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Tracking Exercise Metrics

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Reading time: 10 minutes.

Sometimes easy things are harder than they need to be. In this case, the easy thing is “keeping track of data about my exercise routines”. The hard thing is “making the diverse ecosystem of exercise data gatherers and providers work for me.” It has taken a few attempts to find a collection of equipment and services which meet my needs, so I thought I would share in case it helps others.

What makes me tick?

I love data. Data helps me reflect on my progress. Data also keeps me honest - it is proof I am actually showing up and working out. To a degree, I need the data to motivate me, particularly in times of lower energy.

I’m wired that way, and a focus on consistency and regularity are often the only way I can really drive my habits. My 425-plus day streak on Duolingo is clear evidence of this personal trait. Anyone who knows me will know the words “deliberate” and “discipline” are very big factors in my general approach.

With those things in mind, I am currently balancing two things:

  • having complete data on all of my workouts, all in one place, to help with reflection as well as a sense of achievement or completion. The key word here is “complete”
  • almost as important, publicly shared achievement-based community “streaks” which definitely keeping me pushing forwards

If you can relate to this need for data, then you’ll empathise with me when I miss a day, and see a gaping hole in my workout history!

Recent calendar showing exercise days

Somehow, I didn’t log any exercise at all on February 9th. That one white date is like a beacon, saying “you missed a day!” That really bothers my consistency and regularity radar, a lot. In reality, I was in London that day, and got plenty of walking in - and to a certain degree, you could argue it was a necessary rest day. Even so, the calendar … oh my, the gaping hole in the calendar!

What exercises do I need to track?

OK, so we’ve established my need to track things, both for the value of the data itself, and for the motivating and habit-forming rhythm and cadence. Which things are we tracking though? What counts as a deliberate workout, versus general exercise during the regular day, such as walking the dog?

Well, I want my captured workout types to include:

  • Running, both outdoors and on a treadmill
  • Cycling, also outdoors and on a Peloton bike
  • Strength workouts, stretching and Pilates

What equipment and software am I using?

The main equipment, software and services I am using for exercising and tracking is:

When purchasing, we decided against the Peloton Tread, in favour of the DKN EnduRun. Online reviews were very good for the EnduRun, particularly with respect to the quality and noise-levels of the motor. It was also only two-thirds the price of the Peloton Tread. This decision has created extra steps (and cognitive load) in data management, though, as you’ll see later.

The CooSpo HRM is both bluetooth and ANT+, and so far has been very solid in connecting to the Peloton, the iPad and the Garmin. It is a lot cheaper than many other HRM options you can find, too.

There are some challenges with the Peloton ecosystem

Challenge 1: where can I stream which classes?

First, while the Peloton Bike allows you to use the large tablet screen to also play Bootcamp, Strength, Cardio, Stretching, Yoga, and Meditation classes, you can only access Running workouts on either the Peloton Tread, or in the Peloton apps on your mobile device, tablet or Apple / Fire TV device. You need multiple devices to make the most of all of the Peloton class catalogue, and sometimes you have to take a class on your iPhone which requires you to watch the tiny screen. Clearly not ideal. At the very least, I’d really like to be able to stream any class on the Bike screen, regardless of the exercise type.

Challenge 2: inconsistent ability to share data

While Peloton will allow you to share certain workout types to Strava, it isn’t possible for all types. For example, I can share a Peloton ride directly to Strava right from the Bike, but not a strength workout or a run from the app.

Challenge 3: Peloton is read only

Peloton is “read only”. They don’t provide any kind of API or integration which will allow you to create data from another source. Only Peloton classes or workouts will show up on your Peloton account, history and streaks. This makes some sense, as I am sure they want to maintain some integrity in workout data across their community. That, and locking folks in to their ecosystem, when they want to track and celebrate their progress!

Challenge 4: Peloton apps don’t support “just run” or “just ride” options

The Bike does support both “just ride” and “scenic ride” modes, but it isn’t possible to do this in the App for either indoor or outdoor running, or for outdoor cycling. You have to take a class. This means I always need to take a structured class whenever I want the workout to count towards my cumulative Peloton stats. I suppose I could pick a workout class the same length as my desired workout and then just let it play, but that feels a little disingenuous.

Sounds like Peloton is more trouble than it is worth!

