Next generation fitness trackers

fitnesstrackers

We’re having a drought here in Central Virginia so I have not done much paddling during a time of year where I typically love being on the water and logging many of my annual kayaking miles.

So in the absence of much to talk about in terms of my kayaking and on-water adventures, let me  explain several of my recent posts involving fitness tracking technology.

I started searching for a fitness and gym tracker a few years ago in order to log and track my training both in the gym and on the water.  Being able to track paddle cadence on the water and progress in the gym would be very useful.

I started out with the Amiigo device, then moved to the Xiaomi Amazfit Arc followed shortly thereafter by the Atlas Wearables Wristband 2.

As a result of reviewing those units in YouTube videos and on this blog, two other companies reached out to me and sent me devices to evaluate in exchange for fair and honest reviews.  Those devices were the Actofit Wearables tracker and the MBHB Sport Smart Bracelet.

I have also researched countless other devices to find the right one.

So far not a single device meets all my needs.

Many of them do not count paddle strokes as “steps”, some are not reliably waterproof, and some do not have the battery life to last for an all-day outing or ultra-marathon kayak trip or race.   Some let you train new movements or exercises while others do not.

The one device I am truly in love with is the Atlas Wearables wristband for in the gym.  It recognizes my exercises, lets me train new ones and allows me to enter the amount of weight on the bar or edit the number of reps right on the wristband during my workouts.  It has completely replaced my clipboard with paper exercise log in the gym and the online dashboard lets me review my training progress and areas of focus over time.  It is a great training tool for the gym, but is not intended for all-day wear.

I am looking forward to seeing what Atlas Wearables comes out with next.  This is the one company that seems to be truly innovating and delivering on their promises and their customer service and support is awesome.

Aside from the Atlas device, there are many, many other fitness trackers out there that all do the same basic things and maybe have one or two unique features such as blood pressure measurements that set them apart.  There is no lack of affordable trackers with basic functionality if that is what you are looking for.

But, again, I have not yet found one device that meets all my needs.

I have also been approached by a few companies doing market research asking me what I’m looking for in a fitness tracker so I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in a next generation device.

My ideal next-generation fitness tracker would be/have:

  • Waterproof
  • Comfortable and stylish enough for all-day wear even in professional settings
  • 5+ day battery life before the need to recharge
  • Good tracking exercises in the gym and allow you to train new, custom motions/exercises (such as kettlebell sumo squats and the kayaking wing paddle stroke)
  • An online dashboard that allows you to track progress over time
  • Export capabilities of all data so data can be imported into a spreadsheet for long-term tracking and analysis
  • A display on the device that allows you to edit exercises and change functions during exercises and activities without access to the paired phone (my phone is either in a kayak hatch inside a dry bag or in a gym locker people!)
  • Automatic sleep tracking
  • Ability to measure blood pressure on-demand
  • Heart Rate (HR) capabilities both on-demand and automatically at pre-set time intervals
  • Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements to better understand recovery
  • Basic functions such as steps, calorie burn, distance, etc.

I just don’t understand why this device is so elusive.  There are trackers already that do all of these things, but not one single one that does them all.

If you find it or know of this elusive beast, please let me know.

 

 

