For TechRadar's Fitness Week, two of my colleagues and I took on the task of writing daily diaries about our exercise regimes.
We took on a variety of activities ranging from running to hitting the gym over the six days, and below you can read our full reports on how it went and, more importantly, how well the tech suited our experience.
As I took on the beginner level, I used a relatively basic fitness tracker called the Moov Now. It currently sits at number one on our best fitness tracker list and we love it for being an all-round great fitness device at an affordable price.
Know much about fitness tech? If not, watch out beginner's guide video below:
You can read through the whole six days down below, or if you're interested in a particular activity you can press one of the links below:
Day 1) Running
I've never gelled with the idea of putting one foot in front of the other really fast.
I've tried on multiple occasions to become that guy who effortlessly glides past the slower pavement dwellers when I'm on my way to pick up my weekend takeaway, but I've just never succeeded in keeping running up for more than a few weeks or perhaps even a month at most.
It's not exactly a New Year's Resolution (as I never keep those) but I've challenged myself to use the start of 2018 as a big push to get fit, and part of that is set to be running.
Now I'm surrounded by technology nagging me to get back out to exercise, and running is by far the simplest way to do so.
Little to zero exercise over the Christmas break meant I was back to total beginner level for this fitness diary, and that's on top of my complete lack of experience with a lot of the activities we'll be undertaking such as swimming and cycling. More on those in the days to come.
If you're in the same boat as me, there's good news. There's lots of affordable tech out there to encourage the absolute beginner to get out and start doing at least the basics for their health.
Fitness trackers are one of the best starting points for any beginner, so I've chosen the Moov Now - our favorite tracker you can buy right now, as my device of choice for the duration of this diary.
I used that along with my iPhone 8 and a pair of Apple AirPods to keep me entertained throughout my run. Setting up the tracker proved easy, even if it did mean signing up to yet another service to track my runs...
I then used the Moov Coach app (which is a free download on both Android and iOS) to start an open ended running workout.
You'll need a heart-rate tracker with the Moov Now to be able to undertake any of the specific tailor made exercises. As a beginner, you may not want to invest in a heart rate tracker before you know you're going to keep your exercise up, so I've decided to just use the basic device for this diary.
That said, the heart rate tracker is one of the features I found was sorely missed on the Moov Now. You can buy an accessory headband to monitor heart rate, but it's a shame there isn't an in-device tracker like there is on the Fitbit Charge 2 or Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro.
Instead it meant I used my Runtastic account to come up with an exercise and listened to those instructions while I recorded my free run and its stats within the Moov app.
I did two minutes of jogging before a minute of walking, repeated that for half an hour, and that was enough to hammer home quite how relaxing my Christmas break had been.
The app asked me to strap the tracker around my ankle, which is something I hadn't encountered before with other fitness devices. I thought this would be irritating throughout the workout, but the lightweight activity tracker wasn't even noticeable on my ankle.
In fact, I got home and left the tracker on for another half an hour before remembering it was tied around the bottom of my leg.
I was capable on the run itself. It was only the odd occasion that the lady in my ear asked me to complete an impossible task, but I found I was able to keep up with the timings the Runtastic app set for me.
If you're a total novice at running, I'd recommend taking out a subscription to a running plan app like Runtastic. Most of these services will charge you for access to planned workouts, and while you can plan workouts yourself it usually takes a lot of time and knowledge.
Even downloading an app like the free version of Couch to 5K will provide you a ready-made workout, and when it's sat there ready and waiting you have one less excuse to get out and start running.
You don't have to faff around with what exercise you're going to be doing, you just tie your laces, hit the road, and follow orders. It makes the whole process a lot smoother, especially for a beginner.
By strapping the Moov Now to my ankle, it gave me some interesting detail I haven't experienced from some other fitness trackers I've used in the past including cadence (cycles of your feet per minute) and the range of motion my legs made.
I got a score of 81 degrees, which is on the lower end of what Moov Now thinks is ideal, but this kind of stat that gives me something to work on in the future for further workouts.
I missed the ideal goal of steps per minute as I scored 131 while it wants something in the range of 160-190, but I think this is likely down to the app not realizing I'm a total beginner and I'm not yet experienced enough to reach that target.
