The Basis of Wearable Technology

As part of the process of self analysis, I have recently purchased, (with the permission of my wonderful wife, and the assistance of one Mrs Kelly Underhill of Arizona), a Basis watch (2014 Edition Carbon Steel).  Okay, so background here.  The Basis watch is one of the more advanced portable health trackers on the market at the moment, in that it continuously measures:

  • Sleep (REM, light and deep)
  • Steps
  • Calorie burn
  • Activities (walking, running, cycling)
  • Heart rate (without chest strap) (high levels of inaccuracy during exercise)
  • Skin temperature
  • Perspiration

As this device is currently not available for purchase for non-US consumers, I purchased it through Amazon.com and had it shipped to a US address (belonging to Kelly).  She then used the less convenient services of the US postal service and had it sent to Spain.  The delivery time from the US was remarkably quick and that cannot be faulted!

So what should one expect from a Basis watch you can ask and here is the unveiling of the device that I received.

The hardware:

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The Complete Basis Watch Content

Above can be seen a lot of box contains the watch, a USB charger, and a simple instruction manual.

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Charging Points on Watchface

Above can be seen the charging points on the side of the Basis watch

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The Rear of the Basis Watch, Showing the Sensors

Above can be seen the rear of the watch, which shows the HR monitor, and the skin temperature and perspiration sensors.

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So that gives you an idea of what to expect of the packaging, and what is contained inside.  It may not look like much and to be honest I thought the same.  However, my main purpose for the purchase was in getting a continuous heart rate monitor that did not require a chest strap, so big pomp and dancing girls were not required, only that it did what it claimed.  I had read some reviews and specifically noted that people had complained that the HR readings during exercise were not consistent, which I have been able to confirm in the week or so that I have worn the watch.  However, for cardio exercise I use my Garmin GPS watch (now in conjunction with the Basis), which has a chest strap and is mostly reliable.

Once opened I put the device on charge with the peculiar charging dock which clips over the top of the watch, holding the charging connectors in place.  This then led me through a series of onscreen setup pages, and required me to create an account with Basis, as the device will store information on their system, and that is how you view your data.

The Installation:

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This was a very straight forward process and at the end you are encouraged to select new habits, which will be recorded by the watch and that you will be able to examine your progress against.  I started with a habit to sleep 8 hours a night, which I am struggling to do, but it has certainly allowed me to snooze during the day with less guilt! 🙂

So let me show you a typical day view from the Basis website:

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The above screenshot shows my activity, which is mostly accurate.  For some reason it has me cycling at 9pm or so, which is when I was frantically working at cleaning a long tube of plastic (another story), but for some reason the Basis sensors put this in the ‘he is cycling’ camp!  It can also be seen that my heart rate during the sweaty walk I took in the morning and into midday was not very reliable and even missing at a point (12:55 to 13:55).  I find the rest of the information insightful, and I hope that over time I will be able to track various movement patterns and exercise levels to physical sensations and hopefully creating injury reduction.

One of the areas that I was not expecting to find as interesting as I do, is the sleep chart:

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This is the chart for last night which claims to be able to show my total sleep time, and the types of sleep I was having.  I am not aware of the algorithms or accuracy of this data.  However, I hope that with time I will be able to overlay this with my mood in the morning and my opinion of my restfulness to determine my perception of its accuracy.

Overall, I am intrigued by the initial offerings and the range of information available in wearing the Basis.

The final point, but one that may be terribly important if you are blessed (?) like me and have skinny, effeminate wrists.  The Basis is a unisex watch and to achieve this, they have made the watch face smaller than a typical manly watch, and perhaps larger than a typical female watch.  This being the case, it is just perfect for my wrist (at least in my opinion). 🙂

Anyhow, a new day of tracking awaits, so when are you going to start the journey into quantifying yourself?  How do you truly know if you are getting better or worse until you start measuring?  Get a baseline of your health and work on being an improved you! 🙂

Home Training Equipment

Exercising and Travelling – Life Without The Gym

Since being a teenager, my life has been tied to a gym membership somewhere.  I write ‘tied’, but honestly, it has been a joy.  I have loved the friendships (albeit mostly temporary) that gym membership has provided.  When I have lived overseas, I have found a gym to exercise in.  Even on many of my short -term holiday stays I have found a hotel or something similar to allow me to exercise.  It is something that I consider important and therefore an area that I invest some dedicated effort.  Since relocating to Spain, Sara and I dabbled with the thought of the unimaginable, to see if we could save a little bit of money and the inevitable cancellation difficulties that often arise (especially when taking a membership for less than a year), and forego my routine of gym membership.  This has pushed me into an area of discomfort, and led me to find new ways to try and find release for my active needs, and desire for physical improvement.

