Walking, running, cycling or general fitness have always been an on again/ off again, but mostly off again, type of affair for me. While I have been going gangbusters with my latest effort, I enlisted the help of a new friend to keep me motivated. My iPhone and an application called RunKeeper.
With RunKeeper installed and your profile setup it monitors your activity via the built-in GPS while you’re exercising and gives you information on your distance, average speed, route etc. while also keeping a history of all your activities. This allows you to analyse and review your exercise regime and see personal improvements over time or to see how you fair against your friends.
Another feature of RunKeeper is the ability to add your own information to your completed activity, like your average heart rate for instance. I had previously used an old Polar watch/ heart rate monitor from one of my previous stints and after a run I would enter the average heart rate to my activity. A few issues I have encountered with the old type of heart rate monitors were:
- You could only enter the average rate for the whole activity
- If the headphones cable crossed over or near the heart rate strap, I could hear the pulse of my heart tick come through
- The third issue (really more of an inconvenience) was wearing the bulky watch on your wrist.
In the end, I found I would either forget to enter my heart rate before summiting a completed run, or I didn’t take my heart rate monitor at all.
The iPhone 4S has provided us with some nice improvements but one of them which seems to go somewhat unnoticed is the inclusion of the Bluetooth 4.0 specification with BLE (Bluetooth low energy). BLE allows for low-power and low-latency devices which can consume a fraction of the power regular Bluetooth devices and connect at short distances. With the large amount of smartphones and in particular tablets entering the medical field this is a perfect way for doctors to connect to scanners, ECG machines etc, and for the home consumer it could be a glucose machine or as you guessed a heart rate monitor.
The Wahoo Fitness Blue HR heart rate strap, is one of the first of this kind of new Bluetooth 4.0 devices, allowing it to connect directly to the iPhone to monitor your heart rate sidestepping the need for an other device like the old Polar watch. This direct connection improves the usefulness for the heart rate monitor immensely. The biggest bonus is that it monitors your heart rate for the entire length of your workout and for every step you take, so once the data is uploaded to RunKeeper, not only do you get to see your normal average and max heart rate, you can also see what your heart was doing along the way.
If you hit a steep incline or you pushed yourself harder during a flat spot, you can literally see the current heart rate at that exact moment. This isn’t only a benefit after the fact, it’s also useful when using the RunKeeper application as you can get audio cues along the way and know what your current heart rate is and then push yourself if you’re falling below your desired heart rate. For me this is fantastic to see how my fitness is improving and where I can work harder to keep a consistent high rate, as I usually run the same route.
The Wahoo Fitness Blue HR heart rate strap itself consists of a strap and monitor. The strap is very comfortable and light to wear and not as wide as some straps I have tried. It also comes with a free application you can download from the appstore called Wahoo Fitness, which gives you all the normal heart rate information from your monitor, but it will also do for you what RunKeeper does and use the GPS to track your workout. The Wahoo Fitness app can be used on its own or you can connect it to your RunKeeper profile and after each workout and upload your activity. I found the application to be very basic, with a messy layout which would most likely leave the average user confused and overwhelmed, so it’s nice to know that the Blue HR can be used with a big list of fitness applications available on the appstore, including my favourite with it’s it’s simple layout, easy interface and comprehensive set of features iSmoothRun ($4.99).
The monitor itself was wonderfully simple to setup and pair with any of the applications I tried and that’s the first major difference to standard Bluetooth. Where you would normally pair with the device (iPhone) itself, this paired directly with individual applications as opposed to messing around with the iPhone under Bluetooth settings.
Each application works basically the same way, you set your profile and your activity (running/ walking) and go. The application, within seconds, will find and connect to your Blue HR and start receiving your current heart rate.
Being a bluetooth 4.0 device, the battery in the monitor is rated to last a year and then it’s a simple user replaceable watch battery you can pickup from almost anywhere.
For an $80 investment, I found The Wahoo Fitness Blue HR, not only satisfying my nerdy obsession with stats, but it allows my obsessive behavioural side to push myself harder to get fitter. Keep in mind it requires a smartphone with Bluetooth 4.0, which currently is only the iPhone 4S although this is likely to change as more smartphones add this feature. I would highly recommend Wahoo Fitness Blue HR to anyone who wants an edge in taking control of their fitness.