My distance and location data was also recorded, but that wasn't through a GPS tracker inside the wearable. It used the GPS within my phone, and while it's useful to have those details, it can be irritating for some people who struggle to run with their phone on them.
If you're just starting out at running with a device like the Moov Now that doesn't have GPS, you'll need to find a way of taking your phone with you, which could mean a phone strap if you don't feel comfortable running with it in your pocket.
Alternately, you could invest the extra money to get a device like the Apple Watch 3 or newly announced Garmin Forerunner 645 Music that allows you to run without your phone but still track your location and listen to music.
Day 2) High Intensity Interval Training
Onto day two, and this is where the Moov Now is meant to come into its own. High intensity workouts are meant to be one of the main highlights of this device, and I've been both pleasantly surprised and a bit disappointed with different aspects of the feature.
In our original review of the Moov Now, our reviewer loved the HIIT workouts provided within the app and the way the tracker worked alongside it – and after using it for this diary, I have to agree.
Let’s backtrack for beginners though. HIIT workouts aren’t exactly the best exercise for novices. They are in the sense you can do them at home, but most are very intense… it is in the name after all.
High intensity interval training is a range of exercises in quick succession such as a set of bodyweight squats, into star jumps, into a plank, into push ups and then back round again for a set number of cycles.
That means you don't even need to leave the house to be able to do this, so I suited up, attached the Moov Now to my wrist and rolled my yoga mat out in pride of place in the middle of my bedroom floor.
If you can’t tell, this is perhaps the one exercise in this diary that I feel relatively confident with.
I first kicked off with trying some Nike Training Club workouts, my current favorite workout app, available to download for free for iOS (opens in new tab) and Android. I thought having the Moov Now strapped to my wrist would track my workout, but I got through the 20 minute session without any specific tracking activated.
Instead the tracker just noticed I was active, and that was it. It added 20 (or so) minutes to my active total for the day, but that doesn't provide any particular insight to what I've done and it just registers in a similar way to as if I've been out for a walk.
So I've learnt the hard way that there’s no option to track an open workout in your home, unless you connect to a heart rate tracker. If you read day one, you'll see missing heart rate monitoring is starting to become a bit of a trend.
It's a bit frustrating as heart rate is becoming such a ubiquitous feature, that a device not having it is very obvious.
The Moov app does provide its own tailored workout though. This is seven minutes long (or more) and it’s a killer. In fact, I’m not really certain if it’s suitable for beginners.
You’re allowed to take your time with it, but my workout still ended up being 12 minutes even though the workout is called '7 minute+'.
You’ll have to do three circuits for a variety of exercises including crunches, plank and star jumps. These are all recorded using the tracker itself, and it’ll tell you when you’ve completed one by noticing the movement in your wrists.
It'll also wait for you to get into position before telling you to start off your next exercise, and that was particularly helpful when I was struggling to make it into the next position within the 10 second break between workouts.
You can cheat here - I was able to just raise my arm and it thought I’d done a star jump, but it’s a good way of tracking your reps if you trust yourself to be honest.
The workout then quickly builds these reps up with you having to do more and more with each circuit. You’ve got three full circuits to complete, and that’s going to take you way over seven minutes for the first time you try it. I expect it'll take you over 10 minutes, but that's not a problem.
By the last circuit, I was exhausted even though this was only a brief workout. It did its job and got me sweating.
The worst part of the whole experience was certainly the voice telling me what to do. It’s that generic bloke that you will hear when you first setup a sat nav. He very monotone and it's not exactly what I want to hear when I’m pushing myself in a workout.
I want that pumped up American voice to propel me into the next activity and help me push me over the edge like a personal trainer does in a gym. This guy is not that person.
Plus when I completed the workout, I noticed the levels had been upped for future activities. It now predicts for the next set I'll be able to do in eight minutes as it has increased the reps.
There are 24 levels to complete, so this will give you well over a month of HIIT workouts for you to be able to complete.
I’m a bit disappointed there’s not more variety within the Moov app. It’s just this one workout for now, and it would be useful if you could set different levels or note down whether you have any equipment that can be used, which is a feature in other HIIT workout apps like Freeletics.
The details of my workout from the tracker are sparse. It didn’t give me anywhere near as much detail as it could for a run as it’s mostly just based on the reps I was doing and there’s no heart rate integration.
