Category Archives: Reviews

First Strides with the Stryd Running Power Meter

When I first heard that there were some companies coming out with power meters for running, I couldn’t wait. I love to be able to objectively quantify my workouts. Knowing how this works for cycling, being able to add this to running would be a bonus. Then I thought about it a bit and realized it would probably be best to hold out a bit. The technology was new and Still evolving. Also, none of the training watches or software would pick it up anyway without some hacking involved.

I had played around a little bit with running power by using my Cyclops PowerCal Heart Rate Monitor which was kind of interesting. The problem was I had to run with my Garmin in biking mode all the time. Not something I really wanted to do since I would miss out on the other running-specific data. Then Garmin came out with the HRM-Runs’ running analytics which I thought was better data than just having power.

The Stryd Running Power Meter

The Stryd unit seemed to be the one that was getting the most attention and it had gone through a few iterations of its product already. It started out as a little widget that you clip on your shorts, then it turned into a heart rate strap and now it is a little foot pod. It finally seemed like they were stabilized a bit, so I decided to “pull-the-trigger” and order one. It took a few months to arrive.

I am glad I waited because the HR strap looks like it sticks out a bit and would look very strange bulging out of your shirt. One advantage of the HR strap one was that it measured power in 3 planes, vertical, horizontal and lateral, whereas the footpod only measures the first two. I don’t think this is a big deal for me since I think I am a pretty efficient runner thanks to my Chirunning practice.

I have had the Stryd footpod now for a few months now and feel I have some initial impressions of it. I say few months because I had to send it back to be replaced already since the tab where it clips to its back clip broke off. It doesn’t seem like there is much really to grab onto there. While it still held in place on my laces, I was a little leery it was going to fall off sometime. The folks at Stryd quickly replaced the unit and got me back and running again. Pun intended.

Stryd Power Footpod broken 1

Stryd Power Footpod broken 1

Collecting the Data

I started reading Jim Vance’s “Running with Power” book while I was training with the unit. I had already read Vance’s previous book “Triathlon 2.0” which I really liked, but I felt the Running with Power book was not quite as good. Most of it was just a re-hashing of the other books’ concepts on Power for cycling. While there were a few new metrics, namely Efficiency Index or EI, that are different from cycling, I feel this book is a little premature at this point since the technology is still being figured out. Hopefully the “Running with Power 2.0” will be better.

One of the recommendations in Vance’s book was to just start running with the power meter and start collecting data. For the next couple of months,  I just ran with it and checked in on the numbers post-mortem of my runs.

After finally collecting several months of data I decided it was now time to analyze it. Well despite the fact that Jim Vance’s book stressed how essential the Efficiency Index (EI) metric was, none of the training sites, except for SportTracks even implemented it! Not even Training Peaks or Stryd! This is even though they published blog posts(here and here are just a couple examples) about Vances’ book and the metric itself. WTH? Also, SportTracks implemented only for individual activities so there was no way to track this metric over time.

Analyzing the Data

So what is a data geek to do? Start tracking it myself I guess. I started by downloading my workout summary data from Training Peaks and then crunching the numbers in my favorite analysis tool, Qlikview. Below is the running results for the current training season in regard to Efficiency Index(EI). The formula is V(M/min)/rPwr(watts).

Efficiency Index EI by Month

Efficiency Index Components by Month

As you can see in the first graph, my EI has dropped a bit from December to February and then pretty much leveled out from there. Is that good or bad? Pretty hard to tell without looking at the components of it. Personally, I think EI, by itself, is pretty meaningless.

February was pretty much a wash month for me. I was pretty sick for a solid 2 weeks of it and spent the next couple weeks getting back to normal again. Looking at my average velocity for each month it has been increasing steadily, which I would say is good. My power numbers have also gone up too. April increased significantly due to having a 4-mile and a half-marathon race in there. So if both the components are increasing, then I am getting faster and stronger I guess. This leaves EI pretty much staying the same. See what I mean by EI being meaningless by itself now?

One other variable is that my weight has dropped a bit during the training months. I was surprised that this didn’t affect EI at all. I would think I would have gotten faster while using fewer watts and am not seeing that happening here either.

Looking my average heart rate versus the increase in speed and watts does show that hasn’t changed too much. This would indicate that despite those increases in output, my aerobic “engine” doesn’t appear to be increasing. So I guess I am getting more efficient.

Runner Effectiveness

Another running power metric has recently come onto the scene called Runner Effectiveness. This is outlined in a recent post by Steve Palladino on the Training Peaks Blog. This metric, while similar to Vance’s EI metric, uses Watts/kg in the denominator instead which brings the athletes weight into the mix. It also uses Meters/second for velocity in the numerator as opposed to Meters/minute in the EI metric.

Running Effectiveness = (m/s) / (w/kg)

Palladino shows how this metric can be calculated in Training Peaks’ WKO4 client software program as well. I actually have a copy of this program haven’t had a chance to really delve into it yet. Perhaps the EI metric can also be calculated here too.

