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Skulpt AIM & Chisel - I Review 9 Months Of Use And Test How Accurate It Is Against a DEXA Scan [Updated with Chisel]

 

Pros

Simple to use device that accurately measures body fat and muscle quality in a fast and non-invasive way. Ability to take measurements on yourself plus the well-designed app allow tracking muscle development and body fat levels over time a piece of cake.  Ships to Australia.

 
 

Cons

Consistency is important when comparing data over time. Is more expensive ($149usd) than a set of skin fold calipers (though these have accuracy issues and you can't test yourself). Software in this first gen device is still buggy. 

 

Bottom Line

A neat device that any bodybuilder or serious gym goer will enjoy. The ability to track not only body fat levels but muscle quality over time is very powerful. Despite a few software issues and the limitations of all body fat testing devices, the Skulpt Aim is a tool that can dramatically help with your or your clients health & fitness goals.

 


The Skulpt Aim: Full Review & Accuracy Comparison [Updated With Skulpt Chisel]

The Skulpt Aim is a revolutionary new device that measures and tracks body fat and muscle quality. The Aim uses a new and highly accurate form of electrical impedance to measure not only your body fat levels but also your muscle quality.

Is it time to throw away your body fat skin callipers and replace it with this new gadget? Read on as I review my experiences with the Skulpt Aim over the past 6 months, and to see how accurate it is in comparison with the gold standard in body fat testing - the DEXA scan.

 
 
  

The Skulpt Aim Review: The Device

The Skulpt was founded and designed by Dr. Rutkove (a neurologist from Harvard) and Dr. Bohorquez (an electrical engineer from MIT), these guys are the brains behind the Skulpt Aim. Dr. Rutkove sought after a simple way to measure muscle health and ended up developing a system now known as the ‘Electrical Impedance Myography’ (EIM). This technology was first used to track the progression of patients with muscular disorders.

 After being used in many clinical trials and even with collaboration of NASA (they tested the impact of weightlessness on muscle), the guys from Skulpt started exploring ways to use their technology to measure body fat.

 Sprinkle in a few years of development, along with a successful (yet frequently delayed) indiegogo campaign that raised nearly half a million dollars and you end up with the Skulpt Aim - “The world's first device to measure muscle quality & body fat percentage".

  

 

 

EIM vs. Bio-Impedance?

EIM technology sends an electrical current into the limb (don’t worry you can’t feel this) similar to a Bio-Impedance machine. But Bio-Impedance Analysis (BIA) devices simply send a current through your lean muscle mass, not the fat tissue. Using a complex algorithm that factors in age, height and gender, the BIA device then calculates your body fat percentage. This calculation is merely an estimate.

The EIM technology that the AIM uses measures how current flows through muscle and fat tissue. The algorithm doesn’t require your age, gender or weight as it measures the muscle and fat as it is - instead of trying to ‘guess’ what the fat content should be given a set of variables.  

The Skulpt team claim that their method is 5x more accurate than Bioimpedance scales. For more of the science in learning about EIM and how it works, head to the 'science' page on the Skulpt.me website.

 

There have been a few studies showing EIM is in fact very effective. This study found that EIM is still accurate despite severe dehydration in the muscle. And this study  compared EIM tests from different evaluators (not necessarily using the Skulpt Aim, but using the same technology) and found that even with different testers, testing at different times of the day, the technology still produced accurate and consistent results. There was also a study comparing EIM and Bio-Impedance analysis that found EIM is far more consistent in measure muscle quality than BIAS.

Muscle Quality

So what actually is this muscle quality reading? Skulpt defines Muscle Quality (MQ) as:

     “a rating of your muscles fitness. A high MQ score means a lean, strong and fit muscle"

 Muscle Quality is actually a scientific term that looks at the force a muscle produces relative to its size. So if you have two muscles of the same size, but one can produce more force, then the higher force producing muscle will have a higher MQ number.  

 Obviously the Aim isn't testing force output on the muscle, but it will measure the composition and structure of the muscle mass. For example, it is measuring the fat, blood vessels and connective tissue inside your muscle. All of which impact force production and thus MQ. And yes it does all of this from a device the size of a deck of cards!

