App Technology at the Argus Cycle Tour, Cape Town.

Tuesday, 06 March 2012

Having travelled to South Africa to research health and fitness, I have stumbled into Cape Town just as most people are building up towards the biggest sports event of the year.

It’s early spring, and that means that the mountain is besieged by thousands of cyclists panting uphill and then whizzing down with fixed grins, making you feel inordinately lazy as they train for the upcoming Argus Cycle Tour. The Argus is a 110km race event which attracts over 35,000 people to cycle around the Cape peninsula.

As a technophile, I can’t help but be intrigued by the tracking technologies that are helping to ensure that the race is as safe as possible. Here’s a brief rundown of the apps currently being used:

Like most runners, I’m familiar with being encouraged by Paula Radcliffe on Nike + and am used to getting competitive with the social side of Endomondo. However, my interest was piqued with the great piece of technology provided by NBC during last year’s Tour de France.

Digicore’s GPS tracking of the race might not compare with the NBC app put out for the 2011 Tour de France (which claimed to allow you to track individual competitors) but it’s a great blend of technology, sports and social responsibility. By tracking different vehicles, Digicore are able to ensure that there is enough medical back­up in the right area at any one time.

What you can use
So this is all very well for sports events on a big scale…but what can you use to help track your own training?

Sports and fitness companies have grasped the potential of the app market. Now you can choose whether you want something to help you count calories, time your runs, build muscle or simply monitor your distances.

Here are some of the best apps that we’ve found, all of which use GPS technology found in your smartphone:

Strava ­is a tool used mainly by triathletes. Runs, rides, skis and more can all be monitored and compared with those of your friends. It provides a wealth of data and evaluates your performance from a ‘leisurely’, to ‘epic’ scale. It even keeps a check on the wear of your own sports equipment for you, letting you know when kit should be replaced.

Nike +
Unsurprisingly Nike was ahead of the game with tracking devices. With LED flashing lights, it looks like it came straight out of Star Trek – they have done it again. This ‘sport­ tested accelerometer’, tracks pretty much all activity, is water resistant and pleasingly goes from red to green as you track your progress against your daily goals.

Sports Tracker
Sports tracker offers to turn your phone into a ‘social sports computer‘, so will appeal to those who are currently all over Pinterest. One of the beauties of this baby is that you can sign up using your Facebook account, thereby avoiding one of cyber life’s little annoyances of having to register for yet another app.

Pump One
Pump One is an app that lets you choose from a list of training goals whether these are strength training, core, pilates, golf or just burning fat. Created by Declan Condron, an exercise physiologist, the programmes can be researched by muscle group, effort level, type of equipment or goal (such as speed or strength). It also lets you enter the number of reps and the weight used.

If you really want to push it there is always Smheart Link ($124.95) which makes a heart monitor that links to an iPhone. Smheart Link works with four apps that allow gym-rats to arrange a display screen to show what they want, like calories burned, average heart rate or elapsed time. It also links to sensors on indoor and outdoor bikes that measure cadence and estimated speed and distance. Hard­core riders can attach a power meter that measures the watts a cyclist generates; a measure bikers often use in competitive training.

New Leaf
For precise data, you can visit a New Leaf-trained technician, who employs metabolic testing
equipment to measure your heart and lung efficiency in a grueling aerobic test (average cost $175-$200). Using that data, New Leaf sends custom exercise programs to your phone and works like a virtual personal trainer, telling you how high to push your heart rate, when, and for how long.

It also tracks results through the Smheart Link heart monitor. New Leaf detailed reports show
how many fat, carbs and calories you have burned, and how much time is spent in each of five heartrate zones.

So the question now is what technology will the Olympics bring?

  • Steve Wegerif

    Well done Rosie! Didn’t spot Roger on a bike….