Have you ever wondered whether you’re actually getting fitter for bushwalking? Are you over-training? Should you skip a training session due to illness or stress? Would a heart rate monitor (HRM) help? Can a smartphone replace a wrist HRM? Which smartphone apps are available to help?
Most of us judge whether we are getting fitter by subjectively assessing our level of tiredness/soreness/shortness of breadth after a strenuous walk or by trying objectively to beat our PB (personal best) on a fixed route. We may even use a smartphone app such as Walkmeter, Polar Beat, or Precision Pulse to record our training sessions, and hopefully progress.
We may think that spending more time training and climbing steeper slopes (ie increasing volume and intensity) will help, but that is not always so. Sometimes we can over-train which will be detrimental to our performance, sometimes setting back our progress for months. There are affordable smartphone apps than can help prevent over-training. (eg HRV4training, iThlete, bioForce HRV)
Heart rate monitors have recently become affordable, with iPhone and Android apps costing only a few dollars now, replacing expensive wrist watches worth hundreds of dollars. All your need is a smart phone with a camera, and with some persistence, and a lot of trial and error, you may not even need a chest belt with heart rate sensor. (NB: some user comments, supported by my own experience, suggest that this method is often inaccurate, so I would recommend using a Bluetooth HR sensor such as the Polar H7.)
Heart rate monitors are able to measure a wide variety of heart variables that are very useful indicators of your fitness:
- heart rate variability (HRV); time variation between your heart beats
- resting heart rate (HRrest): your minimum heart rate, when lying down, at rest
- heart rate recovery (HRrec): the number of beats your heart rate drops in a minute after reaching a peak, following intense exercise.
- heart rate orthostatic (HRortho): measures the difference between HRrest and the maximum rate achieved on standing (or after 15 seconds)
- aerobic capacity (VO2max): can be estimated by doing a Polar “fitness test”
The measuring of these variables was once solely in the domain of exercise physiologist using equipment worth many thousands of dollars, but then in 1983 Polar developed a chest strap with heart rate sensor (transmitter) and wrist receiver. Heart rate monitoring (HRM) became relatively affordable for most athletes, with the cost dropping to a few hundred dollars.
In the last few years, with the development of the iPhone 4S or 5, which both have Bluetooth, wrist worn receivers are no longer necessary, with the smartphone taking over this job. iPhone apps able to perform as well as equipment once worth thousands of dollars, now cost less that $10 with some even free. Equivalent Android apps are coming on the market at a rapid rate. Chest sensors to monitor heart rate cost less than $100.
We have all seen professional athletes wearing heart rate and GPS transmitters, during sports. The science is well developed and much of this knowledge is now applicable to bushwalking.
The next post (Bushwalking Fitness | Pt 2. Using a Heart Rate Monitor and a Smartphone to Measure Fitness Variables ) in this series looks in more detail at the important fitness variables which can be measured by a smartphone and heart rate sensor and how they might be used to fine tune your training.
The final post Bushwalking Fitness | Pt 3 My Choice of Smartphone Apps for Fitness Training answers the questions:
Which apps should I choose to monitor my fitness? How should they be integrated? How should I fine tune my training, using the data collected?
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