For now, I calculated this one too in my Qlikview app. As you can see below it pretty much shows a similar trend, just not quite as drastic as EI above.

Runner Effectiveness

Summary

Running with power is still new territory and there is still some data gathering and analysis that needs to be done to get anything valuable out of it. One thing that is valuable now is that it is a good way to quantify your individual workouts for calculating TSS. Is it necessary though? I don’t think so. It is a lot of money for something that is just a “nice to have”. I think training with pace, heart rate and time is still just as good and will save you a couple hundred dollars. If you have one of the watches that track the new running dynamics metrics, I think that they are more worthwhile for those looking to improve their efficiency. High cadence, minimal ground contact time and vertical oscillation will help you track that.

 

Race Report: St. Luke’s Half Marathon 2016-Older, Fatter, and Faster?

Last season I had to bail out on the St. Luke’s Half Marathon on the morning of due to a nasty stomach bug. I was looking forward to putting that behind me and getting another result here under my belt.

To make things a little more interesting, I also challenged a friend from work, who we’ll call “Stéphane” to protect his anonymity,  to this race. Stéphane is a much younger, lighter and naturally faster runner than I am, but I hoped that the longer distance may help level the playing field a bit. Also, the added competition may help motivate me to a new personal best time.

This race had given me my current standing half marathon PR back in 2010 with a time of 1:46:47 at a 8:06min/mi pace. I was also about 20 lbs lighter(165lbs) and 6 years younger(41) back then. Could I really beat this 6-year-old PR carrying another 20lbs and being over a half a decade older? I felt like I could, but who knows.

St. Luke's Half Marathon 2010 crop me bloody nipples

St. Luke’s Half Marathon 2010

The weather turned out to be perfect running weather. Sunny, clear and in the mid-50’s. I made it to the starting line without issue and with plenty of time. Stéphane and I chatted a bit as the 5k-ers took off. We were lined up pretty close to the front, so not to get caught up in the herd. I had got caught up in this the first time I did this race and suffered 2 of my slowest miles until I got past this group.

The gun went off and we were on our way. Stéphane was off and quickly out of site into the leading pack. I stayed back and tried to settle into a somewhat comfortable pace without getting caught up in the start of the race over-eagerness. I looked down at my Garmin and saw my pace was in the low 7 min/mi. Whoa…nelly!

My first mile was a 7:15 which is more like my 5k pace. I toned it down a bit and settled into around 7:30min/mi pace. While this seemed a bit fast for me, it was feeling right. I pretty much maintained this pace for the first half of the race, which runs along Martin Luther King Blvd and is mostly flat.

Heading out Martin Luther King Blvd – photo courtesy of MyEPEvents

As I approached the first turnaround near South 4th St., I saw my coach, Todd Wiley, flying by very close to the leaders of the race. He would end up finishing 6th overall!

I soon saw Stéphane, heading back as I went by the Parkettes Gymnastics gym. He was about a quarter mile ahead of me, but still not out of reach if he had issues later on. But could I keep up this pace and catch him.

I hit the 10k split timer just past the 15th street bridge which read 46:57! This would be a 10k PR time for me??? WTH?!

I made the left turn over the steep little bridge into the Lehigh Parkway. As I hit the gravel path things started to slow down a bit. Was the loose gravel stealing my energy or was it the steep  incline of the bridge and the little hill that followed taking the wind out of my sails? My legs were starting to rebel a bit.

As I reached the next two steep hills before the red covered bridge turnaround my pace was slowing to a 8:30 min/mi pace. I could feel the fatigue really starting to hurt now. I was starting to question whether I could sustain the personal best time I had started with.

I tried to hit most every water stop and get at least a mouthful of water in at each without stopping. I know that I don’t need much hydration a race of this duration. Getting a swig every 15 mins or so is good for me. I stuffed down an Amrita Bar right before the start and had another one broken up into pieces in my Spibelt if I needed more. The problem is getting the bar out of the Spibelt seemed like it would take more time to get out than it would be worth, so I pressed on.

In the Lehigh Parkway – Photo courtesy of myEPEvents

After a couple slower miles in the parkway, I was able to pick things up a little during the 11th mile. Miles 12 and 13 were a little slow again as my legs were really hurting. I knew there was no catching up with Stéphane unless he was having a really bad day. The thought that that may be a possibility kept me pushing on.

I finally made the last turn down along Cedar Beach and up into J. Birney Crum Stadium. I was so glad to be almost done. My Garmin was reading 1:44 and some change so I was pretty sure I had a new PR, but not sure where my speed co-worker was.

As I crossed the line, I grabbed my medal and saw Stéphane standing there already finished. Ahhh! I got so caught up in trying to catch him that my PR seemed to be of no significance to me. I was also a bit disappointed that I slowed as the race went on. A sign that I probably went out too fast.

