Review: SHFT Virtual Running Coach

Watches, trackers, step counters, cadence monitors, and other similar wearable tech help to track our runs – time, distance, HR, laps. We can capture and measure quite a lot of data, however we will need to interpret it ourselves, unless we have a coach. Or a virtual coach?! A virtual running coach that will do it for you while you run, giving you advice in real time. SHFT, virtual running coach will do just that. This latest tech toy for runners promises to coach you in real-time, making you both run faster and more efficiently and with a reduced risk of injuries. 

What is a SHFT?

What? How? Virtual running coach? I hear you… I was the same when I first heard about it. SHFT has only just come to the UK market, and is set to be the next big jump in wearable tech for runners.

As soon as I read that this paragraph I was hooked and intrigued… 

SHFT wants to help runners worldwide improve their running technique and energy consumption by eliminating unnecessary and inappropriate movements in their running pattern and instead, focus on how every body movement can be more efficient, contributing to the maximum propulsion possible. The key word is Efficiency. Watt measurement and real-time voice coaching is the foundation of a new technology that will turn runners into faster, safer and happier runners.

Paul and I have ‘met’ our virtual running coach in October and have gone out on a couple of runs with him.

 

Our first impressions of SHFT

We received SHFT with little to no knowledge of the product, how it worked or what we would get out of it. Well, SHFT is first of its kind; haven’t heard of anything similar. When we opened the box we looked for some instructions, first steps or anything that would give us some idea of what we needed to do however didn’t find anything other than a note telling us to download the SHFT app. At first, we were slightly confused as we was expecting a series of steps and instructions to follow and learn before we stepped out of the door, Paul downloaded the app. The instructions followed once the app was opened: put one pod on your shoe, one pod on your chest, hit the start button on the app and run.

It really was that quick and simple to get started with SHFT, which was a huge plus point.

The two pods are unobtrusive and neatly designed giving info on current status via different coloured flashes (red = low battery/charging, green = on/available, blue = connected to the app/in use), the chest strap is light however didn’t stay in place very well whilst running, it could do with the ability to go tighter as the rubbery grips aren’t sufficient to hold it secure.

 

SHFT Virtual Running Coach Review - The pod - front

FIRST RUN with SHFT

So on went the foot pod by clipping securely onto the side of my right trainer, and on went the chest strap with pod facing forwards, the app was opened and start button pressed on the app, a second or two later the pods and app were connected and off we went.

SHFT - Digital Running Coach Review - Test Run


Your phone and SHFT…
You do need to either hold your phone in your hand or have it strapped to your arm. It says not to have it in your backpack however not sure why. I chose to hold my phone in my hand and have the voice played loudly rather than via headphones.

Once I was ready to go we went for the first test run which was also a trial where SHFT would measure my running style and base all future training advice on the data from this run. It coincided with some hill training I was doing which after 10 minutes we realised wasn’t going to be a good first run to gather data from so decided to ditch the trial run.

Lesson learnt: Your first run with Coach SHFT needs to be on a flat course; not hilly trails of Seven Sisters Cliffs. 

The second run, and new first SHFT run, was flat and we set off at a slower pace than I would normally as I wanted to pay attention to the guidance and instructions given from the robotic drawling voice.

The aim of this run was to twofold: gather trial data on my technique as well as advise on my ground contact time. I’d have preferred the first trial to simply gather data without live instruction then lay out the data post run. The second run would then start giving live feedback, however this wasn’t the case and I was told during the run to lower my ground contact time without any further technical advice. I received regular and clear feedback on pace per mile, distance etc. as well as ground contact time given it was the aim of the session.

Following on from the simple set up of the pods and app the first run was also incredibly straightforward, hit the button and go then follow instructions.

SHFT Data

The data provided was hugely comprehensive – everything from the usual pace etc through to watts, running efficiency, brake effect, body bounce, ground contact time, G-landing, landing angle, step length, steps per minute, time in air, toe off angle and landing position. This is all available immediately following a run as well as on the Shft.Run website.

Data Analysis - SHFT Virtual Running Coach

It’s superb for breaking down each individual run and analysing how it went second by second however you can’t compare data from different runs side by side – this for me is a key reason to have so much info available so that you can track progress and translate how a run felt to how it actually stacked up in numbers, again comparing to other runs. I’m sure SHFT will add this feature to their app so I can keep comparing.

Having used the pods a number of times, it starts to move through the data fields working on different aspects, all the while giving live guidance on how you’re performing. Following each run it also gives further advice on certain exercises to help with your running style.

I’m dubious of the accuracy of some of the data as I changed running shoes after a few SHFT runs and the readings came out with a significant difference, I need to run more to get a better understanding of this.

Key SHFT Benefits and Features

  • Very sleek and easy-to-use app
  • Data, tons of it
  • Voice/coach training you as you run
  • Very simple to use, from setting up to running
  • Voice is clear and loud – can get a little monotonous though!
  • Each data field is explained in pretty short and simple terms
  • Ability to look at second by second breakdown of data

What could be improved

  • New shoes = completely different readings. (We’ve asked SHFT to check this)
  • Only applicable to flat road running – no advice on hill running technique (yet?)
  • Each training run is a set amount of time which remains the same, would be good to have ability to vary depending on length of run I’m going on
  • Initial training run seems to determine all future guidance, doesn’t take into account that data will alter based on whether the run is quicker or slower, ie a 5k training run will be different to a 30k training run
  • The pods seem to do the job pretty well, they connect to the shoe tightly and to the chest strap however the chest strap isn’t as sturdy as I’d like, it’s too stretchy and therefore doesn’t achieve enough grip so slips down while running which is frustrating
  • The app doesn’t allow you to compare data side by side yet (also not able to do so on the website), and the steps to go from one run to another are quite laborious (even more so if the run was in a different month)
  • The price tag but today’s gadgets are expensive – if you’re into running (like us) you’ll probably spend the money which is still better than spending in a pub or on some fast food.

The Verdict

I’d recommend the product to everyone. However a beginner would need a lot more tuition, advice and help as the data would probably be overwhelming. It would need a ‘beginners’ setting to limit the data to distance, time and some of the basic techniques such as steps per minute etc.

It’s ideal for more comprehensive runners and data-holics wishing to further investigate their running technique.

I’ve shown the info to my physio who was mildly interested however he didn’t really compare the tweaks/injuries I’ve had to what was shown on the app, this might be down to him though, I’d be keen to talk it through with a running coach to see how they view the data and feedback/advice received from SHFT.

// You can get SHFT for £255.99 from the SportsShoes.com site here

 

 

Lenka Istvanova

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