Following the Ice Man – 10 Weeks with Wim Hof

I’ve been aware of Wim Hof, the crazy Ice Man, for a few years now but have become increasingly interested in his methods since I adopted my own fascination with the cold.

So far, my highlight of the year has been hacking our thermostatic shower so that it ceased to kick out any warmth. I think the teenagers in the house might call that “Breaking the Shower” but I’m happy. It means that I am now able to stand under icy torrents and disturb the household by squealing behind the locked bathroom door. It also meant I could finally sign up for the 10 week course in the Wim Hof Method, which requires a commitment to strange breathing and daily cold showers – squealing optional.

Wim Hof uses breathing techniques, really a controlled form of hyperventilation, along with cold exposure to exert control of his autonomic nervous system. Benefits cited are improved immunity levels, reduction in automimmune symptoms and improved healing. I’m happy to accept all those benefits but was particularly interested in what might be considered the side effects of the practice, such as cold adaptation, increased breath hold capacity, possible fat loss via BAT (Brown Adipose Tissue) activation and improved mental well being.

I’ve just started week 4 of the Wim Hof breathing course and thought it was time to give a brief review of my experience so far.

Week 1
Immediately you are required to adopt the daily practice starting with 3 hyperventilation and breath hold sequences to be followed by a cold shower. The cold showers start off gently, starting and ending with warm water with a 30 second cold interlude.

Despite regularly swimming in 2-8’C water, I found the showers to be a shock and the squealing did continue for a couple of weeks of the practice.

The breathing cycle is a bit odd. I don’t really like the experience of hyperventilation and associated tingling and light-headedness. I do quite like the challenge of breath holding though and by the end of week 1 I was very excited to have held my breath for just over 2 minutes. Before this point I felt I would burst after 40 seconds. If you don’t think this sounds like a long time just try it now, hold you breath and time it. I bet you won’t get anywhere near 2 mins.

In the associated video Wim also take you through some stretching exercises but I have to confess to not taking this bit very seriously.

Week 2
In week 2 we add an extra breathing cycle that ends in a breath hold (after the inhalation) where you perform as many push ups as you can before breathing again. You need to set a baseline number before you start – mine was 19 incline push ups. By the end of the week I managed to increase this to 30 without any breath. I find this quite fascinating and wonder if it will translate well to my powerlifting, perhaps if I hyperventilate before a squat, I will be able to knock out a few more reps.

Showers are now following a cold/hot/cold/hot/cold sequence with each cold exposure lasting 30 secs. I’m still squealing.

Week 3
Week 3 feels like a bit of break through. Showers are now up to 60 second stints cold/hot/cold but I feel strong enough to handle 2 mins of cold only. Focussing on calm breathing I’m able to have my first silent shower and actually feel as though I am generating my own heat.

The breathing has increased to 5 cycles with the last being the push-up routine. I drifted off during the last breath hold and forgot that I was short of breath managing 2mins 6secs in total.

I haven’t managed to stick to doing all my practice on a daily basis but I try to do it as often as I can and don’t move to the next week until I’ve completed 7 sessions. I’m sure it is more effective if you can get into a consistent routine but life happens.

Wim Hof Method and Pulse Oximetry

Having read “What Doesn’t Kill Us” I decided to play around with a pulse oximeter while doing the breathing routine. I read that Wim’s trick for ensuring that his team don’t suffer from high altitude sickness during rapid ascents of Mount Kilimanjaro is to monitor blood oxygen levels regularly and practice hyperventilation to keep the levels above 95%.

This instagram video shows me at the end of my hyperventilation and shows what my spO2 levels look like during the breath hold.

Do I have to sign up and pay for the 10 week course to practice the Wim Hof Method?

Absolutely not, although I wouldn’t discourage you if you’re tempted. I think it’s quite good value as courses go. You get a PDF copy of Wim’s first book, a course guide and workbook and permanent access to 10 hour long videos by the charismatic guy himself. 

If you don’t have the money I would recommend spending £3.99 on the app and following the mini video for each breathing cycle. I find myself using this on a daily basis anyway and just watch the video once a week as a spur to action.

