While I’m working out at the gym, I keep track of my routine by writing down the name of the exercise followed by the reps and the weight (in pounds). Each set is written down like this: Squat 10/45 10/135 5/185 etc. This means I did a warm up set with just the bar (45 lbs) for ten reps, ten reps at 135lbs, and five reps at 185lbs. This is about as detailed as I get. Maybe once a week I’ll weigh myself on the gym’s digital scale and write that down, but I’ve found that this simple method is perfect for tracking my workout for Fitocracy.
Now, there’s this other guy at the gym. He’s got this hardbound book that totally blew me away. We got to talking one day about our workouts and he opened up the book to show me this unbelievable data tracking method he uses. He records everything! On each page isn’t just his workout tracking but a ton of other data. He tracks the rest time between sets (using a stopwatch he is constantly running) and he tries to estimate how long each rep took. He tracks his heart rate, his body weight before and after each workout, and a bunch of other metabolic data points that aren’t all that familiar to me. He’s not a professional bodybuilder, but he really does take this seriously! On each facing page is his daily eating journal – it doesn’t look like he weighs his food but he does track everything he eats and drinks as well as the protein/fat/carbs values for the items. It’s impressive, and I can’t help but wonder just how much time this takes out of his day to keep track of this level of detail.
I like data — I know the importance of tracking it properly if you wish to perform tests or other activities. Fitocracy has a nice histogram feature that lets me see how my weightlifting is progressing over time, and a quick glance back at three or four months ago in my workout journal tells me that I’m obviously getting stronger as the weights are getting higher in value as well as the reps and the length of my workout.
Back in January when I attended CES I was able to take a look at a handful of devices that were designed to assist with tracking various types of exercise — running, swimming, weight lifting, etc. One that stood out for reasons I’ll mention in a moment was the BodyMedia device. It’s an armband device that collects data when you’re wearing it and the BodyMedia comes in a few varieties. The one that BodyMedia sent me to test was the LINK version that can stream data to a smartphone (Android or iPhone) or connect to your computer to upload the data to an online web service (subscription based).
What drew me to the BodyMedia device was how the data was presented. Using an uncomplicated list of only a handful of parameters, the BodyMedia service shows me using simple numbers and a graph how I’m doing in terms of steps walked (per day), calories burned, sleep collected (in hours), time I’ve performed physical activity, and a few more.
As you can see from some of the screen caps of the online tracking tool, there are other features that I’m not using such as the calorie tracker; while I like that I can track my eating habits, I like that I’m not penalized for not doing it. When you first configure the BodyMedia, you select whether you want to try for a light, moderate, or heavy workout routine… I chose moderate so you can see that it’s looking for 8,000 steps per day and at least forty-five minutes per day of physical activity. You can also customize your routine rather than use the defaults.
The BodyMedia doesn’t judge you — it doesn’t tell you you failed for the day to meet your goals. It just provides you a visual representation of what you’ve done with your day. I can immediately tell my non-gym days because my physical activity time is much lower, but I live in a two-story home and I try to walk as much as possible each day, so I’m often finding myself hitting my 8,000 steps per day.
The calories burned feature is also nice — the standard rule is that if you want to lose weight you’ve got to burn more calories than you take in. I’m actually trying to gain weight (good weight), so the weight gain shakes I drink on workout days and before bed are probably going to start getting logged so I can at least make sure I’m eating more calories than I’m burning. Well, knowing that I’m burning between 2,500 and 3,000 calories (on average) per day is certainly useful when I’m trying to eat enough food. But if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll likely find this daily calorie counter very useful as you try to monitor your food intake and keep the total calorie count lower.
I don’t work out with my phone, so I make it a habit each night to connect up the BodyMedia device to my computer to upload my data. In addition to the BodyMedia device, the service is also capable of receiving heart rate data from a number of monitor devices. There are additional features for viewing personal bests as well as tracking your MET value — if you’re not familiar with it, check this writeup out and just know it’s nice to have that number handy.
There’s a food tracker tool as well as a tool to allow you to examine various types of activities to see the associated calories burned. Like I said, I’m not using some of these features but that could change. I think the value this device offers is that it allows you to choose what you want to monitor without being forced to choose it all. I just don’t have time in my day right now to track my food intake (maybe I could estimate it but if I want accuracy I’d need a way to calculate its weight or at least serving sizes), but it’s nice to know these features are there should I choose to use them.
As for the device itself, the first day I wore it I was a bit irritated at times with the feel of it on my arm. You also wear it at night (if you wish it to monitor your sleep totals) and after waking up after that first night, I was over it. You take it off to shower but other than that… you’re asked to wear it 23 or more hours per day. By the second or third day I often forgot I was even wearing it. The documentation says it will record data for fourteen days without needing to be recharged and I can say that after one week of wearing it the device was reporting a 72% battery charge. Not shabby at all.
My BodyMedia device along with my workout journal are offering me a number of ways to track my exercise and health. My journal shows me how I’m progressing with my weightlifting and my BodyMedia armband is keeping me informed on my sleep, calories burned, and steps taken. One thing I’ve already been able to determine from examining the results that I need to reduce my sitting time. On days I work, my steps taken and physical activity are much lower (common sense, really) and I need to change that — I’m actually now thinking about taking hourly breaks from my work and walking at least once around the block per break. The goal is to up my steps taken, keep my physical activity time over the one hour mark, and hopefully increase my MET value.
Just having the BodyMedia tracking my data has already got me thinking how I can improve; with its easy-t0-understand graphs and daily totals, I can’t imagine how anyone looking to get (or stay) in shape or improve their health couldn’t find this device useful.
You can find more details about the BodyMedia devices at bodymedia.com