Category Archives: Fitness

Garmin Vivofit vs Fitbit One – which is the better wearable?

I think that my first sports computer was in 1995, with a CatEye cycle computer. It was great, the battery lasted forever. It was great until it, and me, ended up at the bottom of Broxbourne Lake.

Since then I’ve been through many personal fitness devices – from an orange phone which attached to my bike (even worked as a speakerphone whilst cycling) to the Garmin Forerunner 405 watch. Most of them ended up in a drawer when I got bored of charging them.

In fact, the only devices that I regularly charge are my iPhone and laptop. Most other things I have end up in a drawer. And so for fitness, I’ve been using the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor, attached to my iPhone and using the Polar Beat app. I’ve had it a year and haven’t replaced the coin battery yet. Love it.

Anyhow, my other half was given a $100 Fitbit One as a gift from a project team she worked with, and it obviously didn’t get unpacked and sat in a drawer for a few months. I was working on a healthcare project at the time and I needed some personal health data, so I hooked up the Fitbit and started recording my data.

The great thing about the Fitbit is it’s super easy to use. You charge it up, power it on and there is a getting started button on their website that takes you through a few simple steps. If you install the Fitbit iPhone app, then it automatically syncs and uploads it to the website. Awesome.

The trouble is, the Fitbit is now powerless and sitting on the counter. The reason for this is that it’s a hassle to use in the real world. You have to remember to charge it once a week via a proprietary charger, and it needs to be in your pocket, which means you need to constantly move it around. Worse, if you want to record sleep patterns then you have to put a wrist band on at night and set the time you slept manually.

For your troubles you get a vibrating alarm, which doesn’t wake your other half up (unless you flail in shock and hit her in the nose), and some pretty cool analytics about the length and quality of your sleep. I don’t know how Fitbit do it, but it’s very clever. The web interface is great and you set step goals to meet.

Wearables was a big topic at the CES 2014 show, and so I was looking for something that would suit my needs better – maybe with a heart rate monitor and a wrist band, that didn’t look too ugly.

There’s a lot of choice! The Nike+ FuelBand (nice looking but just a glorified step counter with 4 days battery for $150), The Fitbit Force (ugly and since recalled for skin allergy problems), Jawbone UP24 (nice looking but no display) or the Withings Pulse (a slightly glorified Fitbit One). None of them really excited me.

Then I saw the Garmin vívofit (yes, it has a silly accent on the i). This looked like the perfect wearable for me. For a start, it has a coin battery that lasts a year! Wow! It syncs wirelessly to your phone via Bluetooth and it has a heart rate band for exercise. So you never need to take it off, and it’s made by Garmin so there are no allergy concerns (just made from plastic).

Unfortunately they were available for pre-order only, so I signed up for one right away, and it arrived a few weeks ago. I thought I’d use it for a while before penning a review. Here’s what they look like together, with the Fitbit begging for attention “WALK ME JOHN”, “LOVA YA JOHN”, “HELLO JOHN”.

WALK ME JOHN

First up, there are two interchangeable bands (one large, one small) so it’s pretty comfortable to wear 24/7. It’s waterproof to 50m so I don’t take it off in the shower, and I’ve had no problems so far. Garmin know how to make wearables.

In terms of style, it’s not bad. It’s not going to set you on fire, but it’s nicer than the Fitbit Force, if not as cool looking as the Nike or Jawbone. People notice it everywhere and ask about it.

In use it is very simple – just one button which cycles between Time, Date, Heart Rate, Steps Today, Steps Until Goal, Miles and Calories. That’s it! Hold down the button and it will Sync, hold it longer and it signals you are going to sleep. It figures out when you woke up based on movement.

Again, to save battery, there is no backlight and you can only see what’s on the screen with some light, but I just use my iPhone to light it up in the dark if needed. Also, if you sit still for 60 minutes, the vivofit has a red bar, which then prompts you to dance for a while. The bar grows then every 15 minutes, and I found this is a nice reminder to get up and be active during the working day.

I found the Mac software a disappointment, because I first installed Garmin ANT Agent, then Garmin Express before I got it to work. It’s not clear from the Garmin website how to set it up so I ended up in a muddle. And it requires a USB ANT+ stick, even though it has Bluetooth – I’m not sure why.