Foundation Training

On reentering European borders from Argentina, I invested in a series of digital downloads which are based on isometric exercises.  This to me is fantastic as it allows me to get away from the requirement of a house of exercise machines, inflatable balls and heavy things, while still being challenging.  The course we purchased states to be based on back strengthening exercises, and while I find that it has a significant focus on the back it does feel to work other parts of the body.  The programme is called Foundation Training, and earlier this year a new series of digital downloads were released and I have been doing these almost daily ever since.  The sequences of moves are taken at a slow pace, which are well explained.  It can be very challenging, especially in the beginning.  The positions that are to be assumed do not require a large amount of space, which can be useful, but those positions can be far from complimentary, so maybe best reserved in more reclusive places.

Pros:
No additional equipment required.
Small footprint required in which to do exercises.
No jumping or noisy movements involved.
Short or longer sessions available in video series.
Single price for series – available as digital download or DVD.

Cons:
No cardio element, as everything is based on isometric movement.
Can involve looking a bit like of a moron (pretty much a status quo situation for me).
Some of the explanations of movements can leave me a little uncertain.
Lack of symmetry in movements; different exercise on left and right sides of body.

YogaGlo

Sara has a preference for yoga, and for this reason we purchased a subscription to YogaGlo.  This offers a wide range of exercise sessions of various lengths with a number of different instructors.  I try and do a class of this daily, even if just a 15 minute session.  I have found that I have a preference to more restorative Yin type classes.  This is primarily due to the fact that I am not familiar yet with the positioning and naming of various poses that that teachers quickly name and seem to expect you to assume in a fraction of a second, before calling the next pose.  I think that if you have a sense of flow and can remember the positions this would not be a problem for you.  I find this set of possible classes excellent though as there is such a wide range it is difficult to get bored.

Besides this I have typically been running at least 3 times a week.  However, during the period of injury of my left ankle, running was not an option.  I tried some skipping but this aggravated the condition somewhat, even if I did persist with that longer than I probably should have.

Pros:
A very wide range of yoga classes of many different styles, for most levels of ability.
Relatively inexpensive.
Works well on both smartphones and tablets.

Cons:
Monthly subscription, so ongoing payment required.
Seems to have a wide gap between levels (3 levels available).
A range of the classes require the use of props; blocks, straps, etc.

TRX Suspension Straps

However, I find that I have started to feel that these exercises are not allowing me to work my muscles in the way that I am used to.  For sure YogaGlo has some very intense classes that require a lot of strength, but they also need the practitioner to have flexibility, balance and an understanding of the position to assume.  For this reason I have buckled slightly into the more familiar world of exercise, although a slight twist on my known regimen, and I have decided to try something new to me and I have purchased some TRX suspension straps.  These are defined as heavily overpriced for what they are, but I decided to opt for getting a second hand pair.  New the cost is around £200 for a set, which does seem costly to me for a few bits of material, a karabiner or two, and a DVD.  I looked on eBay, and saw that most were selling at around £130 for the kit, which was still a little more than I wanted to pay.  At this point I looked to GumTree, which provides UK residents a way to quickly buy and sell products like a classified ad, without the auction functionality.  In this way I was able to pick up a set for £85 and that included postage (thank you Sam, the person from whom I purchased them from).

The TRX straps in themselves offer the possibility to do a range of movements which could be difficult to assume without them.  The product includes a door anchor, which allows the positioning of the strap over the top of the door when the door has been closed to provide a stable point.  It is possible to buy an anchor that can be positioned on a wall or ceiling, but this requires drilling and living in a rental gives me cause for pause in doing that.  However I would say that a ceiling anchor point would give the greatest range of possible movements.

As I never really spent much time using the straps at the gym, I am not very familiar with the movements and exercises that are available without wrecking myself in some way.  Because of this, we downloaded an iPhone app called TRX Force, and paid for the additional 12 week programme.  This is fantastic as it offers videos of the movements, and often includes up to 4 different variants of an exercise depending on strength or ability level.  I would recommend this as a structured exercise programme for newbies like me.

