Exercise Wet, While Your Phone Stays Dry

 

 

My phone is about as integrated into my life as my left temporal lobe. I’m not going running without it.

That’s why the H2O Audio Amphibx Fit Armband ($60) is a boon for technophile exercise-junkies like me. Sure, it’s ugly, and its large size dwarfs my skinny arms. But with my phone tucked inside, I can go running in rain, sleet, hail or any other ridiculous elements without fear of water damage. I can even go swimming with my Precious — something even Sméagol would envy.

Coupled with a pair of H2O Audio’s Surge 2G headphones ($50), which are also waterproof, I can listen to music anywhere I choose to run, splash or ride.

The Amphibx armband is essentially a sealed, clear plastic pouch attached to a beefy fabric-fastener strap. On the back there’s a double-latching hatch with a gasket. Pop your phone inside, clip the latches down and the gasket seals all water out. It also seals air inside, so your phone gets to ride along with a bubble of air, which helps it float should it become detached.

You can still work your phone’s controls and use its touchscreen through the pouch, although it’s a bit more awkward than before.

To use headphones, you connect the armband’s internal plug to your device before sealing it inside, then close up the pouch. Afterward, you can plug your earbuds or headphones (regular or waterproof) into the armband’s external headphone port, making an electrical connection without compromising the waterproofing.

I tested the Amphibx armband and Surge 2G headphones in a variety of conditions, from jogging on a hot and sweaty California afternoon to running through chilly, blowing Seattle rain. I took it in the shower and on 1-mile pool lap swims. I used it with an iPhone 4 as well as a Motorola Defy. Neither phone ever saw a drop of water, except for the random few drops that fell on them as I was reopening the case after a workout.

The case is big enough to hold the well-endowed HTC Evo, although it’s a bit of a squeeze once you connect the internal headphone plug. You can also can fit a credit card or a $20 bill inside along with the phone.

The Surge 2G headphones performed just fine while running, with decent sound and a rugged design that made them relatively easy to deal with while exercising. However, I was not able to get the headphones to stay in while swimming. It might be that my ears are unusually-shaped, but they kept floating out in the water, even when I’d jammed them well inside my outer ear. Switching to different tips (several sizes are included) didn’t help much.

Still, for running and other sport activities in wet environments short of total immersion, the H2O Audio combination works well. Whether you just want to take music with you, can’t stand being out of touch or are using your phone to track your workouts, these two are a pricey but practical pair of accessories.

WIRED Waterproof to 12 feet: Good enough for surfing! Wide fabric-fastener strap keeps armband on even when severely buffeted. Easy to adjust.

TIRED Plastic sticks to touchscreens, making removal slow. Harder to work touchscreen controls through the plastic. Plastic adds glare in bright sunlight. Size will make your arms look even skinnier, you nerd.

via Exercise Wet, While Your Phone Stays Dry | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

Exercise Wet, While Your Phone Stays Dry

Exercise Accessories Help You Measure Up

 

Can a smartphone help you train better?

Maybe — if you’re the kind of person who gets obsessed over logging every workout, tracking your pace and counting how many miles per week you’ve averaged. And if you’re that kind of person, there’s a host of apps and gadgets that can feed your mania for recording progress.

I spent months with two apps — RunKeeper and MapMyRun — getting a taste of the quantified fitness lifestyle.

While they may not be making me a better runner, I am far more aware of how much (or little) I’m actually exercising, and that alone is a strong impetus to work out more and to do it better.

The apps show how a smartphone can turn into a collection point for an array of health and fitness data, including speed, distance, elevation, heart rate and other workout metrics such as calories and cadence (the measurement of steps or pedal strokes per minute). RunKeeper has also recently added the ability to track weight and even sleep patterns, with the right accessories.