The Finish – photo courtesy of myEpEvents

Ok, I just PR’d my Half-Marathon time by over 2 freakin’ minutes??!!! What the hell is wrong with me? It wasn’t until a little later when I met up with my coach who asked how I did. My initial reaction was that of disappointment but then followed up with I PR’d by over two minutes. He was like what? He was then like “that’s awesome!” I thought huh, yeah what am I disappointed about? I guess sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Last week I was talking about it with my strength coach, Fernando, and explaining how I was able to PR that race being 6 years older and 20 lbs heavier. Fernando said you are “older and faster” and I added “and fatter too”. Hence the title Older, Fatter, and Faster! Pretty funny.

I have actually dropped about 15 lbs so far since the beginning of this season and am on track to lose at least another 15 by Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. Getting down another 15 lbs will only serve to make me that much faster. I have PR’d both races I have done this season, so I am off to a good start and the sky is the limit here.

Next up is the French Creek Olympic Distance Triathlon in late May. This will be a good indicator of where my triathlon fitness lies by putting together all the disciplines. I am anticipating some improvement in the swim with some of the changes in technique I have made that have improved my times in the pool. Running off the bike will be interesting to see if I can sustain my improved pace with some bike legs. 2016 is proving to be off to a good start to a hopeful season.

 

Searching for a New Triathlon Wetsuit?

 

Are you just getting into triathlon and are considering your first wetsuit purchase? Or maybe you already bought one and it doesn’t fit quite right?

It took me purchasing three wetsuits until I found the one that was just right. I kind of felt like I was Goldilocks trying out the Three Bears beds.

Well, if you don’t want to go through that I suggest you check out this great Triathlon Wetsuit FAQ from OneTri.com so you know what to look for.

 

Dry Bags are Not Always Dry, and iPhones are Not Waterproof

Last Friday I headed over to Dutch Springs Aqua Park quarry on Friday for some open water swimming. I contacted Dutch Springs earlier in the week and they said they were open and water temperature was around 50-55 degrees F. Perfect temperature for some Lake Coeur d’Alene training. The folks at Dutch Springs are also introducing some new reduced pricing this year for triathletes which I mentioned in my previous post.

Dutch Springs Aqua Park May 2015

Dutch Springs Aqua Park May 2015

Dutch Springs was pretty empty that afternoon. There were a handful of divers and myself in the whole place. I suited up and filled up my SaferSwimmer “Dry” bag up with a few items.

CleverTraining DC Rainmaker SaferSwimmer Float inflated

CleverTraining DC Rainmaker SaferSwimmer Float inflated

I put my GoPro camera in there in case I wanted to take some pictures along with my iPhone so I could try the Garmin LiveTracking with my 920xt and my old Garmin 910xt just to compare the tracking from above the water. I put my iPhone in a ziploc bad as some added protection just in case some water got in and that was the only thing that was not waterproof.  I also through in my car keys. I have used the SaferSwimmer bag a few times and have never had any water get inside the bag part, so I was pretty confident everything would be ok.

Bass under the Buoy Dutch Springs 2015

Bass under the Buoy Dutch Springs 2015

I had a really nice swim. The water was cool, but not bad at all. Especially with my full sleeve wetsuit and my neoprene swim cap on. I noticed a lot more fish during my first loop around, so I stopped at the dock where I got in and pulled out my camera so I could take some pictures during my swim. When I pulled the camera out, everything seemed to be nice and dry inside. I stuffed my camera in my wetsuit and headed back out again. I got some cool shots of the trout and bass that were swimming around that day. I also managed to get a couple miles swim in too.

I swam around underwater with my GoPro a bit getting some video and pictures of some of the trout that were near the “reef” where I start my swim. There were some nice size rainbows and palominos. I also managed to get a little underwater selfie action too.

Underwater Selfie - Dutch Springs 2015

Underwater Selfie – Dutch Springs 2015

When I finished my swim, I unclipped my dry bag from around my waist and threw it on the dock. When I opened up the bag, my stomach dropped a bit as I noticed a large amount of water inside. I remembered that I had my phone in ziploc, so I hoped that that had protected it. I reached for the phone immediately. I held up the ziploc bag and saw that it too was filled with water. Ughh!

 

Now what???!! I was LiveTracking on iPhone with my Garmin 920xt and had it send my wife a email telling her this. Now, if she looks at the tracking it would have probably stopped in the middle of this quarry. I had no way to text or call her to tell her this either.

I got changed and packed up my stuff and headed out. There was no one around or I would have asked to borrow someones’ phone so I could let my wife know I was ok. I was trying to think of where the nearest AT&T store was so I could upgrade my phone. I am almost paid off on my phone so it isn’t a big deal to upgrade. Thing is I really didn’t want to move to a bigger phone which is why I haven’t upgraded my iPhone 5s to begin with. I guess I have no choice now.

