Swim Analysis Via Data – A Tridot Check-In

Here lies Axel “Iron Rogue” Kussmann.  Loved by the best of us, barely tolerated by the rest of us.  Drowned in the moonlight, strangled by his own bra died by exhaustion.

This training program may be too much for me; in fact, I’m nursing a pulled right calf muscle as I write this (a Finding Nemo frozen gel pack stuck under a compression sleeve).  When I wake up tomorrow I’ll know how bad it is.  When I look at the weekly totals it doesn’t seem that bad (though those don’t include warm-ups – the calf got yanked trying to do “butt kicks” for my run warm-up), but you’ll see there are 3 workout days, which apparently is due to me designating Thursday as a day off.

 

I’m not posting to complain though – that’s not the informative writing I strive for, but to tell you about a cool feature of the Tridot system.  When I was putting in initial data like age, height and weight, I also filled out a questionnaire regarding my swimming.

 

Based on these answers and stroke rate (which gets updated from Garmin data), Tridot has diagnoses me as a combination of different types.  I am:

  1. An “Overglider” (55%) – “As an Overglider, you’re likely over thinking your swim form and trying to stay streamlined at the expense of generating propulsion. Swim speed is Distance per Stroke (DPS) x Stroke Rate (SR)–not just DPS. It’s likely you’ll see solid improvements by focusing more on increasing your stroke rate and generating more propulsion even if you sacrifice your streamline a little. Remember that the most streamlined gliding position doesn’t have any propulsion. Make the mental shift from pursuing only form to pursuing fitness too. Work on your prescribed drills, and you’ll find the right balance.”
  2. An “Overkicker” (30%) – “As an Overkicker, your able to swim at least at a moderate pace and may not perceive the ‘need’ for much form improvement. However, with a little more emphasis on generating propulsion form your front quadrant and reducing your kick you’ll be able to swim further, faster, and with less energy. Focus on each of your prescribed drills and be open to re-thinking and re-learning how you swim.”
  3. A “Lightweight” (25%) – “As a Lightweight, you’ll need to really focus on your ooomph and confidence. You may not have much experience in the pool, but that won’t be true for long. Focus on making small improvements each session. Try to relax in the water and focus on strong execution of your prescribed drills. Much of your improvement will come from having a positive mindset as you go into each session. Swimming is not ‘natural’ for humans. It’s learned. You can learn to be a great swimmer!”

The percentages reflect a degree of confidence in the diagnosis, which is why they don’t add up to 100%.  The other types (which aren’t a match for me) are:

  • “Tarzan” – “As a Tarzan, you’ll need to learn to rely less on your strength and athleticism and more on skill and technique. As you execute your prescribed drills, learn to work with the water rather than fighting against it. Focus on reducing drag and having a long, balanced body position. Relax and let your body glide through the water. Improving your swim form can take time. It’s often not a matter of more effort, rather it’s patience as you repeat the movements (drills) over, and over, and over until they come naturally. “
  • “Swinger” – “As a Swinger, you’re already a relatively fast swimmer. Understand that the Swinger form isn’t a ‘lesser’ form than the Classic. You can achieve great results with either. The amount of ‘form correction’ you’ll want to pursue will be relative to your fitness and results. If you’re already turning in strong swim performances and are not experiencing shoulder pain, you may not want to change too much. Work on your prescribed drills as a Classic would to maintain and refine your form not overhaul it.”
  • “Classic” – “As a Classic, you’re already a very strong swimmer. You’ll always want to watch that bad habits don’t creep in and impact your form. Don’t take your swim form for granted and neglect doing the drills that are prescribed in your swim sessions. As a triathlete, you will do well to spend time working on open-water skills such as sighting and drafting.”

I’ve noticed they put a lot of “sink-downs” in my warm-ups.  These are for getting more comfortable in the water – you empty your lungs and let yourself sink down to the bottom.  These are to be immediately followed by swimming a short interval.  I think the idea is to get me more used to swimming with less air in my lungs – I’m probably spending a lot of time getting more air in than I strictly need and it’s hurting my stroke rate.  I also recently got to play with my head position; looking less up seemed to help me be more efficient but the stroke data didn’t look radically different over the short intervals I got to play with that aspect.

 

Gear Corner: Reviewing the Skulpt Aim

Disclaimer: I was provided with the Skulpt Aim for review purposes by Raynforest.  All opinions are my own, and this post was not otherwise compensated.


No matter where you are on your fitness journey, you probably want to see some improvement from where you are now.  How can you know you’re improving if you can’t measure it? Going by feel has its merits, but it can be subjective based on what else you have going on; how well did you sleep the night before, what did you eat, how much stress are you under external sources, etc..  If you measure your athletic performance numerically, i.e. how fast you can run a certain distance, how much you can lift, at least you have some quantification, but it’s still subject to those daily variables I just mentioned.


Just about every fitness blogger has a post about why the scale isn’t a good measure of health and wellness, and Body Mass Index still gets a lot of mainstream attention, in spite of being tied to weight.  If an obese person whose weight comes from a spare tire of fat and a power lifter whose extra weight comes from gigantic muscles have the same height and weight, they’ll have the same BMI value, even though they present entirely different pictures, health-wise.


