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Making SENSE of my workout SENSORS (Activity, Speed, Cadence, and Heart Rate)

Last installment I wrote an article that compared data collected by heart rate monitors to activity tracking devices.  This time on the soap box I shift gears slightly, and take a look at how all of these various devices that I’ve been adding to my workout can help monitor and improve my health.  Let’s try to make sense of all these sensors!

UPDATE (12-MAR-2014) – As you may be aware, Fitbit has issued a recall on the Fitbit Force (LINK).  I’d like to point out that I personally have never once experienced any skin irritation issues.  I have a half dozen friends with Force devices who also have had ZERO issue.  Never the less you should visit that page if you have any issues.  And note, the Fitbit Force remains my #1 pick even if it is (possibly) unavailable as you read this post.

My previous comparison testing had me pitting stats from my Fitbit Force activity tracker against the data collected off  a Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor and Scosche Rhythm heart monitor.  From this experience my one big take-away was that no matter how you monitor your body, there is always room for interpretation.

When I was reviewing the heart rate data I found that different algorithms would give different results.  For example, using the two different heart monitors gave me the same raw data (same peak and average heart rates, same BPM over time).  But when that data was pushed into the software, each company calculated the caloric burn differently. 

Knowing these variations exist doesn’t change the fact that having more data can be helpful, so long as you pick a company you trust to provide data that fits your needs.  In my case I decided that, although the Fitbit does a great job calculating step-based activities, I wanted added visibility to my heart rate.  Being able to review how my heart rate changes from day to day, workout to workout is a metric that interests me greatly.  As such, these sensors have become a part of my normal exercise equipment line-up.  Here is how I chose what devices and software to use as well as a glimpse at the future benefits they provide.

PICKING YOUR SENSORS

As you start deciding on a brand or style of sensor I suggest also trying to determine what software (and recording device) you want use.  Choosing the right hardware/software package at the onset will make these devices more enjoyable, and helps gain the most compatibility with your existing health & fitness agenda.  You’ll also need to determine if having inter-app-integration is important to you.  Some people like linking their health & fitness apps, where others prefer to keep things separate.  This section will cover hardware, the next section will cover software, but the two are not exclusive.  Before you buy any hardware make sure the software you desire will work with it, and vice versa.

SIDEBAR: If you don’t have a smartphone, or simply prefer to not use one during exercise, my recommendation would be any Polar wrist-worn device.  Two more popular cost-effective options would be the Polar FT4 or Polar FT7 and work great when coupled with the same  Polar H7 chest strap I’ve been using.  There are other options but none as good bang for the buck, especially for a novice such as myself.

For my purposes I have decided to use my iPhone 5S as my device of choice.  This allows me to enjoy the added benefits of the big screen and greater visual data, as well as easy data sync to the cloud.  Any devices I purchased had to be compatible with my phone.

Anyone who tells you that a chest-strap heart rate monitor is uncomfortable has never given one a fair try.  In comparison to the arm-band style Scosche Rhythm heart monitor I can honestly say the chest-strap unit has proven less bothersome, and it is actually the arm-mounted Scosche that felt uncomfortable.  Also, the drop-outs of data and difficulty keeping a data connection on the arm-band caused me to ultimately decide to ditch that unit and go with a more comfortable (and the more common style) chest-strap unit.

sensor-heart-rate-monitors

When shopping for a heart rate monitor that was compatible with my iPhone the two devices that I considered (and purchased/tested) were the Polar H7 and the Wahoo Fitness Blue HR.  (See photo above of main sending units, sans straps)  Both offer Bluetooth BLE 4.0 technology, have nearly identical Amazon reviews, and are usually quite similarly priced.  Truly the only significant difference I could find was that the Polar H7 adds the Polar-only proprietary GymLink compatibility, which allows the heart rate sensor to link to gym equipment that supports this feature.

For many people the GymLink feature is probably of little benefit.  However we have a Nautilus Pro Series T718 treadmill at home that supports GymLink, allowing the chest strap monitor to send a signal to the treadmill directly without using the heart monitoring handle bars provided.  One benefit of this is that you can conserve phone battery power when recording a workout by turning your iPhone screen off, yet still see the redundant display of your BPM on the treadmill LCD screen.  Using GymLink does reduce the expected battery life of the monitor (LINK), but if you exercise at a gym or have older home equipment that is GymLink compatible, this could prove to be a useful feature.

My personal preference for cardiovascular exercise is to use my stationary bike, which doesn’t support GymLink and hence that feature provides no benefit for me.  However my wife prefers our treadmill which supports GymLink, and she enjoyed her testing of the Polar H7 device so she kept that unit for herself.  Having purchased both devices for evaluation we decided to keep both, so I took the remaining Wahoo Blue HR unit.  In the end this gives us two visually different devices, so we can’t confuse which is whose.

