March 11, 2013

Should You Measure All Your Exercise?

On Sunday, I was invited through my partnership with Fitmapped to check out a brand new studio – Revolve. It’s a spinning studio that offers a few different takes on spin classes. One is hill-focused (“Real Ride”), one incorporates some weights and stretching (“Body Ride”), and one is supposed to be over an hour long and incredibly intense (“Rip Ride”). So, Sunday morning found me dashing out the door of Refine Method to catch a downtown train and meet some friends for my second workout of the day.

When I first walked into Revolve, I wasn’t thrilled by the setup and was all set to have a negative experience. (This was in large part because I didn’t have the resistance numbers I’m used to in a spin class.) But as the class went on, I started liking it more and more, and now I’m actually totally pumped to go back again. Before I left, I checked in with the front desk to buy two more classes. Expect a full review to come after I’ve completed those! But in the meantime…

You all know how I adore Flywheel, my first true love of all the indoor cycling studios. Before I tried Flywheel, spinning classes kind of perplexed me. “Give the resistance wheel one full turn to the right!” Okay… but now it seems like I’m working harder than everyone else. Maybe I started at a higher resistance to begin with? I’ll turn it down a bit to get me back on track. “Okay, now give me a half turn back to the left.” Uh oh, now my legs are flying. Maybe I was right to begin with? I end up spending the entire class tinkering with my resistance instead of gritting it out and getting in a good workout.

One of the things I like best about Flywheel is that you get a little personal computer attached to your bike, which tells you exactly how fast and how hard you’re going. When the instructor says “turn the torq up to 40 and now stay on the beat with 45 RPMs,” I may not be able to actually achieve that, but I know what I’m supposed to be working toward. Conversely, there are times when what we’re doing seems to be kind of easy – but I know that the instructor is probably just about to inflict some kind of torturous hill on us and that I should just enjoy the rest for now. I find it a lot easier to get a good workout when I know what I’m doing!

After class on Sunday, Ashley was talking to her running coach, Gia, about an upcoming race. Gia really wanted her to run “naked” (e.g., without a Garmin), but Ashley was worried that she’d go out way too fast without a watch to keep her on track. The compromise was that Ashley would run the first half of the race with her watch, but then ditch it in the later miles (in a rather ingenious way, which I’ll let Ashley discuss on her own blog). I know many people who espouse the benefits of running “naked,” but coming out of a spin class where I had no idea how hard/fast I was going, I suddenly started thinking twice about it.

Most running coaches would say that you need to track all your workouts if you want to improve them – and I agree with that advice. Most of my friends who run are almost obsessive with the numbers – how many miles, what average pace, what were the splits, etc. In a distance race like a marathon, these splits can also provide a lot of insight into how you can improve your times. Did you start out at a 7 minute pace in the first few miles, drop to 8 for the next 20, and then finish at a 12 minute walk? You probably need to get more long runs under your belt to try to even that out. Maybe your splits were even throughout but then five minutes slower for mile 16 – which could be a clue that you trained fine but shouldn’t have eaten nachos and beer the night before the race, forcing you to take a portapotty break partway through. Even barring mishaps, marathon pacing plans are often extremely detailed, with runners figuring out exactly what pace they’ll run for each mile (based on water stops, terrain, etc) as they strive for the elusive “negative split”.

Original photo credit: WhiskeyGoneBad

But as fussy as many people are about tracking all that data for running, why aren’t more people picky about that for other sports/activities? I almost never see anyone wearing a heart rate monitor or even a Nike+ Fuel Band for a class like Refine, and Flywheel is the only spinning studio I know that tracks both RPMs and resistance. (If a studio only tells me RPMs, I consider that meaningless without some measure of difficulty to go along with that speed, be it resistance or heart rate.) What makes us pickier about our running stats compared to our other workout stats?

I’m curious to hear what you think. I’ll admit that I’m totally guilty of this hypocrisy as well – I love knowing my numbers in Flywheel, and I record all my reps/weights when I do pure weight lifting. On the other hand, I usually don’t bother to wear a Garmin when I’m running outside of a race, and I never note how much weight I lift in a class like Tread or Refine. How about you?


8 thoughts on “Should You Measure All Your Exercise?”

  1. I always use a HR monitor for indoor cycling – otherwise it seems difficult to get a sense of effort level. The spin classes at Chelsea Piers use a Suunto system – if you’re wearing the strap, your reading appears both on your own bike and on a screen up at the front, with colors marking different HR zones. I think most cyclists do track HR (and sometimes power) for indoor workouts, but that perhaps the boutique spin studios don’t attract a ton of cyclists and triathletes?

    (Re: HR and running outside, it’s variable – I’m not especially concerned to track distances, though it’s satisfying, but I usually do intervals by HR rather than by pace, and it can be a useful tool on a recovery day to make sure you’re holding back effort.)

    1. Jenny, do the instructors at Chelsea Piers call out what heart rate you should be hitting at different parts in the class? To me, that’s the missing link. I’d be fine with even viewing heart rate only, but most spin instructors seem to just tell you to turn the wheel left or right without mentioning how you’re supposed to feel.

  2. Totally met the creators of Fitmapped yesterday at SXSW! I asked them if they knew you and they said yes so hilarious you mentioned them today in this post! Their app seems really awesome and I told them bring it to DC stat!

  3. I’m very OCD about logging my miles and workouts. I like numbers, I like to see numbers and how they change and the only way to do that is to log it. I log all of my running miles, when I take classes I note in my head what we are doing so I can write it down later. All of the places that I spin, have computers with RPM, Heart rate, watts and distance. That’s something very important to me. I like knowing where I stand so I know which areas I need to improve. I log all of my workouts on 2 different sites ( I know I know…), but for me that’s what keeps me focused during training and keeping myself on track when I am not.

    1. Laura, I used to log my workouts in FOUR systems: Cardiotrainer (Android app for workouts only), MyFitnessPal (calorie counter), Introplay (website that tracks workouts for my company fitness challenge), and Excel. I have cut back a lot since, especially since realizing I was collecting all that data and never looking back at it. (Though honestly, that’s kind of how I still use the Nike+ Fuelband… oops.)

  4. I spin pretty frequently, and used to wear a HRM religiously, but I found that I have more fun and focus better without one. Once you’ve had some practice wearing one, it’s pretty easy to guess what zone you’re in without one. Instructors at my gym (Crunch) usually give a perceived rate of exertion like “this should feel like an 8 out of 10”.

    I am with you on the “full turn” and “half turn” cues; since all the bikes and all the riders are different, it’s a pretty meaningless measure. I actually prefer being given a pace and and a very general guideline like “you’re on a steep hill” and left to my own devices. I have no problem choosing a challenging resistance most days, but it’s true that some people cheat…

    1. Good point about getting used to it. Part of why I liked Revolve better than other fitness studios I’ve tried is I think that I’ve gotten really used to Flywheel so now I know generally what to do in a spin class.

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