Body fat seems to be a decent thing to measure, most of us would like less, and certain types of fat (e.g visceral) or locations (belly) are linked to many negative health outcomes.  The most accurate test of body fat involves getting immersed in a tank of water which makes it terribly inconvenient for tracking at regular intervals.  Calipers are accurate if you really know what you’re doing; I got myself a cheaper more ‘entry-level’ pair last year, but I’ll be darned if I could get similar measurements from day to day.  Bathroom scales that use bio-electric impedance analysis sound promising (I have one that I use from time to time), but trying to get a measurement of your whole body’s fat composition from the soles of your feet seems sketchy, and indeed there are a whole bunch of dependencies like not having eaten, slept or exercised within something like 5 hours of the measurement (when would those conditions ever be satisfied realistically?).


Enter the Skulpt Aim.  You take measurements directly on different parts of the body; the general snapshot it asks for takes for measurements: right side bicep, abdominals, tricep and quadriceps.  You can also measure (left and/or right) hamstrings, glutes, calves, upper back, lower back, biceps and  forearms.


The Skulpt Aim also measures MQ or Muscle Quality, which Skulpt equates to IQ, except for muscles rather than intellectual ability.  Higher MQ scores correlate with stronger, leaner, more defined and firm muscles. That way, you can measure how your training regimen is improving your physique and physiology, muscle by muscle.

Skulpt Aim – The Device Itself


When I got my hands on the Skulpt Aim, I was pleased to see it had a relatively simple interface.  One button on the left side for powering on/off or selecting a menu entry and two buttons on the right side for scrolling through menu entries – one up, one down. The sensors are at the back, and the screen is on the front, with fairly simple menus.


Once you get your user profile set up with a few basic stats about your gender, height and weight etc. the device walks you through how to take the basic measurements including showing an instructional video, right on the device itself!  I’ll admit for a split-second I thought the device had a camera, because it looked like a first-person view through it as I was lining it up with my bicep, until I notice that the bicep in question was better toned and more hairless than my own…


I’ve found it easiest to simply keep my Skulpt Aim in my shower caddy; it’s splash proof, and taking measurements after my shower (either as part of a morning ritual, or post-workout) is easy since I’m already wet, and all muscles are… *ahem* uncovered, shall we say.


Another great feature is a multi-coloured LED around the rim of the device that flashes as you scan the muscle.  It changes to solid when the scan is finished.  This is especially handy when you scan muscles that are hard to reach so you can’t see the screen to know if the scan is finished, e.g. calves, back, triceps.  I could usually see the side edge of the device no matter where I measured, but sometimes it was easier to look in the mirror to see the flashing end.


The App


I liked navigating the app more than on the device – a smart phone touch screen is more familiar than the button layout of the Skulpt Aim, and there are simply way more options.  The app only asks for one permission when you install it – access to Bluetooth so it can pair with the Skulpt Aim – rather than your location, friends list, camera, custody of your first born child that so many apps ask for, which is refreshing.  Bluetooth pairing worked quickly and easily.



The Data That Skulpt Gives You


The following charts show the progress I made (or didn’t make).  More than anything else, I used the ‘Total Body’ measurement which uses right bicep, tricep, ab and quad to take an average picture of your body, so I have the most data for those muscles.  The big take-aways I have are that my glutes and hamstrings are the fittest (and most lean) parts of my body.  Which is not too surprising for a triathlete, especially one who’s stronger on the run than the bike.  I was proud of my posterior chain and hill-climbing at the beginning of the off-season, and I’ve been incorporating dead-lifts into my strength routine since last December or November, so that’s nice to see.
I made this chart myself.  I know it’s a little dense.


Having quads that are much weaker (less fit according to MQ) than my hamstrings is a bit of an alarm for me.  I knew I needed to get stronger on the bike, and muscle imbalances can lead to injury so I started trying to focus on isolating the quads in my strength routine since I first saw that.  Overall, I’ve seen my Right Quad MQ go from 102 to 110, so that looks good.


We can also see differences between right and left sides.  This may be due to actual differences between my right and left side muscles, or due to how I’m measuring the muscle.  Given that I can see fluctuations in MQ and Body Fat from one day to the next consecutive day, it has to be at least a bit of both causes.  The nice part is that if you take more than one measurement in a day, the progress feature of the app will report the average value of that day, so you can use the law of averages to get the best reading if you want more accuracy.


I think this device (and app) would be useful for
  • Bodybuilding/Fitness competitors who want a picture of what each muscle is doing over time
  • Runners with gait issues who need to strengthen given muscles for better running function
  • Triathletes who want to avoid problems in the future related to muscle imbalances

Does this device sound useful to you? What quantities do you like to track when it comes to your training?