There are enough blog reviews that explain week by week what the schedule is. Basically 3-4 breathing cycles and a final one for breath hold press-ups. Daily cold showers of increasing length with the occasional challenge thrown in such as 10 minute cold showers or ice bath.

The videos also include a series of yoga type exercises but I have to admit that I rarely do this element of the course.

Where can I find out more about Wim Hof?

Video about Wim Hof
This video from Vice provides an excellent introduction to the mad cap ways of the Hof.

ICEMAN – VICE

Wim Hof has used meditation to stay submerged in ice for hours, run a marathon in the desert with no water and scientifically proved that he can influence his immune system at will. In this new film, he taught us how all of this is possible.

Podcasts about Wim Hof
Wim Hof is popping up on all sorts of podcasts nowadays but these are some of my favourites:
Ben Greenfield – Conquer the Cold
Tim Ferriss – The Iceman Interview 2015

Books about Wim Hof
Wim Hof has a couple of books out himself, the most recent one, The Way of the Iceman, being the most readable.
I really enjoyed What Doesn’t Kill Us, by author Simon Carney. Simon set off with the intention of exposing Wim Hof as a false guru but ended up absorbing his method and hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro in his swimming trunks.

Blogs about the Wim Hof Method
Twenty weeks with Wim Hof – Rose works her way through two 10 week cycles of the Wim Hof Method, the first was conducted as a DIY course using materials and advice freely available and the second following along to the online video course.
I’ve really enjoyed Alan Reiner‘s discussions on the nature of the Wim Hof method and his experience with the course, particularly because he has also hooked himself up to a pulse oximeter. I’m rather jealous that his always you to record data to a csv file.

The Mind Numbing Thrill of the Cold

I’ve spent much of the last year becoming acquainted with cold water, in some cases extremely cold water, and my life has become noticeably enriched as a result.

It started back in May. I was feeling a bit aimless, in need of a new challenge. Not wanting to sign up and pay for yet another half marathon that I wouldn’t train for, I decided perhaps a swimming event would do the job. I was thinking that a mile swim in the London docks would give me the necessary spur to action.  

Buoyed by the potential for new watery challenges, I unearthed my wetsuit that had been mothballing since my last mile swim and spent the next hour trying to peel it on. I got it on. Almost didn’t get it off again, then decided that a cold water swim might prove more challenging than I had hoped. 

Still somewhat lifted by optimism I headed over to Tooting Bec Lido, the largest outdoor lido in Europe, and bobbed around in the water sans wetsuit. 


By the time I got out again, maybe 4 lengths or 360m later, I had discarded my distance swim plans and replaced it with a commitment to swim through the winter at the lido. 

That first dip was so powerful and so invigorating that I never wanted it to stop. I was no longer interested in medals and publicly noted achievements. I just wanted the thrill of escaping very cold water. 

I wasn’t very aware of water temperature when I first started. It always felt bloody cold but was probably around 18′ C when I started and climbed as high as 22′ C in the summer months. Regardless, it always felt shockingly thrilling and was always followed by a buzz of zen. I often arrived at the car park feeling edgy and wired but always left feeling a sense of monastic calm. 

As Wim Hof says, in The Way of the Iceman:

“The body-shocking severity of The Cold—merciless and righteous, bitch-slaps the chattering mind into silence.”

That’s about the crux of it. 

My water temperature obsession kicked in as the lido closed to the public in October. It felt like the pool temperature plummeted as the crowds dispersed and I was nervously watching the mercury drop towards 10’C. 

cold water
At this temperature I reassessed my translation of the word shocking. It’s hard to do justice to the experience of cold water but as a recent Guardian journalist noted, cold water swimmers are finely calibrated. We gather around discussing our perceived measurements of water temperature and always deal in figures to the nearest tenth of a degree. 

I’ve now experienced every degree between 10 and 1’ C. I’ve bobbed around with ice and hope to get colder still before the winter is over and I have to deal with the inevitable climb of the mercury. In my mind, truly cold hits below 7’ C. The Lone Swimmer, in his precise open water temperature scale describes this as the door to cold, with 6’ C being “Damn, that Hurts”, 5’C being “Holy F*ck!”.