 

I've always had pretty good abs!

They say that a score of 100MQ is average, the higher the number, the greater the muscle strength and definition.  

The great thing about this measurement is that not everyone cares about body fat, yet you still have a metric to track your fitness progress. It could also be a great way to track strength gains in the gym, without actually performing a strength test.

 Here are a few examples - let's say you're an older gym goer and you don't want to risk injury doing a strength test, or you are a Personal Trainer and you mix up your client's program every week. The MQ measurement would be a great way to establish whether the client is still progressing and adapting to your programming methods. 

  
 

MQ measurement ranking - Source: Skulpt.me 

 

Based on the above graph I think it is pretty accurate. My numbers have been in the 140-150MQ range over the past few months. Not bad as I haven’t been training as hard I was in my Bodybuilding and Powerlifting days (I had a 6 week trip to Europe and have also been dealing with some adrenal issues - meaning my training volume and intensity has been a lot lower this year).  

The clients that I’ve tested using the AIM have been in the 100-130 range, which is fairly accurate given their level of training and fitness.

Note - if you’re wondering how to improve your MQ - the answer is strength training!

Price

The regular price of the Skulpt Aim is $199USD. However at the time of writing (Sept 2015). There is a special going on the Skulpt site where the price is only $149.00. There is a 45-day money back guarantee and a 1-year warranty on the unit. 

Shipping to Australia is $24usd. And Skulpt told me that there is currently a 2-3 week backorder waiting period (as at 24 September 2015). Also, I should note that they don't ship to New Zealand, but you could easily get around this by using a freight forwarding company.

 

Package Contents

As you can see from the photos below, the AIM comes in a presentable package. The box design is really nice, and it would function well in a retail store setting, but to my knowledge it is only sold online. 

 
 
  

 

The contents of the box include:

 

  • The device itself
  • A charging dock for the unit
  • A micro USB cord for the dock
  • A small spray bottle (the device requires the sensors to be wet for accurate readings)
  • A pouch for the device and spray bottle
  • A quick start guide

 

 Physical Unit

The AIM is a nicely sized device that easily fits in your hand or pocket. It weighs 127g, similar to an iPhone 6. 

The rear of the unit shows 12 sensors and the charging connection (the 4 dots meet metal prongs in the charging dock). 

 
 

On the left side the device, you'll see one large physical button - this is the ‘select' button when using the device without a phone. On the right side you will find two smaller buttons, these are used for scrolling when using the device without a phone.

The front of the screen shows the LCD screen. It's a reasonably small, low-resolution screen but it serves its purpose well.

 
 
 

Along the rim of the device are colour LEDs. These light up and flash depending on what the device is doing. For example as soon as the AIM has a reading, it will glow blue. If it requires another reading it will go red. This means you don’t have to constantly look at the screen.


Usability

The device is pretty simple to use. I’ll touch on the software usability below, but first I want to talk about how the Aim works in measuring  your body.

Once you have selected what measurement type you want to do (full body measuring 12 muscles, or a short 4 muscle reading) you simply wet the devices sensor and press it firmly onto the specified muscle. After a few seconds, a reading will be taken and the MQ and body fat % will show up on the screen (or sent to your phone if you are using the phone sync option).

 The time to take a measurement is about 5-10 seconds, spray the sensors, press the device, wait a few seconds and you are done (remember this is only for one muscle). Unfortunately in the real world it takes a bit longer than this. Often I run into issues with getting a measurement - it may actually take 2 or 3 attempts before I get a reading.

 I’ve found this depends on a lot of factors. If the person is hairy it make take 2 or 3 attempts, the sensors have to be really wet - you should re-wet them before each reading. But these things aren’t massive issues, as the whole process usually only takes a minute or two (slightly longer if you’re doing the full 12 point test).

 Heres a video by showing you how to take a body fat/muscle quality reading:

 

  

The main issue with the device is site measurement location. I should actually rephrase that, it’s not an issue with the device, the device works great in measuring muscle quality and body fat. It's more a limitation of body fat testing altogether. Whether you are using skin calipers or the Aim, if you move your measurement site even a few centimetres you will receive very different readings.

