I love numbers and graphs. They help you visualize progress and data over time, and although I’ve gotten really good at data acquisition and analysis in regards to web sites and applications, not a bit of it was helping me in my quest to get – and stay – more fit until recently. That said, I think I’ve finally cracked the nut on this whole tech/fitness thing, at least for my own personal needs. In my earlier post ‘Trim‘, I talked about my earlier forays and stumblings at tech-enabling fitness efforts – but have now settled down to a much better, more robust solution now that covers all my primary goals.  I’ll lay out what I wanted, what I had, and what I ended up with after kissing a lot of frogs.

What I wanted(!)

  • GPS/Map tracking of runs/bike rides
  • Track/monitor heart rate
  • Track general daily activity
  • Track sleep effectivity
  • Track of calories burned
  • Track body measurements
  • Track workout and total distances/efforts
  • Set goals across workouts/general fitness
  • Share results & workouts with friends
  • Connect with friends on Nike+
  • Connect with friends on Fitbit
  • Connect with friends on Runkeeper
Um, yeah. Pretty tall order for any one system to provide all that, which is why I had so much trouble early on. Using different apps/systems just wasn’t easy or working out- I generally gave up on the setup/prep if it was too convoluted. So I wanted to find one way to track my run/workout that fit in with whatever I was using to track, dashboard and monitor my biometrics and ideally share/collaborate/compete with my friends online too.
What to do?

The online service/friend conundrum was a real head-scratcher. Between Nike+, Runkeeper and Fitbit, I had three accounts with three different sets of friends who used each exclusively – and had no intention of changing their own preferences. Motivation is an important part of fitness to me (despite my dislike of the gym environment), so I really wanted to try and at least share activity with my friends on at least two of the services, if not all three. Early explorations suggested there would be no perfect way to engage regularly on all three if I didn’t want to be running more than one app at a time, so I gave this up for a while in frustration.
Man, did I learn a few new tricks on several levels after experimenting for a while (apologies if you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook and have seen some of these rumblings, BTW). Let me step through what I was doing wrong – or at least how I was approaching the whole workflow/setup wrong, what I quickly learned from it, and how I then adjusted to a new process and workout ‘hardware config’ that really, really works for me – and is flexible enough to work with most all of my friends’ setups, too. Winning!

What I’d been using

Although I’d used the Nike+ sensor with my iPod Mini way back in the day, I drifted away from it quickly as it didn’t really help me with much more than my pace/activity. I wanted something that I could wear all day that tracked my general level of activity so I could start identifying ways to get a bit more exercise – or at least motion/activity – during my regular sitting-at-desk workdays. There were really two options that appealed to me – the Fitbit Ultra tracker, and the Nike+ FuelBand. For reasons I elaborated on in my last fitness post, I went with the Fitbit Ultra and tracking site, as it used ‘real’ units of measure that would also be useful outside the Nike+ environment (inches, pounds, calories, et al). Nike’s Fuel Points are a simplistic way to look at aggregate general activity but I wanted the details, not the summary. However, most of my friends here at who are active are using the Nike+ Fuel Band as their general monitor, so ideally I wanted to find a way to sync my data with the Nike+ website and data so that at least I could participate in their challenges, measure our collective progress, and so on. But in lieu of that, I was totally happy with the Fitbit tracker’s ability to track daily activity AND my sleep cycle so I let go of my need to sync with Nike+ early on (and unnecessarily).

What was still missing with the Fitbit solution? A connected heart rate monitor. A good HRM (I’ve always been partial to Polar’s hardware, when I last actively worked out for results) is critical to tuning your cardio and making sure you exert just enough energy to burn those calories effectively – not too much, not too little. I kept using my trusty old Polar HRM (with it’s antiquated watch UI and rigid plastic chest band unit) but entering the details after exercise was a non-starter – I never had a good, convenient way to do that while the data/run was still fresh. So I needed to rethink this too, at some point – but it was a lower priority as at least I could still eyeball my current heart rate with the old Polar unit- so no harm no foul.