NOTE: Another option worth of your consideration is the slightly less expensive Polar H6 unit.  I’ve not tested one first-hand but the specs on it compare favorably with the Wahoo unit, and like that device, the H6 lacks GymLink (you need the H7 for that).  No matter which model heart monitor you choose, both Wahoo Fitness or Polar Electro brands are top notch stuff!

With heart sensors taken care of my focus turned to speed/distance sensors.  To avoid having to manually enter the distance travelled at the end of each workout, plus the added value of comparing speed/cadence to time and heart rate, I decided to purchase a stride meter for the treadmill.  These days ANT+ adapters seem passé (and would require a dongle to work on my Apple device) so we decided to order the recently released Polar Stride Sensor which uses the same Bluetooth BLE signal as our heart rate monitors.

sensor-pinkshoe-stridesensor-wifes-polar-goodies

Above (top) you can see the stride sensor secured to my wife’s running shoes.  When secured to your shoe the weight of the stride sensor is imperceivable.  As you can see in the other photo, overall the stride sensor is similar in size to the heart rate transmitter, although it is notably thicker.  With two heart rate monitors and the stride sensor in my arsenal, my collection was starting to look pretty nice.  Here are some more photos comparing the size of the two heart rate monitors to the stride sensor (See below).  Note that they all have serviceable/replaceable batteries that are supposed to last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years depending on usage.

sensor-wearables-together sensor-wearables-front-back

WAHOO HRM VS POLAR HRM: Having used both HR monitors during my testing my preference would be to the Polar unit.  Both are very nice, but somehow the Polar just feels as if made to a higher quality.  There is occasionally this disconcerting “crunch” noise that occurs when you snap the Wahoo into the snaps.  While the sender of the Wahoo unit is about 40% lighter than the Polar, this weight savings makes no notable difference on the body and ultimately cheapens the feel of the device.  Our testing also found that getting the Polar unit on and reading BPM was typically more sure-fire and easier than the Wahoo.  Regardless of these observations, both units worked quite well for my testing and I’d happily suggest either to you.  Buy whichever brand fits your budget and/or your personal flavor!

The last piece of my puzzle was my stationary bike.  Although it is not customary to install speed/cadence sensors on a stationary bike, I stumbled upon THIS ARTICLE during my research and was inspired to follow suit, especially since I have the same bike (slightly different variation of the same model).  Using the same Wahoo Blue SC speed & cadence sensor as that article, but reversing the mounting (my unit is on the pedal arm instead of the arm that connects to the handles) proved successful.  (See photos below of my installation)  My bike already had an LCD display with this data, but now my iPhone can record the same data along side of my heart rate for comparisons at later dates.  Nifty!

Main sensor attached to pedal arm with zip ties
Main sensor attached to pedal arm with zip ties
Back side of sensor showing zip-tie attachment
Back side of sensor showing zip-tie attachment
Far view showing magnets on connecting arm and sensor on pedal arm
Alternate view showing magnets on connecting arm and main sensors on pedal arm
Close-up of magnets (2x) mounted to connecting arm
Close-up of magnets (2x) mounted to connecting arm
Overhead view (looking towards floor) as the sensor passes the magnets
Overhead view (looking towards floor) as the sensor passes the magnets

You may be asking why I didn’t use the same mounting method as the cited article.  My reasoning was that the shape of the pedal arm was such that the flats on the top/bottom made it easier to secure the unit in such a way that it would not potentially shift during cycling.  Additionally, there is a plastic hook on the back of the Wahoo Blue SC (for utilizing their rubber band securing method) which would have been dangerously close to the bike’s inner frame.  In the end what you see here is many hours of testing at various locations.  This location proved the most accurate and sure-fire in my testing.

NOTE: When you purchase the Wahoo Blue SC contents only include one rubber slip-on magnet (yet you may notice in my photos that two are shown).  I had to source a second magnet from the local bike store for $5.  Normally you would use their supplied spoke magnet for the 2nd pickup, but that wasn’t going to work as stationary bikes have no rear wheels.

With this slew of fun hardware installed and on-hand it was finally time to figure out how to monitor all these devices on our handy-dandy iPhones…

PICKING YOUR SOFTWARE

Deciding which app to use wasn’t as easy as selecting our hardware.  Luckily most of the big device manufacturers offer their own smart-phone software and/or web dashboards these days giving us a great selection of options.  And since many sites do not require you to have  a sensor to register on their site, you can take time to explore the site a little bit and get a feel for what data they analyze, what services they can pull/push data to, and how that might work for you.  Before you actually buy any piece of equipment check out the manufacturer’s web site and software, and give it a test spin as best you can.

