Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Graph from original Daily Mail article demonstrating differences between devices.

There was a study done recently that examined the effectiveness of several fitness trackers on the market. It was covered in the Daily Mail with the descriptive but provocative headline Why your fitness tracker could be a waste of money: New research shows the must-have gadgets are often wildly inaccurate by as much as 40 PER CENT.

This is a great question. Is tracking activity and diet a waste of time and money? I think it depends on how you look at it. Why are you tracking your activity? What is your goal? Are you following a plan to the letter, or the spirit?

I feel that there are a couple of camps on this. There are some who want everything to be an exact science. They want to have specific numbers. How many calories did I consume? They want to know this to the exact calorie count.

I would argue that this is an impossible task. There is calorie guidance available from the FDA, but it can’t be exact. This article from the New York Times — Counting of Calories Isn’t Always Accurate — demonstrates this point. The FDA allows for up 20% variance for packaged foods and similar results can be found in restaurants. This seems to be obvious as a food item prepared can be vastly different depending on different factors – size, ingredients, source etc. If someone orders a cheeseburger with no pickles, the count will be different. Extras and other modifications will make things worse.

So, should it be any surprise that fitness trackers are not completely accurate? After all, they are based on varied ingredients as well – us, what activities we are doing, and what effort level we are achieving. If you are going for a walk, how many calories are you burning? Well, let’s think about it. How fast are you walking? Are you swinging your arms? How fast? Are you carrying anything? Are you walking up or down a hill?

All these factors can lead to vastly different results. Believe me, I feel the frustration of not having all my steps counted in a day. A good example is March 16th of 2014. On that day, Fitbit counted me having 43,706 steps and 25.38 miles – the most steps I had in a single day. The only problem is this. I ran the Shamrock Marathon on that day. In the event alone, I had more distance than I was credited by Fitbit.

This happens frequently on days that I run. Does this mean that I get no value from the Fitbit and throw it against the wall? No.

This is where the spirit of things come in. As I have written before, I was 283 lbs in January of 2012. I decided to change. In order to accomplish this, I used two tools – MyFitnessPal and later a Fitbit. I saw results quickly with MyFitnessPal. Was this because I was following a specific diet, or getting exact numbers of calories as I consumed? No. It is because I took some responsibility, ate healthier and kept my calories within a prescribed range. This is the most important thing. The numbers were not exact. I made it a point of being comfortably under my ceiling and paying attention to my consumption.

I feel that people get in trouble when they try to parse things out too much. An example would be, “I am allowed 1800 calories for the day. I am at 1746. I can have that piece of candy that is 52 calories.” This is not a great attitude. That is being too clever by half. It’s probable that with other factors like the 20% accuracy issue etc, that the person may not lose much weight at all. Maybe even gain.

Now if someone is at 1500 of 1800 and wants to have another food item that is not a huge number of calories and especially if it is also healthy, that is not bad. Playing games with numbers is what gets people in trouble. Just try to stay in the spirit of things.

Back to my tale. I felt that MyFitnessPal and my diet changes were good, but I could make them better if I managed to get over 10000 steps per day, so I got a Fitbit. As soon as I started trying to get over 10000 steps a day, I found out how it wasn’t super easy and that my normal lifestyle didn’t accomplish this. I had to make changes to meet the goal. I walked all over the place and hit the treadmill to make up the difference. I went from little activity to much more activity than I had before that point.

What about calories? They didn’t matter. The Fitbit got me up and active. I exercised within the spirit of the thing. I didn’t even eat the extra calories that were allotted to me from the Fitbit exercise.

I find that activity trackers or tracking period is invaluable as long as you understand how it is most effective. If you are looking for exact figures of how many calories you burn, you are likely to be frustrated. However, if you are looking to challenge yourself, be accountable, and have a record to prove your efforts over time, they are a great choice.

What do you think? Do you use a fitness tracker? What kind? Do you track calories? How has it worked out for you. Please comment and share.

