Friday, October 5, 2018

Fitness Tracker

For the last 2 days (ok maybe last week), I have been down an online rabbit hole trying to find a good fitness tracker. I decided that I wanted to try to be more data driven with training and recovery. I was partly inspired by Kate Courtney’s Whoop data and partly wanted to see if feeling good or bad during a workout or race corresponded at all to good recovery and sleep or lack thereof. Currently, I use a Wahoo Element Bolt for bike rides and a power tap wheel for Zwift on my trainer. I don’t even use a heart rate (HR) monitor. So yeah, I have a long way to go in data driven training!

I figured I would write a blog post to maybe help others from losing a week of free time in frustration trying to figure out the best fitness tracker to get. The short answer is that one does not exist. At least not for the capacity that I was hoping to use it in. In fact, with how far technology has come, it is incredibly silly that there isn’t a fitness tracker that does it all.

Here is a short summary of I learned from my online mining. First though, some disclosures:
  1. I haven’t tested out any of this equipment so it is mainly a summary of info from product websites, tech reviews, and online customer forums
  2. I don't use Apple products
  3. I didn’t really want a smart watch. I am already connect to my phone enough as it is, and I don’t need to get texts/emails/calls to my wrist. In fact, one of the reasons I like working out is to be offline.
What I wanted in a fitness tracker: 
  1. I wanted a product that would measure heart rate variability (HRV) as a measure for recovery. Without going into detail, HRV gives you an idea of how recovered you are - the more variable your heart rate is, the more recovered you are in theory. It would also be nice to get some data about training load as well from the tracker
  2. Built-in GPS to track runs or other work-outs
  3. Step counter: Carilion Clinic uses Virgin Pulse, so I can turn daily steps into cash which is always enticing
  4. Sleep monitor
  5. Music: I want to be able to go for a run and not have to carry my phone with me if I feel like listening to music. I would be super convenient to just throw on some bluetooth headphones and head off for a run. I also don't own any music. I can't remember the last time I bought a song. So internal storage capacity for songs is a moot point. The watch needs to be able to stream music and listen to playlists offline
  6. User friendly app to combine all data
  7. I wanted to be able to pair an external HR monitor to it for accurate HR monitoring during interval training. From everything that I read online, wrist-based HR monitors do a fairly accurate job of measuring HR at rest, but do a poor job of accurate HR monitoring during intensity workouts
  8. Good battery life. This was last on my list of requirements because I am not planning to use the fitness tracker for bike rides (I will continue to use my Wahoo bike computer for that). I figured I can easily charge the tracker when I am out riding.
I started out on Whoop and quickly realized that I did not want to be sucked into their proprietary app/wrist strap, which costs $30/month. The nice thing about Whoop is that all of your data is together in one app and they give you nice graphs and charts about your work-outs and recovery. They send you a wrist monitor when you sign up for your 1st 6 months - I couldn't find that they offer a chest strap. Whoop promises that their wrist based monitor is the best, sampling HR 100x/sec, but even so, I am skeptical of wrist-based HR accuracy. And I’m not interested in being locked into paying $30/month to use their product.

I then spent a couple of days on the Polar website, which also promises data collection and analysis to help athletes optimize their performance. I really like the polar flow app and website, and in general, it is on par with Whoop in terms of data capturing, graph generation and understanding your training and body. Polar measures HRV through the orthostatic test, which is only available on some products, however.
  1. The new Polar Vantage watches are awesome for HR and GPS monitoring, but neither offers a music option, and Polar has no plans to include a music option on these watches in the future. Polar Vantage V will measure HRV, but costs $500. Polar Vantage M will not measure HRV and costs less. The old V800 also does not have a music option.
  2. The M600 does all the basics: GPS tracking, music (you can stream/listen to songs offline via Google Music), sleep, steps but the battery life is very short 1-2 days, and only 8 hours if GPS is on. Also, it does not include the orthostatic test for HRV.
  3. Unfortunately, if I want to keep using my Wahoo bike computer for rides, there is no way to get data from my bike computer into Polar Flow. Polar flow will export to Strava but will not import ride data from other apps. So, I thought about getting a Polar bike computer which would allow me to have all data in polar flow, even though I really like the Wahoo.
  4. The M460 bike computer has the orthostatic test included, but it does not allow for route import and guidance, which is a must on a bike computer for discovering new routes and riding in new places.
  5. The V650 bike computer has the route import/route guidance option, but does not have the orthostatic test. So if I paired this bike computer with the M600, I would still have no way to measure HRV on the polar flow app. 
In summary, I just found it frustrating that all of the Polar products lacked one thing: Vantage watches and V800 lack music, the M600 and V650 do not have the orthostatic test/HRV monitoring, and the M460 lacked route import and guidance.