Researching apps for cycling, running, or any other activity brings up reviews galore.  What one person needs another person doesn’t even want, making it hard to filter through all the data.  I’m not going to review all the apps out there, but here are a few I think are worth taking note of even though we will not be using  them all long-term.

Fitness Apps – Honorable Mention:

  • Strava – If you are an avid outdoor cyclist this is the best option out there.  Lots of integration with other sites too.  Although great for most, the lack of stationary bike support to the extent that I wanted made it unable to win my final vote here.
  • MayMyFitness – With a collection of apps (most notably MapMyRide and MapMyRun), the MMF team has plenty to work with.  I’m not fond of their advertisements or the costs necessary to fully enjoy their features, but many people swear by MMF apps.  Ultimately the sync issues and ads/costs put this out of the running for my vote.
  • Nike+ Running – No personal experience, but comes recommended from many folks.  Might be worth checking out if you’re a fan of their approach & design.
  • C25K – Couch to 5K is a good app to condition yourself for, well, a 5K.  It uses interval style training to build you up to the coveted distance, and has a great user interface.
  • RunKeeper – Like Strava for cycling, this is my favorite running app out there.  It has the best integration with 3rd parties and a gorgeous app layout/design.  However, like Strava, the lack of indoor running (treadmill support) made it not useful for us Still, if you run primarily outdoors, this is a great one to check out!
  • Runtastic – Similar to above.  Many people love this app for the same reasons.  Again the lack of good indoor running support or sensor support made it less than ideal.

Now that you know all the apps that I LIKE but ultimately DIDN’T continue to use… let’s talk about the ones that I DO USE and that have long-term potential to be my favorites.  We started with the apps that are specifically made for our hardware, and ultimately settled on a single 3rd party app too.  To keep things simple I’m going to break down each of the three into their own section below.  Enjoy!

WAHOO SOFTWARE

Wahoo Fitness has a few different apps (LINK) to choose from such as their Utility app which allows you to check and adjust your Wahoo devices, their Segments app that works with their indoor KICKR power cycle device, and even a nifty Odometer app for checking lifetime travel distance of devices.  However, the primary app you will use to record activities is their Wahoo Fitness iOS app, which we’ll be examining here.

NOTE: Although the app was designed to work with Wahoo’s devices, it also works with other brands.  For example the stride sensor we have came from Polar but still links up just fine to Wahoo’s software.  This is typically the case with most Bluetooth fitness devices/software.  Usually the only short-coming will be that certain data (ie: battery life) or adjustments (ie: calibration) cannot be done through 3rd party software.

My biggest complaints about the Wahoo Fitness software would be the lack of a web dashboard, and the lack of a heart rate graph.  Neither during nor after a workout can you view a graph of your heart rate (or other metrics), although it does allow for zone breakdown time-based views during a workout.  And the lack of a cloud storage web dashboard with visual graphs of the data is a huge shortcoming when compared to the competition.

sensor-workout-details-wahoo

When inside their iOS app the only post-workout view you can see is shown in the image above.  Notice the lack of a heart rate graph, speed graph, etc.  Just the very basics.

What the Wahoo app lacks in visual stimulation it more than makes up for with simple interface.  Using their software was both easy and intuitive, and the sync to the devices was typically quick and reliable.  The only exception to this was my already mentioned issues with the Wahoo heart monitor often being slow to start tracking BPM.  But once locked in it the logging of activities with the Wahoo app was flawless in execution.

After a workout there is no automatic upload to the cloud like most software due to their lack of a web dashboard.  So if you want to view your workout after the fact you need to share it to other sites.  Luckily, their sharing options are pretty broad as shown below.

Sharing 1 of 2 Click to enlarge Sharing 2 of 2 Click to enlarge

For geeks and hard-core data analysts the email option is slick, allowing you to send PWX, TCX, FIT, GPX, CSV or WF files.  You can even compress/zip the file before you send it.  Dropbox is another smart idea as it makes cloud storage simple (how about Google Drive support down the road please?).  You’ll be supplied a spreadsheet of all the data, which you can turn into graphs and charts of your own.  While this is fine for the advanced athlete or someone who digs deep into raw data, the average consumer will have no purposeful need of these logs in such a raw format.

For my testing the MyFitnessPal integration worked well, allowing me to instantly add a workout which then also pushed over to my Fitbit.  None of the other share features were of any use for me personally.

sensor-assessment-wahoo

To further lure you into using their software Wahoo has their Burn/Burst feature. (LINK) (See photo above)  You can perform an assessment that uses your resting heart rate to determine your fat burning versus fitness zones (much like the Energy Pointer works for Polar).  My results from that test are indicated above.  For review purposes I also performed the other option, a Field Test (12-minutes long).  But after that my results showed -25 BPM (yes, negative!) for my burn, so apparently the field test has some faults.

While it is nice to see this Burn/Burst data while you workout, there appears to be no way to easily log and then subsequently track changes to your burn/burst numbers over time.  Sure, you can do the workout regime they have planned for you, but how do you quantify your success over time?  It is this lack deeper analytics that make this software good, but not great when it comes to long-term training and user health-related feedback.

FINAL VERDICT:  For most novices this is actually my suggested piece of software for your indoor exercise.  If you plan to bike or run outdoors then you should look to Strava, RunKeeper or MapMyFitness for those activities, syncing up this app to those on those days you stay indoors.  And as always I suggest MyFitnessPal for your caloric diary.  Syncing Wahoo Fitness to any app is just a tap or two away (it is easy, as long as you remember to do it manually after each workout).  Just don’t expect to be able to do much in the way of heart rate analysis after the fact. If you do want to dig deeper you can get the raw data (using the email/export function), but then you’re just looking at a bunch of numbers.   For most of the general public this app is a great starting option!

POLAR SOFTWARE

Polar Electro currently offers two applications for your phone.  One is a companion app to their Polar Loop Activity Tracker.  For a full review of the Loop as it compares to my Fitbit Force be sure to read HERE.  For our needs here it was the Polar Beat exercise logging application that we reviewed.

Polar Beat’s layout compared favorably to Wahoo’s offering, being even more  friendly and inviting to use.  During a workout you can choose to view a few different metrics on screen, but it lacks the same depth of customization that Wahoo offers.  However the data it does display is far more colorful and attractive than Wahoo.  When I asked my wife her preference between Wahoo & Polar she said she preferred the Polar as she felt it provided visually easier-to-read data while huffing along on the treadmill.  Indeed I also found features like the Energy Pointer feature (VIDEO) as well as their gorgeous display of zones while exercising not just beautiful but also easiest to glance-and-read while working out.  Frankly, of all three options/apps I have listed here in this review, the Polar is my favorite.  So it turned out to be a shame when I realized it doesn’t work for my bike (we’ll discuss why in a moment).

sensor-upgrades-polar

We found the Polar app is great right out of the box, but they offer some upgrades for $7.99, the same fee that Digifit charges for their in-app upgrade.  As you can see in the photo (above), you gain four key elements with this upgrade, which are outlined nicely on THIS page.  My wife says she looks forward to watching her Running Index improve over the coming months if she stays with this app.  (She may switch to Digifit, as I’ll discuss later).  And she enjoys the “feedback” she gets from the app after a 10+ minute workout.

The Polar app, like the Wahoo app, does not allow you to create a custom workout.  However, the Polar app does at least allows you to set goals (time, distance, calories).  Add in the upgrade and you also get the Benefit Target feature which is great for getting your heart rate into certain zones using their pre-defined workouts (which you can adjust slightly for your time allowance).  Overall, the feature set in the Polar app is really nice.

sensor-assessment-polar

SIDEBAR: The fitness test that Polar uses is a resting heart rate assessment similar to that of the Wahoo Fitness app.  Even better is that within the app you can easily review your assessments over time to analyze that data.  At this time I have not yet performed the Polar fitness test, because it will not work with my non-Polar (Wahoo) heart rate monitors.  I’ll update this post at a later date if/when I borrow my wife’s Polar HRM to perform this test.

One of my favorite things about the Polar software is their web dashboard.  Polar’s site has really grown on me more than when I first reviewed the Polar Loop against the Fitbit.  I’ve come to better understand the layout and really appreciate the depth of data they provide.  It has just enough data for a novice like myself to enjoy, while not getting too messy with useless information.  Check it out HERE.

sensor-workout-details-polar-flow-treadmill

Above is a screen shot of the workout as pulled off the web client.  Below are two photos taken off my iPhone showing you the same workout.  More data is accessible on the computer, but 90% of the same vital info appears on both in a format that I really loved.

sensor-workout-details-polar1 sensor-workout-details-polar2

You can change the type of exercise you performed after the task (ie: you logged it as a walk, it was really a run), as well as adjust the distance if needed.  And if your workout was over 10 minutes you get a small Training Benefit blurb too (no snapshot here, sorry) explaining what benefits you gained from that specific session.  Overall you can see the data here is leaps-and-bounds above what Wahoo offers, in that it shows graphs where you can compare speed vs heart rate, and see a greater breakdown of time spent in various zones.  And all in a visually pleasing fashion.

Earlier I mentioned that Polar won’t work for my bike.  Why?  Sadly Polar’s current Bluetooth offerings are limited to only two items: their heart rate monitor and stride sensor.  As such, their software only supports those types of devices.  I’ve reached out to Polar to ask when they might be releasing a Bluetooth cycle kit and their reply reads:

We are not sure if this will be available in the future. Polar product development is highly based on customer feedback. We have forwarded this message to our R&D department. Your feedback is taken into consideration when developing new products.

Never the less the Polar Beat software did work fine with my Wahoo brand heart rate monitor even though it would not let me perform the fitness test with that dvice.  Also be aware that as of this article posting nobody else yet offers an alternate to the Polar Stride Sensor so that is your only option there. 

Polar’s Flow website provides these slick progress reports, but with my limited sessions I’m not going to screen-shot them for you.  Bottom line is that as you progress you can see your assessments, your heart data, and other metrics over time.  Whether you are like me, a novice who wants to get better fit, or a true athlete, the data is there for you to enjoy!  (For a really nice review of the Polar Beat app, check out Ray’s article HERE)

FINAL VERDICT:  For my wife this app works great, with her only complaint being that it cannot automatically push/sync to our Fitbit or MyFitnessPal apps.  For me, the lack of integration with my Bluetooth cycle kit meant my sessions only recorded heart rate.  For other users who cross-train in a variety of sports and wants the industry leader in heart rate monitoring on their team, the Polar Beats software is a great option.  It currently offers ZERO integration with 3rd party sites at this time, so you’ll be flying solo with their data.  But with their user-friendly interface and web analytics (which include progress reviews over time) you’ll likely be quite pleased.  If all you do is run or bike then Strava or RunKeeper might be more rich in content.  Polar’s goal was to make a great all-around app that is excellent at anything you throw its way.  If you want a web dashboard and a bit more data to review and analyze than Wahoo, and your equipment is compatible, check out Polar Beat!

After we saw what Wahoo/Polar had to offer, we started looking for 3rd party options…..

DIGIFIT SOFTWARE

Before we landed on Digifit as the best 3rd party app we tested a slew of others.  Many of them lacked the support for our Bluetooth sensors, and others lacked the ability to log the data in a way that made it useful.  We could have stopped with the two pieces of software above, but we wanted more.  MyFitnessPal provides great food intake metrics, and the Fitbit does great for 23-hours of the day activity.  But I wanted to make sure I had the best data logging for my workout sessions, with the greatest depth of analysis moving forward.

Things really began to click after I came across THIS ARTICLE and suddenly realized that I didn’t currently have any sort of site or assistance with measuring my health over time.  Sure I was watching my weight and my food intake, but what about data like my resting heart rate?  My blood pressure?  My VO2 changes over time?  All of this data, most notably the “FitRank” that Digifit provides, would be able to monitor my fitness over time and be able to quantify my improvements.

To learn more about Digifit, check out: http://www.digifit.com/

SIDEBAR: Although a basic free membership provides various charts of data on the Digifit site, someone who is training for a specific goal or taskmay want to consider the MVP OPTION.  Added benefits like comparing workouts and advance heart rate analysis would be useful for anyone, even for a rookie like me.  The cost isn’t too horrible, but I’ve not yet upgraded.  I’m complacent with the base level of offerings Digifit provides at this time.  They do offer more than what I’m reviewing here, for a nominal fee.

One thing I keep mentioning is that certain apps don’t support certain sensors, making them only good for certain tasks.  Where those apps are “activity-centric,” Digifit takes a different approach, trying to work with as many sensors and activities as possible.  As such they support both ANT+ and Bluetooth, and played nicely with MOST of our devices.

As of this posting, they do not yet support the Polar Stride unit because it is still too new.  I did find a DISCUSSION about adding support for the sensor, with no resolve.  I’ve also reached out to Digifit inquiring about support for the stride sensor, but have yet to hear back from them.  This does limit the app’s usefulness for my wife (and our treadmill), so she plans to use the Polar app for now, but will migrate to Digifit once she can.

sensor-digifit-wheel-size

On the flip side, Digifit does support the Wahoo SC speed/cadence unit on my bike, so I was stoked!  Even more so, the depth of customization on the Digifit is nuts.  As shown (above), you can even choose a custom tire size.  Sure, many apps let you choose from a long list of tire sizes, but most of them don’t actually lets you enter a MANUAL circumference.  This was crucial for me, since I’m using a stationary bike not a standard tire.  After much testing, I was able to calibrate this number to a fairly accurate figure which now provides a reading of speed/distance that is correct.

Lately most of the big players have started to consolidate their fitness apps, and Digifit is no different.  When you look at the list of apps from iTMP Tech (the makers of Digifit), you’ll find that they offer iRunner, iCardio, iBiker, and spinner apps.  All of them are virtually identical at this point, so it doesn’t matter which one you download.

All of the apps can choose from their same immense catalog of options to track.  They have presets for spinning, cycling, hiking, walking, running, yoga, rowing , pilates, and the list goes ON!  You can even name/identify your own activity to help track progress in that specific arena.  Furthermore, you can customize your dashboards for each activity allowing you to see just the metrics you want during that specific type of workout.

sensor-upgrades-digifit

Go Pro!  One thing that did annoy me slightly about the Digifit app was that you can’t use hardware sensors right out of the gate.  If you plan to only use GPS-based logging then the app is fine in free form, but for my purpose the goal was to utilize all my hardware sensors.  As a minimum then you must spend $2.99 for the Enable Sensors upgrade.  But the best bargain comes at $7.99 to also add assessments and custom routines (see image above).  The full Go Pro upgrade is what we chose and ultimately what I would recommend.

With sensors enabled you can bring a LOT of different hardware to the game, but as mentioned, no Polar BT stride support yet.  With Custom Routines you get a bunch of really nice workouts they have crafted for you, most of which are 60-minutes in duration.  But what truly makes Digifit amazing is the ability to create your own custom workouts.  You can choose whatever duration you want, and can break it down into segments that can be based on time, pace, or speed.  For example you might want to create a cycle workout that uses HIIT principals.  Or you may want to spend a certain time on the treadmill training for speed bursts.  Whatever you want, the customization options are there!  Features like this are tailored for the more advanced user, but implementation easy and user-friendly for anyone.

sensor-assessment-digifit-1 sensor-assessment-digifit-2

Like the prior two apps you can perform assessments, and like Polar, you have to pay to upgrade first.  But that is where the similarities end.  Digifit takes things to a whole new level with the data it will analyze (see two photos, above).  Not only do they have nearly a half dozen different types of assessments you can choose from (LINK), you also get a larger spectrum of results than the other apps I reviewed alongside Digifit.

Within the app you can review assessments over time, to see how your FitRank changes alongside your VO2 max and LTHR.  Their software also assesses your Resting and Maximum HR and then your HR Zones from the data collected from the testing.  Above photos are from my 2nd assessment perofrmed a few days ago.  This was achieved using their Beginner Cardio method which is known to be a bit less accurate than some of their other higher level options, but was ideal for someone of my fitness level.

Admittedly the novice/beginner who just wants basic data may find the Digifit as overkill.  You’re not going to consider this software unless you want more analysis and data — and that is where they shine.  If you just want to lose weight Digifit can still help, but their true accolades rest in their ability to provide the data you see here in the assessments, and beyond that into review of past achievements and future goals.  In my eyes though if you’ve already decided to purchase a heart rate monitor, you should take the time and money to get the most out of your investment, and that is why I like Digifit.

SIDENOTE: During my testing and training I found that my Wahoo device data, when monitored on the Digifit, appeared a bit wonky.  As you’ll see in a moment, my cadence drops to zero a few times during the course of an activity session.  I’ve reached out to Digifit to attempt to determine the cause of this issue.  Note that when recording with the native Wahoo software these dropouts did not ever occur.  Other than the “average RPM” not showing a value, the rest of the data was fine even with these data drops.  I’ll update this blog post at a later date if we can determine the cause of the visual issue.

sensor-workout-details-digifit-web-1 sensor-workout-details-digifit-web-2

Above are two screen shots from the Digifit web dashboard.  Like the Polar dashboard, data is provided in a nice, clean and easy to read format.  You can get some pretty deep data here, and over time (especially with MVP features) you can review your improvements.  As most of us live in our phones, however, I’ve also provided photos (below) of this data as viewed from an iPhone.

sensor-workout-details-digifit1 sensor-workout-details-digifit2 sensor-workout-details-digifit3
sensor-workout-details-digifit4 sensor-workout-details-digifit5 sensor-workout-details-digifit6

As you can see ALL of the same data can be viewed at either the web dashboard OR the phone application.  This makes the Digifit app the most powerful of the bunch that I tested.  There is a 7th page (not shown) that you can use to record mood, notes, weather, etc.  You can also adjust figures there if you know the distance was wrong, and so forth.

After you have achieved a variety of sessions/activities you may find a desire to view your “best” workout data.  Where the Polar site only showed a quick link to the workout(s) that had the best speed, distance, or maximum heart rate, Digifit once again goes much deeper.  They break it down by activity, under 8 total different categories.

sensor-digifit-mybest-1 sensor-digifit-mybest-2

I’ll let the images (above) speak for themselves.  Obviously I’m limited here to only about a dozen sessions, but you get the idea.  One thing that I also really love about the Digifit is their Recovery feature.  After a workout you are encouraged to monitor your heart rate for two minutes.  During this time you are looking to see how many beats (BPM) your heart can recover, and your best recovery is shown again in the My Best section, above.

My triad of apps (MyFitnessPal, Digifit, Fitbit) are configured as follows.  Any food that I eat is entered into MyFitnessPal.  Any exercise that I perform is entered into Digifit.  Both of those apps sync/push data over to Fitbit, which acts then as the central hub.  (You can link Digifit and MyFitnessPal direct, which is recommended ONLY if you do NOT have a Fitbit).

During the course of the day I typically check Fitbit, which shows me all of the data in one central place.  This shows my steps AND my workouts, plus my calories in/out, in once central place.  This is my go-to app during the day, for basic monitoring.  However, since a LOT of data from the Fitbit also makes its way over to Digifit, you can again use their advanced analysis provides a richer set of information when you want to sit down and dig deeper on occasion.

sensor-digifit-fitbit-2 sensor-digifit-fitbit-1

These two images (above) show you data as viewed on the Digifit web dashboard, with information that was pulled over from the on-going Fitbit sync.  You can easily see calories burned, and a breakdown of where it came from (Digifit workouts versus Fitbit steps).  Even better is the (top) graph, which shows my caloric burn breakdown not just between devices, but in three tiers of activity: Very Active vs Fairly Active vs Lightly Active.

When I had tested the Polar Loop one of my favorite features was the Activity Overview, which showed Active Time broken into various segments.  You could see the difference of standing versus walking, and faster walking/running.  As shown above the Digifit takes the data from the Fitbit and gives ti a similar breakdown as the Polar Loop did.  Again this is how Digifit takes the data you already collect and helps you get higher quality information from that data, in an easy to read and understand view.

I could go on for another dozen paragraphs talking about the Digifit site.  Instead, however, I’ll just wrap it up here to say that if it is health or fitness related and you want to analyze it, Digifit probably handles it.  And handles it nicely!  Now if only they could add support for our Polar Stride Sensor so that my wife can join me in the Digifit cloud.

FINAL VERDICT:  Many people start with a Fitbit, but only want the basic data it provides and nothing more.  However those folks who seek out the use of a heart rate monitor are interested in added data/value.  And that is where the Digifit reigns supreme.  Even if your only goal is to have your workout data (caloric burn) sync to MyFitnessPal or Fitbit, the Digifit software is still suggested.  Why? Because as you grow into your health program you may eventually want to try out a different sensor, or a new activity.  You may want to write a custom program just for you.  Or you may desire to assess your health as things have changed.  And in my testing no piece of software does ALL of that as well as Digifit does!

SUMMARY

If you’ve read this far then you either have WAY too much free time on your hands (like me!), or you must be wholeheartedly interested in this subject.  Assuming the latter then thank you for allowing me to ramble on.  I hope you’ve come to better understand the devices my wife/I will be using as we hope to make 2014 a healthier year for us both.

No matter what equipment you buy or software you monitor with, the most important part of the equation is that you become more active and aware.  With so many options to pick from I hope that I’ve been able to help provide insight into just a few of those which exist today.

My wife and I are novices at best, not avid runners or bikers or athletes.  We exercise occasionally (3-4 times per week) to stay fit.  Someday my wife would love to run a 5K, and I’d love to join her.  These opinions listed here are from that perspective, of a household where we love technology and gadgets, and have a desire to get in better shape.

We’re quite pleased with our new arsenal of gadgets as our holiday gifts to ourselves!  Hopefully this inspires you to treat yourself to similar devices and work hard to become a healthier person in the New Year.  Happy holidays, and best wishes!

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17 thoughts on “Making SENSE of my workout SENSORS (Activity, Speed, Cadence, and Heart Rate)

  1. This is an outstanding discussion of these products and it has been an invaluable aid for me in selecting my own fitness tracking “system”.

    Thanks!

  2. Hey would you mind stating which blog platform
    you’re using? I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a
    tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.
    P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  3. When I was a Fitbitter, I was frustrated by their lack of non-step based exercise support. My work-around was to wear a Polar H7 linked to Runkeepr through my phone. That took care of cycling, skating, and kayaking. Then I discovered that Runkeeper was doing nothing with my heart rate information in terms of caloric burn. Just real time BPM display and a pretty graph. When I moved on to a Polar Loop and, later, a Vivofit, I discovered that while Runkeeper’s caloric expendature estimates for non step based exercise were WAY better than Fitbit’s they were also WAY under what Garmin and Polar give me when I wear their respective HRMs (I have been known to wear both at once.)

    I looked into Digifit once but decided to pass and I don’t remember why. Does it perhaps lack Runkeeper style iPhone GPS support for speed and distance? I never exercise indoors unless I must.

    1. Frank- Digifit fully supports the use of the iPhone GPS to utilize distance, speed, etc. However, I have only tested it indoors since I have a stationary bike, a treadmill, and a home gym. And here in Ohio the winter months don’t make for great outdoors exercise. Never the less I clearly see the GPS in the settings, and when you begin a workout you choose “outdoor” vs “indoor” so that it knows to turn on GPS or not. Again I have no first-hand experience with the GPS, so I cannot attest to the accuracy or the interface/review after a workout/bike/run activity.

      As for the expenditures you noted, my testing found variations not just in the calculations versus the HRM, but even between HRM software. For whatever reason, the caloric burn data from the Scosche software was always much higher than that of the others. At some point down the road I could see doing more testing when the LG earbuds come out, and also when Scosche releases their new armband. I’d really like to see how a Polar Beat/H7 combo, Vivofit/ANT combo, Scosche/iPhone combo, and an LG wristband/earbud combo all compared for the same workouts. There is definitely going to be variations based purely on the algorithms used by each company to convert HRM-over-time into caloric burn (also factoring in your weight, height, age, etc).

      Thanks for reading the blog, enjoy!

  4. Thanks for this extremely comprehensive review. I have just purchased a wahoo HRM to use in my exercise. I also use a Fitbit One and want to integrate HR data into my workout. I was sceptical of digifit’s app – your article has changed my perspective. Thanks again.

    1. Chris- As a follow-up so I can better determine how those who read my blog have wandered….. what software are you using these days now that a month has passed? I’ve found that the Wahoo app works great for iOS, and pushes data directly to MyFitnessPal if you use that. For me MFP is my central hub, and then Fitbit links from one side, and Wahoo can from the other side.

      I’m curious to know what you’ve landed on using your HRM and your Fitbit. Are you integrating the two? with what protocols? Any feedback is great as I’m working on a new blog post about some new HRM equipment and want to make sure my findings/data/posts are applicable to my target audience. Thank you!

  5. Thanks for all the detailed information. My wife and I just moved into senior housing. I found a place for the (seldom used) Airdyne. I dusted it off, set up BitGym (more on that app below) then stumbled onto your blog. Today I installed a Wahoo sc and got it paired with Digifit just a few minutes ago. A new Polar hrm is on its way.

    What did you use in the Digifit setup for wheel size and circumference? We have the same model Airdyne.

    Do you know about the BitGym app? For iPhone, iPad and Android. This app gives you a video “ride”, with a choice of 15 different routes at this time. It paces you on the video, using vibration and head movement to calculate your rpm. I want to keep going and going to see what comes up around the next bend – no more boring workouts. I made a rack on my Airdyne to hold both the iPad, for BitGym and the iPhone for Digifit (iBiker). Check out BitGym on the app store!

    1. For Digitfit I am using 8073.0 mm (Custom) for the wheel circumference. It isn’t 100% perfect but seems to get accurate enough. I didn’t feel like tweaking beyond that and it seems to be near enough to what the bike’s little computer says. Hopefully you can match similar results.

      I’ll be sure to check out the BitGym app that sounds nice. We have a TV in our workout room and my wife’s treadmill and my Airdyne both face the TV. We’ve taken to watching old episodes of The Golden Girls during our workout. A good belly laugh while exercising is a fun and interesting combo! Thanks for the reply and for checking out my blog!

  6. Hi,

    Thank you so much for your review it was super helpful as I’m in the market for a HR monitor.

    I was just wondering a couple of things, firstly have you tried either of these in the pool? And if yes thought?

    Secondly when I work out I often have my phone more than 10 feet from me, and I was wondering when these devices drop out of blue tooth range do you just get blank spots or does the data upload once you connect? If it’s the latter how long have you managed to be disconnected with all the data still uploading?

    Thanks again for a super helpful article

    Cheers

    1. Candice- I’ve not ever used any sort of heart rate monitor in the pool, so I cannot speak to the quality of recording in that setting. That would be based on both distance from phone, and how well it works in the water itself, sorry.

      However, I know for a fact that if the phone and HRM are apart, no data will be recorded. As for how it handles caloric burn and other data, that will depend on the software itself. Many will just maintain the last shown BPM for a period of time before going to zero, and so forth. But no matter what, a loss of connection will cause errors in the quality of data.

      Wahoo Fitness has a new HRM called the TICKR (and TICKR RUN)— you can see my review here: http://arijaycomet.com/2014/06/09/battle-wahoo-fitness-tickr-run-heart-rate-monitor-vs-polar-h7-heart-rate-sensor-polar-stride-sensor/ — their site for a while was showing a 3rd unit, but it appears to be missing now. That unit was supposed to have on-board memory such that it could record HRM even without a phone.

      There are other options, plenty actually, that don’t require a phone for HRM data. Are you looking for a heart rate monitor for the purpose of caloric burn during swim workouts?

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