The first week of using the straps and I confess that it has ached me significantly, and most of the exercises are a distinct challenge.  That to me signifies the potential of physical improvement with these as a tool.  I have 11 weeks of the programme left, I’ll see where it takes me! 🙂

Pros:
Single piece of equipment that packs down into a small bag that comes in pack.
No additional weights required as operates using bodyweight only.
Seems to be of solid construction.
The range of possible exercises is very broad covering all the major body parts.

Cons:
Can be a little inconvenient in adjusting strap length all the time (maybe just need to get used to this).
The door anchor is easy to use, but due to layout of apartment I am in, not ideal.
Initially requires to learn a new set of movements, and I recommend buying the additional TRX Force app.

Buddy Lee Skipping Rope

On top of this, my kind mother-in-law Mummy P, bought me a Buddy Lee skipping rope and I have been using this as a cardio accompaniment recently, which is great especially given that my left ankle is still not working well.  This is greatly beneficial in getting my heart rate up and my blood and lymph coursing around my body, to clear and purify things (at least that is the hope). 🙂

Pros:
Compact.
Small range of total space needed, although somewhat deceptively more than originally thought.
Single price item.

Cons:
None, unless you do simply not like skipping.

That is my summary of things as they stand at the moment. I am going to continue with the above for a time, hopefully at least the next 11 weeks with the TRX programme. However, I am considering giving a try to the Beachbody Insanity home workout, the DDP Yoga home workout, or something similar.

Please let me know if you’ve tried anything, and your opinions of it. I understand that Jane Fonda VHS videos are still up near the top of the list, but I am neither emotionally, nor physically ready for such a challenge!

Thanks for reading, and your input and comment is greatly appreciated, so please write away.

jj in the Málaga Half-Marathon

Broken, But Hopefully Not Beyond Repair – The Joy Of Running

Quite a few months back I signed up for the Málaga half marathon.  My running was feeling strong and getting faster.  The world was a beautiful place full of fun and potential.

Not so sure but something started to change, recovery was slower, my times started to fade and I was just feeling not quite as positive about my future running as I was before.  This finally got to the point about 2 weeks before the half marathon in which my left heel and ankle were so painful as to eliminate my possibility of training.  I did some research online and feel that my pain could be plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis or a range of alternative, but equally difficult to pronounce, diagnoses.  Obviously with any comparison of supposed injury to online symptoms can be the path to messing yourself further, but who am I to buck this trend?  So I applied logic and thought to myself that this could be complete nonsense.  I promptly ignored that and in the absence of another neat answer to my pain I thought I’d ‘run’ with online healing of my supposed symptoms!

In order to try and improve my rather sorry situation, I obtained a tennis and a golf ball and started a ball rolling massage programme of my own creation that fired off a range of sensations in my foot, ankle and calves like I had never experienced before.  Some momentary and intense pain felt like it may have been creating relief as the day of the run approached, and the hobbling lessened.  I was still not doing any training runs, but I was feeling more positive that I would at least be able to get around the course, leaving some of my pride intact, and believe me, I do not have so much to safeguard these days!

As my mum always likes to watch men in tight shorts prancing around in a sweaty mess, she had come over to watch.  Having a similar attraction to partially clad, sweaty and oft-times hairy men, my dear old (in every sense of the word) friend Steve, who had just completed his year long Southern America extravaganza, had popped over also.  The desire to complete, or at least participate in the run felt stronger, not wanting to disappoint those that had come out to see the event.  This was most-likely a self-imposed pressure, as to be honest I am not sure that anyone but me would really care if I did not take part, and my kind guests had voiced such remarks.

The day finally arrived and I felt not too bad, although I was a little nervous that it was expected to be a warm day and the run was starting at 10am.  A late start for most runs, and it would mean that the temperature would be hot for my cold English blood! This creates a new set of possible problems.

We arrived at the train station near Málaga 40 minutes from the start time and 30 minutes from the starting location.  As always I needed one last lavatory moment before the run commencement.  I waited for another runner in the toilets a few moments from the start.  I am honestly not sure what happens to people before a run, but based on the range of toilets that I have used prior to participating in such events, something awful goes on with the digestive tracts of many.  If you are to be a participant or an observer at such events, be prepared, and always take some toilet tissue with you, as this is often in short supply!  Be warned!

