cycling · Metrics · Sat with Nat

The glorious early gains of training

I’ve been writing the past few months about my newfound love of stationary cycling. The first month was all about adapting to the bike and classes, the second month was about gaining some confidence and experience. The third month I decided to try a structured program.

I chose “Discover Your Power Zones”. It uses a 20 minute maximum effort spin to determine your average power. You then work through a 5 week training program that culminates in a second test to see how your body has responded to training.

I had turned on the power zone option on my dashboard. It estimated my output to be 190 watts based on my age and weight. I did my test and hit 119 watts. Way lower. Dang!

The five week program has progressive workouts each week. The zones started feeling easier to maintain the end of week three. I was pumped to see the difference after a relatively short time.

The classes were challenging yet achieve able. I was nervous the day of my week five Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. I had to jump off the bike to pee after my warm up. My throat was tight. I didn’t expect that to happen.

Having been in the military I have a complicated history with fitness tests. But it surprised me that this test had me anxious. No one was watching or evaluating. I could delete the workout or reject the results. There was only me to impress.

I worked through the anxiety and put forth my best effort. My latest FTP is 147 watts. A significant increase from five weeks ago. It’s kind of magical in the first few months of training the impressive gains we can make.

My body does respond to conditioning. I’m feeling good on the bike. Did I lose a bunch of weight or drastically alter my appearance? No.

Do I feel stronger, more confident and utterly badass? You bet I do!

A close up of the brilliant yellow blossoms of a forsythia shrub. They wake up this time of year in London. They are all about short, impactful change. When they bloom you know spring is well underway.
fitness · Metrics · training

Tracking feminist fitness…

This article came across my newsfeed recently, Health and fitness trackers: Do they help… or hurt?, and I was intrigued.

First, points to Precision Nutrition for the image accompanying the article–not a super thin stereotypical fitness model. I appreciate the more inclusive imagery.

Second, thanks for the nuanced messaging. They report that fitness trackers work for some people who find the numbers and the data motivational. They don’t work for others who find the whole tracking thing oppressive and who are made anxious by the numbers. The article–aimed at fitness instructors and personal trainers–is all about how to work with the client in front of you.

Having read the article, I turned to the bloggers’ group to check with this group about fitness trackers and smart watches.

Who has one? Who loves it? Who hates them? What do we use them for?

Nicole: “I have the Fitbit Charge 3. I “bought” it with corporate incentive points last year. Up until then, I never used a tracker, other than the count on my phone’s Health App. I am generally low tech while running. I have never listened to music, while running, for example. Historically, I’d map out my runs for specific distances, using “Gmap Pedometer” and then just go follow that route.

I bought my husband a Fitbit a couple years ago. He enjoyed the step count and it alerted him to the need to the hospital when he was having a heart event a couple years ago as well. So I could see some benefits, but I wasn’t sure I wanted one. Since I purchased it, I haven’t taken it off. I like checking my exercise stats for the day/week/etc. I find the heart rate information interesting.

One of the things I enjoy most is the sleep stats. I find it interesting to see how much REM/deep sleep I’ve had, and also the fluctuations in my oxygen levels. I don’t feel it’s made me DO more, because I’ve always maintained a regular exercise schedule, but I have enjoyed seeing some of the stats.

My only criticism with this model is the light is so dim that I can’t see the numbers outside sometimes. My husband bought a newer model recently and I like the bigger face, and would get that type when it’s time to get a new one.”

Bettina: “My fitness tracker journey started with a Misfit Ray. Then I upgraded to an Apple Watch because I wanted more detailed tracking and stats, which I absolutely loved. Until one fine morning I dropped it on the bathroom floor and its screen shattered into a million pieces… Fixing it – I stupidly hadn’t bought Apple Care for it – would have cost more than replacing it with a new Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, which I have been using and loving ever since. Sometimes I still miss the sleek look and the various bands I had for the Apple Watch, but overall I’m super happy with the Garmin. My main challenge in all this was that I have really small wrists and was worried the Garmin would look way too chunky on me, but I’ve completely gotten used to it.”

