Tracking Fitness

One of the things I’m doing right now is training for the Las Vegas Triathlon (as well as the Nautica Triathlon the week before). I like to be able to chart my progress with various different technical tools, but I’m finding myself a tiny bit frustrated trying to find something that’ll really work for me. What I want is something that tracks all my workouts with heart rate, time, intensity, and speed. In one place.

I’ll go over my various existing tools here to demonstrate the problem.

For simplicity, I’ll leave out the FitBit, Philips DirectLife and the GoWearFit, as they’re targeted to another type of activity (wandering around during the day when you’re not working out). And I’ll leave out integrated sites like DailyBurn, which try to pull together your workout information with food tracking and a vibrant community. I’ll talk about those another time.

Withings Scale

I have a Withings WiFi enabled scale. I know it sounds really silly, but I love this thing. It tracks my weight and fat percentage and makes charts and graphs, and makes it so much easier to track changes in my weight and body composition. Stand on the scale, wait a bit, and then you’re good – there’s an iPhone app and a website which both allow you to see your progress. I actually started losing weight at 230 pounds so the graph isn’t complete, but it really helps keep me on track (and reminds me that sometimes there are plateaus and that’s ok).

Polar FT60 Heart Rate Monitor

One of the most important tracking and feedback tools you can have while training is a heart rate monitor. Your resting heartrate, your heartrate during a workout, and your average heart rate are all critical pieces of knowledge to optimize the efficacy and safety of your workouts. I got a new Polar watch this year, the FT60. It’s got all the things I like about Polar HRMs, including the “Fitness test” where it has you relax for a few minutes and tells you how fit you are. It’s also got custom training plans for whatever you need – where it tells you what kind of workout you should do, and monitors your heart rate to make sure you’re staying on track. This is a great system for avoiding overtraining, and their website seems like it’s probably a decent place to track activity… although I don’t know how well it integrates with my social stuff (Twitter, etc.) since I haven’t yet purchased the “optional” Polar Flowlink transmitter which is needed to get information from the watch up to their site. The technology for these heart rate monitors has apparently improved to the point where swimming data is reasonably accurate, which makes me happy. If only Polar were more open so I could use the data in other applications.

RunKeeper

For tracking my runs, I like RunKeeper. It’s GPS based, and it will track my runs, my bike rides, my skating, my walking… pretty much everything. The mapping feature is great, and it’s nice to use. However, it’s only good for outside workouts, and my iPhone isn’t fond of the pool, so I can’t track my swims that way. It integrates with several different Polar watches… just not the one I have. It does integrate with my Withings Scale to determine calories, which is great. It might someday integrate with something like DailyBurn or the FitBit, which would be extra cool. I’m hoping that once I figure out how to upload the FT60 stuff to the polar website, I’ll figure out a way to integrate that into RunKeeper – but that may be a ways out.

Nike+ iPod

I’m also fond of Nike+. I’ve used it since I got my old-tyme (Gen 2?) Nano, and use it now on my iPhone. Polar recently came out with a new HRM strap which is supposed to work with Nike+ enabled devices, and I bought one. Turns out it works specifically with the Nike+ armband and the Generation 5 iPod Nano, but nothing else. So I can’t directly integrate it with my iPhone Nike+ runs, which kind of sucks. I’m considering getting a Gen5 Nano just so that I can use it for runs (the iPhone is a little large for using with runs, anyhow), but I don’t know that I want to put out the money. It does have an awful lot of my running history, which is compelling. I also wish it would track other kinds of workouts for me.

Summary

What I want doesn’t seem so outrageous. But here I find myself, with lots of new and old data at Nike+, some upcoming data to be available on the Polar site, an abiding fondness for RunKeeper along with some interest in using something more social like dailyburn.com… and no good way to integrate them all together. Integration is coming along for many of these things, albeit slowly.

I’m probably just going to buy a WearLink so that I can try the Polar site, and track my runs both with Nike+ and RunKeeper for a while. If and when I end up being sad at the lack of sharing of the Polar data, I’ll suck it up and get a refurbished Nano so that I can see how Nike+ integrates the heart rate information. The best possible case would probably be for RunKeeper to consume the polar heart rate data and integrate it with my workouts.

Dialogue & Discussion