Actofit fitness tracker review – follow-up

~~~ Update Dec. 26, 2017 ~~~
Actofit have reached out to me to let me know they were not able to address the production issues with their first generation tracker but they are coming out with a gen2 device, The Actofit Rise, in Q1, 2018. They have emailed all their backers to let them know there is a plan for free upgrades to the new device. If you were a backer and have not heard from them you should reach out to them to let them know. It sounds like they will take care of you.

UPDATE Dec. 9, 2017:
After repeatedly reaching out to Actofit, they finally responded and stated,

Over the past few months, we have tried to fix certain things with our assembly line and production control processes based on feedback we have had from our initial batches. However, our current design does not allow us to maintain quality at higher production volumes. To improvise on these design defects and to enable us to fight the struggle between manufacturing yet delivering a world-class product, we have had to make the hard choice of discontinuing the first variant of the fitness tracker. This was a tough decision and let we assure you, our future products will be more powerful.

The new, next generation Actofit Blitz is expected to launch in January/February 2018.”

Original post:

My regular readers will recognize that I am a data geek and believe that if you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it.

As such I’ve been looking for a fitness tracker that can do everything I want including:

  • Be a good gym tracker in terms of exercise recognition with easy entry of weight lifted
  • Waterproof so it can go kayaking and be underwater for short periods of time
  • Learn new activities so I can “teach” it the kayaking wing paddle stroke
  • Accurately track sleep including resting heart rate (RHR)
  • A bonus feature would be for it to also provide heart rate variability (HRV) while sleeping to provide an indication of stress and recovery

The Actofit company sent me their tracker to evaluate in August and I was very hopeful.  I even did an initial review (embedded below.)

Since that review I’ve communicated with the company and they were responsive.  The inaccurate weights that I reported in my initial review was the back-end server assuming incoming data was in kilograms, so even though I chose pounds as my units for weights, their servers assumed my pounds were kilograms and then converted them to pounds.  They fixed that problem quickly.

They also responded and cleared gym sessions that were “stuck” in synchronization mode.

Then my Samsung Galaxy S5 updated to Android 6.0.1 and all communications with the device were lost.  In fairness, that updated also bricked my Amazfit Arc tracker.

Then after I upgraded the the Galaxy S8+ both tracker apps worked fine once again.

I started wearing the Actofit again and was using it as my every day and night fitness tracker and it showed signs of being a very good gym tracker.  I did not get it wet or take it kayaking but was hopeful that once I had put it through its paces on land that it would then perform well on water.

Well, water then became the issue.

As my local weather started getting cooler and drier, I noticed condensation forming inside the unit.

afitcondensationCondensation forming inside the Actofit screen

Then last week I went out to California where it was even drier and the condensation built up to the point where it shorted out the device.  Almost all the LED elements lit up and then it just went dark–for good.

So after approximately 6 weeks the device is dead.

It was obvious to me the device was manufactured in a high humidity environment and once my local weather got cooler and drier the humidity inside the waterproof device condensed to the point where it shorted out the device.

The company has since confirmed they rejected a lot at QC for this very issue. (Why they sent me one of these units for review I’ll never understand.)

I felt I owe my readers a follow-up to my initial review to let you know how it turned out.

If Actofit are willing to send me a new device for review again I’ll be happy to give it another try because it had become the device that stayed on my wrist 24/7.  I was very happy with its sleep analysis, loved the measure of RHR, successfully taught it custom exercises and its exercise recognition was adequate so I was satisfied with its gym tracking capabilities.

But at least for now, it is back to the Amazfit Arc for 24/7 wear and the Atlas Wearables 2 for in the gym.

Why can’t somebody come up with a device that does it all well?

 

 

Training and tracking

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I am a firm believer in tracking and measuring as much as possible when it comes to training.  If you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it.

bodyfocus

That’s why I was one of the first people to buy a Skulpt Aim when it came to market. (I actually pre-ordered it before it was commercially available.)

SkulptAimHand

The Aim is a small, handheld Electrical Impedance Myography (EIM) device that attempts to measure body fat and muscle quality.

I very much loved the device when I first got it but then they changed the firmware at one point and the measurements for body fat were significantly higher than they were before the firmware upgrade. (Less accurate in my opinion.)  For a device that claimed to be more accurate than a DEXA scan when it launched, I couldn’t but wonder, did they lie to me about that accuracy before the firmware update or are they lying to me now?

Within the past few days they’ve rolled out a new version of their app and I’m happy to see they now allows users to export historical data.  It is important to see how you are trending and performing over time because measurement-to-measurement variations seemed to be fairly high in my opinion.

Now that the device seems more useful, I’m blowing the dust off it and will start using it again in my training in addition to the Atlas Wristband tracker for in the gym, the Amiigo wristband for Heart Rate Variability (HRV) while sleeping, the Amazfit Arc for general steps and sleep tracking, and GPS and heart rate monitor while I’m training on water.