So if you want to be able to use the Moov Now for workouts at home, it may well be worth investing in a heart rate monitor you can connect up to be able to track a few more stats and make sure you’re working hard enough.
Day 3) Swimming
So, I’ve messed this one up. I’m just going to come clean with you… I dropped the ball while swimming. The stats I got from the Moov Now were besmirched, and it was basically all my fault. But more about that in a moment…
I’ve not been in a swimming pool to do lengths for quite a few years. I’ve had a few hours splashing about on holiday trying not to cannonball on top of children, but I’ve not got into a pool to go up and down with some resemblance of technique for over five years.
That meant I was particularly nervous about this one. I went to my local pool at the quietest time of day I possibly could, and I attached the Moov Now to my wrist.
As is the nature of swimming pools, I had to leave my phone in my locker so this was the first proper test of the week to see whether the wearable would work away from the handset itself.
I headed into the Moov Now app to set up the workout and it asks you to push the button on top of the tracker yet again just to be sure. As you’ll be away from the phone, it gives you a two hour period for your open swimming workout and it'll track you throughout this entire period.
It then gives you a short delay so you can dive into the pool, but as is the nature of public swimming pools I wasn’t exactly poolside when the 10 second timer started which didn’t particularly help.
Instead I had to lock my locker, go take a quick shower and then find space in the pool to jump in. This likely took nearer to 10 minutes than 10 seconds, and I’m unsure what the tracker picked up in that amount of time.
I then headed into the pool, and in all honesty my workout was the most exhausting yet. I’d read online that a good beginner workout would be to do 16 laps of the 20m pool with a variety of swimming styles including breaststroke, freestyle and a little backstroke.
That sounds easy on paper (or more appropriately on the website I read it from) but it turns out that’s quite difficult when you’ve not been in a pool for a while. I managed to complete the 16 different laps with varying levels of skill, finesse and a few breaks in between.
I think four of the sixteen laps weren’t complete either… I didn’t do very well with this. I was so pleased to be finished though, if especially for the reason I don’t remember the last time I exercised without headphones.
If I’m to get into swimming, I’ll need to invest in some good swimming earwear to be able to entertain myself while I’m in the pool as I have such a short attention span when I'm exercising.
I then left the pool to return to my locker and place the fitness tracker back in my bag before heading off to the sauna for a few moments to make the most of my visit. That's where I messed up.
Instead of ending my workout session, I tossed the tracker in still running, and it estimated my 21 minute long workout actually took nearer to 38 minutes.
On top of that, it estimated I’d done 45 laps with a total distance of 900m, when in fact I’d done 320 meters or, perhaps even less. That’s not good enough, but my mistake of not ending the session is a simple error that entirely ruined my stats.
Breaking it down to the laps I’ve completed, it looks like the Moov Now was working well in normal time, estimating my laps took between 20 seconds to 30 seconds and that’s probably right.
It managed to workout my freestyle swimming as well, which is useful and it gives you an average for all of your laps. That said, I can’t take any of this information to be correct because I didn’t turn the tracker off.
It’s a rookie error, but a useful takeaway from it is I learnt you shouldn't go exploring other areas of the gym without making sure you've finished the session on the Moov Now. It turns out sitting the sauna for 10 to 15 minutes will totally ruin your session report.
I think this highlights one of the problems with wider fitness tech. When my experience of swimming should have been focussed on the sport itself, the tech required attention from me that would have been a distraction from the swimming, which is the reason I was there after all.
Non-invasive tech is generally better, and that’s exactly what I think you need while swimming, especially as you're surrounded by water, famous for not mixing well with technology.
Day 4) Cycling
Living in London with suitable transport links and the ability to walk anywhere else, I don’t usually find much time to jump on two wheels. That and the fact I don't actually own a bike.
So for the purposes of today's diary I headed to one of the best parts of this city, Hyde Park. There I picked up a rental cycle to go for a little jaunt around my favorite of the Royal Parks, and get confused about where the cycle lanes start and stop.
Renting the bike was easy, but this isn’t the top end equipment I’d expect proper cycling fans to be using. The bike was well used, which didn’t put me in great stead for the rest of the diary.
As quite a tall man, I found I had to lift up the seat quite some way to be able to ride it comfortably but the latch was broken so I gently sank back toward the bike frame every 10 minutes or so of cycling.
