Tech Talk with Jess Kelly: Work Out without having to move

Jess Kelly: Welcome back to Tech Talk, this is Jess Kelly with you here on Newstalk. Now as we covered back in January, the annual Consumer Electronics Show takes place every year in Las Vegas. Back in 2019 when I was walking around the Las Vegas Convention Center, one company caught my eye because it was gaining real interest from a ton of people there. And it turns out it was an Irish company called BionicGym. And I'm delighted to say the man behind it joins me now all these years later. Dr. Louis Crowe, thank you so much for joining us here on Newstalk. Can you just introduce us to BionicGym?

Dr. Louis Crowe: Yeah, that CES show was really quite crazy. We were showing off BionicGym for the first time in public really. And what BionicGym is, it's an exercise device. People might be familiar with some of these kinds of ab type stimulators and toners. It's like that except extraordinarily effective. We've got an app that you control on your phone and there's a wrap that goes around your legs. And within this wrap, there are electrodes and we send electrical impulses to contract the legs. Now obviously, you know, if you're just contracting lightly, that doesn't do very much. But we've developed technology that has become really effective. You know, in CES that day, I think I did the equivalent of running the marathon. I was quite exhausted at the end of the day, just with this technology on my legs, causing my legs to contract in a rhythmic way. But the idea behind the kind of innovation is essentially shivering is nature's hack to burn calories. And so you shiver when you want to warm up and a calorie is just a term of heat. So nature's evolved to, kind of, burn to generate heat, you shiver. And so we kind of mimic that because this maximizes the energy consumption. And if you're burning enough calories, that's essentially exercise. You do it vigorously enough and we can do this with this tech now, you know, you'll be sweating, you'll be breathless, your heart is racing. So yeah, so CES was really the first time we kind of put it out there for people to look and see in the real world.

Jess Kelly: Yeah, I'm someone who, I suppose, loves the idea of working out, maybe loves the feeling of the aftermath and so on. But one of the biggest barriers is the motivation to put the gear on and get out the door. Some people might say that your solution is almost too good to be true. But you do have science and data to back it all up, right?

Dr. Louis Crowe: Yes. And not only that, but this product has been in gestation for 20 years. So we started with BMR in the West of Ireland in Galway and then we did a big project with UCD and there in the Department of Physiotherapy and Sport, Institute of Sport. And we did lots of proper clinical controlled studies. And so we find people's heart rate would obviously go up, their calorie consumption would go up, but they'd also train. And this training had a typical training effect for aerobic exercise, aerobic fitness improved dramatically as well. They were using maybe five times a week for six weeks. We studied particular populations as well. And this all went from people with spinal cord injury. So it's some people who couldn't exercise at all with their legs, say, they hadn't moved in 15 years. And we were able to activate and train this muscle up and then train with this muscle such that their aerobic fitness improved, their burning calories. And then we did test it on people who were overweight and tested on people with diabetes. The diabetes (research) is something I'm kind of really interested and proud of, I have to confess, we think we've got a huge application there. And then we tested them, kind of, normal people. We even tested with the European Space Agency. They were interested because we can't really go to Mars and come back again without a body disintegrating. So we need to find a good way to exercise in space that doesn't really involve gravity. And, you know, there are these centrifugal treadmills that are costly and they weigh a lot and take up a lot of space. But you could also use BionicGym. And we found this in the parabolic flights where we're in zero gravity, shaking away and burning calories. So, yeah, the science is all there. We've published papers and peer reviewed journals with professors and lots of different universities. So it's pretty good.

Jess Kelly: In terms of overall fitness and well-being, you mentioned there about aerobic fitness, but what about strength and conditioning? Like is bionic gym something that should be used alongside other fitness things or does it stand alone as a product?

Dr. Louis Crowe: And so the product is kind of for everybody. And what we find the niche is is a lot of people are particularly interested in weight loss applications. And we can come back to that later. But in relation to, kind of, strength as such, one of our studies, we measure people's strength and it improved. But we don't really, I think, in terms of like cycling, if you want to build muscle bulk, you'd probably just do weights. And that's great. And we recommend that. But cycling obviously increases people's strength and professional cyclists or people who cycle an awful lot obviously have good, strong, toned, fit legs and are, kind of, products in a kind of similar category with particular advantages and disadvantages. But that's the way we, kind of, do the comparison. If you just want pure bulk with the technology we've released to date, we, you know, just go and do some weights. But if you want to get the benefits of, say, similar to cycling, say, or vigorous aerobic exercise, use BionicGym.

Jess Kelly: Is the equipment you wear heavy? And, you know, in terms of the sensation, the pulsing sensation, is that something you need to get used to?

Dr. Louis Crowe: That's a key thing, the first few sessions for people. Now, some people put on and immediately get their heart rate racing. And that's brilliant. But the experience for most people is they need to take you gradually and easily in the same way, you need to learn to walk before you can run. But what we find in terms of having it on, I have it on now at the moment and you probably didn't notice. I'm just using it at low levels. And this is how we recommend a certain group of people to use it, especially if you're not fit initially, use it at levels where you're comfortable at. In the same way as you could get on a stationary bicycle and cycle very slowly or cycle very fast. And we say, you know, start at what you're comfortable at, gradually increase intensity during a session, from one session to the next. And then as you get fitter, of course, you'll be able to increase it again.