Fortunately the iPhone software is much better. Unlike other devices, you have to sync manually to save on battery life and it takes maybe 30 seconds. That’s an acceptable trade-off for the battery life as far as I’m concerned.

Unfortunately, I wasted an additional $40 on the Heart Rate Monitor, because I already have an ANT+ HRM from my old watch, and this is the same model! It’s horrible and plastic and unpleasant to wear compared to recent models, and you can buy the much better Garmin Heart Rate Monitor from Amazon for $50. I can only assume Garmin did this to keep the price down but it was a big mistake. Spend another $10 and get the better HRM.

What is great though is the HRM on the watch, you can set it to HRM and just keep an eye on the number as you train. I like to keep my heart rate below about 170 when running and that’s really helpful. Here’s what it looks like with me pushing hard up the last hill back to home! The number on the left is the “Zone”, which you can setup manually for your body.

Garmin Vivofit

Also unfortunately, the Garmin Connect App is nothing like as good as say Polar Beat, and it doesn’t use the iPhone GPS to plot where you are when you’re running and recalibrate the step. It has a badge system but it’s not very sophisticated. But then Garmin have never been great with software so this is to be expected. Here’s what it looks like, and yes, I was lazy on Friday :-)

Garmin Connect

The other thing I noticed is whilst Withings, Nike, Polar and Fitbit have APIs that allow you to build software, Garmin haven’t done this yet although someone has part-documented the API. It’s fair to say that Garmin are light years behind others in software.

So overall, I love the Garmin vivofit and I don’t think I’ll be returning it. It’s the first wearable device I’m happy to wear and leave on and the 1 year battery life is awesome. But, I am left feeling that the market hasn’t quite settled yet and there will be much better devices in 2015.

 

Sony Walkman W – Klout Perks Review

So I got my Sony Walkman W in the mail on Thursday – read my previous blog about how Klout Perks sent one to me for free.

Their competition for the best social media content ended the day after, on Friday, so I guess I missed out on that! I haven’t had much time to try them out, but here’s my analysis so far:

Sony Walkman W

 

To set the scene – I’m a runner, and I do hate running with headphones – the wires get in the way, they fall out the whole time and it’s just not very liberating. So I have an open mind here. This is the Sony Walkman W Meb Keflezighi model, who obviously likes Orange.

Good – It’s much more compatible than I had expected

So it doesn’t sync with iTunes, but I can get music on relatively easily. I create Genius Playlists on my iPhone, download them on my Mac (I use iTunes cloud so quite often the music isn’t on my Mac) and then I drag the downloaded content from iTunes onto the Sony Walkman, which appears as a USB disk on my Mac.

So in 5 minutes or so I have 100 songs on it, which is enough for a workout. Admittedly I do like the flexibility of iTunes Match on my iPhone, where I can dial in a Genius playlist for the exact mood I’m in, but I usually listen to the same stuff anyhow.

Good – Fit

The fit is much better than the device looks it ought to be, and not having cables everywhere is a big win. I focus more on running and less on not getting tangled, which is more fun.

Good – Sound Quality

It’s not at the top of my list for workout headphones, but the sound quality is surprisingly good. Better, I’d say, than Apple’s iPhone 5 headphones. Not as good as a high-end Sennheiser or Shure headphone, but I can’t say I really care when I’m pounding the pavement. Bass is pretty awesome, which is a really nice in a workout headphone, and mid-ranges and trebles have plenty of detail.

Good/Bad – Noise Canceling

These headphones give you a really surprising amount of noise canceling effect. It does mean that if you’re on the open road, you need to make sure you pay extra attention because you may not hear cars and cyclists around you.

Good/Bad – Controls

The controls are on the bottom of the ear-pads and take some getting used to because you have to navigate them by touch and they are close together. The Sony Lady barks commands at you like “Shuffle Play” in a sci-fi style, which is pretty funny. As you use the device, they become just fine but they’re fiddly on first attempt.

Not so Good – Music Choice

You can’t really choose what you listen to. Sony say you can drag and drop your iTunes playlists but I can’t get it to work.

Not so Good – You look like Cheburashka

Need I say more? I tried it in the office and felt like a nerd. This headwear is acceptable only for work-outs!

Cheburashka

2) It’s not… integrated

I love the idea of sports headphones, but syncing music is sooooo last decade. I mean check out the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor. That thing syncs with your iPhone via Bluetooth and takes a full ECG to your favorite Fitness App.