  

Thankfully if you have your smartphone with you, it will show where you should place the device. But as I mentioned before you can take readings without having your phone. And if you are doing large muscles such as your glutes or quads, finding the right spot can be a bit tricky. Like I mentioned before, this isn’t a fault of the device, it's just a problem with body fat testing. The key with this (or skin caliper testing) is consistency. If you always measure slightly off centre on your quad, make sure you do this every time! If someone else is taking your reading, always have this person take your readings. 

 
 

Finally, I should point out that the device is waterproof. The sensors need water to work well (hence the included spray bottle), but you could actually use it in the shower. This could be great for a bodybuilder in the lead up to a show. Leave the Skulpt AIM in the shower and check your body fat every morning while showering. Simple. 

  

Software

You can use the AIM with our without a smartphone (connected via Bluetooth). If using it without an iPhone, it will save any measurements you have made, allowing you to sync it with your phone at a later date. This is a handy if you are taking readings while in the shower for instance.

Let's look at how you use the device on its own first.

You simply turn the unit on and you will see the main screen and any recent readings. The device saves 5 profiles. You can also use a guest mode - which is what I do with most clients (I then save the data in their profile in the Trainerize app).

To perform the test, you select ‘Measure’, and are faced with the choice between:

  • Single Muscle - which is obviously that, a single muscle reading.
  • Quick Test - which is a 4 site test (Biceps, Triceps, Abs, Quads). Based on my experience, even though it's only 4 points, it's surprisingly accurate. 
  • All Muscle - Which is the 12 site test (Shoulders, Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Forearm, Ab, Quad, Calve, Hamstring, Lower Back, Upper Back, Glutes).
All Muscle Measure 12 muscles - both front and back.

Once you chose your option, you simply follow the prompts on the skin and take your readings. When done, the device screen will show you an MQ score and your body fat percentage. You can then go and review each data point, to see the precise reading for each muscle site.

 
 

If you connect your phone to the AIM (via Bluetooth) the device screen switches off and you follow the prompts on your phone's screen. This makes it easier to take recordings, especially as the phone will show you the ideal placement position. Saying that, this is actually a new feature that went live in a recent software update. When I do my measurements I find that I prefer using the device itself and then syncing the data to the phone later. But maybe I’m just old school!

Finally, once you have all the data synced to your phone the AIM software does a pretty good job displaying your results. It will show progression charts of your body fat and MQ over time, it also allows you to see what areas of your body may be lagging (in regards to MQ or body fat). It is pretty neat, and if you like data and pretty graphs like I do I’m sure you’ll love the app.

 
  
 
  

Accuracy

So now for the most important question of all - how accurate is it? 

 We already learnt that the technology that the AIM uses is:

 

  • Accurate on muscle tissue even when severely dehydrated
  • 5x more accurate than Bio-Impedance Analysis testing
  • And reliable even when tested by different evaluators over a few day period.

 

So the technology works, but does the Skulpt Aim?

To find out for sure, I went and had a DEXA scan done (thanks to Body And Bone). The DEXA scan, along with hydrostatic water testing is considered to be the ‘gold standard’ in body composition testing.

  

My DEXA Scan results said I was 11.7% Body Fat

I went home and immediately done both a ‘4 site quick test’ on the Aim, and also a ‘Full Body test’. Here were the results:

 

 

  • 4 site quick test on the Skulpt Aim - 10.3% Body Fat
  • All site 12 point test on the Skulpt Aim - 9.5% Body fat.

 

 So the Aim was saying I was 1.5 - 2% leaner than the DEXA.

11.7% (DEXA) vs 10.3% (SKULPT AIM)

Now, I need to point two things out. Firstly, Even though DEXA scans are considered ‘the gold standard’ there are still limitations in their use. Studies have shown that glycogen levels can distort the accuracy of the test. Maybe accuracy is the wrong word, but the study in the linked article showed that in 3 days going from a carb depleted state to a carb loaded state (without any training during that 3 day period) led to improved body composition numbers according to DEXA scans.

