Fitbit and Resting Heart Rate

Fitbit Surge

Fitbit SurgeI’ve been so impressed by the Fitbit HR range of activity trackers that I’ve just posted my trusty Forerunner 920XT on eBay. I am no longer going to pretend that I may one day compete in another triathlon or go swimming more than say, once a year.

Instead I’ve opted for the Fitbit Surge and will be content with exercise auto recognition, continuous daily heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, step counting and GPS for my hikes and runs (when they start to happen again).

I am particularly bowled over by the auto exercise recognition. I don’t have to tell the watch I’m starting a session, it just seems to know. So my weekly badminton matches get captured and logged for the first time and my daily eBike commute is recognised for its gentle effort.

The one area that I HATE about Fitbit though, is its resting heart rate feature.

This should be such a useful feature for tracking wellness trends and readiness for training but Fitbit have decided to go it alone with the definition of Resting Heart Rate and have created a useless and erratic version that bears no resemblance to a true RHR.

Fitbit resting heart rateYour resting heart rate is supposed to be the lowest heart rate achieved while awake but at rest. So if I look at my HR while writing this slightly ranty blog post and my current heart rate is 64 but my Resting Heart Rate is 74, I know for a fact that 74 is not my Resting HR! My question is why doesn’t Fitbit know it?

This photo from Twitter illustrates the point nicely.

DC Rainmaker wrote an interesting article this week on continuous heart rate tracking and also commented on the disappointing, “conservative” approach by Fitbit to RHR monitoring.

The Fitbit help pages explain how they measure resting heart rate:

Your tracker estimates your resting heart rate by measuring your heart rate while you’re asleep and while you’re awake but still during the day.
For best accuracy, wear your tracker to sleep.  If you don’t wear your tracker to sleep, the tracker will still try estimate your resting heart rate while you are awake.

I find it hard to understand how difficult it can be to record the lowest heart rate while you are awake, especially if you don’t wear it while you sleep. The Fitbit does a very good job of detecting sleep and non-sleep so thats half the job done.

It feels to me as though they are taking my lowest HR during the day and then adding 10 or so beats for the heck of it.

If you haven’t already noticed, this annoys me. Fitbit have taken a fantastic fitness watch and then infected it with a great big flaw. I’d much rather opt for manual recording of RHR while ever their estimates remain so poor.

I do like the continuous heart rate tracking though:

Fitbit Surge continuous heart rate monitoring

Lance Armstrong and The Program

The Program

Ben Foster joins his own program, taking performance enhancing drugs to convincingly portray Lance Armstrong in The Program. He develops an uncanny resemblance to the fallen cyclist and at times I can’t tell them apart as the film switches between archive footage and acting.

The Program

I’d guess that most people with a sporting inclination would know the nuts and bolts of the Lance Armstrong story, from cancer hero to lying and scheming drug cheat.

At the time I was so convinced by Lance’s story that I defended him against the naysayers like journalist David Walsh, right up to the point he sat down with Oprah and finally came clean about his betrayal. I felt naive and foolish.

The ProgramMy passions have run very high over this story, and The Program had the potential to throw my emotions all over the place. Unfortunately it missed the mark and was actually a strangely flat film, just a simple retelling of a journalistic investigation. Very low on emotion but an interesting story nevertheless.

There was a moment when Lance as a young, ambitious and successful American rider, was told by a fellow racer that he’d stand no chance in Europe where he was riding against cheats and lots of them. It was a terrible situation and I came close to forgiving him for his weakness, but that was swept away fairly quickly as we watched Lance bring his team onboard The Program, bullying and cajoling. Introducing them to the team Doctor, Michele Ferrari, who would administrate the drugs and teach them how to cheat the system.

I thought the doctor was one of the more interesting characters, he seemed to be driven by scientific enthusiasm and a drive to exploit human endurance potential, rather than money and power and I could imagine being convinced by him as either a young scientist or gifted athlete.