The Jabra Sport looks like it might be a very nice companion to a workout, as an alternative.

Conclusions

If Sony made a version of this that was a bit smaller on the ears, fitted slightly more comfortably, and worked with Bluetooth rather than using old-school USB technology, I think it would be way cooler.

Sony have done a great job of the Walkman W, and if you want a set of USB headphones without the wires, then these guys are just what you need.

It looks like they are positioning them against the iPod Shuffle and since I have one of those too, I’d say the Walkman W definitely wins.

Sony Walkman W – Klout Perks – first thoughts

I was sat having a quiet haircut yesterday, responding to a few emails on my iPhone when up popped a notification from Klout:

You have a new perk from Sony, a free Walkman etc. etc.

In this society the initial reaction is 1) I’m being scammed 2) How did my phone get hacked 3) What’s the catch. As it turns out, Sony really is giving Sony Walkman W (is it Walkmans or Walkmen???) away to “5,000 active lifestyle influencers“. I’m feeling slightly pleased with myself that some social media marketing engine thinks I have an active lifestyle.

 

I’m actually a huge fan of the Walkman brand too. I’ve owned at least 6 of them, from the original 1980s tape, to a huge yellow waterproof model, to a MiniDisc one, two of the iconic Walkmans: the Professional WM-D6C and the Walkman WM-EX1HG (both of which I still have).

Sony WM-EX1HG

The last Walkman I owned was one of the early MP3 models in about 2000, called the Walkman NW-MS7, and there my love of Sony Walkman died. The software interface was painful, the proprietary MemorySticks were small and expensive (and fitted just one album at a time, so you carried around a bunch) and the battery life sucked.

Soon after this, I bought a generation 1 Apple iPod and my life was changed forever. I have owned probably 15 Apple devices in the meantime from the iPod classic to the Nano, Mini, Shuffle and iPhone. Yes, I’ve been accused of being an Apple Fanboy.

And that’s just it: my current work-out music player is my Apple iPhone 5. Why? Well it’s really the only device I have. I use Apple’s iTunes Match service to stream any of 100GB of songs to my ears, using the Genius product to create a personalized playlist depending on my mood.

Can a Sony Walkman W compete with Apple?

There are some drawbacks to the iPhone 5 and the major one is that even with the new headphones, which are pretty awesome, the headphones get in the way whilst working out, especially whilst running.

Sony Walkman W

And the Sony Walkman W sounds pretty interesting in that respect: there are no wires, so it sits on your ears and gets out the way of your work-out.

That said, it looks to be limited to a meagre 2GB of music, and I hope the jukebox software got better in the last 10 years. Actually I’m kinda hoping it will just work with iTunes and my existing playlists, but something tells me that is wishful thinking. Who knows how it will function with DRM and my existing MP3 collection? Will I feel like I look stupid in orange headphones?

According to the product page it should actually do all that and more. Interesting. Some reviews suggest the earphones come out when running, but I’ll judge that myself.

The fine line between genius and insanity

And that’s just it – is this social media marketing genius, or madness? Sony is offering the 5 most influential content writers an upgrade to the new waterproof version of the Sony Walkman W. It’s a gutsy move, because if the product sucks, they have 5000 whiney bloggers complaining about it and the backlash could be severe.

It’s especially a gutsy move because they seem to be shifting 5000 of the old product line which is being replaced by a better model. Is this because it doesn’t sell and they have a ton of them in the warehouse gathering dust, or because it’s a fantastic product and they believe in it?

I’ll let you know when it arrives.

Attempting to balance consulting with health – Part 2: The Calorie Deficit

In my first part: Attempting to balance consulting with health – Part 1: Self-Awareness, I describe how we need to become aware of what we’re doing and the effect it has on us before we can really make a change. If you’re in that place then read on – if not then go back to the first part and think again :=)

As I said before, I found myself at 220lb and feeling pretty overweight, at the beginning of 2011. Knowing that to look really great, I needed to lose 40lb of weight felt like a long journey ahead. And for now I think it’s safe to ignore that if you feel in that position.

Because in the end, if you lose just a little weight, you will start to feel good about yourself. Shirts that are a little looser, belts a little tighter – all those things will make you feel great. But there are dangers ahead.

The Calorie Deficit

The human body is a bit like a bank. We consume food and we place a deposit. And we spend from our deposits a little every day, and a lot more if we exercise. If we deposit more than we spend, we get fat.