Fit Challenge 2015 – February Challenge

Fit Challenge 2015 continues with a new challenge for February, conducted by the great Lisa Hamilton of Conscious Runner.

lisahamilton

Lisa is a tremendous athlete with both a great record and a generous spirit. She started out as a swimmer and discovered running as covered in the article Lisah Hamilton: Swimmer to Champion Runner. She ran an amazing 2:43:59 marathon in the 2004 San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, set a Virgin Island Record, and nearly represented her native country of St Croix in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Now she is a Masters runner, host of the Conscious Runner Podcast and helps runners of all types find focus and connectivity with themselves when running. She describes it as “meditation in motion.”

Lisa will be leading everyone through bridges. It is a great exercise that strengthens the core and glutes. It is a stabilizing exercise and helps athletes focus on their center. Sounds perfect from the Conscious Runner.

Please check out the Fit Challenge 2015 page, like the sites involved and create a Final Surge account so you can be eligible for the end of month prize (if you already have an account, just keep logging). This will be a blast. Please share with everyone.

Just announced! The prize for February will be a training plan of your choice from Final Surge and Hanson’s Coaching Services. See all the plans available at Final Surge!

HCS-TrainingPlans

Review: Aftershokz Bluez 2

I like to run and bike while listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. This allows me to multitask and either get pumped up by my tunes, or catch up on some reading. I love to do this with Bluetooth headphones so I don’t have to deal with wires, but I am concerned about safety when I am am listening. Especially when I am on my bike. That’s where Aftershokz Bluez 2 bone conduction headphones come in.

aftershokz-open-box

The Bluez 2 are very nicely packaged. The box is set up like a book with a nice ribbon to pull it open. It looks as nice inside the box as outside. This book packaging is especially appreciated because the headphones truly excel for audiobooks and podcasts.

I train in an urban environment and have to contend with quite a lot of traffic. The area is also coastal and there is quite a lot of wind. When combining the traffic noise and wind, I sometimes have to increase the volume on my headphones to unsafe levels. Unsafe for my atmospheric awareness and for my eardrums.

This is especially troublesome on the bike. I am a new rider and am very nervous about what is going on around me – not enough to stop wearing headphones, but we all have our blind (or deaf) spots.

Connecting

I unboxed my Bluez 2 and paired them with my iPhone. Most things pair fairly easily, but these actually were easier than most. When I powered them on, they showed up in my Bluetooth menu. I selected them and they were paired. Very straightforward. Well done. If you have to pair to another device, or it doesn’t immediately work, just press and hold the power button for 5 seconds until the LED alternates between red and blue flashing.

After I paired the headphones, I started listening to a podcast. This was a remarkable experience. It is hard to describe. I was hearing everything around me in the room etc, but also, voices that seemed almost disembodied. It was literally like hearing voices in my head. I quickly adapted to it and actually have grown to love it. Audiobooks and podcasts are already a very intimate medium. I feel like the headphones make them even more so.

I also had no trouble with clipping. I like to wear my iPhone to my front. My favorite spot is in the center of my waist like a belt buckle. Many Bluetooth headphones will cut in and out when the iPhone is placed there. These I am happy to report do not.

Fit

I first helmeted up to go for a ride. By default, with nothing else on, the headphones fit me well and feel very light which is a huge plus. The only issues arose when I had to wear other clothing or gear on my head.

bike-helmetstrap

This is where some choices have to me made. Since I was riding on a sunny day, I also had sunglasses. Whenever dealing with headphones with a headband, there are often challenges when wearing sunglasses. The two pieces of gear tend to rub against one another and getting the fit right can be a challenge.

This is potentially even more of an issue with the Bluez 2. Since they are bone conduction headphones, they need physical contact with your cheekbones. Otherwise, their functionality is defeated. If possible, when wearing the bike helmet, if you can line the strap over the earpiece as shown on the right, it can really help enhance the sound.

