Chapter 3: More Technology and Ways to Track Your Fitness
Let’s imagine for a moment that you don’t want to spend a ton of cash on any of the fancy fitness wearables we just looked at. That’s fair enough, and probably quite sensible!
In this case, how would you track your fitness? Well… in a ton of different ways and as we’ll see, you can certainly take a more MacGyver approach to this if that’s more your style.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to get the most complete amount of information possible and you love being on the cutting edge of technology, then there are a ton of cool things you can do as well.
This chapter will look at some of the less conventional fitness tracking available – a lot of which also happens to be downright awesome…
Oh and some of these tracking methods are things that you need to be doing on top of using your fitness tracker anyway. In this section you’ll learn how to calculate things like your BMR and AMR.
Old-School Fitness Tracking
Want to go old-school on your fitness tracking? Here are some basic utilities you can use…
Getting Your Heartrate
If you want to monitor your heartrate without a fitness tracking watch, then you have a few options. One is to go to a gym with treadmills and other cardio machines and then just to hold onto the handles. Normally, these will use bioimpedance sensors to give you a good reading and if you keep your training consistent and take note of your heart rate, you’ll be able to see your fitness improve over time. Another option is to buy a Polar chest strap, which works with a lot of these machines and isn’t too expensive.
Failing that, why not do things the old fashioned way and just take your pulse with your fingers? To do this, just take your fingers and place them on the inside of your wrist, right below your thumb. Count how many beats you can feel in 30 seconds (using a timer) and then double the result to get your BPM. Of course if you’re pushed for time, you can go for 20 seconds and then multiply by three – but the more you count yourself, the more accurate the reading will be.
To measure your resting heartrate, just take your pulse first thing in the morning. This gives you a good indicator of your overall cardio health (a healthier heart has to beat fewer times to circulate the same amount of blood) and also tells you how much you recovered during the night and whether or not you’re ready to train again.
Measuring Your Weight
Something you should definitely be doing even if you wear the most advanced strap in the world is measuring your weight. This is an important metric to know generally but it’s especially useful if you’re trying to lose weight.
Now, it’s important to be careful when measuring weight and using this along with dieting. The problem with measuring weight alone is that it doesn’t differentiate between muscle and fat. Weight alone is actually a fairly useless metric then because what’s more important is body composition.
How do you measure this? One option is to submerge yourself in a special tank that can measure your mass via a clever displacement system… but you probably don’t want to afford all that.
Instead, why not just measure your waistline? If you’re looking to lose weight then no doubt this is basically what you’re trying to affect and it will offer a much more useful number to base your training on.
BMR and AMR
We said that you needed to know your weight for general purposes too though and this is a good example of that. Your BMR and AMR can be used to tell you how many calories you burn in any given day but in order to know this number, you need your weight first.
When calculating your calories burned, any fitness tracker is going to first calculate your AMR and BMR based on some data you put in.
Essentially, your BMR is your ‘Basal Metabolic Rate’ which is the number of calories you burn when you’re just lying there. You need to burn calories just in order to blink, in order to beat your heart and in order to breathe.
The AMR meanwhile is the number of calories you burn based on your activity. That doesn’t just mean fitness training but also things like walking, going to work etc.
To calculate your basal metabolic rate, you use the following equations:
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
To turn this into your AMR, you then multiply that amount by:
2 if you’re sedentary (little or no exercise)
375 if you’re lightly active (you exercise 1-3 times a week)
55 if you’re moderately active (you exercise or work about average)
725 if you’re very active (you train hard for 6-7 days a week)
9 if you’re highly active (you’re a physical laborer or a professional athlete)
With this number, you’ll then know how many calories you burn both before and after exercise. This is useful as it lets you know roughly how many calories you can consume before you’re likely to start gaining weight. Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind when reading how many calories you burned. Why? Because the exercise you’re doing is only accounting for a small proportion of the extra calories. Saying you burned 200 calories in an hour is less impressive when you realize that you normally burn at least 83 calories in an hour anyway.
Want to measure your strength? There are a number of ways you can do this but one very simple one is to measure your 1 rep maximum on a variety of lifts – ideally the big three compound lifts (those being the squat, deadlift and bench press).
The problem with this plan is that a one rep max is quite hard to measure if you don’t have a spotter. Something you can do though is to find a weight you can lift five times and then to use the following equation:
(5RM x 1.1307) + 0.6998
This is roughly the same no matter what type of exercise you’re performing.
Another option is to measure the size of your muscles with tape measures. This is something that professional bodybuilders do a lot and it’s a great way to see if you’re gaining size in specific areas.
Of course muscle size does not correlate precisely with muscle strength for a variety of reasons and once again, there’s no way to differentiate between fat here. Still, if size is what you’re actually aiming for (as it is for a lot of guys) then this is the most logical thing to measure!
That said, another way to measure your aesthetics is quite simply to take a look in the mirror. As long as you’re able to be objective, this is the easiest way to see where you have fat still clinging on, which muscles are looking the biggest/the most defined and where you can improve. Take photos as you train and compare them with how you look in the mirror and make sure that you think about what is that you’re doing that’s causing the positive results or the lack thereof.