And so it goes – if you can adjust your lifestyle so you spend more than you deposit, then you will lose weight. At my height and age I needed to put in 2500 calories to my body (with no exercise) to maintain that. If I create a deficit – by either reducing food or increasing exercise – of 500 calories a day – then I will lose 10kg over 6 months.

The best thing is that 500 calories a day is easily saved. A bottle of wine, for example is 500 calories. Or 2 pints of Stella. Or a chocolate bar and a can of coke. The important thing is not to cut out the stuff that matters – and by that I mean the stuff you really enjoy. Cut out a few things that you can do without.

Exercise – your way

The other half for me was exercise. Another 250 calories a day can easily come from 30 minutes a day of light exercise – or a 40 minute brisk walk. But it has to be whatever makes you happy.

What makes me happy is running – I really enjoy it. Some days I will run a mile, and others I might run 10. At this stage I did whatever I felt like and it was just fine. The best thing about running is that running kit can travel wherever you are – important with consulting.

If you don’t like running then there’s the hotel gym, just plain walking or perhaps putting a bike in the back of your car, if you travel by car. But whatever you do, make sure it’s something you enjoy, or it will become a chore.

Eat – but without guilt

Once you’re in overall, don’t worry about the details. Try to eat what you can’t because if you don’t, you will binge. Just worry about the overall situation – but if you get the urge to have a chocolate bar or a bag of chips, just run with it.

You ate all that stuff from time to time before, and the overall effect is negligible compared to the changes above. However if you start feeling bad about it you will then go on a big calorie binge at some stage, and that is a bad thing!

The most important thing is not to feel guilt: what is important is the overall loss and not whether you follow some strict regime.

Making time

This is probably the big one, and it’s so personal. It’s so easy just to go back to the hotel after the long day of work and head to the bar. For a quick drink of course. And then after a couple of drinks and a meal to check your emails and flop into bed. The morning after, the snooze button is hit repeatedly of course – before a quick shower and heading into the office after the fried eggs at breakfast.

It’s not exactly a virtuous circle and breaking it is really tough. But if you have become self-aware you  might be willing to try to do something about it.

For me, it was the travel which helped – being away from home meant that there was little to do in the evenings, and I started to use that to my advantage. At the beginning I ran – a few miles here and there.

And at the weekends, I would take off for a long run – 7-10 miles in the early morning one day. I ran the London Marathon in 2009 so I’m ok with distance, but please, if you do the same – work up to distance running slowly.

The thing to bear in mind is that it’s a simple choice and an easy one. Run rather than have a drink at the bar?

4 Months later

So for me – 4 months later and even with this not-particularly-regular regime, I had lost some 20lb. I was below 200lb or 90kg and I felt a lot better. The jeans were looser and I was lighter on my feet. I fit into suits I hadn’t ever fit into, and jeans I hadn’t worn in 4 years.

The slight paradox though is that for each lb I lost, I felt more self-aware of those that were left – and also for the lack of tone. I’m guessing you may also feel the same. And at this point the summer was looming and I wanted to look good. But that’s for another time.

Attempting to balance consulting with health – Part 1: Self-Awareness

The bane of most consultants is trying to stay fit and healthy. The lifestyle is almost completely incompatible with this and it’s so, late in 2010, that I found myself at some 220lb (100kg or 16 stone). It’s not that I was terribly unfit – I could still run 7-8 miles – but the weight had slowly put itself on over the previous 3 years.

It’s something that we see in a lot of people in consulting. The lifestyle that lures us into the career in the first place – travel, exciting places and interesting roles – is exactly the lifestyle that is our downfall. In my case it’s the long days and late evenings – usually fuelled by 3 meals a day out of the house. For others it’s long stints away from home, digesting fatty hotel food.

To compound this, we find ourselves mentally exhausted from work and unwilling or unable to exercise effectively. How can you exercise when you leave home at 7am and get back at 9pm? And for many, this is further exacerbated by the long days leading to the desire to have a drink – or two… – to relax more quickly.

What’s interesting is that this becomes a vicious circle – because the late nights, fatty food and booze make people sleep worse. We are a little less focussed at work and so work longer hours. We’re a little grouchier too. See where it’s going? Do you see a bit of yourself in this?