 

Secondly, I was in a carb depleted state when I performed my DEXA and my Skulpt Aim test. I am in the middle of an experiment (blog coming soon), which requires me to eat low carb - 50-100g a day. Now you could argue that this was a controlled variable as I done the Skulpt AIM test immediately after the DEXA. But the DEXA and the Skulpt use different measurement technologies. I’m not sure how the AIM EIM technology deals with carb depleted muscle tissue, but we do know that it’s still accurate when reading ‘severely dehydrated’ muscle tissue.

Remember that 1g of glucose requires 4g of water for it to be stored as glycogen in the muscle. So if I’m carb depleted, you could argue that the muscle is slightly dehydrated.

Knowing that DEXA accuracy is dependent on muscle glycogen levels, and knowing that I was in a glycogen depleted state when I tested for 11.7% on the DEXA, could this imply that I was actually leaner than 11.7% and thus in fact the AIM (at 9.5 - 10.3% body fat) was a more accurate reading?

Maybe, maybe not. I guess I’ll have to do a DEXA scan in a carb loaded state to find out!

 

I think it's clear, however, consistency is the key. And unless you need highly accurate data for a scientific experiment, it's safe to say that the Skulpt Aim will provide a ‘close enough’ result that will allow you to track progress over time. Which to me is why I track Body Fat % (and now MQ).

I’d also like to share some data on the muscle quality readings. Remember this is only a one person study.

Below you can see two progression graphs. The top line shows my MQ over the past 6 months, the bottom my Body Fat (it shows 9.9% as that was my day average - the average between 10.3 & 9.5%).

 
 
 

This year I took a 6 week holiday to Europe. Before I left I was training hard, and I tested myself with the AIM a few days before leaving. My MQ was 153 and Body Fat was 8.2%. A week after being back from the trip, I retested (remember I only trained on average 1.5x a week while away). My MQ had dropped down to 142 and my body fat was 10%.

 

 These numbers line up with what I would expect and support the validity of the Skulpt AIM’s data. Finally, the test I performed this week has been after a few weeks of picking up my training intensity (still not on par with my pre-Europe stint, but it is more than the training I was doing in Europe). My MQ was 146 and my body fat 9.9%

 

Date

Notes

MQ

BF %

Late April

12 weeks of ‘pre-holiday’ training.

153

8.2

Mid June

After 6 weeks of holiday (training on average 1.5x a week)

142

10

Mid Sept

After resuming training (less intense than pre-Europe)

146

9.9

  

Finally, heres a recent photo of me showing my conditioning. I think it's fair to say I'm around 10-12%?


Issues

Before closing this review, I do want to point out a few extra issues I have with the device:

  • Mixed Data Readings - I have touched on how the simple act of moving the device can spit out mixed results (for example, I’ve seen a reading of 32% body fat on a client's forearm, only to retest moments later - in the same spot - and receive a figure of 19%). This doesn’t happen a lot, and I generally take a few readings to get a ‘ballpark’ figure.
  • No social Media share feature - This isn’t a big issue, but I use Trainerize for my clients programs, and they have some great ‘social media’ share features. I think this would be great. If the Skulpt manufacturers are reading, please take note!
  • No web dashboard - Again, not a big issue, and this is specific to me. I love data, and also I coach a lot of clients. Having the ability to log on to a website and pull up all my clients data would be neat. Thankfully the app works great, but a web dashboard would be nice for coaches.
  • Dock - Sometimes I have issues charging the device. It's tricky getting the AIM to set snug in the dock. I even had to use a screwdriver to pull the connector prongs further to improve connectivity. I should point out that I purchased a ‘Day One Edition’ device from Indiegogo, so maybe the newer versions have been improved. I’m sure if it stopped working I could send it back for a replacement. The Skulpt is nicely designed, but I think the dock fails in the design department.
  • Faulty Devices - A friend of mine tested a Skulpt Aim with some crazy results. He is in incredible shape, yet tested for 99.9% body fat, and an MQ of 73. This must have been a faulty device.
  
