Health

Heart rate monitors stink, so BSX Athletics is looking beyond them

As the owner of a heart rate monitor, I have just one problem with the devices: They’re really, really boring.

But they have bigger problems. Not only are heart rate monitors really dull, but they aren’t particularly helpful either. “We’ve been using heart rate monitors as if they’re telling us anything useful,” says Dustin Freckleton, the president of sports tech company BSX Athletics. (In case it isn’t clear, BSX = “basics.”)

The problem with heart rate monitors, Freckleton says, is that they’re easily thrown off by things that have nothing to do with fitness. Hot day out? Just had a cup of coffee? Stressed? All of these things can spike your heart rate and render monitor readings useless.

Researchers have been pointing out the inadequacies of heart-rate measurements for years now. “The heart rate is probably the least important variable in comparing athletes,” exercise physiologist Fritz Hagerman told The New York Times in 2011.

runbsx-app

Athletes are an important factor here. If anyone needs an accurate and useful way to measure their performance, it’s them.

That’s a reality not lost on BSX Athletics, which is working on a sensor that goes beyond the heart rate to measure potentially more useful metabolic parameters like “lactate threshold” and “VO2 max” (whatever those things are). More, that data plugs into apps like BSX Athletics’s runBSX, which tracks and measures users’ information to solve another problem with athletic sensors: their lack of interpretation and relevant recommendations.

One of the problems with smart sensors these days is that while they’re getting really good at measuring raw data like steps and sleep habits, they’re significantly less good at telling you what to do with that data. This is a problem whose fix BSX Athletics has baked into its apps.

“We’re like a doctor reading your x-rays: We take your data, interpret it, and recommend things from it,” says Freckleton.

But those recommendations aren’t coming from an algorithm. Instead of apps like runBSX tap into the knowledge of real coaches, who are able to take an athlete’s data in real-time and create workouts and recommendations around it. This not only solves the relevancy problem (those workouts are, after all, custom) but also it’s the type of thing most coach-less athletes would love to have.

It all sounds really promising — except for the fact that none of it’s available quite yet. While the runBSX app should hit the iTunes Store within the next few weeks, Freckleton says that he doesn’t see the actual sensor component hitting until later this year or early 2014.”We’re releasing the app in advance because we wanted to get people used to the idea of training the right way even without sensors,” Freckleton said. (Without the sensor the app uses a combination of  GPS and accelerometers to measure performance.)

Basically, the idea is to get athletes so addicted to runBSX that they can’t help but buy the sensor when the time comes. Will it work? We’ll know soon enough.

Photo: Running Man/Shutterstock


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