Yes, I’m a tech geek and a gizmo guy.

NewSkulpAppMy user history from the Skulpt Aim (last used in January) at least indicates I’ve been moving in the right direction, body fat down, muscle quality up.

I’ll keep you posted on how I like this device post-software upgrade after I return to using it for a little while.

PS – And after a new, full body measurement tonight and only plotting the data since November, I can see I did indeed make progress in the gym over the winter. Now let’s see how much I can make that body fat % drop in the next 6 weeks to be lighter on water.

skulpt3-20

A great day for a workout paddle

meoctane

The weather was nice mid-day today in Central Virginia (in between morning and evening rains) so I loaded up the Pyranha Octane and headed for my local reservoir.  This is the third or fourth time I’ve paddled it but the first time I’ve paddled it more than 5 miles so I feel I have enough miles at this point that this can serve as my review of the Pyranha Octane surf ski.

The day was a bit windy and my back was tight and achy, but once I got out on the water I got more and more comfortable in the boat and loosened up a bit.

After a short while, I realized the boat is very stable for a surf ski and quite predictable.

The hull of the craft is more flat than round so it is much more stable than most surf skis.

Wiggling around and reaching to open and close the drain was no problem.  The seat is very comfortable and the narrowing of the craft at the point of paddle entry was well thought out.

Being the first open cockpit craft or surf ski I’ve owned, I was somewhat amazed by how much water splashes up from the paddle and into the long, open cockpit.  I was opening the drain more often than expected. I guess I’m used to that splash hitting a deck and rolling over the sides.

Now I fully understand why there is a drain.

The boat is quite fast (I got her up to 7.5mpg without wind at one point) but at times suffers from ground effects in shallow waters due to is underwater profile and weight.  It just plain seemed to bog down in the shallows more than what I’m used to.

I started out with my Camelbak Podium Big Chill water bottle in the cup holder between my legs and at some point realized that bottle is so tall that it interfered with my legs so I pulled it out and bungied it to the rear deck.

That was a huge improvement which allowed me to have a more natural motion with my legs and provided much more room.  In the future I will keep a shorter water bottle in the cockpit with me.

A minor annoyance was the foot straps on the peddles.

The boat came from the factory with one piece of strapping with the “hook” piece of hook-and-loop fastener anchored in its middle in between the peddles with the ends loose to wrap over the top of each foot.  Then each peddle has a “loop” bit of strap on the outside of each foot that then also wraps over the top and joins with the other strap.

The system firmly secures your feet to the peddles, but what I found very annoying was the fact that the inside part of the straps rubbed together when I worked the peddles and since it was exposed loops against exposed loops, it made a crunching sound each and every time I had to make a peddle adjustment to work the rudder.   A small detail, but an annoying one.

I don’t know why they didn’t use the smooth side of the strap in between the feet so it doesn’t rub hook against hook the way it does.

peddlesWhy oh why are the insides of the straps rubbing hook on hook?

When I got home I immediately removed the foot straps and I’ll see if I like it better next time without them.  If not, I’d design my own foot straps and reinstall.

gps3-18-1711.3 miles with a top speed of 7.5mph.  Not bad!

Another small gripe is the fact that the gap behind the carry handles is too small for adult hands.  Just a little more room in the handles would have been great.

Overall the boat is very fast for how stable and heavy it is. As I look at the photos, I see how much rocker it has which prevents it from floating just a little bit higher in the water.  I suppose that’s the trade-off between speed and maneuverability.

I’ll accept that trade-off in this boat because it is obviously made for rivers more so than for ocean surf or flat water sprinting.  With that said, I believe this will be a good entry point for those new to surf skis who are scared by the extreme tippiness of other options in the surf ski category.

My average speed was meaningless today because I stopped several times to stretch and at one point just sat for a short while and watched as a Bald Eagle perched above me on a branch.

The boat is slower than my Thunderbolt-X and most likely also slower than my Cobra Viper, but not by much and with its plastic construction and relative stability, it fits a clear niche and is going to be a great long-distance river runner.  Exactly what I wanted it to do and be.

As an aside, it was somewhat fun to explain to the fine folks at Appomattox River Company that I was actually buying this boat for its stability and then watching their facial expressions  as they tried to compute that statement.  I don’t think I am their typical customer.  🙂

I love the fact that it has a large rear hatch for storage and also a storage compartment in the bow with access in front of the feet.  It will be interesting to paddle this alongside my paddling buddy with his V7 to see how the two compare, but on paper the Octane (also branded as the Think Nitro) is marginally longer and narrower.

I love this boat!

As I got home and reviewed the video, I realize how sloppy my form got over the winter.

I’ve got a lot of things in my technique to straighten out and fix in the next few weeks before racing season begins.


My first long run with the Pyranha Octane today


My first ever outing with the craft

My review of the Atlas Wearables Wristband 2 gym tracker