 

The Program

Insomnia: The Activity Tracker Showdown

Fitbit sleep tracking

Many people will have gone to bed last night with a degree of melancholy angst. Like me they will have forlornly switched the alarm back on after the luxury of 10 back to back lie ins.

I fell asleep then woke, bolt upright at 2:30 am full of dread about my imminent return to work.

Two DotsI tossed. I turned. I got up and played Two Dots for 90 finger tapping minutes.

I contemplated cycling into work at 4am but thought better of it and dragged myself back upstairs where I promptly fell back to sleep.

Moments after, my 07:15 alarm went off and seemingly only seconds later the emergency 07:50 alarm blared.

Aargh. I need a new job. Should anyone have a spare job which would allow me to work from home and play with spreadsheets, I will take it.

Looking at the stats for my night I see there is a stark contrast between my two activity trackers of choice. On my left wrist was the Garmin 920XT on my right, a new Xmas treat, the Fitbit Charge HR.

Sleep according to Garmin

I think from my intro, I’ve made it clear that I did not have a great nights sleep. Why then would the Garmin declare this to be one of my best kips ever?

9 blissful hours asleep with only 18 waking minutes in the middle. What happened to the Two Dots interlude?

The Fitbit on the other hand appears to be a master at sleep tracking and insomnia detection.

It ascertained that I had completely given up on sleep as a concept and split my night completely in two, which is just as I remember it.

Fitbit sleep tracking
Insomnia according to Fitbit

Fitbit knows its sleep! Garmin is pants!

Janathon and the Weightlifting Cat

The Weightlifting Cat

Unbelievably it appears to be Janathan time again, it seems to come round quicker than Christmas.

My current fitness levels mean that I am a long way off being able to string together another running streak. Fortunately I stumbled upon a book that came just in time to give me a new challenge for January.

There is a popular squat a day challenge on Facebook that sees you aiming for about 3000 bodyweight squats by the 31st Jan. I will be ignoring this challenge in favour of one with a powerlifting slant.

The Weightlifting CatI’ve been doing the stronglifts routine for about year but me and my training partner – the cat, are characteristically haphazard with the frequency. It’s supposed to be a 3 day a week program but we’ve slipped to once or twice a week. That’s where the discipline of the squat a day program should kick my butt. By removing the optional nature of the routine I should progress more rapidly.

While its called Squat Every Day, I’ll actually be alternating some of the other big moves everyday as well, including the deadlift (almost illustrated below), shoulder press, bent over row and bench press.

More from the weightlifting cat.

A video posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

I’ve signed up for Cory Gregory’s specific program on BodyBuilding.com to ensure some variety and will be aiming for a squat PB every week. At the moment I am only up to 65 kg for the back squat so it will be interesting to see where I get to by the end of Janathan. I will spare you from daily updates of me squatting on the blog, although I will be all over Instagram like a rash.

Running will of course be thrown in for the occasional warm up – it is Janathon after all.

DIY Portable Olympic Weightlifting Platform

portable olympic weightlifting platform

Olympic weightlifting platforms are typically 8′ x 8′ so pretty huge and phenomenally expensive for what amounts to a few bits of plywood and some rubber. In my mind that’s a clear invitation for a DIY project.

portable olympic weightlifting platformI am not blessed with a great deal of DIY proficiency but that doesn’t stop me from bodging and hammering with intent.

I don’t actually do a lot of Olympic Lifting at the moment as I focus more on the powerlifting moves of deadlift, squat and bench but ideally the deadlift requires a dropping platform as well.  As we’ve recently re-laid our patio for the sole purpose of providing me with a level area for my power rack, I am quite conscious of the need to protect the sandstone slabs and I have not been dropping any of my deadlifts! Maybe I would have hit my 100 kg target if I wasn’t so scared of dropping it…..? Or perhaps I just need some more protein shakes….? Or maybe just some more effort.

