Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bushwalking Fitness | Am I getting fitter?

How can you tell if you are getting fitter? Do you need to buy a heart monitor? Can your smartphone tell you? Can body composition weighing scales help?
My last three posts (see below) discussed how to plan a "get fit for bushwalking" program, how to make sure that each session is effective and that you are not doing more damage than good........ but is it working?

If you are not technology-minded, then it's easy; simply check your watch to see if you are getting any faster on a fixed route. If you enjoy using technology, then it can be a great motivator to watch the improvement, but take great care, as a single score, without supporting data, is often unreliable.

Some signs that you are getting fitter include:
  1. Heart Recovery Rate increases
  2. Resting Heart Rate decreases
  3. Time to complete a fixed route decreases
  4. Average Heart Rate for the route decreases
  5. V02max increases
  6. Metabolic Age (yrs) decreases
The absolute value of these readings will most likely depend on your age, gender, your level of general fitness prior to starting, your health and individual characteristics, which are often inherited.  In addition, there is often wide variation from day-to-day and controversies about the formulae used to calculate your score and its relevance to you. The message is....... Don't rely on one measurement to predict your fitness.

There are many different formulae to calculate your maximal heart rate, so if you find the popular (220 - age) doesn't work for you, then try one of the others, which are likely to be more reliable, as they are based on research, unlike the "old standard". As an example of the difficulty of interpreting individual scores, there is a general observation that fit people have a lower resting heart rate (less than 60, and even as low as 28 bpm), but there is an enormous variation between elite athletes, even in the same sport, and a very low heart rate can indicate that your heart is malfunctioning. Resting heart rates decreases with age too, at about 0.5 bpm/year.

Despite the problems with individual measurements, trends in body measurements are usually very reliable, especially if the measurement is done at the same time of the day and in the same situation each time eg on first rising  or after climbing the same hill.

If you use a heart rate monitor, trends are often plotted as graphs or can be uploaded to an associated website and viewed. Smart phone and tablet apps can record and graph your results. ( see next post).

The first three tests of your fitness (1,2,3) are easy to perform, require little equipment  and yet are very reliable indicators of fitness level. Average heart rate and VO2max (4, 5) require a heart rate monitor (HRM), while metabolic age (6) requires body composition scales. When the trend you are observing is backed up by another fitness measurement, you can be confident that the trend is real.

Additional records that many people keep, which give indirect measures of fitness trends, are:
  • Body fat % (calipers: skilled, scales: easy)
  • Waist measurement( tape measure) better than BMI
  • Body weight (scales)
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): not reliable
My next post will look at the technology needed to make these measurements; smartphone apps, heart rate monitors and body composition scales.

Related posts

Bushwalking Fitness | Stretches for bushwalkers
Bushwalking Fitness | Is stretching a waste of time?
Bushwalking Fitness | Planning a training session
Bushwalking Fitness: all posts (9)

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