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Review: Short on Time? Activ5 Is a Pocket-Sized Gym That’ll Get You Sweating in Just 5 Minutes

The Activ5 is a curious gizmo. No bigger than the palm of your hand, with the shape and look of a smooth, flat rock, this little piece of plastic is all you need for a full-body isometric workout at home. Though it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t.

There are a lot of wearables, apps, and fitness gadgets on the market today, but the Activ5 isn’t like other fitness trackers we’ve seen.

What Is an Isometric Exercise?

The Activ5 is a device that helps measure isometric workouts, but what are isometric exercises? Isometric workouts are static exercises that target specific muscle groups (think planks or wall sits). What Activ5 brings to the table is it helps measure the pressure and output of your workouts, while simultaneously gamifying them. In other words, it pits you against yourself, forcing you to hold different positions and movements for extended periods of time while applying pressure with your hands or feet to the device. In just a few minutes, you’ll get a well-rounded workout you can do pretty much anywhere.

While it’s easy to be skeptical of anything that brands itself as a lightweight and portable alternative to the gym, the Activ5 actually delivers on its promise. By connecting to your phone (via the Activ5 app), users are treated to a massive selection of workouts that target every muscle group possible. And trust me, you will sweat. Though pushing against a piece of plastic doesn’t sound like a replacement for bicep curls, you’ll see what I mean after your first day with the Activ5. I promise, your biceps will scream.

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Who Else Is Doing Isometric Exercises?

If you’re wondering whether this is all hype or not, you’ll only have to look to the humble town of Pittsburgh for a little validation. The Pittsburgh Steelers professional football team uses Activ5 in their workout regimen to help get a leg up on the competition. Clearly, Strength and Conditioning Coach Garrett Giemont sees potential in this little device, otherwise he wouldn’t be wasting his players’ time using it to help their training.

Whether for physical therapy or targeting specific muscle groups, Activ5 seems like a great fit for the football franchise. Coach Giemont even goes as far to say, “If you have an imagination, you can continue to do as many exercises you want to do” with an object like the Activ5. If that’s not a stamp of approval, I’m not sure what is.

Setting Up Activ5

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The setup for the device was easy enough. Activ5 comes with a fairly basic user manual that describes how to turn the device on and off (hold the only button on the surface of the device for two seconds) and how to download the accompanying app. Once in the app, you have to go through a fairly lengthy registration process, but outside of that, things went smoothly. Activ5 paired in an instant to my phone via Bluetooth, and after skimming a quick tutorial, I was ready.

To use the device, you simply apply pressure with the heel of your palms (or the heel of your foot for leg workouts). That’s it. When I read this, I became even more skeptical. How could something so small and unassuming actually give me a good workout? In order to find out, I dove in and, I must say, I walked away pleasantly surprised.

Using Activ5 for the First Time

The first step to getting in shape with the Activ5 is calibrating your max output. To do so, the app asks that you sit up straight in a chair and (without interlocking your fingers) apply pressure to both sides of the device with the palms of your hands. I position my phone on the provided mobile dock with the app opened. A small white line ran the length of my phone screen and as I pushed on this plastic stone, an orange dot jumped up and down in the app. Then, it clicked. The harder I pushed, the higher the dot climbed. The goal, I quickly understood, was to apply the amount of pressure required to stay on the line. This proved to be almost impossible, and after 30 seconds, my shoulders and arms were dead. The wildest part? That was just the setup.

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The first exercise I tried after calibrating my (not-so-impressive) max was a 30-second upper body workout known as a chest fly. It involved sitting with both arms extended directly in front of me and applying pressure to the device with both palms. For 30 seconds, I had to keep the line. I almost didn’t make it.

When my first workout was complete, my heart was pounding. The company behind Activ5 (Activbody) claims you can get a full workout in as little as five minutes per day. At first glance, this seems impossible. But after 30 seconds of trying to keep my little orange dot on the white line during chest flys, I understood where they were coming from. In a sense, I was 1/10th of the way done with my workout. My heart was racing and far too many muscles in my chest and arms were pulsing. As someone who surfs on a regular basis and has a history of distance running, I was a little shocked resistance training could be so effective.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just another fitness trend. What’s great about Activ5 is that it adapts to your fitness level. So even if you can bench 200 pounds, you’ll find this just as difficult as someone who can barely bench the bar. Activ5 pairs you against your toughest competitor, yourself, so expect a challenge every time you boot it up. Another pro for Activ5 is that all the workouts provided are low-impact exercises. If running or jumping is an issue for you due to bad joints or injury, you can rest easy knowing the provided exercises will help strengthen your joints, not rip them to pieces.

An additional feature I appreciated while using the Activ5 was the massive variation in workouts across the app. There are the run-of-the-mill exercises you’d expect (arm workouts, chest workouts, squats etc.) but they also have more specific workouts you can do at the office, while watching TV or while sitting on a plane. Though you could fully replace your gym membership with the Activ5, it seems the brand is angling more to be the device you reach for when time is short. In that sense, I think Activ5 settles in quite nicely.

Testing the Activ5

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Over the course of a few weeks, I supplemented my average workouts (running and surfing) with short sessions with the Activ5. What I quickly noticed is that I’m far less in shape than I thought. Sure, I never looked at myself as someone who is physically flawless, but as someone who can casually surf for three hours or run seven miles without much of strain, I assumed I was good enough to do battle against a plastic pebble. Boy, was I wrong. While surfing and running are fantastic exercises, they don’t hit muscle groups as specifically and accurately as the Activ5.

It makes a ton of sense why a professional football team would want to employ the Activ5 in their routine. If an athlete is looking to improve a specific muscle group, be it for regular training or physical therapy, the Activ5 makes things easy. And on top of that, surfing and running don’t give the same kind of feedback Activ5’s accompanying app kicks out after every workout.

Final Thoughts

On days when I don’t have time to get in a long run or the surf isn’t great, I reach for my Activ5 device and knock out a series of challenging isometric exercises. Will this fitness gadget ever fully replace working out with free weights or more classical forms of strength training? No. But, as somebody who hates the idea of driving 20 minutes to the gym in Los Angeles traffic, only to wait around for machines or benches to free up so I can get my workout in, I love the option this device presents. If the weather is bad, if I’m short on time or even if I just don’t feel like leaving the house, the Activ5 is on hand to give me a solid workout. Plus, it has so many variations and options (over 100 different exercises at the time of writing), it’s not the sort of thing I’ll get bored of quickly. Whether for yourself, as part of your New Year’s Resolution or as a gift to the exercise-obsessed friend in your crew, Activ5 makes a great addition to anyone’s workout regimen.