It’s hard to distinguish the pain differentials on paper but at 6 degrees my sinuses start squeal when I put my face in the water and I seem to naturally switch from swimming lengths to widths. My body obviously doubts its ability to come back from a 90m length. At 2’ C it can hardly be called swimming anymore, I’m in the water for less than 5 mins, most of which is spent trying to pick up courage to submerge myself, then I whizz through 2 widths and I am out, flailing at my goggles with my lumpen, useless hands.

The pain is exquisite, awful, enlivening and I totally recommend it.

Squat, Bench and Deadlift for 2017

I normally start the year with some form of endurance challenge to get my teeth into. Previously we’ve had half marathons and 100k hiking events but as running has slowly slipped out of favour to be replaced by strength work, it didn’t seem like the right focus for 2017. 

So I started this year with a new plan. This year I am going to enter my first powerlifting competition, where I will squat, bench and deadlift my way to glory. 

My challenge is not just to turn up and knock out a few, preferably legal lifts. Instead I need to reach a certain standard, a level of attainment that would make me feel proud to strut my stuff in a dashing powerlifting singlet. 

powerlifting singlet
Weightlifting standards don’t seem to be particularly standard and are mightily varied depending on the source. I’ve decided to nick liberally from @hiclarky who has sent himself a challenge to achieve the ‘Ninja’ standards set by his crossfit gym and become Ninja or Not in 6 months

Here are my targets. All based on multiples of my hefty bodyweight, scaled for my planned weightloss! At the moment I am targeting the standards for a 100 kg bodyweight.

Powerlifting Standards
Bodyweight is seen as an advantage in lifting sports. The heavier you are the more you are expected to be able to manhandle. This is fine when you are talking about muscle bulk and perhaps the odd power belly but there is a cut off point when extra lard on the tricep no longer provides a powerlifting advantage. 

I’m guessing that I am some way beyond that cut-off point. 

That gives me two alternate routes to achieving the lifting standards. If I want to squat 1.25 x or Deadlift 1.5 x my bodyweight, I can either knuckle down and get extremely strong or I can shift shed loads of fat until I trim down to the relevant standard. 

As it’s not a straight forward task to shift only fat and I have no desire to lose any of my existing strength, I am opting for a combo approach where I lose a few kilos and hopefully build strength at the same time. That’s an untested approach for me so far, so watch this space. 

Operation Powerlifting Comp commences.

Trekz Aftershokz Titanium Bone Conducting Headphones

Lord Sugar might have been impressed with the Aftershokz bone conduction headphones but the Apprentices didn’t do a good job trying to sell their chosen cycle gadgetry on the show last week. Their one-track, safety-first mantra and lacklustre crowdfunding attempts led them straight back into the board room.

They did manage to tweak my interest though.

While I’m not too fussed about music, I have really missed listening to podcasts and audiobooks since I’ve started cycling into work again. There’s no way I would risk a London cycle commute with my usual in-ear plugs but something that keeps your ears open to the hustle and bustle of city life could offer a significant enhancement to my journey.

I got a pair and set off for my commute with the next audiobook on my list.

The first thing I noticed was that the fit was odd. They sit over your ears but then flip and flop around as you move your head, it’s particularly problematic if you have a hood or a collar.

Trekz Aftershokz Bone Conduction HeadphonesI checked some reviews and there has been a suggestion that the fit can be uncomfortably tight – not mine! I’m either wearing them wrong or I have a tiny head.

The headphones do come with a couple of elastic bands called fitbands that seem to serve zero purpose in improving the fit. I think I’ve put them on as described but will flip them around next week and see if there’s any improvement.

The sound quality is pretty good, you can get a reasonable volume and I could hear the narrator for most of the journey, she was obscured as I crossed Oxford Street with a dustbin truck to my right but the rush hour experience was generally impressive and most importantly I felt totally aware of what was going on a round me.

A review from ibtimes said:

It’s as if somebody is playing music through a speaker nearby, rather than listening to the music in your ears.

That’s exactly what it’s like and I can’t help thinking the bone conducting technology is just a big bluff. If I hold the headphones just slightly off my skin it doesn’t make any difference to the sound I hear or in fact to the sound my neighbour hears. It sounds likes its coming out of a little speaker because it is coming out of a little speaker.