I found that I had challenges with some winter headgear when running as well. My options were to wear the headgear without it going over my ears if it was at all snug, or wearing a relatively loose fitting beanie.

Performance

When I was out riding and listening a podcast, the experience was wonderful. I loved the fact that I could hear my tire on the asphalt and all the other environmental sounds. But at the same time, I felt almost like I was with a couple friends who were speaking with me. It really was amazing.

Throughout my ride of over and hour, I was able to clearly hear every part of the podcast with no trouble at all. What was really amazing was when I crossed over a bridge I have to use. There was a ton of traffic and the wind really had picked up. Normally when it is like that, my headphones are nearly completely washed out and I have to have the volume jacked way up.

This time, I could hear the traffic, the wind was whipping through my ears like rabid seashells. But I could hear every word of the podcast. It was like it was separated from all the external noise. I am not often “wowed” by a product, but this was a truly great experience.

I have had the same experience on both the bike and running numerous times now when listening to both audiobooks and podcasts. I even switched back to my standard Bluetooth headphones because the weather was really cold and I wanted a better hat on my run. Boy, did I suffer. It is night and day. I could no longer hear my footfalls, I felt like my head was stuffed up and in multiple areas, I had to turn them way up to hear anything. It was miserable.

The battery life on the headphones is good. I feel that I pretty consistently get 5-6 hours out of the headphones or 3-4 runs/rides. I would like if they could give a better projection of battery level like an approximate time left when pressing the button or a chart expressing what the time left is for High, Medium or Low means in terms of time.

Now, while these headphones are the best thing I have ever heard or used for spoken word during workouts, they are not quite as stellar when it comes to music.

When it comes to music, they are not as capable of pumping out a lot of bass. In order to get more bass, I had to turn them up and they actually tickled my cheekbones. Definitely an interesting experience. Music that has  more mid-range to high tones comes across better. This is not to say that it is terrible, it is just not as strong. I will still be wearing these when listening to music in training because I want to hear traffic etc. But I may wear my other Bluetooth headphones when racing.

Another consideration is when listening to the headphones when not working out. Unless you live alone, or you want to share everything you are listening to with your roommate or spouse, you may want to make another choice. The Bluez 2 sound like iPhone earbuds turned away from someone’s head. They broadcast everything.

Conclusion

I like this product a great deal and unabashedly recommend it to anyone. It has already become an indispensable part of my training gear. I like it enough that I am considering getting a second pair to have on standby in case these break. I like them that much. If you listen to spoken word especially, these will really enhance your workouts. And I cannot express the peace of mind that they have brought me by allowing me to hear what is going on around me.

You can buy these at Amazon with the my affiliate link below (I get a small commission).

Review: Skechers GOrun 4

It has been a trend over the last couple years for everyone to have a double-take about Skechers making running shoes. Then the shoes test well and they are shocked. These were fun to read and I was definitely cheering to see the underdog American Meb Keflezighi, sponsored by the underdog shoe company Skechers, win the 2014 Boston Marathon. But it’s time for that to end. I think that Skechers is a serious competitor releasing shoes on an equal standing of more well known companies like Brooks or Saucony.

The Sole

The sole of the GOrun 4 like previous editions is made up of their own proprietary material Resalyte™. There are strategically placed discs called GOimpulse sensors. These are to provide a little more wear resistance on the sole and add a little traction and guidance.

GoRun 4 Sole

 

There is   good tread on the bottom of the shoe. It has a good depth without promoting pebble collection.

GoRun 4 Tread

 

The MStrike technology (Skechers likes marketing terms) is a slight rocker formed at the midsole. You can see it in the below picture with the Kinvara 5s on the right. Notice how the front and back of the GOrun 4 have definite clearance. I seemed to run comfortably with a mid/forefoot strike, but I didn’t really notice the rocker as I went.
GoRun 4 Kinvara 5

 

GoRun 4 Back

 

The Upper

The Upper of the shoe is very smooth and comfortable. It is made up of two layers of fine mesh and thin welded overlays. It is very flexible and has a nice look about it as well.
The back of the shoe has a really interesting feature. Yep, that’s a hole. I really appreciate the attention to detail here. I am one who double-knots his laces and it is really a convenient feature to be able to just pull the shoe up using the hole on the back like a handle.