Pen and Paper
One of the best tools you can possibly use to measure your fitness and to track your performance though is a good old-fashioned pad of paper and a pen.
What can you monitor with this? That all depends on what you’re trying to measure. One particularly good example though would be to just write down how you feel each morning on a scale of one-to-ten. From there, you can start tracking what you’re eating, how you’re training, what time you’re going to bed etc. and then look for correlations. You might be able to find for instance that you feel bad on the days when you have too much caffeine, or on the days that you eat bread – maybe you have a gluten intolerance! The point is, that by keeping tabs on how you feel and what you’re doing, you might be able to identify correlations that offer useful insights and help you to improve your health.
Tracking your workouts is also a good idea. Keep tabs on precisely what amounts you’re lifting and how, where you’re running etc. This way you can then compare that data to your stats and see whether all the hard work is really paying off.
There are also a ton of social networks that allow you to do this on a more public forum and here you can also benefit from some of the social benefits that something like Fitbit offers. For instance, Body Space is a great site from Bodybuilding.com where you can share your progress, your goals and your pictures and get motivation and feedback from the community.
One more tip is to visit your doctor regularly for health checks. There doesn’t need to be something wrong with you to see your GP – just ask for a blood test and your blood pressure to be monitored and you can keep tabs on your general fitness. If you have the money, then paying to see a physio occasionally can help you to avoid getting into bad posture habits and to prevent picking up bad movement habits. All these things give you more information and early warning of problems, which can make a massive difference to your health.
More Cool Fitness Tracking Devices
Are you loving all of this data tracking and learning that much more about your body? If so then you might be itching to put yourself right at the forefront of the field and to try some of the latest and most exciting products and options on the market. Here are some more advanced tools for the pro life-logger.
Something pretty cheap that you can invest in to get a fun little insight into your health and fitness is a ‘dynamometer’. This is basically a device that you squeeze with your grip as hard as you can and which then measures how much force you applied. In turn, this lets you tell how strong you are in terms of your grip (which has a huge correlation with your overall strength) and also gives you some feedback regarding your recovery. It’s often said that a weak grip in the morning suggests that you have a low ratio of testosterone to cortisol and in turn this implies that you haven’t recovered all that well from your last workout.
The Dynamometer is also a great tool for training in itself as it offers you a way to test your grip strength that can go up to 100KG (unlike a lot of grip ‘trainers’).
The Skulpt is a relatively new fitness tracking device that found popularity on Kickstarter. What it does is allow you to measure your muscle ‘quality’ which tells you the density of the muscle that you’re working. It measures 12 different muscle groups and for those looking for something completely unique and original, this is a fun metric to measure.
The Cue health tracker is device that is currently still in development but which promises to revolutionize health tracking by allowing you to take readings from your blood from home. These include vitamin D (which many of us are deficient in), inflammation, influenza, fertility and testosterone. For many guys and especially gym rats, the testosterone measurement will be the one here that’s most interesting and this can be a great tool if you’re trying to improve your anabolism through lifestyle and diet.
Blood and DNA Tests
There are now a number of services online that offer some deeper insights into your health, such as blood analysis and even DNA tests. WellnessFX for instance is one such service that can measure 53-93 markers depending on what you’re looking for, though the price is quite steep. Other sits like DNAFit offer DNA testing for fitness and other uses. These can tell you things about yourself such as your ratio of slow twitch to fast twitch muscle fiber – useful insights that will help you to pick the right style of training to see the fastest results.
This isn’t a requirement by any stretch of the imagination and you shouldn’t waste your money on it if you haven’t started seeing progress already. But if you have the cash spare and you find that your interest in fitness tracking is more than just a phase, then collecting this kind of data can help you to build the most truly comprehensive picture of your health possible.
Unusual Fitness Trackers
In the future, we’ll see a range of fitness trackers that do incredible things. Some are available already. FitLinxx for instance is an interesting tracker that sticks to your skin and measures some unique metrics. More impressive are things like the Atlas Wristband for measuring precise exercises. This one can tell when you’re doing specific movements and count your sets and reps – things like dumbbell curls and deadlifts are all automatically registered by the device. This is a potential game changer for people in the gym and for the aforementioned weight lifting tracking.
Another game changer for gym nuts? The incredible GymWatch. This is a device that can actually measure raw strength by measuring your movement and comparing this with some information you input regarding the weight you’re going to be lifting.
Pavlock goes an entirely different route and focuses on preventing you from breaking your goals and resolutions. How? By delivering a short and sharp electric shock!
You can also find ‘smart toothbrushes’ that monitor exactly how long you spend brushing and point out which teeth you’ve missed. Then there’s the somewhat creepy ‘mother’ from ‘Sen.se’ which watches everything you do and monitors all kinds of habits like whether or not you wash your hands.
In other words, if you think that a tracker should exist then there’s a good chance it’s out there. These devices aren’t just for measuring your ability to run or how many calories you burn. You can track everything from your toothbrushing habits to your DNA!