Aftershokz by TrekzWhen the headphones are at full volume I do feel a vibration on my left cheek but it’s quite unpleasant actually, feeling like a static irritant.

I wouldn’t wear these in close proximity to others as there isn’t a great deal of privacy to be had and I prefer it if people next to me can’t tell what I’m listening to. Davina McCall was top of my audible playlist last week and I didn’t particularly want the world to know it.

The Bluetooth connection to my iPhone 6 was faultless, the battery apparently lasts an age and the controls on the headphones themselves are excellent. I love the big button on the left ear piece that does pause, fast forward, answer etc and can be controlled while wearing massive winter gloves. It’s perfect.

Overall I think the headphones are pretty good, the fit is shoddy and I don’t think there’s any sound enhancing bone conduction going on, but as a pair of near ear speakers that have brought the spoken word back into morning commute, I think they are excellent. That is 2 hours a day where I can multi task again – exercise, commute and read. That is something to be grateful for, and perhaps if I grew a ponytail the fit wouldn’t be so bad either.

How to Set up the Home Garden Gym

The Home Gym is a perfect solution for people who are self-motivated and happy to workout alone. The at-home convenience means you can prep a family dinner between sets and you never need to worry whether the squat rack will occupied by a big fella.

For the price of an annual gym membership you can build up a pretty snazzy home gym. You don’t need to buy it all at once though. Most of the gear in my garden gym has been acquired piecemeal and while I can’t resist the lure of new clobber, you don’t need it all to start making significant strength gains. I’ve made some suggestions at the end of the article about how you might want to amend your home gym setup, depending on your budget.

Garden Gym vs Home or Garage Gym

The considerations here relate to the weather and the terrible toll it can take on your kit. My home gym is a garden gym and I don’t have any cover to protect my weight plates or indeed any of my kit. After a year of exposure to the elements they are showing signs of significant decay.

The most important piece of kit I have is the power rack and as this ensures my safety while training alone I can’t accept any rust related failures and have therefore had this galvanised. It still looks as good as the day I bought it.

Everything else is in a slow decline and I have accepted that my bar and plates will need replacing eventually, in the meantime I spray regularly with WD40, like I used to do with my motorbike stuck outside in all weathers.

I have noticed quite a difference in the way my different plates stand up to the weather and will make sure every new plate I buy is plastic coated. These rubber tri-grip weight plates are excellent, the grip style is really convenient for carrying and they seem very durable so far.


You might also be concerned about the effect that the weather has on your ability to train but as strength athletes I reckon we are made of stern stuff and enjoy the challenge of inclement weather!

Fair weather squatter. #squateveryday #janathon

A post shared by 💪 @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

 

Much as I  enjoy exercising in the fresh air and there’s a certain romance about bench pressing while looking up at the stars, if I had the option I probably would set my gym up under cover. A garage gym would be ideal. You could take some of the kit outdoors to warm up on a fine day without worrying that your kit will disintegrate between seasons.

Home Gym for £1000+

  • garden gymFull power rack – for safety and flexibility – £400+. As mine sits outside I had it galvanised which adds about £500 to the price.
  • Barbell, collars and weights – you can spend almost limitless amounts here but you can get a selection from £200-£250
  • Bench – £50+
  • Kettlebells – £20+
  • Slam ball – £30 for a 15kg version
  • Truck tyre and sledgehammer – we found the tyre in a skip and everyone has a sledgehammer in the shed. Great warm-up activity and who doesn’t feel great after flipping a tyre
  • Olympic lifting platform – for protecting the patio when deadlifting or trying olympic lifts. If you buy a proper one you will soon blow your budget. I made my own from plywood and rubber horse stall matting that I found on eBay.
  • Weightlifting app – free

The power rack forms the staple of my garden gym. It means I can squat and bench without the need for a spotter but I can also practice pull-ups and suspend no end of gadgetry from it to enhance my options. I have olympic rings, a trx style suspension trainer and a punch bag that I found on the street. It’s all a bit overkill but its fun if you have a short attention span.