It is amazing to realize how much I use my phone when you don’t have one.  I would have searched Google Maps for the closest AT&T store, but could not do that. It was also Friday afternoon, so I would have checked traffic on the highways too. I decided to try going to the Apple Store and see if I could upgrade there. I thought I could use one of the devices in the store to let my wife know I was ok too.

I was not able to upgrade my phone at the Apple Store since I still owed a few dollars on my AT&T Next payments, so I had to go into the mall AT&T store and upgrade. I was finally online again with a new iPhone 6 after a couple hours. I immediately iMessaged my wife.

My wife called me after I sent her a message. She had gotten down work about a half hour before and texted me several times. There was no response. She then opened the Garmin LiveTrack email and viewed my GPS track which had stopped dead in the middle of Dutch Springs Quarry. She tried calling and it went right to voicemail. She had started to worry now. Fortunately it was for only 20 minutes before I finally talked to her.

Crazy day! Lesson Learned: Don’t put anything that cannot get wet into your SaferSwimmer DryBag!

Gear Review: Garmin 920xt First Impressions

Garmin 920xt BigTime watch face

Garmin 920xt BigTime watch face

Ever since I heard about the new Garmin 920xt coming out, I have been chomping at the bit to upgrade. I have used the 910xt for several years now(on my second one, since first had to be replaced) and I really liked it. I also use an activity monitor and have gone through 3 Jawbone UP’s and 2 Garmin VivoSmarts. The VivoSmart was ok, but I don’t want to have to wear multiple things on my wrist. When the first VivoSmart died on me after only 3-4 months I also was not as impressed with it.

I had started putting some money aside for the new device as soon as I knew it was being released. I was going to wait and let all the bugs get ironed out of it before I actually bought one.  I am a regular listener of Brett Blankners’ ZenTriathlon podcast, and he had recently purchased one and kept mentioning how great it was. So I could not wait any longer and I “pulled the trigger” on it. Fortunately, I used the PayPal no interest or payments for 6 months option and automaticallly scheduled $100 taken out of my savings account for the next 5 months, so it wasn’t too much of a splurge.

BTW…If you are looking for a very in-depth technical review of the Garmin 920xt, please check out DC Rainmakers’ review on it here…

Here are my favorite features of the Garmin 920xt so far…

Drill Mode for Swimming

The inability to account for kick and drill sets has always been a big pet peave of mine. Sometime in the last year or so, sites like TrainingPeaks.com and Strava started only using actual swim time(when both arms are moving) instead of total elapsed time from swim workouts. Since kick/drills sets are not registered by the accelerometer on the watch you get no credit for this part of the workout, which is total BS. So then I had to edit every swim workout and change the workout time or use the SportTracks Swimming plugin and edit the workout.

Garmin 920xt Swim Drill Mode

Garmin 920xt Swim Drill Mode

But low and behold, Garmin introduced the Drill mode screen on the 920xt so that you can flip up a screen and hit the lap button and the timer starts up. When you are done you can hit lap again and select the distance that you did. It is also nice for when the watch screws up and misses a lap turn(not too often) or you forget to hit the start or lap button(a little more often). This saves me a bunch of time editing my workouts after uploading.

Automatic workout uploads

Another big time saver here. My wife always gives me crap about how when I get home from a workout the first thing I do is run to my computer and download my workouts from my Garmin. Not anymore! Now, with your watch paired to your iPhone the workout automatically uploads to Garmin Connect as soon as you are in earshot of your phone.

This is one of my top features for sure. And if you have Garmin AutoSync hooked up in TrainingPeaks or Strava, your workouts are also synced up there too without doing anything. One example is when I get done my swim workout I go to the locker and get my shower stuff, my workout starts uploading immediately and I start getting Strava kudos from people while I not even done my shower.

Live Tracking

While I haven’t really used this yet other than just testing it out, I think this may be handy for those longer bike rides when my wife tends to worry where I am. It would be really cool to use it in a race, but they typically do not let you have your phone with you. I guess you could just stash it in your bag though. I think it would be nice so your race fans could time being able to come out to see me whiz by at the right moment.

Update 3/17/2015: One issue I have found and also submitted to Garmin Support is when you try to share your LiveTrack via Twitter. If you have more than one Twitter account configured on your phone the Garmin Connect Mobile app will hang the app when you enable Twitter. You will have to kill the app on the phone to get out of it and everytime you go back into LiveTrack it will hang again. You have two options here. Either delete the app from the phone and install it again from the AppStore or remove all but one of your Twitter accounts. I think the latter is BS not a valid workaround.