If we ever intend having a BBQ on the patio again, I can’t realistically build an 8′ x 8′ altar to the deadlift without also booking in some Relate sessions, but surely 8×8 is mightily excessive anyway. If you can throw a barbell that far away, you can’t have loaded enough plates on it?

I was inspired by this instructables video of a modular olympic weightlifting platform, that cuts the standard 8×8 into a mini 4×8 platform in 3 portable sections.

I scrimped on the middle section (for now) and constructed two landing platforms, each 2′ x 4′, for the express purpose of saving the patio.

 

So I bought 4 sheets of exterior grade plywood from eBay, two really thick sheets would do just as well but I was hoping to save money with a 12mm sheet, it didn’t look up to the job so I ordered two more 15mm sheets to finish the job. I glued and screwed these together and then topped with a layer of horse-box matting.

I was constructing this during Storm Frank for added challenge, which I would recommend if you can arrange it! It was a bit of a bodge job, rough around the edges, but looks as though it could be up to the job.

I am admittedly still a bit nervous about dropping weights on it but can confirm that I’m not lifting enough to crack my platform and patio yet. Maybe that should be my New Years Resolution.

Purition Protein Shakes

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.10.23

Over the last year or so I’ve been shifting my focus from running to weight training and have therefore become much more concerned about the protein content of my foods. Ideally I would aim to have a portion of protein with every meal or snack and that’s where the convenience of a protein shake comes in handy.

There is a massive choice of protein supplements on the market but some are packed with dross.

Here’s a snapshot of the ingredient list from Myoplex Lite, a protein shake that I have actually used in past but obviously haven’t scrutinised the rather unnerving list of oddities that I’ve been consuming as a result.Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.10.23

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.13.01In contrast, Purition protein shakes claim to offer “real food” shakes and their ingredient list contains only recognisable food products such as nuts and seeds.

One of the downsides of real food shakes is that they don’t mix terribly well, they don’t include fillers or milk powders and so shaking them up with water is not very successful. Instead you need to add to the milk of your choice and blend with a mechanical blender.

Here’s my pistachio purition shake blended with 250 ml of raw milk. The sediment begins to settle pretty quickly so you can either stir as you drink or deal with some grainy stuff at the end.

Strangely enough, the purition shakes taste like whizzed up nuts in milk, fairly bland and a bit grainy. Not unpleasant but not terribly exciting either.

They work fine on a “food is fuel” basis, packing 20 g of protein per sachet.

Purition shakes are recommended as either a breakfast or lunch replacement and cost about £2 per sachet before you factor in the cost of your milk of choice.

I am quite happy to have scrambled egg for breakfast which is the ultimate real food in my mind which only leaves lunch or a post workout snack as potential options.

My lunches are usually the least nutritious meal of the day but as I don’t have a blender at work I will have to experiment with pre-whizzed versions of Purition and make sure I give it a good shake before I drink. I’m sure it will be fine and will certainly be an improvement on a Pret sandwich.

 

Beta Testing Julia Buckley’s Ignite

I’ve been trialling a new 4 week program from Julia Buckley called Ignite. She’s moved away from free weights and on to body weight exercises for this particular program and presents her material in video format on her online gym website.

Julia has been asking her beta testers to identify a four-week goal and then commit to 3 daily habits that will take us there.

Four weeks is not a long time so we had to be realistic. Mine was to feel more comfortable in a t-shirt I was given a for a Christmas past. I’d like to wear it this Christmas without feeling as trussed up as the proverbial turkey.

Here’s the before shot:

Birk Larsens – The Killing

One of the things I really like about the Ignite program are the effective and varied warmup and cool down sessions that Julia builds into the 30 minute sessions. This is always the element of workout that I skip when I train unguided, despite having seen clear evidence that my body performs so much better after I’ve practised the move for a few times or “greased the groove”.