I’ve tried a number of apps.

  • Stronglifts 5×5 is clean app and is a great program for beginners
  • Big Lifts 2 is my current favourite as it allows you to switch programs and its the best I’ve found for Weider 531 training
  • Freeletics Gym is a fun way to bring crossfit style routines into your home gym but it often calls for the use of a rowing machine as well as a barbell

Home Gym for £500

  • Half Cage Squat Rack – deals abound but the Bodymax squat rack usually goes for £250
  • Barbell, collars and weights – £200-£250
  • Bench or step – £50 I happen to have a Reebok Step lying around so use this for bench press. Probably not ideal if you are benching huge weights.

You are not as safe with a half rack as the full powerrack so you may still need a spotter. You can adjust the supports so it is fit for squats and bench press. Most also have chin bars and you can easily anchor stuff like TRX suspension trainers or Olympic rings.

Home Gym for Less than £50

I am so impressed with the Freeletics option, they have 3 versions of the app, running, bodyweight and gym. You need weightlifting equipment for the gym version but you don’t need anything beyond a mat for the other two. It is seriously hardcore – crossfit for the home and you can get transformed by following the program. The coach option is pricey but now allows you to use all 3 apps on a single subscription but you can use it without, you just need to be more disciplined in choosing the workouts and sticking to them.

Entering the Box

crossfitI’ve been a wannabe crossfitter since 2012 when I read Inside the Box by TJ Murphy. I’m embarrassed to say that nerves and convenience have delayed my initiation until this week, almost 4 years later.

This week though, I entered the Box.

I’ve been to crossfit 3 times now and although it seems to be a remarkably friendly place, I’m still rather nervous. We started with 2 foundation sessions, the first was barbell work which falls right into my comfort zone, the second, pithily titled Gymnastics, did not.

On gymnastics day I entered the Box (as part of the in-crowd I will now forever more refer to the crossfit gym as the Box) and found myself pinned in the doorway as a backflipping session was underway, stretching the full length of the gym.

Feeling uncomfortably like a voyeur I watched as folk rolled backwards and up into a handstand and then flip. There were a lot of fails, some more painful than others. Watching one chap face plant into the rubber matting and pop back up with immediate burn marks to his face was not an entirely comforting start to our beginners session. It’s rather like arriving early for your dental appointment only to sit listening to the screams of the ones that went before.

Anyway, the beginners session was fine, it just required an awful lot of scaling to get my body off the ground. Scaling just means altering the workout to make it easier while still generating the benefits of the prescribed movement. So for the handstand, I ended up walking backwards up a wall. For the ring dips, I used a sturdy elastic band between the rings so that I could use my knees and reduce the weight enough to allow full motion. For pullups I would crouch under a racked barbell and focus on keeping my feet light on the floor while going through the pullup motion.

No backward flips or rubber burns required for Day 1 of Gymnastics.

My third session was an actual wod = workout of the day.

It was a hot day and I had the misfortune of starting with a running wod. I knew it was going to be bad when we were instructed to run 600m round the block for a warmup. As I didn’t know the route I was forced to run quite a lot faster than I would like, just to keep the others in view. I arrived back considerably hotter than warm and concerningly wheezy. Throughout the next round of kettlebell swings, rows and planks I was coughing fluid from my lungs. The main workout was ground to overhead with plates (an imitation of the barbell snatch) and box jumps, cycled for 4 sets and then finished of with a re-run of the 600m run.

The main crossfit set only took 8 minutes but it nearly finished me off for the afternoon. I cycled home and had to have a bit of a rest as I felt like I’d given myself heatstroke.

Let’s see what next week brings, I’m hoping for less running and no backflips please.

Building a Canoe from Scratch

Last week we built our own Canadian canoe. How cool is that?

We went on a 4 day course in the lake district run by Orca Adventures and came away with an astoundingly good-looking vessel that we were able to drop onto the water the very next day.

It was a tough few days, with the first full day of sawing being particularly shocking for the normally deskbound amongst us. We started with thin sheets of cedar ply wood and gradually pulled these together with thread and the occasional zip tie, into an ever more ship-shape canoe.

