s putting 1.1bn people at risk of hearing damage. As a musician who stands in rehearsal rooms near drum kits, I’m always on the lookout for devices that can reduce noise levels while maintaining audio clarity. Loop earplugs do it cheaply, stylishly and very effectively, and Switch – its newest – combines three other Loop models (Quiet, Experience and Engage) into one unit. A three-position slider on each earbud subtly alters the sound profile, and it’s all done with clever acoustic engineering (no batteries required). Beloved of clubbers, gig-goers and the neurodiverse, it’s like turning down the volume of the world around you. Loop Switch, £54.95


Capital calves

Hyperice Normatec Lower Legs compression wraps, £429

Hyperice is best known for massage guns that pound away at aching muscles, but its compression wraps offer a calmer route to recovery. These wearables inflate and massage to ease fatigue: Lower Legs is the most recent (and most portable) . You can use it in conjunction with an app, but you don’t need to; just set your intensity level and duration and you’re off. I can’t say whether it improved the oxygen levels in my haemoglobin as claimed but, as someone who experiences calf pain, it certainly provided me welcome relief. It would be impractical and preposterous to wear it permanently, but mildly tempting nonetheless. Hyperice Normatec Lower Legs, £429


Smart Pilates

Reform RX Pilates reformer, £6,895

All kinds of devices come billed these days as “the Tesla of X” or “the Peloton of Y”, but in this case the comparisons make sense. A smart Pilates reformer with built-in HD screen, it uses suitably enthusiastic trainers to guide you through each workout (there are more than 100), and tracking technology within the unit reports on how you’re doing. Four colour-coded buttons engage various resistance loads (your trainer will give you the necessary heads-up), and a footbar and leg exerciser are included. (Add-ons such as a sitting box and jumpboard are available too.) If you’d welcome tailored Pilates training but could do without the hypercritical eye of a personal trainer, this is the way to go. Reform RX, £6,895

@rhodri