Julia is a very effervescent or bubbly character and can maintain a constant chatter throughout the workout videos. This can be quite high risk with exercise videos and is thing that turned me off celebrity workouts of the 80’s. My memory of workout videos is that they tend to be ok on the first viewing but then the jokes and catch phrases very quickly become irritating.

With Julia’s Ignite program you are cycling 6 different routines so only repeat each on a weekly basis. That’s a lot of variety for one program and does mean they feel fairly fresh each week.

Julia’s relaxed style means you feel like you are exercising with a buddy rather than being instructed from the screen. She leaps up and down maintaining the chatter while I huff and puff beside her. Perfect really because there’s no way I could talk through it.

The exercises are variations in HIT body weight moves such as lunges, squats and burpees. They focus on power, strength and balance.

I’m only two weeks in but so far I’m really enjoying it. There’s a lot of variety and since I’ve dabbled with the Freeletics movement I’ve become quite familiar with body weight exercises and the dreaded burpee in particular. The best thing has got to be the duration. 30 mins is perfect and that includes the warm up and warm down.

I’m not pretending that I don’t still struggle to motivate myself to do it some days but it’s hard to convince yourself that you can’t squeeze in a 30 minute session. The other bonus in these particularly wintry days is that you feel warm for ages after completing the session.

Ignite turns me into a fiery furnace.

Stromer ST1 eBike Review

Stromer ST1The Stromer ST1 pedelec was a tricky purchase to make. I have a glut of bikes in the house and this new one was going to cost the same as a brand new Vespa scooter.

The view from the household was that I should quit being lazy and just get on my push-bike.

That refrain has been heard before but has very limited effect I’m afraid. The fact is, that although I love the ride into work; the speed, the ducking and diving, the excitement of reaching London and its bridges and parks – I just can’t be bothered with the ride home. After a hard day’s work, when it’s dark and usually wet, I just can’t face the upward climb towards an unattractive suburb of Croydon.

So I’ve been using pay as you go oyster far more than I’d like. I’m not prepared to buy a money-saving season ticket and tie myself in for a year of public transport drudgery.

That’s where the Stromer comes in. It’s got to be close to being the worlds best eBike. Super fast, long-range and I don’t feel like a nob riding it.

It’s a pedelec eBike which means it doesn’t have a throttle and only provides motor assistance if you are putting in some effort. You can actually put in as much effort as you can on a standard bike but you are rewarded more handsomely for it. The extra assistance cuts out at a pre-defined max (28 mph).

A lot of people assume that it is cheating and that I won’t be getting any exercise by choosing to use an eBike, but they are wrong. Well not about the cheating bit, I would have wasted a lot of money if it wasn’t cheating, but I certainly get a good dose of exercise from the commute. I’ve monitored my heart rate on the journey into work and back so I can compare the effort on an eBike with the effort of a standard road bike (Specialised Sirrus). I was quite surprised.

The chart shows my heart rate against distance, with the eBike in Orange and my standard road bike in blue.

Heart rate on a Stromer ST1 ride

On the way in to work my heart rate is actually higher on the eBike. What you can’t see from the chart is the time taken, its much faster on the eBike, so although I may be putting in more effort while I’m riding, I’m not doing it for as long. On the way home my effort levels are lower and I still get home 20 minutes quicker. That is exactly what I wanted – a fun ride in and a more relaxed trip home.

What is like to ride a pedelec eBike?

The ride is thrilling. Obviously push-bike riding can be thrilling if you ride fast enough but the joy of the Stromer is that it makes me feel fit and energetic everyday. That’s a great feeling.

When I first started, I tended not to lead the peloton too often. I didn’t like to draw too much attention and also didn’t feel quite so agile on this heavy beast of a bike. After a month of riding that’s changed though and I ride freely, regularly leading my own Gurney races.