  • After Day 1 we had a fairly floppy shell of a canoe.
  • By Day 2 we had applied some rigidity by adding the gunwales and firmed everything with fibre glass tape along all the seams.
  • For Day 3 we waterproofed the lot with a coating of epoxy resin and started on the woodworking – handles, jigs and seats.
  • On the final Day we cursed a lot while we fitted the stubborn seats and then set too with liberal applications of paint. In the afternoon we watched it dry, for hours.

When we finally drove away, I don’t think either of us could believe what we’d achieved. We had no idea what to expect and certainly did not think we’d be able to turn our hands to such craftmanship. Neither did ‘we’ think it would be quite so flipping big! Finding room for a 15 foot canoe, in a terraced house without a garage is going to prove interesting, and may get me into trouble again for having bright ideas.

Sailing a Handbuilt Canadian Canoe

With a newly built canoe sitting atop our car, it proved hard to resist the lure of the water. We were in the Lake District after all so it felt rude not to.

My parents joined us for the momentous occasion as we dipped its (soon to be named Bob’s) toes into the River Eamont by Pooley Bridge. We took it in turns to be whipped round by the current until we fought rather limply to stay bobbing in more or less one spot, a sort of treadmill action for canoes.

We have some paddling skills to develop before I fancy going into deeper river water. I took much security from the knowledge that I could easily step overboard and push us back to shore in this ankle-deep torrent.

Our next trip out was to Derwent water, a much deeper yet more tranquil site to practice our skills. I could get used to this way of life, especially if we remember to pack a drybag next time, stocked with fizz and picnic delights. With those preparations I could quite happily pull in the paddles and see where the lake took us.

GPS Activity Trackers – Surge vs Vivoactive HR

I’ve always been a fan of fitness gadgets and during my running life I have followed closely the Garmin Forerunner evolutionary path, seeking ever more specialist and techy running gear. This culminated with the world-class triathlete standard, Forerunner 910XT.

Forerunner Evolution
Forerunner 305, 405, FR60, 310XT, 920XT.

Now, as extremely loyal followers would know, way back in 2007 I competed in a pool based sprint triathlon and am therefore entitled to call myself a triathlete. I have however, begun to face facts relating to my world-class status in the sport and it has led me to question the need for such focus on multisport functionality. Even with running as my mainstay, I couldn’t really find a use for my stride length and vertical oscillation stats.

Besides, what all these watches lacked was 24/7 heart rate monitoring and that is of course essential in this day and age. I could have looked to the new range of wrist based HR mounted forerunners such as the Forerunner 735XT but it is still a world-class triathlete watch at heart. Feeling more comfortable with my amateur athlete status I looked to the activity tracking world where a few devices have been emerging with GPS functionality on the side.

Fitbit SurgeThe Fitbit Surge

Although its been around for a while now, the Fitbit Surge stood out from the crowd.

It’s a neat wrist watch that doesn’t draw attention to itself, includes a GPS unit and is built on the Fitbit infrastructure which is truly outstanding for activity and sleep tracking as well as social interaction.

The Fitbit Surge does feel a little bit dated now, it is black and white (or black and grey) and it takes a little getting used to the low contrast screen but the watch just works as its supposed to.

The GPS picks up quickly and the runs are recorded without fuss, the default running screen doesn’t tell me my vertical oscillation or position against a virtual running partner but I find I don’t use any of that stuff anyway. Nowadays I just press start, run, press stop, stop and I’m done. The Surge does that extremely well and then it syncs in seconds and if I like, it’s up there on Strava before I’ve caught my breath.

Activity tracking is of course brilliant with the Fitbit Surge and you don’t even need to tell the watch you are doing something. I use my eBike to get into work, it’s a pedelec which means I have to pedal and my Fitbit therefore recognises it as an outdoor bike ride, my heart rate shows this to be a relatively relaxed bike ride (due to the assistance) but it recognises the activity nonetheless. It does the same for my badminton sessions although it marks these as Other activity type for me to amend at a later date.

To be honest, if you gave me a splash of colour and a brighter screen, the Surge would almost be my favourite fitness watch ever.

Tooting Bec LidoBut then I took up swimming again!

