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Friday, 22 November 2013

Nudge yourself fit

As a keen cyclist and outdoor sports fan in general, up until a  few years ago, having a personal log of hours, miles and hills climbed was as in depth as mine and most peoples personal training record went, if that is they logged achievements and progress at all. Unless of course you had the time and money to recruit a personal trainer, who would push you to your uttermost limits of exhaustion, drag you out of bed at 6am for a pre work training session and call you on a Friday night to persuade you that a tonic with a slice of cucumber was a far better option than a few pints or a bottle, or two of wine!

Fast forward to 2013 and things are a ‘lot’ different!
I’ve never been a natural athlete, but have always enjoyed outdoor and adventure sports, and have worked hard to keep myself to a reasonable level of fitness. I also enjoy good food and fine ales, so a careful balance of hobbies is essential to keep myself fit and healthy. Smart phones have helped me achieve that balance and furthermore encouraged me to train harder.

Smart phones and fitness

During the 90’s I got seriously into cycling and was already a keen surfer and kite surfer. I started Blogging and also data logging all my out door activities on a online sports diary called forces of nature, (, at the time it was only a handful of us that did this, and much to other peoples amusement we would log our miles ridden, hours of time on the water, and other basics stats. It was only a snippet of data , but it was great to compare against other similar sportsmen and women.

Smart phones however have set a new standard in storing personal data and nudging ourselves fit, and now if you have a smart phone you can have your own digital personal trainer!
Log into your phones ‘app store’ and you’ll see no end of training based apps; map my ride, strava, endomundo, etc, to name but a few. Most have their own specialist areas and will be preferred by they’re own counter cultures. Road cyclists tend to favour Strava, where ‘kudos’ can be given to fellow cyclists when a particular section is ridden at a record breaking speed or just to show appreciation for the number of miles covered in one session. My own personal preference however is to use Endomundo


Endomundo and behaviour change

So with a endless number of fitness and tracking apps to choose from here’s why I chose Endomundo and how it helps to nudge me, and could help nudge YOU fit.

Endomundo is a light hearted community based app that tracks its users physical activity data. Unlike Strava that logs mainly cycling or running statistics Endomundo knows no limits and will allow you to log virtually any aspect of physical activity, from skate boarding to surfing. Your physical achievements can be stored and analysed and viewed by any of your endomundo friends, as well as being automatically shared to social media sites such as facebook and twitter.

Within the options inside Endomundo are many options for the style of work out you participate within. Options include:

·         Basic work out- this tracks time, distance, elevation gain, average speed and so on. During all work out modes, there are numerous audio options, Ill talk more about these later.

·         Racing- Numerous options have a race option, including race a friend or race yourself. From a personal training perspective, I find the ghost race yourself a great training tool. Knowing your faster, or slower than your personal best is an especially powerful self motivation tool!

·          Find a route- this allows the user to find a route previously plotted within their local environment, and follow this route. This will allow you to rank yourself against other Endomundo users and effectively race them. This structure is similar to the Strava application. Strava has undoubtedly changed the way people work out, whether this is for good or bad is under strong debate currently. In brief the for and against arguments for main stream strava usage are as follows.

Statistics can be analysed weekly, monthly or yearly. Notice how during July and August my cycling stats drop drastically. For me this high lights just how much time I spent at the beach during 2013's summer! 

The benefit to be seen from large scale Strava usage is that people are clearly pushing their own physical boundaries and getting fitter, faster and stronger. Also, in the same way as Endomundo allows, a rider can check or set weekly, monthly or yearly goals, stats or progress , which work in creating a personal commitment. Upon hearing that a friend had cycled over 6000 miles during 2012, I set myself a goal to triple my own cycling miles over 2013. The competitive edge of the app, had ‘nudged’ me to improve my own goals and increase my training.

The anti strava argument
On the flip side of the coin, there are those that consider Strava to be the most damaging occurrence in cycling to date, but why? Yes Strava is pushing people to train harder and longer and ride faster; this however brings an element of competitiveness never seen before in club or simply recreational cycling. Turn on the Strava app and the competitive animal is unleashed! Getting yourself to the ‘KOM’ (king of the mountain) spot for a particular segment of ride, or claiming the fastest rider spot on a down hill section will now earn you a spot in cycling history! The competitive nature of sport has been multiplied by apps such as these, and instead of groups getting together for club rides on a Sunday afternoon, riders are now choosing to go individually with the aim of beating other riders Strava times and increasing their own rider profile. Club rides themselves have seen a change in behaviour with riders choosing to hang back in non segmented areas and then ‘break’ from the pack when a recognised segment is due to begin, in a similar manner to professional cyclists breaking form the peloton for a sprint finish. Clearly the social aspect of cycling is suffering due to some rider’s desires of obtaining the top spot of digital leader boards.  
Whilst riding with a group of my friends last week, I commented on how I hadn’t cycled with a certain friend for what seemed like months now; another friend replied with, “ He doesn’t need friends any more, he’s got Strava!”  

You can read more on the negative aspects of Strava here…
An article contributed to by Dr Paul Barratt, a lecturer in Human Geography at Staffordshire University, who is currently writing a paper based around the antisocial effects of Strava upon cycling.

The benefits of using Endomundo

It may come across that Endomundo and Strava are similar, but Endomundo as well as being more fun based has one major advantage as far as I’m concerned. It talks to you! This is where for me it becomes my personal trainer. Set your audio settings and you have a companion with you on your ride. On group rides I still store my training data, but I switch off the audio functions. On solo rides I don’t just have a companion, I have a training tool. At one mile intervals my phone will inform me of my average speed, how far I have cycled, my top speed; if I’m wearing a heart beat monitor-what my BPM , (beats per minute) is and other info that I have chosen to tick in the settings.
This may seem like techy data that a cyclist doesn’t really need to know, especially whilst cycling to the top of a mountain or other similar remote location, but these stats encourage me to keep on going, or ride faster, or keep going for an extra few miles, all of which has a positive effect on my health and fitness and therefore my well being. 

The news feed ensures you are kept up to date with users training schedules.

Within the audio features there is also an option for other users to send audio messages to the person training. During many a ride I have received a “keep up the pace” or a “ Get a move on” comment from a friend sat at a computer somewhere tracking my progress on the live location app. Receiving a message of encouragement from a friend can be especially powerful, and beneficial.
Another benefit of this feature for those that cycle or train alone is that the app is tracking the users location and should the worst happen the app could be used to track the whereabouts of the person.

When I’m not on the bike or running through a forest, I can log into the apps website and see further stats, personal records and other info, all of which has a positive effect on my training. If my averages are down I will train harder to ensure they get back to where they should be. When my averages are above normal I still train harder and aspire to increase my averages to those of other riders I follow and aspire to be as fast or as fit as.
If my monthly average miles aren’t hitting the goals I’ve set, Ill make the time to get on my bike and crack out those extra miles, even if it means doing it in the wet or the dark; without knowing those stats, I wouldn’t have bothered.

Snap shots are available to provide a quick insight to your months training. 

So, can digital technology really help make us fitter, in the same way that a personal trainer can? For me personally yes, it can, and it does. In my own group of cycling and running friends the jury is certainly still out. The non-users enjoy their tech based jokes and jibes, and a ride wont go by without mention of data in one form or another; but in the future will those using techy apps to improve their personal fitness be fitter or faster than those that don’t? Well have to wait and see…

Of course you can test your self against others online digitally, but theres nothing better than testing yourself out in the mud and puddles with nearly 1000 other riders in face to face bicycle combat!

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