So some time in early 2011 I decided to try to kick it. In my case, it’s still a work in progress but I thought it was time to share my experience – in the hope that it might strike a chord with someone else.

The first step – in my opinion at least – is nothing more than realization and self-awareness. We’re supposed to be self-aware in everything we do, as consultants and leaders. Are we really self-aware in how we look and how we treat our bodies? I’m not so sure.

So look in the mirror and think back to college days. I don’t know about you but I was 82kg and had a 32″ waist. When I seriously looked in the mirror at the end of 2010 I was at least 100kg (I started to lose weight before I weighed myself, so I can’t be 100% sure) and my 34″ jeans were – honestly – at least a size too small. My T-Shirts and shirts were full, but not with muscle.

If you look in the mirror and see this person, the first thing you need to do is to relax. Most people out there feel this way at some stage or another. What you do next is up to you but I’d caution against trying to do something extreme. In most cases, extreme reactions (severe diets and regimes) don’t last. They do for some people, but not for most.

The other thing I would caution against is making some purchase to spur on a fitness reaction. Don’t buy the bike, or the rollerblades or treadmill – or even the gym membership at this stage. Rewarding yourself prior to results does not enforce behavioural change. “I just need a XXX and then I will be able to do YYY” just isn’t compatible with human psychology.

For most people, self-awareness combined with small change is all that’s required. The question is – what change to make? That’s for the next part, but for now just look in the mirror and try to be self-aware.

Buying new inline fitness skates: K2 vs Seba vs Powerslide?

I recently finally destroyed my last pair of inline skates (rollerblades) and had to throw them in the bin. It’s been some 7 years since I bought my last pair so I wasn’t too bothered, but I was surprised and shocked that there was so little information available about buying skates for people like me.

And by people like me, I figure I must be a fairly common demographic. Wanting to get fit, move quickly and be able to manoevre in the parks. Comfortable enough to wear for long distance. But, you’re not going to see me in a skate park, 6′ up in the air. I’m too old for that stuff and don’t bounce like I used to when I was 16, right.

The last pair of skates I had were the K2 VO2 Max. They were sold to me as a skate designed for what I was looking for, and initially did not disappoint. Over the years though I came to see them as a bit of a blunt weapon and this was a bit frustrating. By blunt weapon I mean that they felt a bit soggy on my feet, and slow to turn and manoevre.

So when I wore them out I went back to the fantastic Slick Willies in Gloucester Road, Kensington (where I bought the last pair) and tried on everything in the shop. And I had a few observations which I thought might be useful to others in the same predicament.

First, the K2 boots are just as good as they were before and haven’t changed. So comfortable, right out the box, and easy to put on. I think if I were buying a first pair of fitness skates again, they would be the best choice by far. If you feel that way then go for it – just make sure you spend enough notes to get a good pair – it’s worth it. The K2 Mach 90 has all the things you would want. Decent quality and decent bearings (they make you glide faster).

Then I put on the Seba GT. This is a bit harder and stiffer and slightly less comfortable, although what reviews are out there suggest that they get comfortable very quickly with use. Immediately, the K2s felt like a blunt instrument and the Seba felt incisive and faster. And the K2s went back into the box after a while and I almost immediately decided against them.

As a point of comparison I then moved to the Powerslide Hardcore Evo. Now this is a whole different skate – twice the price, half the weight and with smaller wheels. And damn was it uncomfortable. It felt slightly more precise again, but the discomfort wasn’t worth it for me.

By the way for novice skaters like me, the wheel size determines the length of the frame that the wheels sit on. And this determines how agile the shoe is. The K2 and Seba GT have 90mm and the Powerslide had 80mm which makes it faster to turn, but slower at speed. Bigger wheels have less friction and therefore make you faster.

And again for comparison, I went for the Seba FR-1, which is a Freeride skate. Jumping around town and down stairs. Not really me, but I wanted to try it anyhow. Immediately far less comfortable as it’s a completely plastic shell – to protect the boot from the crazies.

What then struck me was that the Seba GT occupies a unique part of the market segment. It’s soft enough and quick enough to appeal to me, but sharper and more interesting than the K2 skates. One thing to note is that the Seba skates don’t have a rear brake, so you have to learn to brake with your skates (there are several ways, T-stop or hockey stop etc.).

And having bought them now, and skated on them I feel the same way as I did in the shop. So if you feel the same way I do, the Seba GT might just be a very decent purchase.