So I'm five weeks into the Beyond Steps challenge with the Fitbit Ionic (I'm Becca Caddy by way), and I've already learned how to use my sports watch to get more from running sessions, yoga classes, spinning rides and intense workouts at home.
It's kept tabs on the distances I've covered, the calories I've burned and, of course, the heart rate highs and lows I've reached in a variety of structured workouts. But can it help give me more insights into a simple gym and swim session?
While many of the workouts I've tried have been new to me – running, guided sessions and spinning – a gym session is more my usual cup of tea. And as a recovery, I often go for a swim. So how can the Fitbit Ionic help here?
Firstly, I asked Fitbit ambassador Greg Whyte how to make the most of a trip to the gym using heart rate data and the Ionic.
Without the guidance of a personal trainer, he suggested signing up to a class to keep me motivated. A peek at the list of fitness classes on offer at my local was dizzying. I find it can be really confusing trying decide what to do next – especially in a big city when there are lots of faddy classes on offer that might be Instagram worthy, but aren't particularly fun in reality.
"Lots of them are really the same thing," said Greg. "HIIT, which is what a lot of CrossFit and bootcamp-style classes are, is a similar high intensity model with variable amounts of strength training and endurance added too."
With that in mind, I chose a HIIT class at my gym that had been designed to serve as a taster session for more intense classes – as well as for those keen to move onto dedicated CrossFit sessions.
Greg was happy with my choice. "The great thing about HIIT and CrossFit is you're combining strength, motivation and commitment. If you get into CrossFit more, you'll find it makes you feel part of a team. Part of a programme. I'm a big supporter of these kinds of classes for the motivation they provide," says Greg.
"But don't get confused," he told me. "The bottom line is most of these classes do the same thing. What that means is you should always try new classes. If you've been doing CrossFit for ages, try military fitness too. Or boxfit. Don't be afraid to try something else – the outcome is often the same."
HIIT Class: Motivation and heart rate highs
As it was a taster session, the class was only 30 minutes long. What could be so difficult and high intense about that, right? Well, it turns out a lot. I selected the 'Workout' option from my Fitbit Ionic and hit the settings to turn on calorie cues, a new setting vibrates whenever you burn 100 calories – a nice little motivator, in addition to the pressure of being in a class as a total newbie.
The class kicked off with some simple warm-ups, like jumping jacks and a quick game of tag. From there everyone worked their way around different set-ups, from a 'squat station' through to a mat with kettlebells on for a range of manoeuvres to straps on the ceiling you had to lean back into and hold to simulate press-up. There was a different type of activity at each one and you had to do a certain number of reps at each. So far so confusing.
But once I got into the swing of it (a literal kettlebell swing at one point), I found it was fun to move around different activities and not be stuck at just the one.
As you can see from my heart rate data, the HIIT class elevated my heart rate as soon as the warm-ups began. Then the activities that followed kept me firmly in the Cardio zone for most of the 30 minutes, with a minute or so in the Peak zone towards the end when I really, really wanted to stop.
But, surprise, surprise, Greg was right. Being motivated by a team of others also running between stations kept me going longer than I would have if I was working out solo. The calorie cues also helped, pushing me to try and reach more and push harder.
I was also able to get an immediate feedback on the effects of my session, straight from my watch. And boy was I aching after – certainly one of the hardest workouts of the series, even if my heart rate didn't quite spend as long in high zones as the running or spinning session. But that's the beauty of tracking your workout in this manner – you can ensure you're getting a broad mix of workouts, and be aware of the benefits of each.
Swimming: Calming benefits and counting lengths
After such an intense workout I knew it was important to slow down with swimming and focus on my form more than anything else. Especially as I hadn't swum much further than the calm bits between slides at Center Parcs for about three years and my knee was starting to ache after all of those damn squats. Ashamed of my feeble fitness levels, I confided in Greg that my swimming stats might be far from impressive.
"Slow and steady," said Greg. "By going too hard on sessions, not only will you not deliver to the outcome of that session, but what happens is it'll then cascade into the next session – you'll start the next session fatigued and if it's a quality session, the quality falls."
With this in mind, I decided to remove all pressure from my swimming session and just take the Ionic for a dip in the pool. It's water-resistant to 50m so feels just as at home in the pool as it does on the treadmill.
The frustrating thing about having my stats right there on the screen was that I couldn't embellish them the way I usually do when I'm swimming and get lost in my own thoughts. I was getting really tired and I'd only done 12 lengths. 12? TWELVE? Although I was a little mad at my Ionic at this point, I liked that it really was holding me accountable. But having the screen always-on when in the pool did make it so much easier to get an at-a-glance update on my progress.
"Although pool swimming can sometimes feel a bit repetitive, combining different strokes and performance monitoring with the Ionic means no two sessions need to be the same," Greg said. And he was right. I decided to use the accuracy to my advantage and push myself to 20 lengths. Sure that's hardly anything for seasoned swimmers, but a real challenge for someone who hadn't taken swimming seriously in a long, long time.
De-stressing: Inhaling and exhaling with the Ionic
But although the pressure was on to hit 20 lengths, swimming turned out to be a perfect antidote to the extremely high energy HIIT class. I enjoyed myself so much I actually pushed myself for one more – and next time in the pool, I'll definitely be aiming for a little more. Who knows, by Christmas, I could be past 30. And that's why tracking sessions and not kidding yourself on the outcome is a really positive thing to do.
"Taking to the open water has been shown to elevate positive mental, emotional and physical benefits and add real variety to your programme," said Greg. I certainly concur.
To really make the most of the calming benefits of my swim, I turned to the Ionic's Relax breathing visualisation feature again before I got changed. Five weeks into the challenge and it's become second nature that whenever I need to calm down from exercise or stress or motion sickness, I use it. Combined with the swimming it was super effective and I floated out of the gym feeling thoroughly exhausted, but remarkably calm.
Next week I'll be getting on a bike and taking the Fitbit Ionic for a spin. Not only will this be a challenge – especially on the busy streets of London – but it'll be a great opportunity to put the GPS smarts of the Ionic to the test and see how well it can track cycling out in the wild, not just in spinning class.