That meant I had to make a few stops on the way around the park to sort out my seat, but generally I found the ride quite a pleasant experience considering it was a slightly wet and windy day in the middle of January in London. If you don't already know, this is the time of year where the UK is at its grimmest.
Before mounting the bike, I was instructed by the app to once again strap the Moov Now around my leg. It disappeared under my tracksuit, and I can’t make it clear enough how comfortable it feels to wear on your ankle.
It’s so light that I again forgot it was attached to my leg. It may sound like a small deal, but the fact I don't even remember it is a good sign. I thought wearing it somewhere that wasn’t my wrist wouldn’t be irritating, but it isn't.
Starting off my cycle, I turned up the volume on my phone to be able to hear the instructions from the open workout (as a beginner I'm not comfortable wearing headphones on a bike) but the audio was limited.
That familiar voice from day 2’s HIIT workouts had made a return and we all know I’m not his biggest fan.
He piped up around 10 times throughout my 35 minute journey to share how far I’ve travelled so far and how I can improve.
That said, he just gave me stats of the cadence of my current leg of the journey. The open workout will just keep a track of what you're doing and then try and encourage you to push harder.
This odd little injection of advice on my ride was encouraging, but I didn't feel it pushed me enough to make a difference to my speed.
Instead I just enjoyed the ride a lot and it gave me a clear stats sheet of how I performed. Having the updates of my distance as I made my way around my route were useful, but it's worth noting GPS isn't tracked by the Moov Now and is instead integrated to the phone.
The app provided a pretty map to show me where and how far I’d traveled, and how difficult it was while I was there. It's not particularly insightful, but the Moov did track my workout well and then gave me a Moov Power Surge score at the end of it.
That score is based on the combination of speed, elevation grade, cadence and Moov’s own algorithms. Exactly what that means doesn’t help me much as a beginner, and this will only become relevant the more I do Moov cycling workouts where I can compare this result to future scores.
It recommends sprinting on flat ground or pushing up a hill to get a higher score, but that’s not that useful for a beginner who needs a little bit more instruction to be able to improve.
I know that heading up a hill will mean I work harder, so why do I need an app to tell me exactly that?
While the Moov Now hasn't given me any particular way to improve my cycling technique, it has tracked pretty much everything else I need and for anyone with a bit more experience this may be a touch more useful.
Day 5) Gym
It’s the end of our fitness week workouts, and it’s time to hit the gym. I’ve been pumping those guns, kissing the swans or whatever you’re meant to say.
My experience in the gym isn’t totally non-existent, but I’m the kind of person that still gets nervous to walk over to the squat rack while there are lots of men with arms twice the size of mine screaming like they’re about to go into battle or saying something about missing leg day.
But the issue when I actually got into the gym wasn't my lack of familiarity, it's that the Moov Now isn’t particularly built for a gym workout.
Unlike the Apple Watch 3 – that’s the device Andrew is using in his diary – which has a plethora of apps that claim to be able to both dictate and track gym workouts, the Moov app is much more limited.
In some gyms, you can even connect the Apple Watch 3 to equipment to get tailored feedback. The Moov is much, much more limited but there are still some choices. For example, there’s an open indoor cycling workout that you can kick off and start riding on one of the static bikes.
The Moov Now needed to be strapped around my ankle for this workout and I kicked off with a 20 minute indoor bike open-workout to see how it would perform, especially compared to yesterday’s outdoor cycle.
The views weren’t as good, but being able to place the phone on the bike in front of me and not worry about it falling off meant I could see the cadence of my workout right in front of me at all times.
Seeing the revolutions per minute within the app was great yesterday, but seeing them live meant I was able to much more closely monitor my performance. I know if I’d used a bike with a computer on it yesterday, I would have been able to see these stats, but not every beginner wants to invest in that equipment on top of the bike.
That was kind of it though. The workout didn’t give me any other particularly useful stats, again down to the lack of a heart rate tracker, which is something I’ve mentioned in previous days of this diary.
From there, I struggled to use the app to find other workouts I may be able to do in a gym. Without a heart rate monitor there’s no access to the more open workouts, so work on floor mats wasn’t going to be possible and weight lifting won’t be tracked either.