Then as I was walking to the start line, having left my loved ones at the observer point, I was feeling the excitement rise.  Just then the ‘gun’ went off and the gathered runners set off.  I quickly dived into the crowd of participants, and set off with the masses.  Things felt fine and jolly.  I was quickly approached by some Spanish runners that were telling me about their minimalist running shoes, some of their pains in transitioning, and the reasons for wearing cushioned shoes that day.  A sentiment I could whole heartedly sympathise with!  Although pain was not riding with me at that point, at least not in any appreciable quantities.

The weather was indeed warm and the run was decidedly lovely.  Running along roads which had been closed for the event which followed along the shore line, and the sea lay to the right.  At the 10km mark I was feeling the sensations of discomfort making their way into my body, and turning around at the top point at around 11km was a great feeling.  I was at least heading back home from this point onwards.  I did not look at my Garmin, there was no point in making myself feel worse by analysing my performance.  I then found myself running through Málaga town with the gathered people looking on.  This is one of the fantastic things about these events for me.  It is so uplifting to see the people and to hear the enthusiasm.  I am aware that I’ll not always be able to participate, but I hope that I’ll still be able to cheer the next generation on and for them to feel that adrenaline rush of the moment.  Then the cathedral was on my left and I was out of Málaga.  It felt like it was all over in a blink of an eye.

The final 5km was a real challenge as my ankle was paining me, and my mind had switched from cheerleader helper mode, into The Blerch.  I was hard pushed to persuade myself to continue, as my mind said just walk for a while, it is fine to do that.  However, there is another part of my mind that says SCREW THAT YOU LAZY BITCH!  Besides it reasons, the quicker I get back then I can just relax as my time will be my own.  I slowed my pace down a little, as a psychological requirement, but carried on running.  My pace steady rose again.

The heat was becoming a little more intense by now.  As a general rule of thumb, I usually do not drink when doing distances of and up to half-marathon, as I never really acquired the skill of drinking and running.  It just works out better to get round as quickly as I can and then worry about recovery afterwards!  However I could feel a sense of dehydration kicking in, and an underlying exhaustion.  For this reason I picked up a water bottle at one of the drink stations nearing the end.  As I gulped down the water that I was liberally spraying into my face I noticed a wheezing and difficulty in breathing.  I made a note of this new sensation and carried on.  The feeling passed after about a minute of slowed and more difficult running.  In the short term it felt uncomfortable, but after that momentary feeling passed, I felt much, much better and stronger.  A reasonable trade-off in my eyes!

Soon the finish point at the stadium, where the run began, seemed to be nearing and I could recognise familiar areas that I had seen on the way out.  Even though tired and hurting I dug a little deeper, it is always nice to finish strong regardless of how one feels inside.  The stadium was there on my right and I sped up slightly feeling things were closing and I could do this.  The few bits of reserve energy made their way from wherever they were hiding and moved to the places where they would be useful.  Fantastic.  Here we go I thought to myself.  Then the stadium entry point passed on my right, and my mind understood, that I may have sped up too soon.  This was not going to finish as I had expected.  A short way past the stadium entry there was a hairpin bend, and my heart raced again, YIPPEE.  This was it, the stadium, and therefore the finish line, were within grasp.  At this point I also overtook a guy that was running in sandals, and as if it meant something my mind was grateful that I overtook this fellow!  Not so sure why my mind does that.  I had no idea that the guy in sandals existed until that point, but overtaking him at that moment meant something in my puny, pathetic little world!

So it was I could see the stadium entry and hear the sounds of success issuing from within.  With a lightness in my heart I passed into the stadium, tired and in pain.  My ankle hurt like hell and my left hip must have been compensating my movement somehow, as this was on fire.  However we had reached the climactic point, the finish!  Well at least that is what I thought.