Friday Five: The Five Things I Would Have Posted About If I Could Have

The blog went on a bit of a hiatus for the last month and a half, but I finally got a chance to wrap up my review of the Samsung Gear Fit Smartwatch earlier this week.  There were tons of topics I wanted to post on during that hiatus, and the truth is, I’m still really swamped with work while the holiday madness is on the horizon, so I guess it could happen again.  Still, I want to move forward, so rather than try to write all those posts that were timely weeks ago, I’m going to use a Friday Five to get caught up on the big ticket items and move forward from there, OK? These are the posts I woulda-coulda-shoulda posted:


  1. Featured Blogger at Fitfluential – Running Apps: Did you guys see my guest post on the Fitfluential Blog? In October, I covered Running Apps, what’s available, what’s important, etc..  Here’s the link to the article.
  2. Levac Attack – This year’s Levac Attack came and went, and I wish I’d been able to do more to promote it.  We were in a new location (Port Credit) and it was a fun course, with a 15 km option this year in addition to the usual 5 km, 10 km and half-marathon courses.  While we enjoyed it, I think it marks the close of our stroller running career as Shark Boy rode his bike for a lap then chose to hang out near the finish line and gorge himself of Timbits.  The Lightning Kid started to cry after a lap, so my wife and I had to split up our running and did the last 5 km of our 10 km runs separately – each taking turns to watch the Lightning Kid.  It was another big success raising money for Mount Sinai hospital, and I’ll keep hoping to get some more of my local bloggers involved next year!
  3. Angus Glen 10k/Half-Marathon – This is my wife’s favourite race as it has an awesome post race meal inside the Angus Glen country club.  Due to an organizational/scheduling snafu, we scrapped our childcare plans for the day, which was just as well as I had a splitting headache and didn’t feel like running, so I watched the kids while she ran it.  We also met my friend John and his wife there – she scolded me for not recruiting her to watch the boys, but once she saw how they tore it up running around the inside of the country club, she might have had second thoughts!  My wife was really happy with her time, as it wasn’t a personal best overall, it was certainly faster than she’s run all year, and that’s especially impressive considering how hilly the Angus Glen course is.  John PR’ed his half-marathon, which I thought would be impossible considering how hilly it was, but he had done the Scotiabank Marathon weeks earlier; being in marathon shape makes a half-marathon no big deal, I guess.
  4. New Phone – In spite of a protective cover, I cracked the screen of my Samsung Galaxy S3. One crack wasn’t so bad, but then this happened:

    And here’s how:

    Anyway, we were due for an upgrade at work soon enough anyway, so all I had to do was stick it out for a couple of weeks, and ta-daaa! Samsung Galaxy S5.  So far, I really like it, and though the S5 comes in an Active version that is waterproof and shock-proof, which I didn’t get.  I still like this model, especially now that I have a Lifeproof case on it to make it waterproof.

  5. A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on


I’m still getting used to the phone, having to make little changes to make the user experience more like what I’m used to, and I have yet to use all the new bells and whistles it offers (HR sensor like on the Gear Fit Smartwatch, ANT connectivity – hopefully to connect to my Garmin accessories).  I can post a review of the phone and the case in the near future hopefully.
  1. Weight lifting – The general, haphazard approach I’ve taken with my off-season is to lose weight, or more accurately, get leaner.  I’m using the principles from Tom Venuto’s Burn The Fat – Feed The Muscle; but not only am I not adhering to his prescription very closely, I haven’t even finished the book cover to cover.  Still, it’s gotten me re-engaged with strength training and considering macro-nutrients a little closer. I’ve known that protein is supposed to make you feel full, but I usually felt just as hungry for a mid-morning snack when I ate egg whites as when I ate cereal, and unfortunately, healthy snacks like veggies or nuts never seemed to satisfy.  I’ve been playing around with making a smoothie with hemp protein (from Manitoba Harvest) alongside my breakfast (which is starting to include more protein sources too).  While I’m wary of simply adding too many calories to my day, it’s better to have them earlier than later, and feeling full right through till lunch has kept me away from the Tim Horton’s more and more often.  On the exercise front, the idea has been to schedule in strength workouts as first priority, with the idea that cardio is easier to come by – I could run or even bike outside my lunchtime workout slots more easily.  While work and family chaos, high-priority items and emergencies have kept me from being on point and regular with workouts and nutrition too often during the last month and a half, when I have been good, I’ve seen results.  Pounds come off the scale and go on the barbell.  Some of the strength gains might be actual muscular strength and some might be more me getting more confident with the lifting technique and willing to push it more.  If I keep up some endurance work, I shouldn’t really bulk up, and generally when I’ve gotten too swamped to fit in the endurance work, I’ve been too swamped to weight lift too, so it kind of works out.  I’ll be posting a time-space efficiency hack of my workout routine in the near future so stay tuned for that.

Is your off-season regime radically different from your on-season? Is there a phone upgrade you’re craving?  Do you know of a hidden gem race like Levac Attack or Angus Glen?


Gear Corner: Review of the Samsung Gear Fit #Smartwatch

Ever since smartwatches were announced (and yes, it was well before Apple announced theirs) I’ve wanted one.  It would have to be waterproof and fitness oriented, though which narrowed down the selection somewhat.  The Samsung Gear Fit would fit the bill (and work well with my phone the Galaxy S3 since they’re made by the same company), and when one went on sale, I couldn’t pass it up.


Once I got it out of the box, it was quick to pair with the phone.  There is a Gear Fit Manager app to download, and the fitness features require a separate app.  The first one (from here on, I’ll refer to it as the Manager) let me make some adjustments to the watch’s display and interface.

I didn’t like the default wallpaper (too colourful) and went with a purple one.  The other default I ddidn’tlike was the orientation of the screen for data.  It was perpendicular to the way I usually look at a watch.

Bluetooth pairing went seamlessly; there was hardly anything to do – the connection can be initiated from the phone’s app side or the watch. I think people who struggle with Bluetooth pairing won’t have any trouble.