Both MapMyRun and RunKeeper work similarly. When you start a workout, you launch the app and tell it what you’re about to do — run, walk, bike or swim. The app then measures how long you’re working out, records your path if it’s able to pick up a GPS signal, and records your heart rate if you’ve got a heart rate monitor. When you’re done, you press a button and your workout gets zapped up to the cloud, where you can view it and share it.

Both are available as free downloads for Android and iPhone, but to get the most out of these apps, you’ll need to spend some dough on a few extra gadgets. A heart-rate monitor is probably the most useful addition for exercise nuts, because it can tell you if you’re actually working out at the appropriate intensity.

For Android phones with Bluetooth support, chances are good you can use a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor. I used the Polar Wearlink+ ($80), which worked just fine. It paired with the phone, and the data was immediately available in both MapMyRun and RunKeeper.

If you’ve got an iPhone, you need a different solution, because the iPhone’s Bluetooth won’t work with the Polar Bluetooth adapter. Instead, I used Wahoo Fitness’s Fisica sensor key ($80), a small white tab that plugs into the iPhone connector port on the bottom of the phone. This adapter communicates wirelessly with any sensor that uses the Ant+ protocol, including Wahoo’s own heart-rate-monitor strap ($60). The combination is more expensive than a plain Bluetooth heart-rate strap: Yet another reason for your Android-loving friends to lord it over you.

Runkeeper can also integrate with weight data from the Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale, stride data from a Wahoo Stride Sensor ($80), and sleep and activity data from a Fitbit or Zeo device. I didn’t test these sensors, but it’s comforting to know that when I want to turn even more of my life into pure, clean numbers, it will be easy to do so.

Once the data’s in the cloud, you can view reports, of course, and also share it with your friends, either to boast about your accomplishments or to encourage one another to keep going — or maybe a little of both. And you can start to analyze trends: For instance, I log more miles on Saturdays than I do on Tuesdays. And I’m faster on my lunchtime runs than my early-morning, pre-breakfast runs.

Of the two services, Runkeeper has a cleaner, easier-to-read interface on both smartphones and its website. Runkeeper also offers voice prompts, which can tell you how far and how fast you’ve gone at various intervals.

Apart from the voice prompts, MapMyRun matches Runkeeper feature-for-feature, but I found it harder to navigate, and the website offers fewer options for slicing and dicing the data. It’s also got more advertisements in both the app and on the website (though you can pay to make the ads go away).

Both apps have free versions, but to make the most of both apps, you’ll need to pay something. Runkeeper offers “Runkeeper Elite” subscriptions for $5 per month or $20 per year. They offer real-time run tracking (so your friends can keep an eye on you as you run — including during races) and a wider variety of charts to analyze your performance trends.

MapMyRun offers various paid options ranging from $6 per month to $20 per month (or $30 to $100 per year), which give you access to additional advanced training charts and reports, and also eliminate ads from the interface.

After using both apps for months (in Runkeeper’s case, I’ve used it for years) am I a better runner? Probably, but it’s not because the data has given me superhuman self-coaching abilities. Rather it’s that the mere act of measuring my activity has made me pay more attention to it.

If I were a more serious runner or had a definite exercise goal like losing weight, these apps and gadgets would give me a valuable edge. As it is, they help me stay on track — and for now, that seems to be just what I need.

Photo by Jim Merithew

 

Read the original: Exercise Accessories Help You Measure Up | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

Exercise Accessories Help You Measure Up

Review: Hydration-Bottle Packs

Ah, summer: The time when runners don their skimpiest spandex and hit the trails in search of sunshine, fresh air and dehydration and, uh heat exhaustion.

Seriously, staying hydrated is important. It’s even more critical if your run stretches to an hour or more and the weather is hot. Unless you’re on a well-stocked marathon course with water and first aid stations every few miles, you’ve got to carry your own refreshments. That means some kind of pack.

We tested four waist packs, a popular choice for runners. (Water-filled backpacks are too hot and heavy for most runners, and most people don’t like handheld bottles.) We subjected each pack to at least 10 miles of city and trail running.

