Training woes and wonderings

I recently purchased a heart rate meter to track my progress and motivate myself. Interestingly, I hit a strange glass wall when discussing it with some people - mostly either fitness experts or medically trained people: they said that these meters are worthless, because fitness is such a complex thing and cannot be reduced to something as trivial as how much your heart beats per second as you are climbing up the last few hundred meters to your home.

But what strikes me odd that there have been quite a few medical and fitness experts probably designing these things. Is their expertise worth nothing? Could they all be wrong, and sacrificing their professional integrity on the altar of enlightened self-interest?

And most importantly, I'm a geek. If I am motivated to train more because I can watch my progress in Excel sheets and someone - even a tiny wristwatch computer - prompts me to go out there and do something, is that a bad thing? Should I feel bad because I am now exercising more - just because I am motivated by a thing with blinkenlichts?

Is this another case of computers invading a profession, undermining the white towers that have been so carefully erected over the years? For all their promises of making life simpler, they're certainly making the life complex for some people: the entertainment industry is struggling hard to keep their scarcity-based business models as digital media eliminates scarcity. The march of broadband is threatening traditional telephony, and old-school journalists write disdaining articles about bloggers and participatory journalism. Wikipedia is constantly under attacks from the publishing industry, and harsh words are being exchanged over patents and copyright.

Is medical technology something that will see the next revolution in user-created content? Call it "user-assisted diagnostics", if you will. Some of my doctor friends have told of cases where the patient knows more about their disease than the doctor, because they've been reading all the material they can get their hands on off the internet. Some of them detest it, because the patient has no medical training and should therefore be not messing with things they do not understand. I can understand that attitude, doctors are, after all, a very conservative bunch, and they know of all the things that can go wrong if you're hasty.

But when more and more simplified medical technology reaches the common man, will we see another big boom? What will be the mouse and the World Wide Web of the medical technology? What will push through the barrier and make people discuss "parameters of the human body", much like they discuss which web site gives the best discounts on flight tickets? Does a person have a right to diagnose and treat himself in any way he pleases, even if it goes against the recommendations of doctors?

I really have no idea. But I know that there will be lots of resistance and debate when that happens. The internet might be something that happens to other people, but messing with my body is personal.

(Blog tip: SchizoBlog. No, not the one you think, if you're Finnish. Thanks to Matt.)


Janne, good questions you raise. Someone close to me had her first-born and the source she cited most for medical info was not the municipal Neuvola system but peers at Vauva-lehti discussion forum. You might be into something there.

--Tuija, 09-Jul-2006

Drug users have done that kind of medical testing with themselfs at some time now and they pretty openly are writing to internet what things are doing to them. One of my friend talked about how even wikipedia articles have safe dosage information for some drugs and how they are effecting. Another human body tweaking people are transhumanists who are toying with body chemistry not for pleasure but for better life. Anyway both groups are writing to internet more detailed info of how our body works and making experimentation with it, which have been traditionally only professionals privilege.

--AnonymousCoward, 10-Jul-2006

I can also believe there is a bit of truth in that heart rate does not tell the whole truth. I took a fitness test at my gym, a system where they plotted my heart rate while pedalling an exercise bike with incremental resistance. Now, the result was "poor". I just wonder why, since my typical evening jog is, say, eight kilometres at 12.5 km/h. I can do that at the tip of a hat, and even speak while running, and still have energy to go clubbing afterwards. (Yes, I am wired with all sorts of gadgets - better not to run while it's raining, I might get electrocuted.) Not a marathon level fitness, I agree, but clearly there's something else to the fitness than the heart rate.

What your heart rate meter _does_ give you is a purely personal benchmark.

What comes to healthcare in general, I am a firm believer in that if you measure everything, in the long run you could detect illnesses long before you actually become sick. If I could enroll in a program where everything that's measurable (heart rate, blood pressure, the whole shebang of blood tests with things like cancer markers, vision, hearing, respiratory volume, oxygen intake, whatever) would be measured quarterly, I would me more than happy to join. (Even if that would mean surrendering a pint of blood.)

You could probably tell how well your body is doing just by statistical trend analysis, without having to consult Herr Doktor.

--AnonymousCoward, 10-Jul-2006

Mulle sykemittarin hyöty on siinä, että se pitää minun vauhtini juostessa kurissa. Jos aikoo juosta yli 10 kilometrin lenkkejä, alku pitää malttaa juosta tarpeeksi hitaasti jottei lopussa ole ikävää. Puhumattakaan 15, 25 tai 42 kilometrin lenkeistä.

--Timo Riitamaa, 10-Jul-2006

AnonymousCoward #2: yup, to be clear: I don't believe that it can tell the whole truth either. But to dis it because it is less-than-perfect sounds to me as strange.

Timo: Good point.

--JanneJalkanen, 10-Jul-2006

I've been thinking this for some time now. And I think that while doctors most definitely know more, and have much more idea about cross-effects than any layman, they still are human, with human weaknesses. Doctors are victims of their particular training (how it went, how were the teachers, the material used etc) and their individual experience. If you happen to meet an experienced doctor on the specific subject, then they may immediately spot the particular problem. While with some other doctors you may end up into endless tests and going from appointment to appointment without relief.

