ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self. From December 2013 to January 2014, it is presented by Qualcomm Toq.

December may seem like an odd time of year to double down on writing about fitness. The holiday season brings the culinary debacle of Thanksgiving along with a litany of parties replete with frosted cookies. Naturally, interest in exercise and nutrition takes a measurable dive. Google reveals our inner demons: Searches for the word "diet" plummet around this time of year, as my friend Alex Wilhelm recently noted.

originally planned to end my four-month fitness writing experiment at this point. But I’ve realized that there is so much more I can write about ... there’s no wrong time to spur people to think about fitness. Every day I get questions from readers, friends and or colleagues about what I’m doing and what might work for them.

I have some answers. Not nearly enough. There’s so much more to know about this fast emerging and evolving category of wearable devices, action-oriented apps and cloud tools that analyze the massive pools of data we generate when we track our fitness.

So I'm continuing ReadWriteBody into 2014, with support from Qualcomm, which is presenting this series for the next two months. 

Quantifying My Results

I've spent the last four months watching what I ate, mixing up my fitness regimen and spending many working hours walking on a LifeSpan Fitness treadmill desk. So, how'd I do?

Weight is one of the easiest things to measure: Step on a scale. While I've played with various connected scales, reading a number off the old weigh-beam scale at the gym seems easier. I'm at 194 lbs., down from 206 lbs. where I started in August. I'd hoped to lose 20 lbs. and win a contest with MapMyFitness cofounder Kevin Callahan, but we both missed our goal. (He has a good excuse: He was busy negotiating the sale of his company to Under Armour.)

Trainers will often tell clients not to fixate on the scale and that's good advice. I can tell from the way my midsection looks—a glimmering of abs!—and the way my clothes fit that I'm in measurably better shape.

Still, I want to keep pushing that number down, for reasons of vanity and pragmatism. The less I weigh, the faster I can run and the easier my workouts will be on my heart and joints. For the long term, I'm aiming to drop another 20 lbs. from here and get down to 175 lbs.

Here are some other numbers of interest, from the panoply of apps I’ve used to track my workouts:

  • Miles run: 487.3 (via RunKeeper)
  • Hours spent working out at the gym: 107.5 (via GymGoal)
  • Best 1-mile time: 8:37 (via Strava)
  • Calories burned: 43,331 (via Pear Sports, estimated via heart rate)

What I Learned

One big discovery was that measuring my heart rate mattered. A lot. Before I started this journey, I never really thought about my heart rate except when I gripped the bars on the treadmill machine at my gym. Even then, I didn't really know what the numbers meant.

Now I'm tuned into what my heart rate means and the tools I can use to track it. To my surprise, I’ve adapted to those awkward-looking chest strap monitors that provide continuous, real-time heart-rate measurement. I use an EB Sync Burn tracker on my wrist to provide a quick check of my heart rate, but it doesn't give me the complete graphs. I’ve tested more advanced optical heart-rate monitors that can—in theory—do the job of both the chest strap and the Sync wrist device. I’ve found these to be suboptimal as their measurements are frequently inaccurate, rendering them useless.

A LifeSpan Fitness treadmill desk loomed large in my fitness plans. A LifeSpan Fitness treadmill desk loomed large in my fitness plans.

I’m still on the lookout for the perfect heart-rate device—ideally one that will let me explore advanced concepts like heart-rate variability (HRV) training. I lieu of such a device, I’ve hacked together a combination of gadgets and apps that give me a much better read on if I'm pushing myself hard enough.

Knowing if I am pushing myself hard enough will be important as I pursue another goal: perfecting my sprint and boosting my running speed. I don't think I'm cut out to be a distance runner. But sprinting appeals to me—the max effort, the raw speed, pushing towards limits. I regularly run up a steep portion of Filbert Street in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill neighborhood. I want to do it faster and still feel good when I reach the top. I also want get my mile time down below 8 minutes.

One thing I’ve realized is that I haven't really cracked the question of nutrition. I’ve been eating what I call “weak paleo”—a not particularly rigorous version of the paleo diet advanced by Loren Courdain and others, which eschews modern, processed foods for meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts which—according to paleo-diet theory—the human metabolism evolved against. I don’t know if it's the best diet for me, but I know it's better than the pasta-and-gelato combination that got me up to 258 lbs. 

Looking at my food logs in MyFitnessPal, my diet’s been higher on fat and lower on protein than I've aimed for. Expect me to report on my efforts to improve my nutrition in the coming months, and experiment with different approaches. What's running up and down steep hills if I don't have a diet optimized towards my routine?

A Constant Experiment

The best thing about this effort has been how it’s forced me out of my habits. I used to be a gym regular. I still lift weights but now I run hills, practice yoga and do bodyweight workouts. Varying my exercise lets me test a wider range of fitness apps and devices, but it also pushes my body in new ways.

There is no reason not to expect more (likely, many more) health-related gadgets and services in 2014. They will be better designed and integrated with each other than this year’s batch. I also expect hardware platforms will be increasingly geared around nutrition and exercise; we see glimmerings of this in the latest offerings from Apple, Google, and Samsung. We are at the beginning of this marathon.

Thanks for joining me on this experiment. There’s a lot of work ahead to find how technology can improve our health and make our bodies easier to understand. Let's get to it!

Sponsored by Qualcomm® Toq™—the smartwatch that's always on, active and visible in any light.