Update 3/23/2015: One thing I was curious about was how much battery power Garmin Connect Mobile would use while doing a LiveTrack session. In order to do LiveTrack the phone is using Bluetooth LE(Low Energy) and GPS, so I was fearful this would drain my iPhone battery rather quickly. I have a year and 3 month old iPhone 5s whose battery barely lasts a full day with regular usage. Yesterday, I did a 2.5 hour run while using LiveTrack and also listening to an audiobook on Audible app. When I started out the battery was in the high 90’s percentage. I was quite surprised to see that it was only in the 70’s by the end of my 16 mile run. Impressive Garmin. Next text will be a 4 hour bike ride, so stay tuned.

Garmin Connect Mobile LiveTrack Multiple Twitter Account Hang

Garmin Connect Mobile LiveTrack Multiple Twitter Account Hang

Activity/Sleep monitor & Triathlon watch all-in-one

Like I mentioned before, I had been wearing an activity watch for the last year or so and went through multiple Jawbones and a VivoSmart. Wearing multiple things on my wrist is a bit geeky, so only having one thing to deal is pretty nice.

Garmin 920xt Daily Step Activity

Garmin 920xt Daily Step Activity

The activity features on the 920 are pretty much the same as the VivoSmart. The biggest difference is that the 920 is a bit more readable and easier to navigate. The sleep tracking in Garmin Connect is pretty lame compared to most other monitors. You just get a graph of your sleep, but no real statistics of how much deep vs. light sleep or snoring etc. I use a Beddit monitor for that anyway.

Garmin Connect Daily Sleep Graph

Garmin Connect Daily Sleep Graph

iPhone Notifications

This was another feature that I had on the VivoSmart which I grew to like. Again, the notifications are so much easier to read on the 920. The best part of this is that I can easily survey notifications while I am working and determine if I really need to get my phone out and respond or not. My wife can then just send me FYI texts just to let me know something and I don’t have to interrupt my workout or whatever to respond.

Garmin 920xt Notifications

Garmin 920xt Notifications

Longer battery life

I noticed that my battery on my 910 was just about out of juice when I finished my last two Ironmans after 12.5 hours. If I was any slower I may be out of luck. The 920 supposedly lasts about 40 hours in activity mode, which hopefully I never have to test that out. You never know though. The longer battery life also allows you to wear this as a regular watch or activity monitor.

I typically charge it once-a-week, but that has been mostly through the Winter where i haven’t been using as much GPS. Once I get into more outdoor workouts and the longer bike & runs on the weekends that may become more like twice a week. Charging it hasn’t been a big deal though. I usually just keep the charging connected to my laptop and plug it in while surfing the web or watching some TV.

Custom Profiles

The 920 comes with activity profiles for Triathlon/Multisport, running, running indoor, biking, biking indoor, pool swim, and open water swim. This is nice so you can customize each type of workout, whether you want GPS or not and what things you want to see for each. So now I don’t have turn off the GPS everytime I do a trainer or treadmill workout. You can also define your own custom profiles for other things like skiing, strength training, hiking, etc.

Programmability – Custom Watch faces & Data Fields

Garmin just released their ConnectIQ SDK which allows you to develop new custom watch faces, derived data fields, widgets and apps for your device(or anyone elses for that matter). Being a developer I was pretty excited about this one. I started downloading the SDK but haven’t had a chance to start writing anything yet. It requires Java and learning yet another language called “Monkey C”, so it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be.

If you are not a developer, you can take advantage of what others have developed from the ConnectIQ store. You can download new customizations via the Connect phone app or through Garmin Express on your laptop. I have updated my main watch face already to the BigTime watch face which is pretty nice.

BigTime watch face for Garmin 920xt

BigTime watch face for Garmin 920xt

Smaller size

 Bigger isn’t always better. That’s why I am not upgrading to the iPhone 6 anytime soon. The 920xt is a bit smaller with a lower profile on my wrist compared to the 910. It definitely doesn’t look quite as obnoxious as the older version, so wearing it 24×7 is not an issue. Plus, with everyone else sporting their new FitBit’s I think the 920 just looks more like a watch.

So that is basically my highlights for the 920. The navigation and buttons on the 920 are a bit different than the 910, so I did have a little trouble learning that at first but I am starting to get the hang of it now.

Garmin Connect Running Analytics Graphs

Garmin Connect Running Analytics Graphs

I also purchased the HRM Run heart rate monitor strap. This monitor has an accelerometer in it too and it provides some additional metrics like Ground Contact Time and Vertical Oscillation. I thought these would be cool to know from a running efficiency standpoint, but after seeing it the first time the novelty has worn off quickly. My readings are pretty much in the good range, most-likely from all the Chirunning training I had, so I really don’t pay attention to it much anymore. Also the strap had rubbed my skin raw just like the previous strap from the 910, so ended up moving the sensor to my Polar strap that I used before.