For some reason I ventured into the Lido at Tooting and was completely hooked. The thrill of the cold plunge has given me an addictive buzz and a new activity to track which revealed a flaw in the Surge make-up.

It is not waterproof and will therefore not track swimming activities.

So, I could stick with the Surge and get a swim only watch (I’m ignoring the low tech option of manually recording my swims), or I could see what was available in the market for GPS activity trackers with swim functionality.

Enter the Garmin Vivoactive HR.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR

Garmin Vivoactive HRIt claimed to do everything that the Fitbit Surge had to offer but with so much more: detailed graphical outputs on the watch display – in full crisp colour, automatic activity detection, sleep tracking, golf and ski tracking (like I care) and the big one, Swim functionality.

DC Rainmaker seems to love the Garmin Vivoactive HR and quite neatly points out the disparity in features available:

Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here.  While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge.  Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.

It’s true, you can do stacks of stuff with the Vivoactive HR and you can do it all so beautifully. The watch is a miniaturised version of the Garmin Connect app and provided you have your specs on you can see weekly charts of all your main stats. It’s almost glorious.

But only almost.

When it comes down to the battle of GPS activity trackers, with the aged Fitbit Surge vs Garmin Vivoactive HR, the young flashy whipper snapper should win hands down. But Garmin is not getting my vote this time. In fact after 3 weeks trialling it, I’ve packed the Vivoactive HR into its box and sent it back to Amazon as a bad job.

Problems with the Garmin Vivoactive HR

It’s not a great activity tracker for one and the auto exercise detection didn’t work for me once. You may say that e-biking isn’t real cycling and while I wouldn’t agree, Garmin obviously would. Despite the wrist unit registering my heart rate hovering around 120 bpm for the duration of my 40 minute ride into work, I arrived at my desk at about 9:30 am to find no exercise recorded and as a further slap in the face, the vivoactive HR was declaring me to be still soundly asleep. I think that’s pretty pants on both the activity and sleep tracking front.

Its next major failing and the nail in the coffin for my short life with the vivoactive HR was its swim tracking functionality. Firstly, its not very good at counting laps so I still had to keep count in my head. If you jostle during a length, perhaps to grab a wayward noseclip, or to sight the end of the pool, the watch records a new length regardless of whether that would generate a world record lap or not. I find that quite inconvenient although it seems to be a flaw shared by all the swim watches and one that Garmin make particularly tricky to correct post swim. In fact they don’t make it possible at all but you can use third-party apps such as the brilliant swimmingwatchtools to correct.

Secondly, the touch screen functionality of the Vivoactive HR makes it particularly unsuitable for swimming. I’ve managed to delete no end of swims, mid-swim, by unintentional screen swipes. I’ve pressed the button to pause the swim during a rest at the end of the length and then adjusted my goggles or swim cap only to find that the action has deleted the entire activity. Hopping mad doesn’t come close!

Surge vs Vivoactive HR

Surge vs Vivoactive HRAs a result I have deemed the Vivoactive HR to be wholly unacceptable for swim recording and therefore why would I not go back to the Fitbit Surge with its flawless execution, its superb app and its world domination of my friends list?

I can’t help looking for a fitness watch that would do it all and do it well though…….

Sporty Clobber Reviews

I’ve been sent an assortment of sporty clobber to review this spring. Here are the highlights.

Specialized Echelon Helmet

Cycleplan sent me a new Specialized helmet to review this month. I’ve had my original Giro helmet for years and was quite happy with it although I’d been struggling to get a good fit in the last few months. The foam padding must have lost much of its volume and the straps were resisting further tightening with the result being a decidedly loose and wobbly helmet.

Specialized ExchelonAll this added to the contrast when I tried on the new Specialized Echelon helmet. There is a ratchet closure on the back of the helmet which you engage with an easy access dial. This tightens and loosens the plastic cage that rests on your head ensuring a really snug fit. You can amend it while riding if you have an unexpected big hair day and I am already completely sold on this added flexibility.

I’ve used it everyday for the last month and love it. It’s light, feels secure and has managed to keep my head reasonably dry through these horrendous storms we’ve been having. I’m impressed.

