Tom Caru

The Pavlock: A fit band that’s a real shock to the system

Image: AAP

Some may find the idea of the Pavlock fit band a little “shocking”, but Tom Caru argues it’s better to feel the shock of the Pavlock than that of the defibrillator.


The Fitbit Flex, the Jawbone UP and that thing Nike briefly put into the sole of one of their new shoes. Fitness tracking is on the rise and yet so are obesity rates. Where are we going wrong?

Most people, fitness professionals included, will acknowledge the importance of exercise and nutritional consistency (I wrote about it here). What do you call something that you do consistently? A habit. Forging any kind of new habit is a serious beast.

How then do you train your dragon?

Yes, I am making a hilarious movie reference, but behaviour change IS a serious beast. One that can beat its wings, fly up into the air and rain fiery death down on everything below. Have you seen the Hobbit yet? Spoiler alert! Scorched earth motherfucker!

The dragon is in the hen house roasting turkeys.

If consistency is king, then progression is the key to the kingdom. I’m not talking about competition, but growth. How do you measure progress? By recording what you do, by tracking. Making tracking easy is where the value of a fit band lies, but what if you’re tracking the wrong thing?  What if you are only tracking quantity when you should also be tracking quality? What if your Fitbit is actually a dimwit?

What worries me most is the continued emphasis on calorie counting and the concept of energy balance as the ultimate determinant of fat loss. Yes, the Fitbit also tracks your sleep (in addition to Activity Completed and Food Consumed), which is a great acknowledgement of the importance of sleep, but fat loss and weight maintenance is more complicated than a three factor equation.

Industry health professionals are slowly starting to realise the importance of holistic factors in fat loss and general health and wellbeing.  The conventional wisdom to date; Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and other public recommendations to combat obesity have ultimately proven ineffectual and at worst, have exacerbated the problem. The Dietary Guidelines for All Australians, for example, still reflect a demonisation of fat (the macronutrient not the tissue) and emphasise eating “…plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain” as the second most important aim. A point that arguably has more to do with what’s best for industry than what’s best for your body.

Does anyone see the problem with taking an ineffectual philosophy, programming it into the Jawbone on your wrist and further embedding it in the public psyche? Why are some people complaining that their Fitbit is making them fatter?

Don’t get me wrong. Fit bands and other bio-feedback devices can be a useful tool in helping individuals become leaner, healthier and happier (especially as they become cheaper and less intrusive), but they will only be effective if the factors they are programed to track are relevant, and the users possess a degree of self-discipline. It will take more than a meditation app to make them holistic.

This problem IS a beast; a lion not a lamb.

Enter the Pavlock, a fit band with consequences.

The lion tamer’s whip.

Named after Ivan Pavlov, who, as you may remember, became famous for his classical conditioning experiments with salivating canines, the Pavlock looks just like your average fit band, but provides consequences in the form of reward and punishment. There are monetary-based rewards and other incentives for meeting your behaviour goals, BUT what’s really creating a buzz is the serious electric shock the band will deliver to punish the wearer for failing…and the ability to outsource control of this buzzer to a third party companion.

I know an electric shock might sound a little too extreme for many of you (maybe even most of you). Surely, behavioural change doesn’t require such drastic measures?

The situation, however, is already drastic and we need the measures to match it. People just haven’t noticed because the decline has been so widespread and the slippery slope, seemingly inexorable, drops away so gently.

The tender shepherding techniques we have been trying are just not working; whether that’s the government regulated messaging, or childhood intervention programs, or subtle public messaging campaigns urging people to value health and movement more than beer and bingeing.

Who do we think we are? Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer? We have tried feeding the animal apples and the apples aren’t cutting it.

Better the shock of the Pavlock than the shock of the defibrillator.

The Pavlock is scheduled for release in 2015 and planned to retail at around USD$150…but if that’s not your thing, I hear McDonalds has $1 cheeseburgers.




Tom Caru

Tom is a writer, healthy lifestyle enthusiast and a stark raving mad Batfleck fan. Coffee lover, traveller and creator of the *Around the World in 80 Gyms*® project. He currently resides in Michigan, eternally searching for better coffee and learning to drive on the other side of the road.

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