Once I gave up on Polar products and trying to get all of my data into Polar Flow, I was resigned to have data split across multiple apps. I did buy a Polar H10 HR monitor chest strap, which will connect to my Wahoo, so rides imported into Strava will have HR data attached. Strava automatically calculates a fitness/freshness/form score based on HR data, I can get some idea of training load/recovery from Strava. The Polar strap will also connect to Elite HRV, which is a free phone app that measures HR variability. So I can use Strava/elite HRV to get an idea of training load and recovery, and I will have to use a separate app to track steps, sleep, calories, etc.

Training Peaks was the best website I could find that would combine data from multiple 3rd party apps into a single platform. It works with Wahoo, Elite HRV, Zwift, Strava, and if you use FitnessSyncer, you can import data about sleep from your fitness tracker into Training peaks as well. This does require the premium version of Training Peaks ($10/month) and the pro version of FitnessSyncer ($4/mo). This is half the price of Whoop, and if you decide to cancel your subscriptions, you can still use all of your devices for free, which seems much more reasonable.

So back to the fitness trackers. All of them seem to do a comparable job at tracking sleep, steps and resting HR. Since I have the Polar H10 strap now, I definitely wanted to be able to pair it to whatever fitness tracker I buy, so that I can get accurate HR on runs/other work-outs.
  1. Fitbit Iconic: This had most of the features I was interested in. The music options are so/so. You can stream/listen to offline music through Pandora and Deezer (whatever Deezer is). But you can’t pair an external HR monitor to it. Really??? What kind of fitness tracker doesn’t let you pair an external monitor to it?
  2. Garmin Vivoactive/Fenix series: These devices are promising with good GPS and multi-sport tracking, but the drawback is that the streaming/offline music options are awful. You can only stream music through iHeartRadio and Deezer, neither of which I use (does anyone use these?). I really hate how cluttered the Garmin Connect app is for looking at recorded data.
  3. Samsung Gear Sport: The great plus for this watch is the music. IT USES SPOTIFY!! Finally, a streaming service that people actually use and want! From what I have read, you can pair an external HR monitor to this watch via the app Sporty Watch, which I think will also export the work-out info directly to Strava. Data is uploaded into Samsung Health, which looks like a fairly easy app to use.
  4. TomTom Spark 3/Amazfit Stratos: These are definitely cheaper options for fitness watches, but the only way to listen to music on this watch is by downloading tracks from your computer. There is no support for music streaming services. 
I am leaning towards getting the Gear Sport. It definitely has the best music options offered right now. At $250 on Amazon, I can use it for several years and wait for the technology in fitness watches to catch up to where I want it to be now. I also feel like I was in a better place before I started this whole project, and I should just go back to working out without technology! Feel free to comment if you have personal use with or advice about any of these products. I haven't bought anything yet, and would definitely be really interested in your thoughts! 




4 comments:

  1. Good work. thank you for such kind of great information. For More

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  2. Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article. Thanks! keep rocking. buy honeycomb nz

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  3. Hi Carla. Great article, and spot on about no silver bullet for this. I find that I need to really be clear about what I want (as you have done) BUT then to rank my criteria into three categories, namely; Must Have, Nice to Have, Can Live Without. From there I find the best option for the first two categories and I have my winner. However, there are always extra features/products/services that you would want to try in the future that may not be compatible with the fitness tracker you have just selected. the struggle is real.
    Wrist based HRM have come a long way in the last year so don't discount those options.
    I know this is a long time after your post (I just stumbled upon this while searching for a new device for myself and doing some research) and it's probably way too late but thought it would be fun to add my two cents worth.

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