I am not blaming the doctors (or nurses), not by any means! They are the heroes of contemporary healthcare. But I think they should acknowledge that they may not be fully up to date on _every_ subject. And even when the doctors probably won't have time to read all the current news on every patient, they should respect the fact that the information exists, and that the patient may have read some on the subject!

AND what I really think, is that thehealth care should be updated on the databases and use of information automations. It should be mandatory. The doctor could cross check the databases based on the symptoms, at least to check if he has not forgotten something, or if there are new developments on the diagnostics and cures. Of course vast number of conditions are such that they would match most any symptoms, but that's where the doctor's professionalism steps up. At least we would get rid of some erraneous or forgotten diagnostics, and could collect more and more of correct diagnostics into a global database. The exact combination of symtomps might match some specific situation/situations while they appear "basic flu" to the observers. This kind of information collection and ease of delivery is one item I am very interested in working with TYP, the Finnish Pirate Party movement (which is also gathering for information society improvements). I know that local celebrity 'green' JJKasvi is speaking for digital medical information databases and transfer, but he hasn't expanded it to diagnostic databases.

Yes, I do know that body is not very linear and nor simple, but the databases and correlations wouldn't HINDER the process. Now it looks like hardly anyone is interested in what finally happened to the patient, statistically and database collection speaking. The collections of diagnostic success and relief solutions would also be worthy information even for health studies.

--Tommi Korhonen, 11-Jul-2006

Any tips on Mac/Linux software for the Polar F11 is appreciated. And maybe even replacement for the awful flash-thing at

--Burana, 11-Jul-2006

I don't think the flash-thing is awful. In fact, I think it was one of the better and more useful flash things I've seen... Would be better with AJAX, though ;-)

Mac software appreciated, too. It does not work too well with Virtual PC and Windows...

--JanneJalkanen, 11-Jul-2006

Hmm. Who actually says you that these heart rate meters are useless? Yet, it got you moving more? So it is useful. And if you watch pro athletes, they train with heart rate meters (all that i know). It's not that you see how your condition may get better or something but that you can survey your performance all the time and adjust your speed or weights correspoding the heart rate number (for example).

I think those devices are absolutely useful. But yet, i bought Suunto wrist watch... with lot of features.. which i may use few times in a year :)

--Jasmo, 11-Jul-2006

Janne, I've been working out every day this as part of a New Years Resolution and it's going extremely well. My eliptical trainer has a heart rate monitor that works if you grab these two handles on the base, but since it has arms that move like ski poles when you stride, the heart monitor is not your normal position. Recently for my birthday I was given a heart monitor that you wear on your wrist - it has a belt that goes around your chest that transmits to the wrist watch. I've been working out every day for 6 months and I'm in pretty good shape and I train with my heart rate between 135 and 150. The interesting thing is that the new wrist heart monitor times your workout, keeping track of when you are "in the zone." You set a high and a low limit. I target a 40 minutes workout. With the wrist monitor it was taking me 60 minutes to get in 40 minutes "in the zone." I was shocked. Turned out I was spending a lot of time either going below the low limit or above the high limit. The wrist heart monitor does not record your time when you out of the zone, so you have to pay attention. My first couple of workouts wearing the monitor were real ball busters. So, don't let anyone tell you that the heart monitor can't be both interesting and effective. I find that now I'm much more "in the zone" even when I don't wear the monitor because I've trained myself to pay attention. Thanks for the insight and story. Scott

--ScottHurlbert, 12-Jul-2006


scott is right. the hrm helps you track when you are actually cardiovascularly in the right level.

the other thing is that you should set up a control exercise, one that you can repeat every so often to track your fitness. your heart rate and load reaction should improve (hr goes down) as your fitness goes up. the more out of fitness you start the more you should see this.

i just picked up a suunto t6 and am using it with the hrm and the speed pod. i find myself checking my hear rate during a run to make sure i don't overstrain myself. but i mostly check the hr to see how i am improving and how to manage my effort over a run.

yeah, i'm all gadgeted and sensored out - gps, heart rate, speed, distance, timer, altimeter. i've been logging all my runs for some time now, adding relevant data to see my progress. i've come to appreciate the various ways we use data about ourselves - either real-time or real-time-occasional or post-event. i hope to write something about it in the near future as it is an aspect of the mobile lifestyle only now i am figureing out.

and, as you know, i am a bio-geek, so now i'm thinking of all sorts of useful sensors and medical equipent.

one of the comments above was right that as we track more markers of health (chemical or physiological) the more we can make predictions. when you really want to get into biochemical gnarliness, just ask me about biomarkers. :-)

hope you are enjoying you holidays with the lovely fiancee.



--charlie, 17-Jul-2006

There are so many indicators of health that get ignored. Resting pulse is an easy one to take daily. And how about long does it take you to walk a mile? When one is trying to get healthy, and also lose weight, so many just measure the number on the scale. That does not tell you enough. What per cent is fat and what per cent is muscle? The number on the scale does not mean anything in terms of health.

--Richard, 22-Aug-2008

Yes, I agree, if a 'worthless heart monitor' gets you moving, then it is not 'worthless' after all. The rest of the world's people still continue to shake their heads as the citizens of the USA continue to get more and more obese. Something had better start working. Maybe it was a mistake to fire all the PE teachers after all.

--Google G1 Phones, 03-Nov-2008

I removed the link from your comment, as it looked suspiciously like spam.

--JanneJalkanen, 03-Nov-2008

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