Martha: “I wear a fitbit Charge 4. It’s my third. I like using trackers for steps (more accurate than my phone) and I like also how the current one monitors sleep and heart rate. It has a weight tracker which I don’t care about one way or the other. Some people find this a trigger and there doesn’t appear to be a way to delete it. I tend to ignore it. You can also track water and food intake. I used it once to check if I was eating all my fruits and vegetables. My favorite part is how I can program alarms. As a writer, I tend to spend a lot of time with my laptop sitting down. I set an alarm to remind me to get up from desk on the quarter hour. It gives me enough time to get a snack, have an exercise or stretch break, and just change my POV. I find it keeps me focused and I can track progress on my mini goals quite easily.

Sam: I’ve blogged about fitness watches a few times. I am destroyer of fitbits. I’m rough with things and I used to joke that our house should be known as a product testing stations. Car door handles have come off in my hand! I feel like most contemporary consumer goods are flimsy. Having broken more than my share of fitbits, I said goodbye to watch style fitness trackers. Also with my damaged knee, I can no longer be driven by step counts. I need to moderate how much I walk.

See Why Sam isn’t getting a fitness watch.

And then Covid hit and I started to want to track my daily temperature. I discovered that the new Garmin fitness trackers also have pulse oximeter  and can measure blood oxygen levels.

See fitness trackers as health trackers.

Here’s my Garmin vivoactive 4 acquired during the pandemic. In addition to pulse oxygen it measures the usual stuff–heart rate, stress, sleep, steps etc. The one measure that interests me is the “body bank” score which compares rest with activity and tells you how rested you are.

Vivo active 4 Garmin

Tracy: When Sam called for our thoughts on the tracker issue, she assumed I would be posting about going from hating trackers to loving them. That’s understandable since I have compared tracking to the panopticon and after a workplace step counting challenge, I came to despise counting steps. But I have always loved my Garmin Forerunner for tracking runs. It’s not an everyday/all day thing though. Then when the pandemic hit I became painfully aware that I might need to start tracking steps or something again because some days it feels as I don’t even move.

So when my Garmin needed replacing (it’s almost ten years old) and I asked around, people suggested that I consider an Apple Watch. So I did. And I LOVE my apple watch. It does count steps, but it does so much more than that. My main complaint about the step challenge a few years back was that it ONLY tracked steps. And that is not (in my view) a comprehensive approach to fitness.

I won’t hijack this post by going into all the things I love about my Apple Watch, but here are the top four:

1. It tracks and encourages without feeling oppressive (something about the tone of the reminders).

2. It is way better than the Garmin was for setting up custom intervals for my runs (that was after I bought the intervals pro app, worth every penny; and I get that the new Garmins are probably at least as easy as the Apple Watch for this so it’s more about new technology than about Apple v Garmin)

3. I have two close friends who share their accomplishments with me and vice versa – I wouldn’t want a large circle for this, but I love the sense of support and connection I get from Diane and Vicki.

4. It integrates with my phone and has a world of apps and features that have nothing to do with fitness, so in that sense it’s a fun gadget of the “how did I live without this?” kind. (bonus feature: it looks nice and there’s a marketplace overflowing with third party funky straps online for cheap).

p.s. I still hate food tracking.


My Fitbit Inspire HR is one of the most helpful pieces of tech I own.

I love the fact that I can keep track of my activity levels and my heart rate without actually having to remember to stop and write anything down.

Why is it important to me to track these things?

Well, I’m not naturally a very active person and my ADHD gives me a strange perception of time. If I wasn’t paying close attention, I could end up very inactive for a very long time but I’d have the feeling that my last exercise session was ‘just the other day.’

But the ritual of putting on my Fitbit in the morning and taking it off at night gives me some fixed points to note how much I have been moving.

I have also set it to notify me if I get less than 250 steps in an hour so I can make sure I move regularly throughout the day – instead of accidentally sitting in one position too long if I am hyper-focused.

Since my perception of my own efforts is also affected by my ADHD, having a heart rate monitor on my wrist also helps me see how hard I am working when I exercise.

And the Fitbit helps me be curious about my efforts, too. I’m not one of those people who thinks that exercise that doesn’t register on my tracker doesn’t ‘count’ but movement that doesn’t count as steps or as activity minutes does make me wonder. I like that it draws my attention to how I am moving and whether I want to push a little harder or move differently.

I also love the fact that I can have multiple timers right on my wrist (a blessing for my busy brain.) I can set alarms, I can set a regular countdown timer, and I can use an interval timer, all with something I am already wearing.

While I am not breaking any records or getting epic amounts of movement because of my Fitbit, it does help me keep moving without adding the frustration of keeping track of things.