On entering the stadium, there was a final punishment.  They had a running track and the finish line was almost a lap of the running track away.  With a sense of disappointment that things were not quite done, I found the next stage in my reserves.  This is the stage that one knows is going to hurt.  It has been put there to save you in the case of absolute emergency.  When threat is so significant that it does not really matter how you come out of the situation, as long as you do.  Recovery and repair can be dealt with later, but for now, this energetic burst is going to push you to the maximum effort point.  This is when I knew I would REALLY hurt.  I stepped up my pace internally, and let go for the final burst.  Carried by adrenalin, or whatever else it is that allows me to be even more stupid than normal,  the pain moved away from the front of my mind and allowed me to push that little bit harder.  As I was on that final stretch, the finish line ahead, I looked to the stands to my right and saw the collection of loved ones that had come to watch my not very impressive (from a time perspective) effort, and felt gratitude and appreciation of their attendance.  It was then that I crossed the final line that mattered, the finish line, and was terribly, terribly relieved!

POSTSCRIPT:

It is now pretty much 2 weeks later.  I have not been able to run and my left ankle, heel and achilles are pretty trashed.  I obviously pushed myself a little more than sense would normally allow.  So given the pain, the heat, the difficulty of the day and the days since would I have done it differently?  Not at all!!  It was wonderful, thrilling, exciting, and it made me feel alive.  For anyone that has not experienced participating in an organised event of physical demand like running, for heaven’s sake try it!!  Really!!  You may be a sideline observer that looks on and thinks that such people are idiots, but I tell you, in my experience it is amazing.  I hope that I will continue to do such things until time robs me of the ability, there is just a fantastic sense of accomplishment that is not based on anything else except for your own sense of trying your hardest to achieve your best.

Please note, I would recommend anyone looking to participate in a physically demanding event to put in adequate training.  This will not only enhance the enjoyment of the event, but will aid in the recovery afterwards.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂  Now what are you waiting for??

The Latest Fixation of JJ

Some of you that know me out there have probably realised that I may not be the most conventional person, at least according to the popular view of my contemporaries.

As previously alluded to in the previous post: The Passing Of Time …, I am still deeply interested in the Quantified Self movement.

For those of you without a background of my health (you lucky people), this started a few years back during may participation in the Brighton marathon in the UK.  I noticed at around the 10-13 mile mark I was in trouble.  I was running at a normal pace (some may call it jogging, or excited walking), but it felt as if I was wading through treacle.  It was very difficult to continue.  I invested in a Garmin HR monitor shortly afterwards and started to track things more closely.  This revealed that I would have periods in which my heart rate became elevated, and in those times, the life of exercising was far more difficult than it really ought to have been.  So became my interest in measuring on some level.  When I later started looking into Search Engine Optimisation for work, I understood more deeply the significance of being able to analyse and control those things that we measure.  Without measurement it is all guess work.

We are living in a new age of wearables, and if you have been sleeping for the last couple of years you may not have seen the rise in such devices.  It is very common now for people to be seen with popular fitness tracking appliances, such as Fitbit, but there are countless devices and apps which do such things.  The primary functions of such devices and apps are as glorified pedometers, but additional metrics may be recorded and stored for later perusal and awarding of digital congratulatory badges.

This path has more recently led me into the idea of measuring other aspects.  In the UK in January I had a blood test done to take a snapshot of various aspects of myself which I am not able to detect easily through other means.  The report from the lab came back with the primary message that I am terribly low in 2 vitamins, B12 and D.  Which were to be expected, B12 due to Veganism, and D due to living in the Northern hemisphere.  There were some other minor signals, which I am still understanding and attempting to determine the possible effects of.  However, this leaves me wondering what else there is to discover.

I often hear people state all sort of comments about their health based on their personality.  Some people want to believe that they are healthy, and some people want to believe that they are sick, and this will be reflected in the things that they say.  However, either way this is rarely a true reflection of their health.  I am not immune to this, so having records mean that I do not have to rely on my less than accurate capacity of recall, and a unbiased measuring device is a great tool in order to remove the possible inaccuracies that I could quite easily assign to such subjective measures like mood.

The more things that I can track and measure, the more possible correlations and causations I hope to find.  From this I may be able to find ways to control my heart rate, and detect problems before they arise.  I realise that this is a new area of science, and open to all sort of inaccuracies, but hey, you need to take sides every now and then, so I am thinking to follow this one until the coffers run dry! 🙂

Please let me know your thoughts?  Do you track any aspects of your health?  Would you ever consider trying?  Do you think that you have a healthy lifestyle?  Do you think that I am a couple of saucers short of a tea party?  What ever your thoughts, please let us know!  It is always good to know how far I have strayed from normal! 🙂