Update 2/23/2015: One issue I notice is that the accelerometer in the watch does not do a very accurate job for treadmill running. I tend to have a fairly consistent running cadence regardless of how fast I run, most likely a result from my Chirunning training. What I noticed was that the pace on my watch did not change consistently with the speed on treadmill. My treadmill pace is not accurate either, but I would expect to see them change relative to one another and they did not. My 920 basically stay around the same pace, while my treadmill increased. I have paired my old Garmin footpod up with my watch now and wore it on my long run outside on Sunday in order to calibrate it. I am hoping to see more consistent results on my next treadmill run.

All-in-all, I am glad I upgraded to the 920 and it is a pretty awesome multisport/activity watch.

iThlete Unveils iThlete Pro Site for Tracking HRV

If you read my recent blog post comparing a few iOS HRV applications, you may recall that I ended up choosing the iThlete app for monitoring my HRV from now on. Well, iThlete just took it up a notch with the unveiling of their new iThlete-pro website service. This feature now puts them head-and-shoulders above the other two applications with the ability to track your HRV over time in a usable format.

The iThlete-pro service is not free though. You can subscribe for $5/month or $50 annually. They also offer a trial subscription to try it out for couple weeks.

ithlete-pro website

ithlete-pro website

The site consists of a bunch of “widgets” that you can hide, display or arrange any way you like. There is a timeline trend graph which plots all your daily readings over several selectable time ranges. This allows you to view how your sleep, training and other subjective slider readings compare to your daily HRV. You can also hide and display which settings to view in the graph. Up until now I have had to create a graph like this on my own using my QlikView app, but now I can just pop into this site and see it anytime. This is a huge time savings for me.

My favorite chart is the “Training Guide” graph which plots your readings on a 4 quadrant chart of recovery vs. activation. This gives you a personal guide to where you are in relation to your other readings and how you need to proceed in regard to training. I need to spend a little more time with this one and understand it a little better. Particularly with regard to the “activation” piece.

All of the graphs are linked, so if you choose a data point on one it is highlighted on the others. The HRV Reading viewer widget shows the currently selected reading, similar to what you see in the application. The nice thing is you can read any comments you made for any outlier data points. So for example, you can see that by me have a few glasses of wine can really dump my HRV into the toilet. The two red dots in the far upper-left where two nights I had several glasses of wine while on vacation in Lake Placid. Hmmm…I guess too much alcohol is not a good thing huh?

ithlete-pro-TrainingGuide- What a few glasses of wine can do...

ithlete-pro-TrainingGuide- What a few glasses of wine can do…

Finally, the bottom offers some other widgets for providing feedback, iThlete blog posts and tweets, syncing to your FitBit and Exporting your data. I also tested out the Feedback and they responded within 24 hours to my question. I would guess they will probably be adding some more widgets as time proceeds. Hopefully they will add some additional activity monitors such as Garmin or Training Peaks. You can also select your color scheme and background image of your sport of choice.

ithlete-pro Feed parts

ithlete-pro Feed parts

This site is really great and I think I will probably end up forking out the $5/ month during my training season to use it. It saves me a bunch of time in charting this on my own, so it is worth it to me. This feature really blows away the features that the Sweetbeat folks promised but never implemented on their website. Finally something to garner some real good information from all that HRV data.

 

Heart Rate Variability iOS App Comparison

I decided it was time to reassess my Heart Rate Variability(HRV) iOS application of choice. I was very surprised when I did a recent search of “HRV” in the iOS App Store to find a bunch of new HRV apps out there. I have been using the Sweetbeat Heart Rate Variability(HRV) iOS app ever since I started measuring HRV. There have always been a few shortcomings of this application that annoyed me, but there were no other options at the time. So, now I decided to pick a couple and compare them with the Sweetbeat app.

What I was looking for was a iOS app with following requirements:

  • Price – reasonably priced(<= $10)
  • BT HRM – Works with a Bluetooth HR Monitor strap(Wahoo)
  • Quick – Be able to quickly measure HRV/HR once-a-day before getting out of bed.
  • Consistent – Consistent HRV measurement with my previous Sweetbeat historical measurement.
  • Export – Export of historical HRV/HR data to text/csv/Excel format for further analysis.
  • Tag/Comment – Ability to tag(multiples) and/or comment each reading.

Armed with this criteria, I ended up choosing the iThlete and HRV+ apps from the App Store and comparing them to the existing Sweetbeat app. I will start with my assessment of the Sweetbeat, since that is my baseline app which I had been using previously. Keep in mind that I am not going into every detail of each of these apps in a DCR style, but more looking at how each app meets my requirements and use case. If you have different requirements then I do, then may have a different outcome.

