Not an athlete, not a couch potato
New year, new you, as your local gym and purveyors of diet plans would like you to believe. And in an effort to show that we’re all in this together, here at TechRadar we’re writing up workout diaries as part of Fitness Week 2018.
There are three different diaries, one for beginners, one that’s more intermediate (this one), and one for the fitness-obsessed. We’ll be covering a range of different exercise types, and each of us will be using tech appropriate to our level.
For this diary, I’m using the Apple Watch 3. With the third iteration of its hugely successful wearable Apple has really pushed the fitness angle, improving on heart rate tracking and GPS from the Apple Watch 2.
While not a dedicated fitness tracker, it’s a device that many who are fitness enthusiasts will use for monitoring their progress which is why we decided it was ideal for the intermediate diary.
We’ll be adding a new diary entry to this page each day, so make sure you keep checking back. Plus you can watch our Apple Watch 3 video review below…
Following this you’ll find day two of the diary, but you can scroll down to see day one below that.
Day 2) High Intensity Interval Training
This is a day that I was really looking forward to, I am a big fan of high intensity interval training (HIIT). The basic principal of HIIT is training your body maximally, or just sub-max for short intervals followed by intervals of rest or very low-level active recovery.
HIIT has gained massive popularity recently thanks to a number of studies that have shown you can get similar (and in some cases better) improvements in cardiovascular fitness and weight loss in short workouts than in long medium-intensity workouts like jogging or cycling.
The way that this works is by raising your heart rate above 85 to 90% of max, working entirely anaerobically (without oxygen), causing your body to go into an oxygen deficit known as excessive post-exercise energy consumption (EPOC).
With watchOS 4, Apple has introduced HIIT into the workouts that it can track in its native Workouts app, and it’s a welcome addition, although is pretty featureless. It doesn’t give you the option to set intervals before you start working, and doesn’t have options for what type of activity you’re doing. It’s just a tap-and-go sort of arrangement.
I decided I was going to do a Tabata workout of high knee sprinting on the spot. Tabata is a specific type of HIIT that uses 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for eight rounds. If you’re doing the maths and going ‘that’s only four minutes of working out’ you’re totally right. But done right, it’s the most grueling four minutes of your life.
Apple’s HIIT function very quickly let itself down, as there’s absolutely no way of looking at your watch to see how far into an interval you are while working maximally. I guessed the first three sets (fairly accurately) but I was frustrated by its inability to truly deliver a HIIT workout.
I swapped over to Intervals, the app that I used for my running (mid-intensity interval) workout, and was able to plan a Tabata session that would provide the haptic and vocal guidance that I needed to start and stop at the right times.
Having Intervals guiding me was brilliant in terms of adhering to the workout when I was using the full force of my brain to keep going (and not throw up), but I wasn’t able to measure my heart rate to make sure that I was working in my maximal heart rate zone.
The Apple Watch does have a disclaimer saying that because of the intense nature of HIIT it may not be able to monitor heart rate, and that’s exactly what ended up happening.
Obviously if the point of a workout type is about reaching a heart rate and you can’t measure heart rate it’s a but of a let down, but optical heart rate sensors are notoriously bad at measuring sudden dramatic changes in heart rate. Really I could have done with a dedicated chest band, which you can partner up with the Apple Watch.
What the disclaimer adds is that it will still measure calories expended using the accelerometer, but this isn’t exactly true. The reason that EPOC works so well is that it carries on burning calories after you finish exercising as your body redresses the oxygen deficit.
Because of this you can be burning calories for many hours after a workout, so the 55 calories it said I burnt will be out by a country mile. So, all told, the Apple Watch was good at telling me when to stop and start again, but in terms of actually monitoring my output for HIIT, it wasn’t much use at all.
Check back tomorrow for day three where we’ll be taking a dip in the pool.
Day 1) Running
I’m an okay runner. I’d describe myself as competent but not confident. I can comfortably bash out a 5K, and if I really push myself I can manage a 10K – it requires a fair amount of mantra chanting and internal cajoling, but I can get there.
I’d like to be able to run properly at a decent pace, but I’m very aware that whenever I run with one of my serious runner friends like (our running man of tech) Gareth they are humoring me with a run at a conversational pace, while I’m doing a proper run.
In order to try and raise my game, I’ve started doing interval runs to raise my lactate threshold. The basic science is this: you have three different energy systems, one is aerobic (uses oxygen) and two are anaerobic (don’t use oxygen). The aerobic system is the one that allows you do endurance exercise, the others are for the more short, sharp burst sorts of exertions.
While it’s easy to imagine these systems as clear cut, in reality there are transitions between the two, and the lactate threshold is basically the point between the aerobic system and the fist anaerobic where your body is creating more lactic acid than it can flush, causing you to tire, and slow down so your body can recoup its oxygen deficit and flush the lactic acid. If you don’t slow down, lactate production grows exponentially until you’ve got no option but stopping.
Raise that threshold and you can run faster, and for longer. That’s the theory at least. There are a number of different ways to raise your lactate threshold but one of the most effective is by doing intervals. You do a period of exercise at a point above the threshold, and then a period below it, but where you’re still working so your body gets used to flushing while you’re still moving.
For this fitness diary I’m using the Apple Watch 3, and for today’s training, I am using the imaginatively named app Intervals. Like many wearable apps, it’s a pared back version of the full mobile app, and you need to program your training routine on your iPhone before lacing up those running shoes and hitting the tarmac.
Thankfully Intervals on the Apple Watch runs independently of the iPhone so you can – and I did – leave your phone behind when you’re out on your run. I decided I was going to do half an hour’s worth of 30 seconds on, 1:30 off with a five minute warm up to start (warming up’s important kids).
Intervals shows you the amount of time you’ve got left of your current set, amount of sets you’ve got left, and importantly your heart rate. Lactate threshold usually sits between 75 and 85% of max heart rate, and for me is around 160bpm. So I was aiming for around 170 during my ‘on’ periods, and dropping down to around 145 for my recovery periods.
The Apple Watch notoriously has a pretty solid heart rate tracker, but it will still fall behind dedicated running devices like the Garmin Forerunner 935 that Gareth is using, and will be far less accurate than a chest strap like the Polar H10. That said, for what I was trying to achieve, it was more than enough.
The combination of haptic and voice feedback to tell me when the end of each interval was approaching meant I never missed a transition, even towards the end of the training when I really started struggling. The screen on the Apple Watch was clear enough that I was able to see my progress with quick glances to my wrist, even during my more intense moments.
The only niggle that I have is that Intervals doesn’t let you pull apart your data once you’ve finished your run like other dedicated running apps. I’d have liked to have seen how my pace and heart rate correlated across the training session, and how my end pace matched up to my starting pace.
That said, I was very happy with how well the Apple Watch and Intervals managed to support me in my specific training goals, it meant that the only thing holding me back was my own willpower, which unfortunately there isn’t an app for.
- Catch up on the rest of TechRadar’s fitness week where we are highlighting the techy tools you can be using to improve and monitor your physical health