Tag Archives: POLAR

Bushwalking Fitness | Pt 1 Smart Phone Apps to Fine Tune your Bushwalk Training

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.

Polar Beat

 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?

  Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Using your Smartphone to Monitor Fitness Levels for Bushwalkers and Hikers

Do I need to train for bushwalking? What is the best way to train for bushwalking? What should my goals be and how do they vary with increasing age? How can I motivate and monitor my fitness program?

As your age creeps up a structured training program becomes more important because your fitness level falls away rapidly after a short break from walking and takes longer to re-establish. Younger walkers can maintain their fitness between serious bushwalks with minimum effort, but as you get older, walkers must fit exercise into their daily routine.
Daily fitness activities are essential, not only so you won’t get left behind on a walk, but also because exercise and diet are keys to keeping the good HDL high and the triglycerides low, both essential for lowering the risk of heart disease. I find the best type of exercise is that which closely replicates the terrain you will be walking. If you are going to be carrying a heavy pack, do so in your training;  if you are going to be hill climbing, do so ; if you are going to be climbing down steep slippery slopes, do so.

I don’t find that gym work is entirely effective as it doesn’t work the same muscles. Sure, it will improve your aerobic fitness, but will it train the muscles that need to support your legs under a heavy pack as you move down a steep slope?

Motivation and accurate monitoring are keys to improving your fitness level. I need to know whether I have improved each day, has my speed increased, did I get to the midpoint sooner than yesterday, am I fitter now than this time last year?

Fortunately technology, which allows you to compare times on walks, is available

There are three main monitoring devices, all of which do a similar job :
POLAR wristwatches with heart rate monitor strap: upload to you computer or watch
Nike  shoe sensors (iPod, iPhone): senses movement and upload to you upload to iPod, iPhone from where it can be uploaded to a dedicated website for analysis

The  advantage of these systems is that you can upload your data from each walk to a website for analysis and share it with others, even view it real time. Some products have exercise programs in-built from which you can choose.
I have extensively used two smartphone programs:
Sports Tracker (free Nokia app)
This free program has allowed me to keep track of my daily exercise program by allowing me to compare times, look at split times and I have even used it to record day walks, using the inbuilt GPS, and uploading geotagged photos taken along the trip with my Nokia phone. Certain models allow you to link with a heart rate monitor and record heart rate at the same time. The major problem I find is that the new version doesn’t allow me to group walks by route, which means that I am unable to compare times over the same route. This means that it no longer meets my needs and I have moved on to the iPhone app Walkmeter below.

Walkmeter (iPhone app $5.99)
This program does most of what Sports Tracker does but does something that Sports Tracker doesn’t do and that id compare walking routes.  I particularly like its ability to monitor progress and give audio  feedback along your walk eg how far you are ahead of your median time or behind your best. This means you don’t need to take your smartphone out of your pocket at all when its raining. Just like the Sports Tracker, it multi-tasks allowing you to listen to your favourite music as you walk.  See your results on maps, graphs, and a calendar, and organized by routes and activities. Summarize your statistics by day, week, month, year, and overall. It does not incorporate photos like Sportstracker, but I rarely take photos on a training walk.

iSports Tracker (iPhone app $5.99)

iSportsTracker for iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 enables you to track outdoor sport activities like running, biking, walking, hiking, skiing, skating and more. iSportsTracker tracks your speed or pace, distance and calories burned, draws your track on a map, takes photos, uploads your tracks and photos to various online services like RunSaturday, MapMyTracks, EveryTrail, Picasa Web Albums, can send training data by email in GPX, KML or CSV formats and even can post a Tweet! (Free version available)

If you are really keen there are iPhone apps (pedometers) that allow you to determine your paces per minute  and choose appropriate music with the same beats per minute (BPM)

These use blue tooth to link with a heart rate monitor. They perform sophisticated calculations to make sure that you are exercising in the correct heart rate zone and have inbuilt programs from which you can choose. The results can be uploaded to a website for analysis in the newer models. Unless you prefer the small screen of a wristwatch, then the smart phone ( eg Nokia) with heart rate monitor is the way to go. The Polar brand of wristwatch is the market leader and has been around for a long time.

Creative Commons License
This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.