And even though my current daily goals are pretty modest, I love when I achieve them. And I especially like those days (like Saturday past) when I am an overachiever.

How about you? Do you own a fitness tracker/smart watch? What do you use it for? Love it or hate it? Tell us your story in the comments below.

fitness · fitness classes · Guest Post · habits · health · Metrics · motivation · Tools · trackers

A WayBetter way to exercise? (Guest post)

Elan Paulson is an exercise-curious, occasional guest blogger on FIAFI.

The world of business has many concepts to describe how it sells things to people. One is innovation. According to Clayton M. Christiansen here and in other places, there are two main kinds of innovation.

  • Sustaining innovation refers to how businesses with many resources (those that dominate the market) make a product better for their target consumers.
  • Disruptive innovation refers to how businesses with fewer resources explore new ways of meeting the demands and interests of new or underserved consumers.

According to Christiansen, sustainers focus on improving a product, while disruptors challenge sustainer dominance by focusing on changing processes (of product creation, distribution, etc.). Disruption occurs when the innovation becomes mainstream.

There’s more to say about these concepts, including my critique of them as lens for sense-making, but for the moment I want to use them to understand WayBetter, a subscription service that has emerged in the health and wellness app industry.

In its About section, one of the WayBetter co-founders describes its services as “a whole category of games that help people stick to their commitments” because “life is better when you can turn work into play.”

This is what he means: Users bet their own money that they can accomplish a specific time-bound exercise goal. After the allotted time, users who achieved the behaviour-based goal receive back their own money (through a point system) as well as a cut of what was ponied up by those who did not meet the goal. Picture-taking and sync-ups with exercise tracking technology are put in place to minimize cheating.

In Christiansen’s terms, WayBetter is a disruptive innovation for how it has found a new process to promote exercise behaviours. (Its name suggests that it has literally found a “better way” to exercise). While other companies sell on-site, group-based fitness memberships and training services, WayBetter offers the flexibility of anytime, anywhere activity as well as the support of a group. WayBetter emphasizes how the process is fun: pay yourself for exercising. WayBetter has developed a market not in exercise programming but in exercise motivating.

However, WayBetter is a disruptor not because it turns “work into play” but because one could regard this as a betting service, or a form of gambling. (Waybetter). On one hand, the “game” is betting on yourself, and getting back your money simply by doing the exercise that you said you would do. On the other hand, an enterprising exerciser could choose “runbets” that other exercisers might be less likely to complete, thus maximizing their chance of a higher return than what they initially bet. WayBetter turns exercise into a game of predictive markets, and exercisers into investors.

So, it’s possible to think about WayBetter as a disrupter not for how it reaches underserved consumers (read unsuccessful/unmotivated exercisers) but for how it has created a new market—one of venture capitalism. Motivate yourself not simply to do exercise but to earn money off of the failure of others to motivate themselves to exercise.

At the moment, WayBetter’s dietbet claims 700,000 users, and the runbet website boasts that users have logged over 1,677,000 miles. I don’t know details about its income, but WayBetter takes a rake of each bet and uses third-party advertising. With no compensation, stock, acquisitions, or other company information currently available on Bloomberg, it’s not fully clear whether WayBetter’s disruptive innovation will become a sustained innovation.

But I believe it will become a sustained innovation because the value of its ability to change behaviour pales in its ability to change in mindset about exercise not (only) as a game but as a financial investment. WayBetter’s legacy may very well be how it and other services like it will change the very meaning of exercise by casting it (explicitly or implicitly) in market terms.

And, whether consumers win, recover, or lose their money, WayBetter still comes out Way Ahead.

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

218 in 2018 · body image · Fear · fitness · Metrics

Changing my mind about metrics: how counting can be cool

Keeping track of number-y things has always been a little scary to me. I have never actually balanced my checkbook. There, I said it. Billable hours accounting? Hah. After all, I’m an academic. I don’t really want to know how many or few hours I work in a day/week/month. Yes, some of you may be thinking, what’s the deal with this?

Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.
Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.

Actually, I don’t think I’m really like the ostrich. I’m more like this:

A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message "duck and cover".
A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message “duck and cover”.

When it comes to physical activity, I’ve resisted metrics with every fiber of my being. And blogged about it here– Cycling (not) by the numbers.

