“Um, I don’t think this thing is a weight vest. It’s a lightweight vest full of pads that electrically stimulate your muscles,” I said.
“Just try it and let me know what you think, because I want to invest in this company,” Taher said.
While waiting for this Katalyst thing to get delivered to my house, I did some more research, and the concept of Electrical Muscle Stimulation started sounding good to me. I’m a sucker for a good application of first-principles reasoning, like: Instead of going to the gym and pushing/pulling weights around to activate your muscles, why not skip the middleman and just… activate your muscles?
Setting Up My Katalyst
When I first opened the box and realized all this annoying shit you have to do:
- You have to put on their special innerwear (they give you 2 sets and you wash them after each workout)
- You have to put on their 4-piece outerwear (which has the electrode pads)
- You have to use a spray bottle to wet all the pads before the workout
- You have to keep the battery pack charged and put it in the outerwear pants pocket
- You need to be using an iPad for the workout, and you need to get it paired to the battery pack with bluetooth
I was like, are you kidding me? I’m not the kind of person who is going to do all this shit.
I’m a bad task-switcher, so I prefer to minimize task-switching. I want everything to be just one simple task. My ideal workout is just running on a treadmill in my garage because that has the fewest tasks: I just change into shorts & shoes and start running. It’s better for me to work out at home than to run outside or go to a gym, because leaving my house is just another task for me. And I actually don’t like that I have to change into running shorts & shoes — I would pay a lot if I could just walk onto my treadmill in jeans and socks and magically start running comfortably. Because that’s a big deal for me personally, minimizing the number of little task switches involved to achieve my goal of working out.
I told myself I’ll at least try Katalyst once, even though it’s most likely going into the closet or trash afterward.
After setting myself up in full weirdo gear for the first time, I came to appreciate how every part of this thing is well-designed to be the least annoying that it can possibly be, given the way it has to work. The quality of each component, from the various clips and pads of the outerwear to the specialty high-pressure spray bottle, is impressive.
The 20-Minute Workout
To begin the 20-minute workout, you select one of the options from Katalyst’s iPad app (Level 1 vs Level 2, whole body vs legs, cardio-focused, etc), then copy the instructor’s movements.
You quickly feel the gentle tingle of electrical current coming from the pads in the outerwear and running through your muscles. Every muscle gets stimulated at the same time.
The electrical current starts out as a weak trickle, then gradually intensifies into a hose throughout the workout. It’s user-adjustable. If you overdo it, it feels like you’re facing down a firehose of current.
The workout is all bodyweight. You’re just moving your body, except it feels like there’s a high-pressure hose spraying electrical current at you, which resists you, so you have to make an effort to get through the motion.
The whole 20-minute workout is structured as repeating 8-second cycles: 4 seconds on, 4 seconds off. When it’s on, you’re doing a squat, or chest fly, or whatever other (unweighted) movement the instructor is demonstrating. When it’s off, you’re just chilling and getting ready for the next rep or the next exercise.
By the way, another thing to know about me is that I require all my workouts to be things I can do while listening to a podcast or audiobook, which is a big thing I like to do for entertainment throughout the day, and this is the key to how I’ve successfully tricked myself into exercising every day. When I do Katalyst, I’m just listening to a podcast in my earphones while following the instructor on the iPad screen, because I don’t need to hear much of what the instructor is saying.
Post-Workout Cleaning and Maintenance
The post-workout experience is actually not annoying. When I’m done with the workout, I just undo all the outerwear clips (takes 30 seconds, but keep in mind I’m feeling endorphins and still listening to a podcast), throw the outerwear into my closet with the electrodes still damp, plug in the battery pack, and put my sweaty innerwear in the laundry. That’s it.
As for cleaning: Since the innerwear absorbs my sweat, and the outerwear doesn’t directly contact my body, I believe cleaning is only necessary every 1–3 months. I just smelled the outerwear after having used it a dozen times, never been washed, and it looks and smells like new.
Why Am I Doing This Regularly?
I’m writing this post because I thought there was no way I would become a Katalyst user, but I surprised myself and used it twice a week for the last three months, and I plan to continue using it.
The reason I’m still doing this all comes down to the ROI calculation:
1. How much time does it take?
The workouts I do daily are between 30–60 minutes, so Katalyst coming in at 35 minutes total, with only 20 minutes of actual exertion, is great.
2. How much willpower do I have to muster to get through this?
I don’t want to dread going into a workout that’s too challenging for me, because I want to reinforce exercise as a rewarding habit. The difficulty level of Katalyst is only moderate.
3. How much is this helping my fitness?
I quickly realized that #1 and #2 had good answers, so for me the main question about Katalyst was always #3: how much it’s really helping my fitness.
I’ve been seeing many good signs that it’s helping my fitness as much as my other running and gym workouts, if not more so. These are the signs:
- I work up a good sweat during the workout.
- I often feel random muscles engaging during the workout. For example, the instructor tells me to raise my hands like a push press with my knees slightly bent, and I feel like it’s also getting my glutes engaged. Or I do a squat but my biceps can randomly get engaged too. This explains why 20 minutes of Katalyst can potentially yield more results than my 45-minute gym workouts that focus on just one or two muscles at a time.
- My muscles, especially my abs, started getting more toned than they’ve ever been in the weeks after I’ve been doing Katalyst. I notice it stimulating my core muscles during the workout so I believe it is likely responsible for this. I have no alternative explanation since I haven’t changed anything about my other workouts (in fact I’ve been doing gym weights only 1x/wk since starting Katalyst 2x/wk).
One more thing to note: There’s an intensity setting to the electric current that you can adjust. Most people are in the 100–200 range (whatever that means), and I’ve worked my way up from 80 to 140. I’m getting the hang of it, and I plan to keep working the intensity up to 200–250. If I can keep progressing to that level, I’m expecting to get bigger muscles as a result. I heard a fitness guru named Ben Greenfield do a podcast interview with Katalyst founder Bjoern Woltermann, where Ben says he cranks his all the way to 400 which is their max.
So to recap, Katalyst is this weird thing that no one else I know is using (yet), which I can only use after I spend 15 minutes spraying pads and clipping together a ridiculous-looking outfit, and is sometimes harsh enough to make me feel like I’m getting shocked in the Milgram experiment…
But as long as the results are the same or better than a 45-minute workout, then I’ll pick this over going to the gym, because I can do it quickly and conveniently in the comfort of my home while listening to a podcast.
If the signs I’m seeing are right that this technology actually works pretty well, I feel like I’ve got a nice secret power here, where I can do a workout that’s quite short and easy relative to what the average gym rat is doing, and still be in awesome shape compared to the average gym rat.
Well done, Katalyst team.