Gurney racing at #sixdaylondon #gurney #velodrome

A video posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

The weight of the bike which is not insubstantial made it quite tricky to manoeuvre as a novice. You can’t flip the back wheel up while on the move for instance but that can also be an advantage as it offers stability and slow speed moves are made a little easier.

Stromer ST1 ReviewThe power transmission from the rear wheel motor is pretty smooth. It feels like you have a supportive hand on your back just pushing you gently forward.

There are 4 assist levels:

0 – which I presume means zero assist. I had thought I’d use this for the ride into work but really, why would you. The bike weighs a tonne and the unassisted ride feels like riding with the brakes on.

1 – is supposedly just enough assist to eradicate the slowing effect of the weight of the bike and the motor. It should set you on a level playing field with the other cyclists. It feels to be slightly more performance enhancing than it suggest in my experience.

2 – This is where I spend most of my time. I ride between 18 and 22 mph – not too fast for the Central London conditions. It’s a stop start commute and I appreciate the extra help to get back up to speed.

3 – top supported speed is higher than 2 but I don’t find the transmission to be as smooth, I can feel it powering up as I pedal hard and then it drops off again in waves. For the pace I like to travel at, level 3 just doesn’t feel comfortable.

4 – this is fast! Top supported speed 28 mph. For the stop start London commuting experience I find this too fast and hardly use it. There is one straight stretch on the way home that I like to power along though so I tend to flick to assist 4 and then back down to 2 when the roads get more gnarly again. If I had a less congested commute I would probably live at Level 4.

You also have 2 levels called Recup 1&2 which are also triggered by the application of the rear wheel brake. This applies electrical braking which also recharges your battery a bit and extends the distance range before your battery flattens.

What is the Distance Range of the Stromer ST1?

I’m afraid I haven’t tested this out fully and will need to come back and update this review.

The manufacturer claim a distance range of 40-80km for a 70kg rider. Now I’m a 100kg rider with luggage, half of my journey is at night which uses the integral light – another drain on the battery, so I’m unlikely to get 80km out of it.

My daily commute is 36 km and I arrive home with about 2 bars left on the battery indicator. What I have yet to do, in the name of blogging science, is to continue riding around and around my block until I run out of assistive steam. I want to make sure I’m close to home when the battery flattens as the unassisted ride is quite an effort!

***UPDATE on Stromer ST1 Motor Failure***

As soon as I finished writing this post, gushing about the joys of eBike riding, disaster struck.

I was mid way home, about to power away on a standing start at a junction. I pushed on the pedals, nothing happened, I pushed harder, still nothing untill I wobbled and tipped pathetically to the side while the other vehicles impatiently pushed me aside.

The Stromer ST1 was not playing at all, it was stuck in brake mode and it felt like I was trying to move a spin bike on the highest resistance. Worse still my monitor was flashing the message HALL. Of course that meant nothing so I googled it. Apparently it means “Motor failure – contact dealership”. That is not what I wanted to read so far from home. I tried switching off and on and eventually the message disappeared but the bike was no longer the same.

The Stromer is heavy and unwieldy at the best of times, when it decides it’s not going to work anymore it is quite a pain to get home. You can’t just bundle it in a taxi or the back of a train. I switched it off and tried pedalling anyway but it still felt like a high resistance spin bike. On the bright side, my return commute was going to be an amazing quad workout.

I did get home eventually and the UK dealer (Urban eBikes) have been very good, they are coming around tomorrow to pick it up and repair it for me, so it looks like I’ll have to dust off the oyster pay as you go for another week while they repair or replace the motor.

***Second Update on Stromer ST1 and Rider Performance***

I’ve just seen a fascinating youtube video by Adam Alter, showing a Stromer ST2 rigged up with a power meter and BSXInsight Lactate Threshold device with the rider powering up a substantial hill.

It nicely illustrates that the effort levels of the rider can still be high when riding an s-pedelec, its just that the rewards are so much greater.