Sweetbeat Life

(www.sweetwaterhrv.com)

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Price

When I first started using the Sweetbeat app, it was $4.99 in the Apple App Store. A bit pricey compared to most apps at that time, but if my training could benefit from it then it was money well spent. They eventually came out with a totally new version of the app, Sweetbeat Life, which was basically same app with a few enhancements. They also doubled the price, now $9.99 with no option to upgrade from the previous app either. I tried to continue using the older app, but it appeared they were no longer maintaining it and it became very buggy. I was forced to purchase the new version despite their enhancements not providing me any real value. So, for long time, loyal users $14.98, new users $9.99. Ok

Bluetooth HRM

The Sweetbeat iOS app works with either a Bluetooth Smart HR monitor(i.e. Wahoo) or a VitalConnect Healthpatch monitor. The VitalConnect Healthpatch monitor is a HRM that is constantly stuck to your chest and allows you to measure HRV anytime. Not sure who would want this functionality 24×7, but it is one of the new features they added. It does work with Bluetooth HRM. Pass

Quick Measurement

Sweetbeat recommends that you create a baseline HRV reading the first time you use the app. To take an HRV measurement, you tap the start button on the main screen , which then presents you with a dialog of 3 types of HRV tests: Monitor Stress, HR Recovery and HRV for Training. For me the last one is all I am interested in. You are quickly presented with another dialog stating that your “Bluetooth Smart Chest Strap is not Detected” which you have to hit ok. You are then presented with another “Bluetooth Smart Chest Strap is not Detected” dialog warning before you can do anything. The first time I got this had been after using another HRV app which I had used my BT HRM strap so I knew it was connected. I eventually realized this is a bug which requires you to start the twice just to get to start measuring your HRV. I thought they would have fixed this by now, but it has been there for some time now.

Once you get passed the plethora of screen prompts and messages it finally starts measuring your HRV. By now, my HRV has probably dropped numerous points due to the stress of all the screens I had to go through to get started. The test sampling time is 3 minutes after it receives a certain amount of readings. Based on what I have seen over that time it is a bit of overkill since the readings pretty much flatten out after a minute or so. Most of the other apps are only a minute. Once the test is complete you are presented with a graph of your readings over time and your reading today, previous and last week. Once you accumulate a bunch of readings this trend graph is pretty much useless and there is now way to filter out the amount here. In order to get your resting heart rate(RHR) for the session, you have to flip through multiple screens to obtain that value from a very odd graph page. I don’t understand why they could not put all of these values on one dashboard style screen and be done with it. Instead you have to scroll sideways through seven different screens, many of which have a large amount of wasted “real estate” on them. Stephen Few and any UX expert would have a field day with this app. So I would have to say that this was the most cumbersome of all the apps regarding speed of measurement. Fail

Consistent

Since I am using this app as my baseline, I guess I would have to say it fairly consistent. Although after I had been using the original app for some time, the folks at Sweetwater decided to change their measuring algorithm, which basically made all of my previous data history useless. The whole reason I use this app is to identify trends and when they go changing things it basically makes it unusable. They haven’t changed their algorithm for some time and it appears that the old app and new app seem to be similar now, so hopefully that was a once and done thing. Ok

Data Export

I believe any application that is measuring your personal health data should provide some mechanism for you to extract or export that raw data for your personal use. It is MY data, therefore I should be able to access it in raw format. I also like to take that data and join it up with other training or health data to look for patterns using something like QlikView or other data analysis tools. The Sweetbeat application provides no such functionality. You can only view your data within the confines of their iOS application or on their website, which provides nothing but a calendar showing color-coded entries for your readings. Nothing really useful. In fact, to gather the data for this comparison I had to scroll through the multitude of screens for each day to get the raw data and enter it manually in a spreadsheet. Why they cannot provide a link to download a CSV of your data is beyond me, but they don’t. The graphs in their application are so poorly laid out, that it is hard to get any information out of them, especially when you have a lot of readings. The graphs do not even change when in landscape mode to take advantage of the extra space. Fail

Tag/Comments

The ability to add some commentary or tagging to your readings is very helpful when analyzing the data and looking for outliers over time. The Sweetbeat app allows you to tag your reading with one tag only, which you have to scroll to the 6th(of 7) screen after your reading to set. You are basically forced to tag it with “HRV” though if you want your data to show in that set. So there is no possibility of setting other things like “Poor Sleep”, “Tough Training Day”, “Too many beers”, etc. So, you might as well not even have a tag here. There is no ability to comment either. Fail

I have been a user of this app from the beginning and have participated in their beta testing for their new app too. I had given them a bunch of feedback before the launch of their new app about the items mentioned above. They never implemented any of them. Instead they focused on the VitalConnect monitor that is constantly stuck to you and a Correlation screen that I still cannot garner anything valuable from. It links up with some Withings, Fitbit, and MapMyWhatever devices, which I use none of. Perhaps it is more useful if you use those. I still don’t know who would want to voluntarily have a monitor stuck to their chest 24×7 to read HRV. But hey, there must be some other use cases out there if they are putting that much effort into it. The user interface/experience(UX) on this application is in great need of a facelift. The amount of screens and poor use and layout of graphs really takes away from the usability of this app.

