Cool Stuff That Helps Me Stay Fit

Photo by Kolleen Gladden on Unsplash

This is a list of stuff that I’m using to keep on track, fitness-wise.

This is probably the centrepiece, technology-wise of how I’m measuring my progress. It is essentially just an activity tracker — think of a basic Fitbit or an Apple Watch without the watch bit. The Whoop guys made some very specific design choices with this thing which for me, makes it a great fit but may not be ideal for everyone. In particular:

  • It doesn’t have a display. I’ve never worn a watch so I don’t miss this aspect. It also means the device can be fairly small and unobtrusive. Which again for me is great because I’m not used to wearing a watch. If you like wearing a watch, or value real-time activity updates when you’re working out you may want something else - I’m thinking of runners / cyclists mostly.
  • It’s a 24/7 device. The lack of screen means that the battery lasts for 4–5 days, and the battery charger clips onto the device while you’re wearing it. It’s also fully waterproof so you can wear it in the shower if you want (though I don’t bother). What this all means though is that it’s continually measuring what you’re up to, including that all-important element of sleep. I think sleep is one of the more underrated elements of health and fitness and from what I can tell, Whoop does this bit better than pretty much anything else out there.
  • It’s specifically designed for impact sports. You can unhook the strap and place the measurement sensor in an ‘impact sleeve’. This protects the device when wearing it for sports like American Football. Anyone fancy wearing their Apple Watch while they do Oklahoma drills…?

Like I say, it’s not for everyone, and does have some drawbacks (relatively high subscription cost, some issues with accuracy when worn on the wrist) but for me it does a great job of tracking my activity, sleep and overall health. That being said, other devices are catching up on the sleep / recovery metrics and the new Polar arm-based tracker can cache activities away from the watch so I’ll definitely be reviewing this one when my Whoop contract expires in October.

It’s a WiFi enabled set of scales which also measures body composition. I’m sure the accuracy of this aspect can be questioned so I wouldn’t put too much faith in precise measurements of muscle or fat, but I reckon it’s accurate enough to say whether numbers are going up or down and that’s the most important thing.

There are a load of apps to help you track lifting weights, and I feel like I’ve tried most of them. For the last few years I’ve used WxR (weight x reps) which is simple and effective. It does what it says and gives you some basic charts of max weight / total volume for each lift. There are a couple of things it doesn’t do though:

  • It doesn’t create routines, so you have to log each exercise each time, which is OK — most of us know what our routine is going to be, but more importantly you need to go back to a previous day to track what combination of sets and reps you did last time, which is a bit of a pain.
  • It can’t handle circuit-style routines, or even super-sets. You have to completely log one type of exercise before you can update another one.

Hevy addresses both of those drawbacks. It also has a slick UI which is nice. It costs a few quid a month if you want to create more than 4 routines but I think it’s well worth it considering the amount of these apps I’ve tried and discarded. It’s also got some kind of social aspect to it which seems like a bit of an after-thought to me but I just ignore that bit to be honest. I actually think the WxR app does this side of things better.

As much as I hate counting calories, it’s absolutely effective for me and having tried a few other apps I always end up coming back to this one. There’s nothing that I particularly like about it other than it seems to have most things in it’s database and it allows you to track calories & protein for the day.

As the weather has been getting better I’ve been upping the running (and walking) miles so it’s good to have something for music / podcasts. I had an old Anker pair of earphones which were OK but would constantly fall out unless I had a hat over the top of them. I did some research and it looked like the Jabra Elite range were a good bet for staying in your ears. They’re not the latest version (75T & 85T add noise cancelling and a more compact design) but they were available for a knock-down price. They sound pretty good and they don’t fall out. Job done.

It’s not cutting edge technology but the good old fashioned spreadsheet has been fundamental. I basically pull together various metrics from the other apps and sensors and put it into a spreadsheet. The key heart-rate measurements are in there, calories in / out, weight etc. I fill this out every morning and honestly, I don’t feel like it’s an onerous thing because, at this stage, I’m (mostly) seeing small improvements on a daily basis.

I also use it to record any notes about how I was feeling and have some charts to project things forward at a given time, and see if expectations match up with reality. I’ve been experimenting with Notion recently, and think that could have some potential here, particularly now that they’ve launched the API.

I get quite a lot of neck & shoulder issues, and recently I was struggling to shake them, which was affecting some of the types of exercise I’ve been able to do. I think a lot of it stems from sleeping on my side and in the past I’ve sometimes put a towel under my neck which helps, but is a bit awkward. Anyway, I treated myself to a memory-foam pillow that also has a bit of a raised edge to support your neck and this seems to have improved things so far.

I log everything into Strava, not just running and cycling but walking, lifting weights, functional fitness etc. I set it to private by default so as not to spam other people’s feeds but it means I’ve got one place to look at my activity, increase that ‘fitness curve’ (however useful that is) and take advantage of any challenges which just involve working out a lot. Since running & cycling are a relatively minor part of my overall activity, if I didn’t have Strava would I be missing out on much? Probably not, but it provides enough nudges (beat that segment, get that 5th activity in this week, get those 5 miles in today etc) to help increase my overall activity level.

This is an interesting one. It’s basically automating what I’m doing with my spreadsheet — aggregating a bunch of sensor data and providing graphs & trends. The only relevant integrations it supports that I use are Whoop & Withings but it sounds like Strava and MyFitnessPal may also be on the way. This could be significant because one of the things it does is apply some statistical analysis to work out how different metrics can be a prediction for each other. So with the data it’s got at the minute I can see that lean mass is predicted by muscle mass, and recovery is predicted by HRV — nothing too exciting there, but if you brought in types of food and macros from MyFitnessPal or 5km pace from Strava then there could be some really interesting findings.