As I started using the watch, there were things I liked right away. I loved getting notifications through the watch – I usually keep my phone on vibrate because I don’t like it making obtrusive noises, but sometimes I still miss notifications or calls. When your wrist buzzes, it’s hard to ignore. You can configure what kinds of notifications get sent to the watch: text messages are probably important, notifications from Google+ communities (for example), maybe not so much. The notifications don’t get sent to the watch when you’re using the phone, which is a very intelligent feature.

The watch has a pretty good range from the phone (I think I got as far as 50 feet from it), so it can be handy to leave the phone somewhere nearby yet safe and secure. Of course, that range gets decreased by walls or obstructions.

Beyond the convenience of having an interface to the phone on my wrist, the biggest benefit of the Gear Fit is as a fitness device. There’s an accelerometer inside which tracks arm movements and is used to drive the step counter, much like the Fitbit Flex. Unlike the Fitbit, however, you can look at your progress on the Gear Fit’s own screen. Making 10,000 steps a day is a great way to keep burning calories throughout the day, and better yet, you have proof of how tiring chasing kids around really is.

The Gear Fit has a Heart Rate sensor, which I was really excited about. It’s worth noting though, that you have to hold still to use it, so you can’t track your heart rate continuously while working out. It’s better for spot checks like seeing what your resting heart rate is; I tried taking measurements during a run, and even though I stood still it wouldn’t get a reading because I was too sweaty or something. The heart rate readings don’t interface into third party apps like Endomondo (see below).

Heart rate aside, the Gear Fit has its own interface to apps like Endomondo and Strava, so that you can start and stop tracking your mileage through the watch. This is probably my favourite feature, since this kind of thing (starting/stopping, pausing) is always awkward. Now, I put the phone in a Spi-belt (or armband) and don’t fiddle with it once I’m out the door.

The Gear Fit has an interface to the media player, so that you can start, stop the music (or even video) you may be listening to (or watching) or skip tracks. That’s a lot easier than mucking about with the phone that was nicely tucked away in a pocket. I did notice one time that when I used Endomondo to pick my music, there was a serious lag between when I’d hit a control on the smart watch and when the action (e.g. skipping tracks) took place.

The accelerometer in the Gear Fit doesn’t just track your steps while walking, but you can put the smart watch into sleep mode to track the quality of your sleep, like the Fitbit. The screen makes it easier than the Fitbit to start tracking, but I didn’t like how the assessments were presented. It simply gives you a total amount of time, and a percentage that you were motionless. At least Fitbit tried to differentiate (and illustrate the occurrence of) restless sleep vs. waking, even if it got it wrong some of the time.

The Gear Fit can be used for alarms, but it doesn’t store the alarms locally; the phone must be on and connected (via Bluetooth) to the watch for alarms to work. In my opinion, that makes the alarm feature next to useless.

Staying connected to the Gear Fit drains the phone’s battery quite aggressively, and the Galaxy S3 didn’t have great battery life to begin with. Turning off Bluetooth occasionally (when you didn’t need them to be connected) was a good way to save a little battery life. The watch’s battery typically lasted about 2.5 days between charging. It charges with the regular charging cable that works for Samsung and Blackberry, but needs an adapter cradle. This cradle is roughly 1 square centimeter and black, so of course, I eventually lost it. I’ve ordered a new one from Amazon, and I’ve written this post from notes I’ve taken during my ownership of the Gear Fit. I’d probably have more details in this review if I was still using the watch (and rest assured, I will again), but I’d really like to get this review finished and move on to other posts.

Overall, with smartphones getting bigger and bigger screens, the smartwatch form factor has a lot going for it, and a fitness oriented, waterproof model like the Gear Fit is close to perfect for the tech-savvy, connected fitness enthusiast.

What do you think of smartwatches? Cool, or dorky?

Gear Corner: Reviewing the Fitbit Flex

There are an increasing amount of activity trackers on the market these days, including models from Jawbone, Polar and Samsung but I chose to get a Fitbit Flex. My reasons are that Fitbit syncs with Earndit and Pact, as well as I could get one for Air Miles (which I had racked up enough of).

The Fitbit Flex came with two wristbands (one large and one small) as well as a USB cable for charging. Inserting the unit into the wristband of choice is easy enough – in fact, it seems to be fitted so that you can’t put in in wrong and have the lights/LEDs not display. Fastening the wristband is straightforward, but not easy to do one-handed, especially if you don’t want the band to be too loose on your wrist. With a little practice, this becomes a non-issue. In addition to the cable, there is a wireless adapter that you plug into your USB port so the Flex can sync its recorded data automatically when it’s within range. I honestly don’t use this feature, since I always sync to my Smartphone or iPad with the Fitbit app.

I find I have to recharge the Flex every 3 days or so, possibly because I’m a little obsessed with seeing my data update and sync often during the day. If I’m not careful, the Flex won’t make contact in the little socket for the charging cable, and it won’t charge.

Though the app gives you all kinds of things you can track (manually entering activities, food log, weight, body fat%), my main motivation for using this thing is steps taken and tracking sleep.

Tracking Activity (Steps)


Saturday


This is the Saturday before the Yonge St 10K.  I took it easy, no workout, but I still had to take the kids outside, pick them up, a few light chores around the house.  So I still burned well over my recommended 2100 calories.  This is one of the things I like best about having the Fitbit Flex.  I wanted to write a post about ‘The Calories I Can’t Count” for all those little things that tire, without being part of a workout or training plan.  Now I have a rough measurement.


