INCUS Performance and its NOVA device goes under the TRI247 microscope as Karen Parnell reviews what is claimed to be “the world’s most advanced multi-sport analysis tool”.
Earlier this year, we asked Karen Parnell, Head Coach of ChiliTri to trial the Supersapiens sport bionsenor for us. It was one of those, “We’ve heard of it, seen it around… but can you put it through its paces, and let us know (in simple terms!), what it is and does?”
As an athlete, experienced coach and with a background in technology too, Karen was the ideal candidate for that role.
Something similar here. You may well have heard of INCUS Performance and their NOVA device. They have been around for a while now and last year announced that Alistair Brownlee was joining them as an investor and strategic partner.
All good… but what is it, as “the world’s most advanced multi-sport analysis tool” is a bit of a mouthful, and we are fans of trying to keep things simple.
Of course, when we got our hands of one to test, we got it shipped straight out to Spain for Karen to give it a try.
INCUS NOVA review
When I first plugged in the INCUS device, and it started pulsating in multiple colours I though it looked like an alien egg! So, after downloading the App when I needed to pair it and give it a name it had to be “Karen’s Alien Egg”. I won’t miss that in my paired devices list!
I decided to approach this device test without doing much research and see if it was intuitive to use.
What’s in the box?
I asked for the ability to use INCUS for running and swimming, so I got the INCUS device (NOVA), USB charge cable, swimming top (FIIN vest), running top (T-Strap) with heart rate monitor strap and some brief instructions. It was all packaged using paper and cardboard so no unwanted plastic.
Swimming with NOVA
To test the device, I simply charged the ‘Alien Egg’, Installed the App (INCUS | CLOUD) on my Android phone and paired the device.
Before my swim I put on the swimming top with built-in egg pouch, switched on the egg and made sure it was glowing blue. I got my partner to insert it in to the pocket of the swimming top in between my shoulder blades. I was trying it in the sea even though it should have been a swimming pool, but I still got some great results.
I swam just over 400m to see what data I could collect. After the swim I opened the App and downloaded the data from my swim. This data was sent to the Incus CLOUD and analysed and sent back to me.
The swim stats include total distance, duration, average pace per 100m and average stroke rate which you would expect. For me as a coach and swimmer I was really interested to see velocity gain on the left side and right side and body angles.
As you can see from my screen shots, my left side appears to the weaker side. I’m left-handed and tend to breath to my right, plus I was in the sea so I think these stats may be skewed by the waves and having to breath away from them. I really like this stat and would need to try this in the swimming pool to get more realistic numbers.
Knowing which side of your stroke is stronger or weaker is extremely useful so you can focus on strength work and swimming technique. I have not seen this stat on any other app or device.
The other feedback I found useful was my body angle. As we know we should be aiming for a body rotation of between 35 and 45 degrees and for me the left side was 40 degrees and right side was 55 degrees. This again may be due to breathing to one side away from the waves, making me rotate more on the right side. So, I will need to try this out in the flat swimming pool to get a more accurate view.
I’m really excited about the possibilities of using this, coupled with video analysis, to improve the swimming efficiency and technique of my swimmers.
Running with NOVA
The next part of my evaluation was to use the running top (T-Strap) with built-in heart rate monitor strap. The device draws the GPS data from your phone, so you do need to run with your phone.
The INCUS device is unique and unlike foot pods in that it is worn on the spine. This ensures that both sides of your body can be measured accurately as well as offering you the ability to measure exclusive measurements such as body roll and body pitch.
I attached my Garmin heart rate monitor to the T-strap, made sure the device was glowing blue, started the session on my phone in the App and I set off. The alien egg gave me a reassuring buzz on my spine to tell me it was working and recording my run. It’s as simple as that. Power on and just enjoy your run.
You can look at your phone screen to also see that it’s recording your data. I live on a mountain, so the first part of my run was down hill and felt pretty good, but the way back is always uphill!
After the run you press stop on your phone and it stores your run. It gives you the option to upload it to the INCUS CLOUD and do the analysis. You can also edit the session details like title, how you felt and if you felt any pain. You can give the pain a location and severity indicated by tapping blue, amber or red.
After your run you can see your running power, average pace, cadence, take-off acceleration and landing deceleration with right/left balance, elevation profile and distance. For the more technical metrics such as stride phases there is a handy help detailing what the metric is, how do you use it, how can you improve and training tips such as running drills.
The latest run update has really unlocked the power of NOVA’s inbuilt MARG motion sensors to measure running metrics with new accuracy. The device records both the left and right sides of your body so give you more accurate data that is useful if you have imbalances in your body. I was not surprised to see that my left leg acceleration was less than my right as I injured the MCL last year of my left leg. This is really useful for me as it shows that I still need to work on my left length strength.
INCUS also have apparel with built-in pouches for you to fit the device in to. The clothing range includes singlets, t-shirts and trisuits. I think for me having a t-shirt with the pouch built in would have been more comfortable as I did not need the heart rate monitor strap plus the t-strap had to go over my bra, making yet another layer.
Integration with other Apps
Sharing your sessions on your socials is a breeze and you can share your swim distance, swim time and average pace with a photo using the share button. To share the detailed data, you simply share your graphs with your coach via email, WhatsApp etc so they can see your training data even remotely.
In Q4 2021 they will be releasing a Garmin app which will enable you to run with a Garmin watch (selected models) instead of your phone. Ongoing they will then release further apps for other phones, starting with the Apple Watch.
The Future of INCUS
INCUS | NOVA is unique in that it has been created specifically for triathlon and multi-sport athletes. Whilst currently offering swimming and running metrics and insights, over time the NOVA will evolve to offer cycling (2022) via free over-the-air updates.
As a coach I really appreciated the body rotation data, and this knowledge can make an immediate difference to swim stroke technique and power – translating to faster more efficient swimming. It’s extremely easy to use, simply power on and insert to the INCUS pouch and swim or run.
The free ongoing updates means that they must have a lot of built-in technology which will be enabled in the coming months. I really look forward to receiving the updates for cycling data collection. This also means you won’t need to keep buying new hardware.
This is a truly innovative multisport device and if you are serious about improving your triathlon performance it could be a worthwhile investment.
Why is it called INCUS?
A trio of tiny bones, known as the incus, malleus and stapes, conduct sounds from our eardrum to our inner ear. They are the smallest bones in our body and yet are essential for hearing. Without just one of these bones, like Chris Ruddock the founder of INCUS, you can lose your hearing entirely.
Karen Parnell is British Triathlon Federation (BTF) Level 3 High Performing Coach and Tutor and ASA Open Water Swimming Coach. She is also a qualified NASM Personal Trainer, Nivel 3 Técnicos Federados FATRI España and IRONMAN® Certified Coach as well as being a Stryd running with power coach.
Karen is based near Malaga in Southern Spain where she runs ChiliTri. She provides training plans via TrainingPeaks, FinalSurge and Training Tilt.