HRV+

(www.hrvplus.com)

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Price

It’s free! You cannot get much cheaper than that. Pass

Bluetooth HRM

The HRV+ app says it requires the Polar H6 or H7 Bluetooth heart rate monitor. I am using a Wahoo Bluetooth monitor and it seems to work fine. Pass

Quick Measurement

This app connect pretty quickly with your HRM monitor. There is a “HRM Not Connected”(in red) or “HRM Connected” (in white) at the top left of the main screen that lets you know if it is ready to go. I love the fact that there are no pop-up dialogs to tell you it is or isn’t connected.

After pressing the start button, your measurement takes 1 minutes and you then presented with a screen that gives you all your reading information in one clear, concise screen. You even have the ability to enter comments 🙂 and TRIMP value. Not sure why I would have a TRIMP value first thing in the morning though. Fast and simple. Pass!

Consistent

This HRV readings for HRV+ seem to run several points above what I get in the Sweetbeat app. I had run side-by-side comparisons for a week and this apps’ HRV value averaged about 10 points above, with the exception of my first reading being extremely higher than SB. I later compared the rMSSD(“root mean square of successive differences“) values of Sweetbeat and HRV+, which is more of a standarized measurement, and those were different as well, only not as much.

It is really difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison here, since the measurements are taken 1 to 3 minutes apart. I have already taken several repetitive HRV measurements with the Sweetbeat app and gotten very different results only a few minutes later.

On average, the HRV+ app ran about 11.4 points above the Sweetbeat readings.

 

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I would say if you have never taken HRV measurements before or are not looking to compare to other results, then this app is fairly consistent by itself. The price may also dictate leaning this way too. Ok

Data Export

Yes! Not only does it have a CSV export, but you can also import and/or sync any other older data in the same format. They even go one step further and allow you to connect it to your Dropbox so you always have your data sitting there in your online folder. Very nice feature. You can also email yourself the csv export.

Additionally, there is a raw R-R HRV export capability. I believe this is a standardized format that some heart rate variability analysis programs use(Kubios?), but I am not real familiar with that. Pass

Tag/Comments

As I stated before, you can easily enter comments after each reading. If you need tagging you can come up with your own tagging scheme in the comments for searching later. Pass

Summary

Overall, I would say this is a great app for someone looking to start out measuring HRV without spending any money. It is a simple design that works. It has all the features I am looking for and the data export to DropBox is a bonus.

 

 

iThlete

(myithlete.com)

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Price

$9.99. Same as the newer Sweetbeat Life app and at the top of the range.

Bluetooth HRM

Yes. It paired up with my Wahoo HRM very quickly. They also sell a CardioSport Bluetooth Smart HRM on their website. It also works with a Finger sensor or ECG receiver on their website as well. Pass

Quick Measurement

When you first go into the app it takes you directly to the monitoring screen. It does pop up an annoying dialog to tell you that your “Bluetooth Smart Sensor connected” which I feel is a bit annoying and unncessary. Once you tap ok then you have to wait 10-15 seconds for a little green start button to enable. Then you can take your 1 minute reading. There is a little breath rhythm coach that guides your breathing if you are staring at the screen. There is a little countdown timer to let you know how much time is left which is very readable compared to the other apps.

Once your measurement session completes, you are presented with a screen showing your HRV colored appropriately to match the level of your reading(Green is good, grey is in the neutral, and red is bad). Your heart rate is not displayed anywhere on this page, which was a bit of a disappointment. There are a bunch of sliders to let you set ratings of how you felt. More on this in the Tag/Comments section. You can set your slider values and hit save and you are done. Pass

Consistent

The HRV values for this app seem to be a little more on par with the Sweetbeat values from what I can tell. The graphs above seem to indicate this although Ithlete does seem to show higher values as overall HRV increases. On average, iThlete runs about 7.8 points above the Sweetbeat app.

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Data Export

Yes. There is an “Export Data” option on the main menu. From there you can either email or download a csv export of all your data to DropBox. The export also includes all the values from the ratings scales post measurement. Pass

Tag/Comments

The iThelete app far surpassed the other apps in this area. After each measurement you can quickly rate the following items using a slider for each: sleep quality, fatigue, muscle soreness, stress, mood, and diet. This is great and may alleviate the need to even type in comments. There is also a comments box and a Training Score box too. PASS(with flying colors).

Summary

Despite the $10 price tag and the one pop-up dialog, I really like this app. The data values are close to my early Sweetbeat data and I love the ratings sliders. This has been my go-to app since doing the comparison. Price wasn’t a huge issue, since I had already forked out the money for it so I could compare it.

Conclusion

Here is my rating of all the apps on the categories I mentioned using a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being meet or exceed my requirements.

Price

BT HRM

Quick

Consistent Data

Tag / Comments

Export

Overall

Sweetbeat Life 3 4 2 5 1 1 16
HRV+ 5 5 5 3 4 5 27
iThlete 3 5 4 5 5 5 27