JimmyCASE Phone Case

JimmyCASEWhen I was offered this open fronted case I wasn’t sure whether to accept or not. I usually go for a really crusty looking flip top case that protects every corner of my phone and I was worried that I would be adding vulnerability with the JimmyCASE.

I’m really glad I gave it go though, its such a beautiful, well-made case and as I seem to have developed butter fingers in recent weeks, I can also confirm that it is sturdy and protective and has held together for 5 quite dramatic phone drops.

It was offered to me as the ideal phone case for sporty types due to its ingenious elastic wallet on the rear of the case. This enables you to stash the essentials like credit card, parkrun token and emergency money without the need to carry a wallet or purse. I’ve got my oyster card and swim membership snuggly attached to my iPhone case and now can almost guarantee that I will never be without them.

It’s quite a pricey case $39 USD (with free international postage currently on offer) but it really feels worth it. The rear of the case is made from a lovely grained mahogany, you can choose the colour of the elastic wallet and the front of the case has a protective lip of rubber.

I’ll be sticking with JimmyCASE from now on and will be buying my own replacement when the next iPhone comes out.

TomboyX Pants

These were sent to me to review under the guise of sports underwear. I don’t really think they have features that make them suitable for sports. They have seams for instance so you wouldn’t want to cycle long distances in them and there is rather too much pant for running in my opinion.

While they may not pass as active sportswear I do really love the style of TomboyX pants. I realise I probably don’t look great in them (I will save you that visual trauma), but I do feel great in them and am always very happy to use them apres sport. They are particularly cosy after a cold outdoor swim.

TomboyX

Wild by Nature – by Sarah Marquis

If you like Wild – A Journey from lost to found, I think you’ll love Wild by Nature.

The author is true explorer, made in the mould of latter day brave folk like Scott and Amundsen. Sarah Marquis won my admiration through the course of this book but I wouldn’t like to follow in her footsteps. This particular journey was 10000 miles from Mongolia to Australia and crossed some entirely inhospitable regions. Mongolia in particular stands out as entirely unpleasant place to go for a walk.

I can’t imagine knowingly making myself so vulnerable. In Mongolia she enters an illegal vodka yurt, desperate for water but finds only vodka and no friendly faces. By nightfall the unfriendly faces are following her on horseback, intending to intimidate and rob her. She’s entirely capable of handling herself against drunken buffoons but it seems every night is to be like this, with camps chosen for their obscurity from an ever-present threat.

My abiding thought while reading this was why? Why would you do that to yourself. I absolutely wouldn’t that’s for sure but Marquis still inspired me. I haven’t booked a flight to Outer Mongolia yet but I did turn my back on the treadmill this morning so I could run round the common. Squelching in the mud, observing the trees and the moss. Just being, for a while.

Gasping at parkrun

I stopped breathing at parkrun last weekend.

longrun meadow parkrunNothing too dramatic, and no paramedics were called but I did go red and gasp a bit.

It was an entirely orchestrated warm up technique that follows my latest obsession with breath holding or apnea training for running performance. This particular warmup consisted of me walking as many steps as I could while holding my breath and pinching my nose.

It’s a perfectly lazy way to warmup and suits me very well. I have to walk to the start of the run anyway and it takes barely any effort to stop breathing for a few steps at a time. Certainly beats running laps in anticipation of the effort ahead.

I can’t walk very far, maybe 22 steps before I start gasping but it does seem to be surprisingly effective at clearing out the nasal cavities. The idea is that it would help me in the early stages of a run when I struggle to catch my breath.

So, fully warmed up, I set off on the run determined to manage at least a minute of calm and collected nasal breathing rather than adopting my usual steam train impression from the start.

Surprisingly I managed to run half the course with my mouth firmly shut and my breathing was the least strained that I’ve experienced it while running.

I would have continued with my mouth closed but my nasal passages were beginning to need some attention. Ideally I would have employed the nasal gobbing technique that you see many runners partaking in but it’s not part of my skill set so I didn’t bother and at 2.5k I started breathing through my mouth and promptly sounded like I was going to die sometime very soon.

Maybe next week I’ll pack a tissue.

1 2 3 65