Sunday

Sunday was the race, so you can see how I racked up the steps, calories and ‘very active minutes’.

Monday


The day after the race, was one of those days where I would usually have to miss my slotted workout (which I usually do at lunch).  I was on a training course all day, which usually makes for a very sedentary workday.  Here’s where Fitbit (and GymPact) help; I parked far away from the office, took stairs and extra walks on every break I got, and managed to exceed 10,000 steps on a day where I was booked too heavily to make it to the gym.

That training course lasted till Wednesday, and on Thursday I made it to an intense bootcamp class.

Before

After

The class had things like mountain climbers, lunges, and burpees, and I question how well the Fitbit Flex can track those movements since it’s only giving me credit for about 200 calories for the 40 minute class, and I’m pretty sure it’s worth than that (to say nothing of how the ‘active minutes’ didn’t increase much either).

All in all, the Fitbit Flex let’s me feel good about days when I seem to be tired without having done a ‘workout’ and is helping me stay active during non-workout periods and burning more calories during the day.  I’d say it helped me with my most recent DietBet.

Tracking Sleep


This feature is a little less interesting to me, since I know that my sleep is of poor quality; the Lightning Kid wakes us up a few times a night.  Still I’m curious, and like the activity tracking, the Fitbit could do a job of ‘keeping me honest’ so that I know a little better how much/little sleep I got; if I feel tired, I might exaggerate – what feels like 4 hours might actually be closer to 6 for example.

 

My biggest problem is I think it underestimates my wake-ups.  That night, the 3:00 wake-up (visible in red), was due to… um, a call of nature.  But the Lightning Kid woke up at 4:30 and I had to rock him and put him back down.  This involved some squirming on his part that often wakes him back up again, so I had to restrict his flailing – the point is that I was on my feet for 10-15 minutes and the Flex marked that as ‘Restless’ sleep.  So I don’t put the most faith in this feature, but it’s better than nothing.

Overall, I’m really happy with my Fitbit Flex and continue to use it daily.

How do you feel about the activity tracker trend? If you have one, do you use it/like it?


Gear Corner: Apps That Motivate (Earndit, Pact)

We live in awesome times.  Information and mobile technologies enable us to get the most out of exercise, track the activities and help us stay motivated.  Today I’m going to look at two apps that do the latter: Earndit and Pact.


Earndit is not precisely an app, more like a website that connects to various other apps.  The premise is to reward you for working out, and of course that means some tracking.  It awards points that can be accumulated for rewards; more of that in a bit.


There are two main ways that Earndit awards workout points: exercise that is tracked, and checking into exercise facilities like gyms, parks, community centres, ski resorts, and probably more that I haven’t discovered yet.  The latter is accomplished through Foursquare.


For exercise tracking, I personally use Endomondo, though I also linked my Garmin account.  Other possibilities include Nike+, RunKeeper, FitBit, MapMyFitness, EveryTrail, BodyMedia, Omron, Moves and Jawbone.  Points vary depending on activity, and you can’t rack up more than 60 points in a day.


The rewards tend to be discounts or gift cards (with spending minimums) to online retailers in the health/fitness/exercise space, though I’ve also been introduced to Cory Vines (Active Wear), Blank Label (Custom Shirts) and Hugh & Crye (Men’s Wear) through these rewards. (Full Disclosure: those links contain referral codes that award me extra credits for referral if you make purchases). 

Cory Vines Top



The rewards available to Canadians are a little more limited, and though there’s a nice check box to limit rewards to those available in Canada, it’s best to double-check the fine print to see if they’ll ship there.  Most rewards are one-time only, so the selection drops once you’ve used up a few.  Except my favourite kind of rewards which are Charity Rewards.  So far, through Earndit, I have:



These rewards seem to come and go randomly, but it’s always nice to be able to give.


Earndit links with Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  You can ‘friend’ people within the system too, but I found it hard to find people I knew in general (exception: The Purple Giraffe!)


The other app I started using is Pact (formerly known as Gym-Pact).  Using this app, you commit to working out a certain number of times per week, and any workouts you miss you pay a penalty for.  The penalties for a given Pact go into a pot, which gets divided up and paid out amongst those that achieved their commitments.  You get paid to workout.  As in cash-money (it goes to PayPal or a credit card, but other than that, it’s money, not gift cards, or discounts or whatever).

I only just started using Pact.  I signed up for my first one mid-week, and the default Pact was 3 times per week at $10.00 a workout.  In hindsight, that seems a little steep (I think Fitness Cheerleader uses a $5.00 Pact, which seems more sensible). Still, I doubted I would have trouble making it to 3 workouts a week, all things considered…

Not so fast! Not all things can be considered! Home workouts can’t be tracked; that just makes sense as money is at stake and people could fake it too easily. Still, when it comes to checking into a ‘gym’ the method they use seems a little…crude I guess. The geo-location function of your smartphone is activated and they take a satellite image of it, which gets verified by some person on their end before they will give you credit for it. My gym is at work which is a large corporate campus, so I wasn’t sure if I would get credit for it until it was verified; because I signed up mid-week, I had 10 days to accrue 3 workouts for the week’s pact. Not knowing whether or not I was going to be able to count that gym in was stressful, since the only way to play with these features is to commit to a pact. Partnering with another app like Foursquare or Yelp seems like a much more sensible way to go than inspecting satellite images to me. While those apps could theoretically be cheated too, any given location could be verified by seeing if other people are checking in to workout. A lot of gyms (like Crossfit boxes) are in industrial/warehouse areas and might not ‘look’ like a gym from a satellite image.