Quest Protein Bars on the Settle to Carlisle Way

Quest protein bar

Settle to Carlisle WayI was recently sent a vast variety of Quest protein bars, enough to consider cancelling my grocery shop for the week. As their arrival coincided with our planned mega hike along the Settle to Carlisle Way, I chose instead to stash them into our rucksacks for emergency sustenance.

That proved to be a good move.

Quest bar on the Settle to Carlisle WayPubs up North seem to keep odd hours and you wouldn’t believe the times we staggered off a Pennine hillside desperately seeking the pub marked on our OS map, only to find it was either shut or we had just missed the food serving window.

Still, I can confirm that when all else fails, a Quest protein bar proves to be a good accompaniment to a pint of Theakstones.

Quest protein barThe Quest bars all have a similar texture; a chewy protein matrix with what appears to be chunks of real cookies running through. Looking at the ingredient list tells me that it hasn’t so much as sniffed a real cookie so I think that’s quite an impressive trick.

In terms of taste, I’d say things like “not too bad”, “reasonably pleasant” but then you can’t get overly effusive about a protein bar. People don’t buy protein bars because they think they taste better than chocolate bars, they buy them because they are avoiding carbs, trying to eat protein with every meal and need something more convenient than a chicken breast. It’s only when you stack protein bars of different brands against each other that you start to feel more positively about Quest bars.

I have tried some fairly horrendous protein bars in my time, so by comparison these Quest bars are pretty darn good. I still came back with handful though, so they weren’t quite good enough to dissuade me from carrying them one end of Yorkshire t’other.

Achieve the Impossible Fitness Tracking Dashboard

Achieve the Impossible Fitness Tracking Dashboard

Back in July I was inspired by Greg Whyte’s book, Achieve the Impossible, to knuckle down and finally nail the 100km challenge that appeared to have morphed into my very own personal Impossible.

Using the tips outlined in the book I identified the key measures of success and drew up an Excel Dashboard that I could use to monitor my progress towards my view of personal fitness excellence. I’m using the term excellence here to mean an attainable level of achievement that should put me in the best position to be able to achieve my goals.

Achieve the Impossible Fitness Tracking Dashboard

So, as I want to be strong, resilient and aerobically fit, I’ve identified 11 measures that I think will provide a good indication of my ability to run 50km and then get up the next day and run them again.

They broadly fit into the following categories:

  • Strength measures – Deadlift
  • Aerobic capacity – Cooper Test, Lactate Threshold, VO2 Max, MAF pace
  • Weight
  • Endurance – distance measures

I’m not sure that I’ve chosen the best 11 measures yet as there is some considerable overlap between all my aerobic capacity indicators but it is my starter for ten and I can easily amend if I find that another measure will more accurately indicate my ultra-readiness.

Once you’ve defined your measures of success you need to draw up a scale, I’m using 0 to 10 for each measure so that they plot well on a radial chart (as shown above). This is quite a tricky task as well. I’ve chosen to show my current position in each measure as a zero, so that I start from the centre of the radial chart, and am assuming that the only way is up – I’ve left no room to slide. Defining the 10 score is much harder. I have no clue where my “Excellence” in VO2 Max lies for instance. I could probably search t’internet for Lance Armstrong’s VO2 Max score which most people would consider to be excellent but would it be my excellence?

Given that I’m going to train clean, the answer is probably not.

It’s a problem that I can’t define excellence in all my chosen measures. It means I will only really be able to track the direction of travel, hopefully improvement, but I won’t be able to say when my target is achieved. That only applies to the aerobic measures though, for everything else I have a history and pb’s to chase. I’m very clear on the weight I need to be to feel confident on race day and the 5km time that would mean I was sprightly and as fit as I’ve ever been.

The other measures are going to have to be a work in progress. Just like me.

You can download my example Achieve the Impossible Fitness Tracking Dashboard here, but you will need to amend the targets as I very much doubt that your idea of “personal excellence” will match mine.