Why? One word:


I didn’t want to be exposed and revealed– to myself, to anyone else– to what I was actually doing; how fast/slow I ride, how many minutes I worked out, certainly not how much I weigh.

What was I afraid of? Feeling demeaned by actually knowing how little I could do, how heavy and slow I was, etc., leading me to lose my identity as a cyclist, an athlete, a strong person, a worthy person.

Wow, that’s a lot of burden to place on a) myself; and b) some otherwise-unsuspecting numerical information.

Lately, though, I’ve grown really tired of carrying around those burdens of fear and shame, and doing all that ducking and covering, bobbing and weaving, all in service of– what? Trying not to know how my body is doing?

A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying "well, that's just silly".
A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying “well, that’s just silly”.

I have to agree with the duck here. This past year, I’ve experienced the non-catastrophic effects of keeping track of my activity. Last year I joined the 218 workouts in 2018 Facebook group, and I’m signed up this year for 219 Workouts in 2019. So are Sam, Cate, and a bunch of others. You can read many blog posts about it here. And you can read my post about meeting my 218 goal here.

For the record, so far this year I’m at 30 workouts. What I’m tracking is workout days. If I do a yoga class and take a walk or ride, I count all that as one workout day. This is my choice. It’s what *I* want to track, namely consistency (and gaps) in being active during a given week. Others are tracking individual workouts, and have their own ways of defining what a workout is for them. Their choice.

I love doing this. It is giving me information about how I’m doing, making me curious about what causes workouts to be easier or harder during my week, and helping me rethink my work/play/travel schedule to make more room for physical activity. This process just wouldn’t be possible without the data. So I’m officially embracing it.

I heart data!
I heart data!

Where is this going? Technology shopping, that’s where. I think I may finally, FINALLY buy a Fitbit or some such activity tracking device. I’m definitely putting my cheapo CatEye bike computer back on the bike. Perhaps a Garmin or other schmancy computer is in my near future. But no scales. I don’t need that information. Although if/when I do, I’ll use one at the gym or doctor’s office.

I’ll be posting more about this, asking for your advice on devices and reporting on what I buy and how I like them. For now, I’m curious about what trackers people use and how they like them. What do you recommend as a step counter/activity tracker? Thanks for any advice, and as always, thanks for reading.

Cookie cake saying "you rule", which all of you do.
Cookie cake saying “you rule”, which all of you do.
fitness · Martha's Musings · Metrics · weight lifting

Changing how I think one plate at a time


An athlete wears red sneakers with a kettle bell next to their feet

Two weeks ago, I had a day in the gym that was perfect. Every motion flowed like silk. After having a pause for the holidays, getting back in the groove felt great.

Last week, while my form was still on point, the flow was uneven. I finally understood what competition commenters mean when they say a lifter grinds out a set.

The amount of effort to move the plates was huge, at least for the first lift of the set. The speed picked up for each one after that first time, but still over the course of the session, my trainer and I could see that my brain and my legs were fighting each other on my first approach to the bar.

These weren’t lightweights, but neither were they really heavy ones either. And yet, they resisted movement. Each time I started a set, I dragged that bar over my shins, knees to finally come to rest at the hip.

My trainer made a couple of suggestions on modifying my approach. She showed me three different ways people set up at the bar. We split one approach into smaller steps, and I worked through each one to finally find the right stance for me.

I was so excited I wanted to try a whole new set, but alas, it was the end of the session, and I knew too well that my unrestrained enthusiasm could lead to a wrong move and that could lead to injury. As I had just reached one year without any complaint from the wonky hip, I had to concede. But at my next session, I promised myself, I would remember the tweaks and try them again.

That same day I received cartoon celebrating the knowledge we gain from failure. The cartoonist observed “Failure just means not yet.” It made me think a little more deeply about the reluctant bar.

Had I just kept on getting smooth as silk lifts with these lower weights, what would have happened once I aimed for the higher weights I want to try this year? Without learning some of the tricks and tips to adjust or modify my approach before trying again, I might have stayed stuck for a whole lot longer and experienced significant frustration at not moving forward (or upward as the case may be).

I’m trying to document some of these insights, along with the PRs and the key anniversaries (yay one year without a recurrence!) so that I can see all the ways I am moving forward even when it feels by only one metric like I’m not. What are other ways we can measure progress or changes in our fitness that are meaningful and realistic?

— MarthaFitat55 enjoys powerlifting even when the bar fights her command.