 
 

Closing Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Accurate technology, and reasonably close to the ‘gold standard’ DEXA scan results (also important to factor in the glycogen limitation of the DEXA scan).
  • Nice design and simple to use - with or without a phone.
  • Quick and easy tests. The 4 point test can be done in less than a minute.
  • Less invasive than caliber testing, and faster than DEXA scans.
  • You can test yourself. Great for gym goers or athletes who want to track their body. Or even for PTs who have clients from another gender.
  • Cheaper than 2 DEXA scans. Currently on special at $150. A DEXA scan costs me $85. 
  • Muscle Quality feature is a very powerful addition. In fact, I can see people using it for this feature alone.
  

Cons

  • Consistency is important - it's vital to always measure the same spot.
  • More expensive than a set of cheap callipers (though these have a lot of accuracy issues)
  • Software is still buggy - hopefully address in the future
 
 

My Recommendation

Do I regret my decision to buy one? Not at all. If I lost my current device I would buy another. 

Should you buy a Skulpt Aim? Well, it depends. 

If you are a Personal Trainer who works with a lot of clients (especially from the opposite gender) it could be a great tool to have. If you work with clients who would like to know their body fat percentage without paying for a DEXA and aren’t comfortable with you pinching their skin, this yes it could be a good investment.

If you are an active gym goer, bodybuilder, strength athlete or someone who would like to monitor your own body fat (or Muscle Quality) readings then yes, I do recommend it. Especially because you can test yourself as often as you like without ongoing cost.

  

Summary

The Skulpt Aim device is a well-designed tool that has a lot of potential for trainers and athletes alike. I have been using it successfully in my practice and will continue using it as a tool to track body fat and muscle quality. For clients or individuals who aren’t concerned about body fat levels, the muscle quality feature is a great way to track progression in the gym (without requiring regular strength testing). Despite a few limitations as a first gen device, and the limitations that come with all forms of body fat testing, I still recommend the Skulpt Aim for personal trainers, coaches and individuals who are passionate about health & fitness.

Skulpt Aim The Ultimate Fitness Tracker

 

Update - New Skulpt Chisel Device

Late 2015 Skulpt announced a new 'budget' version of the Aim - the Skulpt Chisel

 

As you can see from the image above, the new Chisel looks very similar to the AIM - with one key difference: There is no screen.

The new Chisel is $50 cheaper than the AIM ($99), and obvisouly this lower price point is due to the lack of screen on the device. The plus side of going screenless (other than the lower price point) is a longer battery time.

Skulpt state that the AIM has a battery life of 1-2 weeks with 'regular use'. The Chisel has 2-4 weeks with 'regular use'. So drop the screen and you save $50 and get double the battery.

However, there is a downside to the new Chisel - and that is the need to have your phone in reach to sync the data. Not only that, but the new Chisel only supports one user at a time (compared to the AIM which allows 6 saved users, plus a guest profile - all this data can be stored on the AIM device without needing a phone).

 

Skulpt Chisel - Would I Buy?

Personally, for me as a PT, this is the clincher. I don't always have my phone with me, and the ability to quickly record a clients data using the guest profile is handy. For $50 more I'm happy paying for the more equipped AIM. Sure battery life can be an issue, but I simply store my skulpt on the charger when not in use.

The technology in the Chisel is the same as the AIM, so there are no improvements in regards to accuracy of recording etc, and the AIM can be used just like the Chisel - you can use your phones screen when taking recordings (but as I mentioned earlier, I personally prefer using the Skulpt AIM screen).

Would I buy the Chisel - no as I'm happy with my AIM. If I didn't have an AIM would I buy the Chisel or the AIM? I would go with the AIM for the reasons outlined above. What would I recommend to you if you were considering one?

It depends, if you're just buying it to test yourself, then the Chisel is probably adequate, if you are a PT or a coach then maybe the AIM?

Do you own a Chisel? Perhaps you have both a Chisel and an AIM? What are your thoughts? And what would you recommend to the readers? 

Also, if you love neat gadgets, be sure to check out my extensive review on the Oura Ring wearable HERE. This is the ultimate health, sleep and fitness tracker. Measuring everything from body temperature, heart rate, HRV, deep sleep and more. View that review HERE.

 

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