Giving that workout a technological jolt

Software: Gyms are using systems that help exercise buffs track their progress, using digital assistants.

March 13, 2003|By Jeannine Stein | Jeannine Stein,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Los Angeles personal trainer Antony Galvan joined a pro cycling team, he knew he couldn't afford to have a bad workout. So late last year, he turned to software programs to track his progress.

Devices attached to his body and his bicycle now track his heart rate and how much power he's expending, and that information is then downloaded into his computer. "I can see where I'm most efficient and where I need to work more," says Galvan, who races with the KB Home Pro Cycling Team. "It's made so much of a difference because you have solid numbers you can work with and you understand how your body is adapting."

Galvan is among a growing number of exercise buffs, athletes and fitness professionals who have traded their spiral notebooks for software programs that can track everything from heart rates and workout intensity levels to bench presses and calories expended. The programs can create graphs and charts to mark progress and plan workouts. One program allows exercisers to set up their own treadmill workout on a personal digital assistant and beam it into the machine - no need for pushing speed or incline buttons.

These electronic fitness logs aren't just for exercise-obsessed techno-heads; even people who simply want to lose 10 pounds or beef up their biceps can benefit.

Jean Louis Gareau, a San Diego-based computer consultant and writer, created My Sport Training software for Pocket PCs and Windows after he became frustrated with the limitations of his spreadsheet program. "I started seriously training for cycling and I'm a computer buff, so I started to use a Microsoft Excel program. But when I wanted to see how many workouts I did last year compared with this year or what I've accomplished in the last three months, it wasn't convenient."

His program enables users to track cardiovascular activities such as cycling or running, plus strength training, as well as keep notes on weight, calorie intake, heart rate, blood pressure, body fat, even mood and quality of sleep. It offers daily and monthly views of workouts and various graphs to see duration, distance and weight levels over time. The Windows program allows users to download information from Polar heart rate monitors and e-mail the data. Prices run from $14.95 to $34.95.

Although serious athletes buy the program, he says, the majority of users are "casual fitness people, people who take good care of themselves, not maniacs like me or experienced computer users."

Exercisers don't even have to own a computer to use fitness software if they belong to certain YMCAs. A program called Fitlinxx incorporates small devices attached to weight and cardiovascular machines that track exercisers' use and sends the information to a database. A kiosk spits out the workout results at the end of the session; the program also can be accessed online.

On weight machines, the device recalls the user's preferred seat height and last workout - such as how many repetitions were done at what weight - and gives a target for that day. Sensors beep when the range of motion has gone awry or repetitions are done too quickly.

"The reason for the program from a consumer's standpoint is to stay motivated and get good results once they do," says Keith Camhi, Fitlinxx co-founder and chief executive. The Connecticut-based company leases its program to about 450 facilities around the country, including health clubs, hospitals and military bases, for $1,000 to $4,000 a month.

"We based the program on watching 50 different trainers interact with their clients," Camhi adds.

J.C. Holt Jr., executive director of the Stuart M. Ketchum-Downtown YMCA in Los Angeles, says Fitlinxx has helped retain members who otherwise might have dropped out.

Star Trac, an Irvine, Calif.-based fitness equipment manufacturer, now offers the Pro Elite treadmill, which incorporates software allowing users to create their own program - whatever speed, incline or duration they choose. That program is beamed via a Palm device into the treadmill, which then sends the workout results back.

But these programs aren't for everyone. "They're very good for people who are getting started or when you plateau," says Jeffrey Potteiger, director of the health and human performance laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"It can get you over the edge. It's simply another mechanism to help you accomplish what you need."

Jeannine Stein is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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