This attention to detail along with things like an extra set of laces are nice unexpected touches. I really appreciate the little things. If they pay attention to such details, it bodes well for the rest of the design and durability. I expect to get a good couple hundred miles out of the shoes.

The Fit

Skechers GOrun 4 has a fairly roomy toe box – almost too roomy. I found that I was able to lock things down using the laces and the tongue was padded enough that I didn’t lose circulation. You may want to consider getting a half size down along with your normal size if you have normal width feet.

Performance

It feels very comfortable with a moderately firm ride. Comparing it to other shoes I am used to, it is firmer than both the Saucony Kinvara 4 and 5 as well as the Brooks PureCadence 2. But it is not as firm as a racing flat like the Saucony A5. This makes the shoe fit in a really interesting place. It has a really nice ground feel and makes you want to go fast. I can see this being a strong contender for my next half-marathon in February.

Conclusion

The Skechers GOrun 4 is a solid shoe that can be considered a great all-around trainer with a touch of speed. I comfortable alternate it with another favorite shoe the Saucony Kinvara 5.

The GOrun 4 can be bought from Skechers.com.

Review: Arctic Ease Cold Therapy Wrap

I have been recovering from a series of injuries lately including peroneal tendonitis and a shin splint on my right leg. So it was very helpful that I was sent some Arctic Ease wraps to try during workouts.

I decided to wear one during a bike workout. I am very concerned about putting anything on my legs as I have suffered several initial injuries, and then cascading compensation injuries. I am a little leery of calf skins and the like because they may offer too much support for me and cause other issues when I am training.

Fortunately, with Arctic Ease, this is not an issue. I am able to apply the wrap as loose or tight as I need. The other important feature of the wrap is the cooling. It actually is not frigid like an ice pack, but just cool. This cool seemed to last for the full hour plus I had it on. It’s a very pleasant sensation. I felt like my leg was secure without being too constricted and my injuries didn’t flare up as much as normal.

Arctic Ease Bottle

When applying the wrap, it initially feels kind of slimy. It sticks to itself pretty well, but I found that the end pieces had trouble, so I tucked the last bit under the top. I didn’t need to use anything else for securing. It stayed on well as I rode too.

As time went by when riding, the wrap started to get drier and it stiffened into an almost cast like state. It was still pliable, but I wouldn’t recommend letting it completely dry out while wearing. It may not dry out as quickly during runs as the speed is much slower. One unexpected benefit came from wearing the Arctic Ease, I crashed my bike and the wrap was dried but sturdy. Even after I slid over asphalt and a sidewalk with it, it actually protected my leg but showed no additional wear.

To reuse the wrap, Arctic Ease recommends 2-3 teaspoons of water and resealing the wrap in the bottle. After 2-3 hours, it is supposed to to be ready to use again. I found that more water was required to return the wrap into its initial state.

Overall, I feel that this is a solid product for the price. I especially like the fact that I can wear it and control the amount of support that it gives. Between that and the cooling, I plan to use it during long workouts when I am having more issues with my legs.

You can buy the product using my affiliate link from Amazon below (I get a small commission), or locally in the United States at CVS.

Mountain Climbers

For the first month of Fit Challenge 2015, I am hosting Mountain Climbers. I wanted to write a quick description of what they are and share a video of how to do them.

Mountain Climbers are a great full body workout that not only strengthen your core, butt, hips and thighs, but also provide cardiovascular benefit. As you do them, you will feel your heart rate increase rapidly.

To perform the exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Assume a plank position with your hands at shoulder width.
  2. Thrust your right leg forward to just under your chest.
  3. Return your right leg to full extension and repeat with the left leg.
  4. Continue alternating for each repetition.

See video below: