Fitness Friday – Gadgets

Happy Fitness Friday everyone!! Oh, and I guess a happy weekend to you too, especially if it’s a long weekend like it is here in Ontario :)

Before we get into today’s topic, I once again want to share one of my workouts!

Yesterday, I experienced my first ever bootcamp in the park. The gym I work at hosts bootcamps in the summer and I decided to check out what it’s like.

The regular instructor is on vacation, so we had one of our expert trainers step in to teach. When telling my co-workers I was attending the class, I would get looks of concern, shock and pity. Going in, I had a slight idea that I was perhaps in for more than I bargained for.


As soon as I arrived, I was told to drop and give 50 push-ups. Yes, in a row! I did them on my knees, and I think I squeezed out 40-something before we were told to rest. Then I had to throw a fellow participant on my back and run up a hill. Then squat-jump up a hill, run sprints around the park, and the torture goes on. Needless to say, it was the longest 50 minutes of my life. I nearly threw up. But I sure did feel proud of myself by the time it was over!

Not all bootcamp classes are that difficult. You always have the option to go easier on yourself. Of course, being a personal trainer at the host gym, I wanted to show what I was made of! :P

I’m happy to say that I actually have many more bootcamps in my future! I’ll be spilling the beans about it next week. I am both excited and terrified, which is a good thing.

Now! On to today’s fit topic, inspired by comments from a post long, long ago.

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) asked:

Fitness topic…hmmm…Do you believe in gadgets, i.e. hrm’s, polars, garmins, etc or not? and why? and if so, your top picks and why.


Short answer: Yes, I believe in gadgets. But first, an overview.

We’ll start with my favourite gadget, and one that I personally own and frequently use.

This is an Polar F11 Heart Rate Monitor. The F11 is a slightly higher end model that also measures your VO2 max through your resting heart rate. It also tracks your progress and will even provide a program for you based on how many calories you should be burning each week. The lower end models work just as well if all you’re looking for is a calorie burn and heart rate. Price can range from $50 to $300.

One thing that you should definitely look for in a heart rate monitor is one with a chest strap. This is the best way to pick up and measure your pulse. Don’t be fooled into buying the cheaper versions that do it through your fingers, they don’t work as well.

Polar is known as one of the best companies out there for this product and most gym equipment are compatible with their chest strap. Meaning, if you’re wearing the strap, the treadmill you’re on will be able to display your heart rate.

Besides knowing precisely how many calories you’re burning (which is helpful if you’re losing weight, or training for a long-distance endurance race) I think it’s a good thing to be aware of your heart rate while working out. It’s the best way to tell if you’re working too hard or not hard enough, and if you’re cardiovascular abilities are improving. There are heart rate norms out there based on age and gender, but I find it’s very much unique to the individual. You won’t know what’s normal for you until you’ve been monitoring your heart for a few weeks and get used to the numbers you see.

Another way to measure you calorie expenditure is through use of the Body Bugg.

The Body Bugg is something you wear 24/7 and measures how many calories you burn over the course of a whole day (as opposed to a heart rate monitor, which you typically only wear during exercise). The Body Bugg calculates calories burned through the heat and electricity your skin gives off. Honestly, I don’t entirely understand the science behind this, but it can be pretty useful for people who are serious about weight loss. Losing weight is all about taking in fewer calories than you burn over the course of the day to create a deficit. This can help you calculate how to get the appropriate deficit. Plus, you can upload the data on your computer to get fancy charts ;)

Calories aren’t all of it though. People who exercise outdoors like to know how far and fast they’re going. That’s where a gadget like the Garmin Forerunner comes in.

This (giant) watch uses GPS to measure the distance of your runs. Based on this, it provides a real-time pace for you, and can also break down your runs into timed mile splits. Some Garmins come with chest straps to measure your heart rate and calorie burn, those without will give you a more of a “guesstimate.” (p.s. guesstimate is an actual work according to Windows Live Writer!)

If Garmins are way too frickin’ expensive for you, there is a cheaper way to measure your runs – the Nike +iPod.

The Nike + gadget comes in two parts: a piece that you plug into your iPod Nano and a piece that goes into the sole of a special Nike shoe. Note, you can also buy cases for the shoe piece that can be tied into your laces if you don’t have the special shoe. This is another gadget that I personally own. For $80, it was much cheaper than a Garmin. My only complaint is that it measures distance based on your stride length, then how many strides you take. It needs to be calibrated frequently and can throw you off when it gets un-calibrated. On the bright side, you can make special playlists with it, get your pace in real time, and sometimes the voice of Lance Armstrong will congratulate you when you break a personal distance record :)

Workout gadgets aren’t all about running. Another gadget that I love and use is attached to my bike – a Cateye Strada Wireless bike computer.

The left component attaches to your front spokes, and the right component to your handlebars. It measures your RPM and gives you a distance and speed based on the circumference of your tires. The great thing about this particular model is that it transmits with no extra wires and there are no buttons – you push the face of the right component to toggle through options. Not necessary, but it’s always fun to see how far and fast you can go!

Now these are just some of the more basic and popular gadgets out there and the ones I’m most familiar with. There are tons of other companies out there that make similar products. It’s all about finding one that provides you with the info you need. I’ve actually bought all of mine on eBay through good deals. Sometimes they are overpriced, but sometimes you get more than your money’s worth. I’ve been wearing my $130 Polar 5-6 times a week for 18 months and it still works like new. It’s become my favourite training partner :)

Finally, while I do advocate the use of gadgets, it’s also nice to take a break from them sometimes! I am the type of person who will take it too easy on myself unless I have numbers in front of me telling me I can push harder. In terms of improvement, nothing is more motivating than empirical data that says you are in fact getting better. But don’t be a slave to your gadgets! Run without the Garmin sometimes or hit up the gym without your heart rate monitor. It can be oddly liberating. Sometimes, something as simple as removing a wrist watch can take the “work” out of “workout” ;)


Question of the Day: Do you use gadgets?

Posted on July 30, 2010, in Fitness Friday, Workouts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. oh yeah I have aHR monitor (the thing that holds the strap down broke wahhhh) but I do love it! I can’t believe I hadn’t used one before. it is quite important to see my HR and where its at esp when i do those higher intensity workouts like Insanity and turbo fire. I always like to make sure I am staying in a “healthy’ range.

    that bootcamp sounds AMAZING! so my kind of workout, although I would rather be instructing than participating hehe ;) juuust kidding!!!

    happy friday!

  2. I absolutely LOVE my Polar F4 heart rate monitor. I use it to push myself to stay in the upper part of my cardio heart rate range. I discovered that when I wasn’t using one, I tended to coast around 140BPM — since pushing myself to an average of 145 with short bursts of 165, I’m feeling fitter! Yay gadgets.

  3. I have an F4 and I love it! It’s fun to see how high my HR gets lifting. I want a bodybugg or a fitbit for fun.. but they are so expensive!

  4. I do use gadgets. I have a Polar FT4 which I use for exactly as you described, to know if I am pushing myself hard enough, too hard or not hard enough in my cardio classes. It’s not uber fancy with too many functions, just enough to tell me what I am looking for.

    I also have a garmin for when I run. I like to be impulsive in my running routes and not have to map them out before or after. The Garmin lets me do this and know my distance run right away. Also though I am not currently working on imprioving my speed, I do enjoy knowing if I am getting faster.

  5. What a great post! I was in the Apple store recently purchasing a Macbook before law school starts and I was checking out the Nike/iPod gadget. I really want to buy it but I want to make sure its worth the investment AND I’m a little hesitant to get anything that tells me the amount of calories I’ve burned on a run because I’ve gotten much better at running/exercising for health instead of for burning calories. Though it seems the calorie burn it reports might not even be that reliable anyway so that might help me to ignore the number.

    Always such informative posts – I don’t know what I’d do without this blog!

    Nicole G

  6. I don’t use gadgets. I had a watch (just a normal one) for running but it broke and I didn’t really have a desire to buy another. I’d probably challenge myself to run faster if I did but I quite like intuitive running.
    Oh! I do take my ipod running sometimes to listen to podcasts – I suppose that counts!

    Happy long weekend!

  7. My favourite gadget by far is my ipod, but in addition to that, I sometimes use my Timex heart rate monitor. It wasn’t outrageously expensive (I actually got it at the Can Fit Pro tradeshow last year!) but it measures distance, HR and calories so it does the trick for me! :)

  8. Interesting post. I don’t use any gadgets at the moment as I am honestly quite new to exercise, but I can see how they would be useful. I do covet the Garmin Forerunner though!

  9. I have a HRM and like it but have gotten away from using it because the battery is low and it takes forever to pick up my heart rate. I did find that I pushed myself harder to maintain a higher heart rate while doing cardio but it was pointless for weight lifting. The Huz has the Garmin Forerunner and loves it. I feel good he has it. It has navigation features so I know if he gets lost, he can find his way! He doesn’t use it for heart rate, just distance and pacing.

  10. I heart my Garmin almost as much as my boyfriend (and so it boggles my mind that my boyfriend GAVE me my Garmin)!. It really has helped me a lot in my running.

  11. Great review! I love my Garmin 305 but don’t love the HRM, the chest strap doesn’t fit and has actually fallen off mid treadmill run. Whoops!

    • I’ve heard the Garmin chest straps can be on the larger side! I’m by no means that tiny around my ribcage, but my Polar chest strap has stretched enough that I now have to keep it at the tightest adjustment.

  12. Nice review and 50 pushups? Holy crap!

    I used to use an HRM, and a GoWear fit, but now I just do without any gizmos. I sometimes wear a watch, but only when lifting so I can time my rest periods.

  13. Fab post, I wish I had read this a couple of months ago, I bought a cheapish HRM without a chest strap and its rubbish! I’ll be ebaying it and saving for an F11 methinks! x

  14. Before anyone invests in a bodybug check out I received mine in May and haven’t taken it off since. It is much more discret, less expensive and has kept me very motivated. I love it!

  15. I have both a HRM (Polar) and a Garmin 305. i am kind of a gadget junkie. I can’t help it, they are definitely my splurge items. I love them both though. i use my HRM for my gym days whether it be spin class or weights and my Garmin (which I lovingly refer to as my Beast) for when I run outside.

  16. Oh wow my little comment (what feels like a LIFETIME AGO) that I left it :) has sparked such a thorough, amazing post…im sure you cranked this one out in 5 mins, right..kidding!

    Ok so after i posted that question, I got a garmin 305cx and returned it. 34 ribcage bra and could NOT keep the strap tight enough. For $325 I wanted it perfect and it was far from perfect, so I sent it back.

    I replaced it with a strip down Polar, I believe the Polar F6. Its was $89. The strap is fine, I just dont know if I care that much about my heartrate OR my caloric burn. I thought I did, but now that I know what burns what, give or take, I dont even wanna wear that constricting, annoying, hot strap.

    I guess maybe I am just really sensitive to the straps but I hate having that thing on my chest!

    Just read everyone’s comments, I already have my Polar on the tighest strap setting and if that thing gives/stretches one iota, I’m screwed, it’s already barely tight enough.

    Another thing i hated about the garmin was the watch was TOO huge and clunky AND the strap was hard plastic. At least the polar is softer and the watch is smaller.

    That said, I wish it had GPS.

    I wont link drop but i have posted all my pros/cons about both of them. Anyway great post and I just dont know what to do. If I even cared enough that would be one thing…but I dont care that much about the data i have determined…rambling..sorry…..

    Thank you for this amazing post, Susan!! :)

  17. I don’t use gadgets, but I want some. (heart rate monitor and garmin!) Thanks for the post – it is very helpful! :)

  18. I’ve wanted a garmin for so long, thank you for this post. From the reviews I read, everyone seems pleased with theirs, all said I wish I bought it sooner. Your right though, too expensive, it will be a splurge, but Costco online has a good price.

  19. greensandjeans

    I mega super heart my running Garmin and my cycling Garmin. Training for races is SO much easier when I don’t have to spend forever calculating routes and figuring out paces before and after runs! Amazon has had some great pricing on the Forerunner recently.

  20. I like gadgets too. I have a Polar Heart Rate monitor. I would love to upgrade to a Garmin.

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