Jess Kelly: Give me a bit of a rundown of the hardware itself.

Dr. Louis Crowe: So we've got a control unit and this is an electronic device and we attach it. It's controlled from your phone so you always control the intensity of your exercise. We've got wraps that go around your legs, just your thighs. And we've got electrodes within that, that's essentially a contact with your skin. And we send tiny impulses and they are, kind of, minuscule impulses that trigger the nerves. And then the nerves, we target particular types of nerves in a particular pattern, in a particular way. And this enables us to trigger the nerves that contract a particular muscle and muscle fibers. And these fibers contract and then they naturally relax afterwards. And you contract them again and then you relax muscles. Because we are targeting in a particular way, we can even bring in the calf muscles, even though the wraps are just on your thighs, because the nerve to your calf muscle runs through your upper leg, obviously. So we can target it there. And likewise, we can target your bum or glute muscles as well. And so we can get a kind of full lower body workout by just sending, essentially we hijack some of these nerves and tell them what to do. And the muscles themselves, they don't realize that the signal didn't come from the brain or the spinal column. It came from our control unit because the nerve just sends a signal contract and the muscle then contracts.

Jess Kelly: Is it cumbersome in terms of storage?

Dr. Louis Crowe: No, it's tiny. I was off in Italy there the other day and I just threw it into the case. I think it's, kind of, I don't know, it's maybe a kilogram or so. It's really light. It's part of the reason why they're interested in it for space exploration, because it's so light and compact. I often wear it underneath my clothing. What we're finding in the feedback we're getting from people is they quite often use it during the day in order to, kind of, build up a large calorie burn as they're doing other things, like the way I have it on now as I'm talking to you. At not very high levels, but maybe the equivalent of walking. So for me, walking, it's not much exercise, but I can do four or five hours of this as I'm at work or walking about the place. And it really builds up the calorie burn and, kind of, keeps me fresh during the day. I need a bit of exercise. Otherwise, I feel a little bit lethargic.

Jess Kelly: This could be a silly question, but if I wear an Apple Watch or a fitness tracker, what are the metrics that are recorded as a result of wearing and going through a session with Bionic Gym?

Dr. Louis Crowe: Well, so I kind of track four or five different things at different stages, but the device itself just exercises you in the same ways you know that you're exercising. You can measure your heart rate by palpation, by feeling it, or you can put on one of these straps. A lot of people have Apple Watches or whatever, and that will tell them the heart rate. So as you increase intensity, your heart rate will go up. There's a short lag compared to voluntary exercise, some kind of physiological reasons. The other things that happen is the ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen changes as well. So you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. And with this form of exercise, you breathe out proportionately more carbon dioxide. And we can measure that, too. We can measure people's resting heart rate or anybody can measure their own resting heart rate. This is an indication of fitness. And because it's how many times your heart needs to pump as you're just sitting there doing nothing for 15 minutes or whatever. So you rest for 15 minutes, you measure your heart rate, you train with BionicGym, and then you measure your heart rate again and you'll find that your resting heart rate, it's probably gone down and seems to go down quicker than with voluntary exercises. It has been our information we're getting today, but we don't have controlled studies on that. So all these different matrices, I was covering my blood glucose levels there for two weeks until last week, a continuous blood glucose monitor. So this measures the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. And we all need some sugar in the bloodstream, but it needs to be really tightly controlled. And when it's not, you get prediabetes and then diabetes. And it's the major, kind of, condition of the modern society, a kind of major illness as such. And so I was looking at the effects on blood sugar levels of our exercise. And it's a really sugar hungry type of exercise, even at low levels because the way we target a particular type of muscle fibers. And so we can see the kind of blood sugar level kind of go down. And so if I was I drank, say, two cans of Coke at a quarter to nine, I think three, two Thursdays ago, and I sort of spiked my blood sugar level. And then I did the exact same, except I had BionicGym on at intensity 30. So again, maybe the equivalent of a slit of jogging, but not running or anything. And I saw the spike in blood sugar again, but the spike was much lower. So the sugar in the can of Coke couldn't quite course through my system in the same destructive way that it often would.

Jess Kelly: Yeah, it's really interesting. And I know I've mentioned him a few times already today, but Pat Fieland's company, Limbo, is looking at blood glucose levels and informing users what impact food, drink, exercise, sleep and so on has on their bodies. It's just fascinating. And tell me, what way does the pricing work for Bionic Gym?

Dr. Louis Crowe: So it's available now at And the basic cost is 649 US dollars. So that's kind of about 600 euros. And then we have a pro version as well, which would be about 100 euros more. So it's on sale now. So check it out.

Jess Kelly: Brilliant stuff. Well, I am delighted to finally have you on the show and I am very excited to see what you do next. Dr. Louis Crowe, thank you so much for joining us here on Newstalk.

Dr. Louis Crowe: Thank you.