Of course, outdoor activities can be tracked too. Unfortunately, the only apps Pact syncs with are Runkeeper and MapMyFitness so no Endomondo for me (side bar: I’m shocked to not see Daily Mile on these lists as I thought that was an incredibly popular app). Activity tracker wristbands that sync with Pact are the Jawbone Up and Fitbit. The latter are good for tracking the over 10,000 steps you need to qualify as having worked out that day. For tracking runs (or bike rides or whatever) you need to rack up at least 30 minutes while moving an average of 2 Miles an Hour. That doesn’t seem too strict, but I was still disappointed to find that our weekend outing to go cross-country skiing didn’t count toward my pact, as we spent too much time waiting for Shark Boy (he’s doing great, but he’s only 4 years old!).

When Sunday midnight rolled around, I had my 3 workouts approved, and I waited till Tuesday for the payout. Well, I should have been paid on Tuesday, but it took till Wednesday to rack up…. $1.11. A buck for 3 workouts that could have cost me up to $30 for missing them. I think that means that few people miss out on making their committed pack, which is a good thing, I suppose.

We were going on our family vacation in the Mayan Riviera the next week so I put Pact on break (I was planning on getting exercise there, but wasn’t going to be messing around with the app) till I got back (review of the trip soon to come!)

While there’s nothing preventing me from using both (and I probably will, hopefully the weekly winnings will rack up to something I can treat myself with) I really prefer Earndit’s ease of use, accessibility and no downside.

Do you use Pact? Earndit? Some other motivational app?




Gear Corner: Swimming With Music Part 2

Last Tuesday, I found myself swimming to music.  I have very little idea what parts of my overall digital music collection are on my old iPod Nano, but as the music played, there were a couple of things I noticed while in the water:

  • I found myself doing a better ‘twist’ in the water, the hip rotation gave me a little more power in my stroke.  At least, that’s how it felt.
  • ‘Feeling’ the music occasionally put a little extra power into my pull, but even more on the follow-through of the stroke (just before my hand would exit the water).
  • These actions did have a negative effect on my body positioning, as my upper body would seem to bend off the axis of the direction of travel; I was ‘worming’ a little in the water with the trunk of my body.


I pulled some stats of my pool swims from the Garmin Connect website

Time Distance (m) Average Pace Total Strokes Average Strokes per Length Average SWOLF
36:50 1500 2:22/100m 751 13 48
57:20 2250 2:09/100m 1115 12 45
26:52 1125 2:28/100m 612 14 51
32:52 1300 2:14/100m 652 13 46



The top row represents the ‘musical swim’.  It looks like it’s not as good as my previous swim based on average number of strokes per length or the ‘Swim Golf’/SWOLF score*.

*”Your SWOLF score is the time in seconds plus the strokes it takes you to complete one pool length. For example 30 seconds plus 25 strokes equals a SWOLF score of 55.”

The comparisons are imperfect at best, since some of those lengths were done with pull-buoys, hand-paddles, or both.   What I would really need is an apples to apples comparison – maybe do a 400m-500m set with and without music and make sure that the interval is separate and identifiable compared to my drill sets or other exercises.

What about the music itself? Is there any science behind this idea?  I Googled ‘Ideal Swim Cadence’ and most websites weren’t willing to stick their necks out with any numbers… except this one.

The ideal swim cadence is very dependent upon your height and swim speed. Typically, at a pace of 1:50 per 100 yards, an athlete will take between 55 and 65 strokes per minute. At 1:20 pace, we are looking at about 65 to 80 strokes per minute. In each of these, taller athletes should fall at the lower end of these ranges.”

The stroke count is based on the number of times my left arm (where I wear my Garmin 910XT) goes around; we can assume my right arm does an equal number of strokes.  So I looked up the Tempo in BPM (beats per minute) on SongBPM.com.  I hope I either do a left or right on every beat, or simply the left (i.e. both arms go around the stroke cycle between beats).  So I put in columns for not only the tempo, but half the tempo.

Title Artist BPM (according to SongBPM.com) BPM/2
Anything ‘Cept the Truth Eagles of Death Metal 126 63
Hey Boy Hey Girl Chemical Brothers 127 64
I Want You Back Jackson 5 ?81-104? ?
Jackson Lucinda Williams 76
Still Remains Stone Temple Pilots 132 66
Alright Hear This Beastie Boys 102 51
New Years Day U2 134 67
Plush Stone Temple Pilots 72
Hypnotize System of a Down 77
North and South of the River U2 103 52
Stand By Me Ben E. King ?116-123? ?


I highlit the songs that ‘felt’ the best as I was swimming.  The 1:50 per 100 yards pace comes out to 2:00 per 100 meters, so I’m a little slower than that, but I think you can link that cadence to about 63-77 strokes per minute.








Obviously the whole notion is a little ‘out there’ and at the least bears further experimentation before drawing conclusions, but I still thought it was interesting.  I can’t wait till I can find time for a longer pool workout (or two) to play with it a little.

