Measuring Muscles Over Miles And Minutes

by | Oct 6, 2016

When Jose Bohorquez was seven years old, his family emigrated from Colombia to the United States. They settled in southern Florida, and he remembers spending much of his youth circulating soccer fields and volleyball courts, playing for school and recreation.

In high school, a buddy landed Bohorquez a job as a technician at a small start-up. He would work there through graduation, then during college at the University of Florida where he earned a BA and MS in Electrical Engineering. In-between, Bohorquez worked at GE Healthcare and got to see the world of medical devices and the impact technology can have on the body.

When he was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Bohorquez was on a hunt to merge physiology with technology. That’s when he met Seward Rutkove, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School who specialized in muscular health.

Bohorquez was fascinated with a new fitness measurement Rutkove invented called Composition Myography (CM). Myography literally means the description of muscles. And while the medical world is used to seeing a new type of EKG or ultrasound, a new measurement altogether is rare. The discovery mixed with Bohorquez’s engineering genius resulted in the fringe fitness tech company Skulpt, created by the pair in 2009. Their most recent iteration of the muscle tracker, Skulpt Chisel, won the CES 2016 Innovations Award, and the prior edition, Skulpt Aim, was honored as CES 2014’s Last Gadget Standing.

We sat down with Bohorquez to find out why he thinks more athletes need to measure muscles not miles, how an engineer got into fitness and why fit tech 1.0 will be extinct by 2017.

SGB: Take us back to your first talk with Rutkove that led to the creation of Skulpt.
Bohorquez: He comes from a world where he sees patients with neuromuscular disorders and was frustrated that even in the medical space, there are no tools to measure that health. I was in the process of taking expensive, large medical equipment, pulling the high cost out and minimizing it all into a tool that can be more widely available.

SGB: Why measure muscles?
Bohorquez: Sixty to 80 percent of the body is made up of muscle and fat and yet the products out there give us zero understanding of that makeup. If you map out a person’s body and give them an understanding of where their strengths and weaknesses are, you can give much better guidance to improve fitness and athletic performance. It only takes a simple tweak, like strengthening your right calf to be as strong as your left.

SGB: For years, you were fine-tuning the device from 2009/14. What did that entail?
Bohorquez: Our first device was used in clinical trials around the U.S. to study patients with neuromuscular problems. It’s even been used in collaboration with NASA to study the impact of weightlessness on the muscles of mice that have been to outer space. We didn’t think of it as a consumer product until about three years ago. Before then, the top clinical researchers in the world were using it, along with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

SGB: What does the consumer fitness market look like from the eyes of an engineering expert?
Bohorquez: Well, Apple’s fitness tracking smart watch is being boasted for its heart rate monitoring, but that technology has been around for decades. Activity tracking in general has been here for decades with pedometers, only they didn’t connect with your phone. Most of the products that come out are copycats. I’ve got a pretty extensive technological background, but I don’t think it requires that for consumers to see there isn’t a lot of true innovation coming out of the category.

SGB: What’s it like to design an activity tracker?
Bohorquez: It’s very straightforward. A college student can have it done in a couple weeks because it’s not technically challenging. What you can’t do in that time is develop 15 years of clinical research and validation. My Co-founder had a rack of equipment that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we converted that into palm-sized fit tech. That is an engineering feat.

SGB: And the device looks simple, not complex.
Bohorquez: It’s our business to make the consumer see value instead of complexity. Consumers can think it’s simple as long as they see it as helpful –– it cut my marathon time, made me a better power lifter, took away my cycling injury. A lot of fitness enthusiasts and athletes are missing a compass and flying blind.

SGB: Will today’s mix of fit tracking competitors survive amid next year’s technology advances?
Bohorquez: I think other companies have really spearheaded fit tech 1.0. They’ve created awareness for consumers that technology can have an impact on health and wellness. Now there is an opportunity to bring in products that go past superficial things and get at the heart of what we’re made of, using actionable advice that improves performance. New technology will build a new category altogether.

Photos courtesy Skulpt

Jose Bohorquez, Skulpt Co-Founder

Skulpt Chisel

Skulpt App

“A lot of fitness enthusiasts and athletes are missing a compass and flying blind.”

Jose Bohorquez

Skulpt Co-Founder