I decided to try 10 minutes (well, I’ll be honest it was two sets of five minutes) on the rowing machine in the gym. I was getting enough information from the machine itself, but there’s no way to enter these details into the Moov Now app so instead all I was doing was increasing my daily workout score.
This is Moov’s way of tracking how active you are on each day. It’s good that the rowing was included, but it didn’t note down that the exercise was any different to me walking for 10 minutes.
That’s enormously dissapointing, especially when an exercise like rowing can be such a high intensity. The timing was accurate, but the data doesn’t allow for anything further than just knowing I was active for a certain amount of time each day.
It’s all very frustrating, and is yet another reason I recommend setting up a heart rate monitor if you’re looking to get more from the Moov Now. I even took one to the gym with me this day to check if it would help out, but as I didn’t set it up before entering my gym I wasn’t able to use it.
The Wahoo Tickr X (which we have in our best affordable heart rate trackers guide) needs you to download an app before you can use it, and the gym I visited didn’t have any signal.
It’s another schoolboy error that I’ll learn from, but it’s an annoyance. Even with a heart rate monitor I don’t think the Moov Now is built for a gym workout. Instead, I think you’re better off picking up the Moov if you want to be working out-and-about.
This device is much better when you’re running or when you’re on your bike, but I’ll talk you through all of that in my final wrap up diary tomorrow.
Day 6) How did the week go?
I'm done with my exercises for Fitness Week, and I feel I've learnt a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the Moov Now. Perhaps more importantly, I've tried some different activities I wouldn't normally do.
It's rare I jump on a bike or in the pool, but this week of testing with the Moov Now has encouraged me to do more of both those activities. That's partly down to the variety of even higher tech equipment that I'm surrounded by in my job, but that's also because the Moov gave me basic stats that I want to improve upon.
When it comes to running, the Moov Now was quite impressive considering its price point and its lack of the big features you see on a lot of the top running watches from the likes or Garmin, Polar and more.
I didn't expect a fitness tracker with this low spec to be able to give me many good stats, but being able to see the revolutions of my legs while jogging is not something you often get from a wrist based tracker or apps on your phone.
If you're planning to dive hard into an intense running routine, the Moov Now may not satisfy you but as a beginner I was particularly impressed with how it allowed me to just run and record some useful stats.
HIIT workouts are the other area where the Moov Now really comes into its own. There's only one workout within the app, but counting the reps (and it actually does this with great accuracy) is a standout feature you don't get on your average tracker.
I'm not happy with the fact there's only one workout, but again, it's enough if you're a beginner and want one sort of HIIT workout that will gradually get harder when you next find the time to do it.
The Moov Now hasn't impressed me when it comes to gym workouts. The indoor cycling mode is okay, but it's nothing particularly phenomenal and there's no open workout mode to keep a track of your journey around different equipment.
I can't really judge swimming much on the Moov Now either because of the mistakes I made with it in the pool - learn more about that in my day three section - but that's something I've learnt from and I'll make sure I don't make that mistake in future.
My cycling adventure was enjoyable, but that was in a total beginner's experience and I'd like to push the Moov Now harder in this department to see how well it can do on a higher spec bike. Plus it'd be good to see how the tracker performs when doing more intense sessions.
There's more the Moov Now can do, especially when paired with a heart rate tracker and that's another thing I've learnt from this journey. Even if you buy a fitness tracker or smartwatch that doesn't feature a heart rate sensor because you're a beginner, you'll soon find yourself wanting one.
You may think because you're starting out it's not an essential feature, but various workouts will start to call for one and it's something that comes as standard on a lot of products now.
The Moov Now is a great device for a complete beginner that needs basic tools, but if you start to improve quickly you may soon find yourself kicking yourself for not being able to track your heart rate.
Your phone can handle GPS and a few other stats when paired with the Moov Now but you may want to pick up a heart rate monitor alongside the tracker to get the full experience.
Overall though what I've taken from this week long experience is that I need to experiment with more exercises.
Sometimes I feel it's a choice between running and running, but in actual fact there are lots of different ways to improve your fitness levels. Jogging is an affordable and easy way for me to start improving my fitness, but I'd like to experiment with more sports and activities like jumping in the pool or back on a bike.
Now I just need to remember to keep it going next week...