Gear Corner: Swimming With Music Part 1

Some facts:

  1. I enjoy swimming.  Really I do, I like being in the water and the way it feels, sounds and looks.
  2. I get bored easily.
  3. Swim training (when it’s not open water) involves a lot of back and forth laps in the pool.  That can get boring, even for people like me.
  4. I’m a tech-geek, and I probably wouldn’t get up to half the exercise and training that I do without toys to play with.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why I’d invest in devices like those from H2O Audio.  I started way back buying one of their earlier editions for the 2nd generation iPod.
Exhibit A: The Accused
My first problem was having the wrong generation iPod Nano… I had a Black 1st edition which I lost after putting it in a jacket pocket in the spring, then not using the jacket again for an entire season.  I bought a 2nd generation one and was off into the water.  The problem with this ‘Waterproof’ Case was that it relied on a rubber gasket to maintain the seal, and this gasket was not fastened to the case with any kind of adhesive; it was up to the user to make sure there would be a seal every time you put the iPod into the case.  You can guess what happened…

Exhibit B: The Victim
Now normally, when burned by a poor quality product, I simply turn my back and walk away, but I guess my gear-head self wouldn’t give up on the concept when I saw later generations of the products.

I got what is now branded as the Amphibx Armband.  What I liked about this piece was that different size devices could be fit into it; they kept in simple and it was easy and flexible to be able to connect the speaker/headphone jack.
Once the original iPod Nano had been recovered (it’s probably gone through at least another two cycles of long-term loss and recovery), it had been eclipsed by other devices as a prime music device.  So it was a great candidate to be potentially sacrificed to the Water Gods in another experiment.  No issues, the armband hasn’t leaked yet.

The problems weren’t over yet though.  I still had the first generation earphones.  These things looked like the speakers from a telephone, only somewhat miniaturized.   They were hard to fit into my ears, and got uncomfortable after a while, but even worse, they’d let plenty water get between them and my ear canal.
My hands are pretty average size, so you get an idea of how big the speaker is…

So I would typically start playing music at a given volume, then start swimming.  As water got in my ear, the volume would seem to go down to the point where I couldn’t really hear the music (I would have thought I’d hear the music better due to water being a denser medium than air, but I’m telling you what I experienced).  I’d turn up the volume to compensate, but the second the water cleared (if I took my head out of the water for sighting, or to take a break or anything), the music would be deafening.  



Someone told me there was a newer better model out so finally this year, I got a pair from Amazon*.  The Surge Sportwraps seem to be marketed for Boardsports more than swimming (probably because the band around the back doesn’t play well with a swim cap), but I like that they hug the head; it’s what I look for in running earphones too.

On my last Trifecta Tuesday, I went for a swim.  I was a little tired from a 16km run plus the Kyle’s Krusade Virtual Race 5k (PR!), so I decided I simply wanted to crank out 1.5km in the pool without drill sets or anything complicated.  The perfect setting for the new kit.

Though I ended up stopping a few times in the first few hundred meters to adjust the phones in my ears and make the Sportwrap play nice with my goggles and swim cap, I can tell you the audio experience was better than ever before and the volume stayed at a fairly even level so I was able to enjoy music throughout the swim.  I’ll revisit what effects that had on my swim experience in Part 2 of this series.

*H2O Audio has been re-branded to X-1 Audio with some new (yet again) product lines.  There still seems to be a Canadian Retailer using the H2O Audio Brand though.

Gear Corner: Bye-bye Blackberry, Hello Samsung Galaxy S3 (Android LTE)


It’s just about time to retire my Blackberry Bold 9900; my boss has upgraded most of our team to the Samsung Galaxy SIII.  I haven’t found the time to get it setup and activated yet, but the day is coming.  The new phone is LTE which means faster data, but that’s not the only thing I’m looking forward to in the upgrade:

  • Better accessories I hope.  It always boggled my mind how Blackberry supposedly wanted to conquer the consumer market, but somehow always seemed locked into use scenarios that could only really to a business executive.  I never found a running armband that would let me use the Blackberry while running; even if I tried to stuff it into a larger armband (like one intended for an iPhone), it might fit, but push all kinds of buttons on the way in or out, and inadvertently pause the music or something.  I’d end up using the belt holster with a water bottle belt… that was about the only solution I could live with.  The S3 is a touchscreen format, so hopefully it’ll work better for this sort of thing.  I’m looking at this Otterbox case, though I’m also intrigued by SPIBelt/SPIband.  Maybe I’ll get a working heart rate sensor even…
  • Better Apps.  The selection of apps on Blackberry was always meager.  The major social networks were there, but things like Instagram (even if that’s a dirty word now) were either absent, or only supported through the browser (Google+).  I still love Endomondo as my exercise tracker, but there’s tons more fitness apps (like Zombies Run!) that I could use to round out my training.  Music streaming, chat/video/VOIP (Skype), Blogging tools, I’m getting intimidated just thinking about the selection I’m about to experience.
  • Better Bluetooth.  Pairing the Blackberry with the handsfree in my car was always a crap shoot, maybe the Samsung will work better.  We’ll see.


That said, there are a few things I’ll miss about the old Blackberry.