What we found didn’t exactly impress us: The bottles bounce, their straps chafe and you’ll spend way too much time cinching and un-cinching them in search of the perfect fit. Our advice: Go to a store where they’ll let you try them on before you buy, because the ideal fit is going to come down to the shape of your body.

On the plus side, carrying water could mean the difference between finishing that 8-mile run with a smile on your face and collapsing halfway through in a puddle of sweat and muscle spasms. As a bonus, most of these packs will also hold your phone, iPod, high-tech energy gels and any other gadgets you consider essential for running.

Amphipod Full-Tilt Velocity

Amphipod Full-Tilt Velocity

A horizontally mounted, contoured bottle helps this pack snug up against your lumbar area, a bit higher than most water-bottle packs. Because of its shape, it bounces less too. However, the location also makes it more difficult to get at anything you’ve stashed in the nylon pocket.

WIRED Snuggest fit of the packs tested here.

TIRED Horizontal bottle, with a nylon hold-down loop, is a little hard to remove and reinsert. Exterior stretchy pouch accommodates a phone, but feels a little delicate.

$32, amphipod.com

Continue reading “Review: Hydration-Bottle Packs”

Review: Hydration-Bottle Packs

One deer, one owl in flight, six or eight rabbits, and 17 miles.

The sun was rising behind the hills over Crystal Springs reservoir this morning at 6:20am, but you couldn’t see it yet. There was just enough light to brighten the overcast sky and to make the threaded wisps of mist rising off the slate-dark water stand out clearly. But the day hadn’t properly begun, and all was quiet, unmoving, cool. I looked to my right and thought I saw a hawk soaring low out of the trees, just above head level and about 20 feet off the path. It was brown and black and had barred wings. But as I looked, I realized that it had a blunt, flat face and a downward-curving beak: An owl!

It glided silently on behind me and out of sight.

I’d been running for fifty minutes, and was about five miles away from my house.

Training for a marathon, it turns out, is an exercise in mind control and reality creation. For most people it is really, really hard to run a long distance, and it is still hard for me to believe that I’ll be able to do it for 26.2 miles. To get to the point where I am able to run that far in a single morning, I’ve got to log hundreds of miles. It hurts. It can be a little scary (that pain: is it an incipient, crippling knee injury?). It’s boring. Sometimes it’s just hard to keep my legs moving.

To make it work, you have to play all kinds of games to keep yourself engaged and to make yourself believe that you can keep running. Like telling yourself that you are a strong runner, that you love running, that you really like those hills. Tagging “but it doesn’t really matter” onto the end of any negative sentences that pop into your head, like “My legs really hurt,” or “It’s really cold out there.” Smiling — even grinning — while you’re running to remind yourself how good it actually feels. Counting the number of smiles you see on other people.

Running on a gorgeous waterside trail, through old oak trees, fragrant sage, and musky bay laurel groves with abundant wildlife — that helps too.

For several weeks, since running a half-marathon in San Francisco, I felt slow, awkward, weak, and had a hard time increasing my distance beyond 13 miles. Two weeks ago, I was scheduled to run 14 miles, and barely made it past 13.5. I was starting the think that maybe I’d reached the limits of my endurance, and I looked at this weekend’s scheduled 16 miles with dread.

And then I realized that I was psyching myself out. Instead of thinking of myself as a strong runner, I’d started to think of reasons why I couldn’t go any further. Pains became amplified as I worried about their implications, it got harder to get out of bed (staying up late watching the Olympics didn’t help on that score), and I was having second thoughts about running a marathon at all, let alone this year.

So I decided for one strong push, to see if I could just break through my 14-mile limit. It was just a matter of keeping going for 20 or 30 minutes longer than I had before, after all. So I got up at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday morning, did some stretching, and headed out the door at 5:30 for a planned 16-mile run. I was a couple of miles into my run before I was even fully awake, so I didn’t have time to reconsider or worry much.