My software became a hodgepodge of iPhone/iPad apps, a spreadsheet I separately tracked & graphed my body measurements and min/max/average heart rates in (largely incomplete as I had a really hard time finding the followthrough to enter my data when I was back at my computer, and the iPhone spreadsheet apps are, well, a bit lacking in usability). It came down to two, finally – as I discovered Fitbit’s stored data could integrate with, and let me mix both my day-to-day biometric tracking (from the Fitbit unit) and my exercise (in Runkeeper). Logging my meals/extra activities/water intake/etc in the Fitbit iApp made a lot of sense – it’s great for quick data entry like that – and I could just use Runkeeper for my actual runs/rides for GPS tracking and storing a map, plus saving my pace/split times/etc for motivation and self-diagnosis. Fitbit during the day, Runkeeper when working out, in a nutshell. I then could eyeball my recent activity (with graphs) at Runkeeper, and use Fitbit simply as a data collection/storage service + tracker unit. Nice!

But there were still problems, and areas I wasn’t covering that really bugged me. So over the last few days, I tried a few different workflows and configs, and came up with a new way of doing it all. First, let’s review what I learned from the process above, and what I wanted to change and/or update.

What I learned from it

I needed a single app to rule ’em all – hopefully an iOS app that was amazing and well-designed in it’s own right – or just give up on both broader social integration and heart rate monitoring entirely.  RunKeeper only claimed support with a limited set of heart rate monitors and not the awesome new (and affordable!) Polar H7 Smart Bluetooth HRM, but it still seemed the best hub for my activity and the most popular of the running/fitness app communities- so maybe, just maybe, there might be an app that could do more than one trick.  Hence, I decided to look for an app that could track and monitor my rides, but also feed all my activity – GPS data, heart rate/biometrics, times, et al – into Runkeeper, since the Fitbit already did that so well and worked for me at a general level.  If I could get something that also worked with Nike+ that would be the ultimate, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

What I’m doing now

One word – iSmoothRun.  Covers all the bases, and looks nice and clean on my handlebars, too.

As a central app for all my exercise, iSmoothRun pretty much does everything I’d expect it to, and far simply than I would have thought.  It also works brilliantly both with the new Polar HRMs, and Nike+, my stretch requests.  Honestly, I didn’t think there was a chance in hell I could find a balance between the real world and my nit-picky demands, but after a week of beating on this setup, I think my quest is officially over.  This shit really works.

My Exercise Procedure

  1. clip on the Fitbit
  2. strap on the Polar H7 heart rate monitor
  3. clip the iPhone into my handlebar mount (I prefer this Lifeproof mount)
  4. start iSmoothRun and go.
  5. when I’m done, save the ride and it’s synced automatically to and Nike+
  6. rinse, repeat, party.

By simply using iSmoothRun for every workout, all my rides and Fitbit data are centrally-stored in my Runkeeper feed for monitoring, and I use the Fitbit iPhone app during the day for logging meals/extra activity/measurements/et al.  And not only is all my ride data is also seamlessly synced with Nike+ but it’s converted to Nike Fuel points in the process, so I can also compete with my Nike Fuel-obsessed friends alongside my Runkeeper pals – no more arguing Fuel Points vs. calories.  Everyone can get some.   And I can even bug my social networks on Twitter and Facebook at the end of a ride, or using Runkeeper Live (which iSmoothRide also supports).

Enough blabbing.  Time for pictures!


Aside from the clean, readable, usable main ride interface above, iSmoothRun has gorgeous maps (both on saved runs as well as DURING the run):


By comparison, Runkeeper is a bit more cluttered, and less pleasing:


iSmoothRun has great graphs when you tilt the run window, so you can look at your overall performance each time with detail:


And when it all gets over to Nike+, you get some even slicker graphics and such:


And tipping the Nike+ app’s interface lets you see your segment times/heart rate zones/etc.


So yeah, it pretty much works out for me to use iSmoothRun for the day-to-day action, but then I can pull up my data in either Nike+ Running or Runkeeper as well.  I’m reasonably certainly I’m not going to need to mess with this process much in the foreseeable future, but would love to hear what you’re using, and what the pros/cons are as well.  I’m finding this intersection of tech and health quite fascinating.  Ping me in comments, and hook up with me on Runkeeper (or my Nike+ account, if you prefer), and let’s burn some calories!


(Yeah, yeah… or Fuel Points.  Whatever, man.)