  • QWERTY Keyboard Buttons – I don’t think I’d ever be able to type as well with a touchscreen.  Some of my blog posts were written (about 90%) on my Blackberry while I was killing time.  I’d email them as a draft, polish them and insert links then publish.  Typing out reams of text for a blog (or writing lots of emails) seems like it would be tedious on a touch screen (based on my experience with my iPad), though there are apps that supposedly make touchscreen typing more efficient.
  • Blackberry Messenger.  BBM is very cool; I seeing that the message has been a) delivered and b) read, plus group chats, sending pictures and files is no problem.  I didn’t use it so much for status updates and the kinds of automation on said status, though.  There’s plenty of chat apps, but at least everybody I knew who had a Blackberry, I could contact through BBM.
  • Supporting a Canadian Company.  I’ve got several friends and ex-colleagues who work for RIM, the company that makes Blackberry.  The last Canadian Tech Giant is fallen on hard times, and now I’m part of the problem.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll bounce back and they can be my next  phone.


How important is your smartphone to your fitness?

Gear Corner: Electronic Media in the Home Fitness Centre

With the off-season in full swing, we’re looking at contending with less daylight, and colder temperatures – the temptation to cocoon is overwhelming.  Still one of the things you can do from the comfort of your home nowadays is train/exercise/workout.  There’s tons of articles and posts about what exercise gear to equip your home with (and I may write one myself soon enough), today I’m going to talk about options for electronic media.  Whether you’re on a bike trainer, watching a workout DVD, or simply want tunes while you exercise, you’ll probably need a way to play media.  What kinds of tech could you use? Warning: this might get a little technical; leave a question in the comments if something is unclear.

  • Tablet computer.  I managed to balance my iPad quite nicely on my aerobars while I was on the bike trainer.  I used Netflix to watch a TV show (can’t remember which one) for some slow spinning, then switched to the Bit Timer app for a Tabata to finish.
  • DVD Player (& TV of course).  There are Workout videos for strength, toning, cardio, as well as Yoga, Pilates and Biking/Spinning.  You can play music CDs or even watch a your favourite TV show while on the trainer (or treadmill or elliptical if you have one).  Personally I don’t use my workout videos as much as I’d like, and watching TV is something I prefer to do when there isn’t other noise (like my own grunting, or the whir of my bike) to interfere with my enjoyment of it.  This option is honestly a little primitive (no Internet?) by today’s standards.
  • Laptop.  It usually has a connection to the internet so Youtube videos of workouts and techniques (and there are more and more of these nowadays), plus playing DVDs and CDs is generally no problem.  It could have a music collection on there, or simply display a workout you got from a blog or website.  I’m a little nervous about having the laptop around exercise equipment – I have visions of sweat in the keyboard or it simply getting broken.  It’s a little hard to find a good spot for it, but it’s still a great option.
  • Home Theatre PC (HTPC).  Ah, the Cadillac option.  For a while I had a PC with a quiet case hooked up to the home theatre/TV, and it was bliss.  This thing had a video capture card (for recording TV) and was running MythTV.  MythTV is free software that implements PVR recording (provided you have that capture card I mention) which automatically flags and skips commercials.  So, a PVR that I don’t pay the TV company a rental fee for, and I never see commercials.  I also had music and some exercise videos ripped onto the hard drive, so when I wanted a Yoga session, I could press play without waiting for the DVD to spin up and be read – instant access.  Unfortunately, the motherboard of this machine blew and replacing it meant basically rebuilding the machine from scratch.  I wasn’t willing to put in the time, effort and cash, so I found a cheaper alternative.
  • Home Media Player – These aren’t fully fledged computers, more like hard-drives that have network capability and the right drivers for streaming/playing various media.  An Apple TV might count in this category.  The one I’ve been using is the Cirago CMC3000; it has video capture capability so I can record shows, but it’s not as good as the MythTV because I have to manually program what time to record without an on-screen guide – it only records what the set-top box is playing (meaning I have to program the set-top box too to be on the right channel at the right time).  The MythTV had its own tuner so I could just pick say, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and it would tune the correct channel at the right time.  Still, I’m using it to record shows and fastforward commercials, so that’s good.  It can stream media from my desktop and through third party software I can also play Netflix on it.  If I rip my workout DVDs to my computer, I should be able to stream them from the Cirago, or even simply copy the files over to it; it can be a network mapped hard-drive too.


    I should inventory what DVDs I have… maybe that’ll help inspire me to play them.


    Let’s see what’s there:


    That’s a little embarrassing… some are still in the plastic!  Let’s hope the season is kind to me and the videos!  If I wanted to add to the collection, I thought I’d share that Beachbody let me know that they have some new products.  Of the ones they mentioned these were the most interesting (N.B. without having tried these products, I cannot endorse or recommend them, I am merely linking to acknowledge their existence).

    • Les Mills Combat: They have Les Mills classes at Goodlife Fitness, where I’m a member.  My favourite group class is Body Combat; the cardio burn rate is unparalleled, and it’s a heap of fun, scratching my martial arts itch.  I haven’t found a class that meets my schedule lately, so having one at home would be pretty attractive.
    • Insanity Asylum Volume 2: The Insanity series are unique in that they offer drills that are meant to increase actual athletic performance (speed, power, agility, etc.) rather than simply build muscle or burn fat.  They would probably be more useful for a performance minded multi-sport athlete.


    I hope that gives some of you some ideas…. what kinds of electronic media are you using to stay in shape?