Well, maybe. For the time being, however, I am still finding value in the community aspects of Peloton. Whenever I run or ride, if I have met a milestone (Nth ride, Nth day streak, etc), it makes me happy when other Peloton users take a moment to high-five the achievement on the leaderboard. Also, seeing what workouts my friends have enjoyed helps me decide on classes. I really like some of the content Peloton produces - whether that be “Artist Series” workouts using music from popular artists, or workouts celebrating cultural events.

I am currently still trying to find Peloton workouts for most of my exercise sessions - whether they are rides, runs, stretching or strength. Other than the occasional day where I just want to exercise without the pressure of selecting and executing against a planned class, I am generally able to find an offering from Peloton which matches the workout I wish to take.

This may not last, but for now it is working for me.

What is my “source of truth”?

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned balancing data and community. Ultimately, Strava needs to be the source of truth for all of my workout data. It has APIs to allow most other services to push data to it, and it has an excellent iPhone and Apple Watch app for tracking workouts directly. However, albeit secondary to this, I would still like Peloton to be my main source of “streak”-based data - a public record of my consistency, complete with badges!

If you’re still following along, though, you’ll have spotted that there is now a gap in my “complete data” goal. While Peloton will have most of my data, it currently cannot all be shared directly to Strava. There are added complications when adding Garmin Connect to the mix, where data is gathered from my cycle computer.

Enter RunGap

My current solution is an iPhone app called RunGap. RunGap allows you to connect to many popular fitness data services, and will then allow you to export and import data between them. The list of supported services is long and includes all the major fitness providers. RunGap handles my Strava, Peloton and Garmin Connect use cases perfectly.

There is a subscription charge for some of export functionality, but at £3.49 every 3 months, it is worth every penny.

You can download RunGap from the App Store.

How I make it all work

Given the various considerations above, each of my workout types now has a different set of equipment, and a different way to track the data.

Peloton Bike workouts

Perhaps the easiest of the workout types, I pair the CooSpo Heart Rate Monitor to the Peloton Bike, and just ride. At the end, I can share the data to Strava right there from the workout summary screen.

Treadmill runs using Peloton classes

I have two options for streaming Peloton treadmill runs:

  • I use my iPad Mini with the CooSpo Heart Rate Monitor connected to it
  • I use my iPhone, and the Apple Watch app runs automatically for heart rate monitoring

Since I am almost always wearing my Apple Watch, the second of these is the most common. There isn’t visually much to see in the app, so having the small iPhone screen isn’t really an issue.

In both cases, once I complete the run, I load RunGap, click the three dots in the upper right corner, then select Share. From here I can share to Strava (and other places if I need to).

Outdoor runs and non-Peloton treadmill runs

Once again, two options:

  • If I want to register the run as a Peloton workout, I take an Outdoor or Running class, which will use my Apple Watch for heart rate. In this case, I need to share the workout to Strava afterwards using RunGap, similarly to “Peloton” Treadmill runs above
  • If I just want to run (and not worry about logging the workout with Peloton), I will just use the Strava app on the Apple Watch. I have to accept that Peloton won’t get to see these sessions

Outdoor rides

Outdoor rides are usually tracked by the Garmin cycle computer, again with the CooSpo Heart Rate Monitor paired to it. Garmin Connect actually has a good integration with Strava already, and can auto-share data from a Garmin workout straight to Strava.

If I want to log an outdoor ride with Peloton, the only way to do it is to take a Cycling class. Since these are generally structured in some way, and the various sections of the ride will almost certainly not match the terrain outdoors, this is the one situation where there isn’t a sensible way to track with Peloton. In this case, I am happy for the ride not to count in my Peloton stats and streaks!

Strength, stretching and Pilates

For Peloton classes, I log these in exactly the same way as for treadmill runs - take the class on iPhone or iPad and use RunGap to push the data to Strava.

If I am just doing free weights, or self-guided stretching, I log the workout using the Strava app on the Apple Watch. This captures time, calories and heart rate, which is good enough. Again, these would be missing from Peloton history

Summary

Ultimately, this solution allows me to capture 100% of my workouts in Strava, and a very high percentage of workouts in Peloton. I am happy if only the main workouts - rides, runs, strength classes specifically - make it to Peloton, since those are the ones which count towards achievements and streaks. It is a good compromise, and the collection of equipment I use combined with RunGap gives me a lot of flexibility at workout time, but still allows for the data consistency.

Feel free to connect with me on Strava or Peloton, and share your data tips and tricks.

(Header photo “Person standing by weights” by Victor Freitas)