atlasI’ve been looking to replace my Amiigo fitness tracker ever since the company announced they were abandoning the project and all of their customers (a foregone conclusion after 18 months of total silence after they commercially launched the product.  Yes, I’m more than just a little bitter about those sleezebags.)

I was never really happy with the Amiigo device because it was never very good at recognizing activities and only after you would synch workouts with the app would you discover that it failed to recognize many exercises and only recorded them as “upper body burst” or “lower body burst.”  Not at all useful if you take workouts seriously and want to track progress over time.  Especially not useful if you do supersets and don’t have a good memory to remember each and every sequence of exercises you did and the amount of weights you used for each set so you can then painstakingly enter each one into an app after the fact.

Heck, I got the thing to get away from a paper workout log but found the paper more effective.

The activity recognition was horrible.  I hoped they would improve upon the exercise recognition algorithms but the company never did and then announced they abandoned the project.  (Did I mention I’m bitter about the whole experience?)

I conducted research online for months and determined that Atlas Wearables had developed a tracker that looked like exactly what I wanted.  (In fact, I had been scouting them before they even launched their product.)

I already have the Amazfit Arc for tracking steps and sleep and heart rate on-demand, so I wanted something that would do one thing very well.  Track my workouts in the gym.

After a month of using the Atlas, I am happy to report it is an excellent device for this task.

Once you tell the wristband which exercises you plan to do during your workout (it can store 15 exercises,) its recognition is very good and when you are done with each set of lifts, you can enter the amount of weight on the bar and even correct the number of reps in case it gets it wrong (which isn’t very often.)   That’s right, it has a touch screen so you can edit after each set and you don’t need your phone to access the app during a workout.  Sweet!

The device is not designed for all day wear and, in fact, it will not track steps, but it excels in the gym.  The battery will probably last two or three workout before you need to recharge it, but I find I prefer to turn off the power saving mode when I’m working out so I only expect to get one workout per charge.

By turning off the power saving mode, the LCD display stays on during my workouts so I save a press of the button every set just “waking up” the device to then enter a weight amount or correct the number of reps.  That might not sound like a big deal to you, but I start with lighter weights and work up to heavy ones and then back down to light ones so it saves me a whole lot of extra button clicking in the gym so I’m happy to sacrifice battery life for that.  If you do all your sets of exercises with the same weight it might not be that big of a deal for you.

Atlas also provides the ability to make edits to your workout post-workout and has an online dashboard to achieve this and the dashboard provides good insights into your training history.

atlasscren4

I am very happy with the device and can report that it does an excellent job recognizing each exercise.  Training new exercises that are not already in its database is easy and straight forward (see video review below.)

I highly recommend it as a gym tracker for the serious gym rat.

You’ll find a link to my video review below, but I do want to give you a “head’s up” that a new tracker claims to be coming out from a company called Actofit that looks promising as an exercise tracker.

Heaven knows that these companies can make any claims they want to prior to launch and I will never again buy another one based on pre-launch hype from an unknown company (like I did with Amiigo,) so I’ll wait to see what early users of the Actofit report.

But I’ll give them some guidance.

The only way to top Atlas as a gym tracker at this point would be to have greater memory so you can keep more exercises loaded in the wristband, better battery life, a sleeker design that would allow it to step out of the gym and be comfortable for all-day wear, waterproof design for swimming and kayaking, and good sleep tracking that includes Heart Rate Variability in order to assess recovery and over-training.

If Actofit or any other competitor wants to send me a tracker for early review I will be happy to oblige, but until then, Atlas reigns supreme as the best gym tracker on the market.

 

Off-season training in the gym

I made it through the holidays without gaining any weight and have actually managed to drop 2 or 3 pounds since Jan. 1.

That might not be a good thing.

I continue my training through the off-season by hitting the gym 5-6 days per week doing body splits.  Today was an upper body day that hit most of the muscles that will assist during kayak racing season.  I did a leg day on Wednesday (after taking a week off for recovery) and am still feeling it.

I’m continuing up the learning curve with my Atlas Wristband and think I am close to realizing its full potential as a training tool and actually using it the right way now.  A few more sessions and I think I’ll be able to do a full review and render my opinion.

I do, however, feel a bit like a dweeb in the gym wearing both it and the Amazfit Arc tracker on the same wrist.  A little too much hardware going on there for a guy who generally considers himself a minimalist.  Oh well, call me a minimalist in search of better training tools.

atlas-1

I plan to continue to walk the very thin line between adding muscle mass while not gaining fat through March at which point I’ll try to lean out and lighten up as much as possible in preparation for “fast yet light on the water” season.

Mid-life training is a lot like bodybuilding…except without the same results in terms of visible payback, and it takes a lot more effort and attention for a lot less return on investment.

I wish I had my youth to do over.