The first few miles I ran in complete darkness, from the working-class San Mateo flatlands up through a curving, tree-lined street in Hillsborough, an enclave of large, ostentatious houses on the flanks of the Santa Cruz mountains. The curving street had few streetlights and as a result was very black. I realized after a mile or two that I was actually getting scared: Afraid of twisting my foot in some invisible pothole or tripping over a root, or (more irrationally) afraid of a mountain lion dropping out of a tree onto my back. I was spooking myself, there in the dark, turning my head to check out every sound even if I knew, logically, that it was nothing more than a raccoon or a cat in the bushes.

I rounded one curve to see a doe in the middle of the road, walking slowly across the street and looking at me. As I neared her, she picked up her pace slightly, disappearing between two lamplit pillars, up someone’s driveway.

I strode up the hill along Crystal Springs road, coming out into more open air just as the sky started lightening, to my great relief. At 6:15 I was at the head of the Sawyer Camp Trail, six miles of paved trail paralleling the Northern Crystal Springs Reservoir. That reservoir lies directly atop the San Andreas Fault and was formed in 1890 by the construction of what was then the largest concrete dam in the world. It’s where all of San Francisco’s and most of the Peninsula’s water stops, en route from the Sierras to the city. And because the area is controlled by the water district, it has remained off-limits to fishing, hunting, and even hiking, making the area a rare refuge for wildlife.

I ran down the path, mostly sticking to the dirt track alongside the asphalt in hopes that it would be easier on my feet. Young rabbits, no more than six inches long, appeared by the side of the path, their noses twitching, before disappearing into the brush at the last possible second as I passed by. The air was lightly perfumed with sage, bay, and the smell of old leaves.

At three and a half miles down the path, I came to the Jepson Laurel, a massive, 600-year-old tree that is the oldest known bay laurel in the state. I’d planned to turn around here, but I still felt strong. I knew I was only at the half-way point, but still — I could add another mile to my trip, couldn’t I? Hell yes! I kept running.

And then, at the four mile marker, I turned around and started running back. I’d gone 8.5 miles, and now there was no choice but to run — or walk — all the way home.

I stopped for a drink of water as I passed the Jepson Laurel on my return trip. A mile or so after that, I slowed to a walk, my legs starting to feel tired and my face feeling the flush of overheating. As I walked through a low bend in the path, I heard coyotes start a chorus of yips and howl on the hill to my left. There must have been a dozen or more of them, all out of sight, but some of them sounding quite close. Their song was still going a minute later as I picked up my pace and started jogging again.

Now there were more bikers and joggers coming towards me, just beginning their own runs. As I reached the trailhead, the sun was just coming out over the hill. I stopped and stretched my legs a little, then walked out through the gate. The road outside the trailhead was lined with cars.

Just four and a half miles to go. Using the hill to help me get started, I broke into a jog again under the cathedral-like span of the I-280 overpass.

The rest of the run is more indistinct in my memory. Pounding down the hill, slogging along the Crystal Springs Road as it turned back into a neighborhood street and then a city avenue. Past the Catholic church, over the stone bridge (built in 1901, according to the metal plate embedded in its low wall), onto El Camino. At this point my legs were aching constantly, my quads in particular infused with a burning, overheated feeling.

I stopped running two blocks before I reached my house, partly to give myself a cooldown and partly because I was reaching the end of my rope. As soon as I started walking it was clear I wasn’t going to start running again that morning. I was done!

The result: 17 miles, one mile further than I’d planned, in a very slow 2 hours 50 minutes, but running almost the entire way.

I have broken through my 14-mile “barrier,” if that even existed, and I not only broke through, I smashed it into little bits. What’s more, it was a rewarding experience, bringing me wildlife, sublime landscape views, and a sense of having accomplished something difficult and worthwhile. I walked into my house sweaty but grinning. My next long run will be 18 miles, and I’m looking forward to it already.

One deer, one owl in flight, six or eight rabbits, and 17 miles.