There are lots of devices on the market that are designed to track your body's response to exercise while gauging factors like heart rate, distance, time and calories burned. While I believe strongly that everyone can benefit from monitoring their training progress, the device you choose should be based on factors like your personal budget, what you want to track, how accurate you want the device to be and how you want to receive your workout feedback. Most importantly, you need to know what devices are available and how certain features may or may not affect your training regimen. So, before delving into a review of the PEAR (which is a pretty sweet little device), I want to give you a rundown of the different types of training devices available and what you can expect from them:
>>Ready to dive right into PEAR? Check out our PEAR video review
Traditional pedometers can be clipped to your waist, placed on a shoe or in a pocket, and in some cases, they can be worn as a watch. The pedometer tracks how many steps you take. Based on your steps and stride length, some pedometers also estimate distance traveled and calories burned.
- Pros: Very easy to use, good for tracking general fitness parameters, like total daily steps
- Cons: Provides limited information, and some pedometers are not very accurate
Fitness watches allow you to enter your height, weight, age and sex, then based on an internal pedometer, they provide estimations on total steps, distance traveled and calories burned.
- Pros: Very easy to use, good for tracking general fitness parameters, doubles as a fitness monitor and a watch
- Cons: All read outs are based on semi-accurate pedometer measurements and general fitness assumptions - depending on gait and fitness level, information may be inaccurate
Strap-free heart rate watches
The strap-free heart rate watch is a step up from the fitness watch. It essentially functions the same way as a fitness watch, but it has features that allow you to track your heart rate without using a chest strap.
- Pros: Very easy to use, good for tracking general fitness parameters and monitoring heart rate throughout the day, doubles as a fitness monitor and a watch
- Cons: Like the fitness watch, information may be very inaccurate. Also, most of these watches offer inaccurate heart rate readings when you're exercising at higher intensities.
Heart rate monitors with wireless chest straps
Most heart rate monitors come with a wireless chest strap and a watch that enable you to keep track of your heart rate throughout your workout. Many heart rate monitors offer online or computer-based portals that allow you to upload your workouts and track your progress over time. Based on parameters like heart rate, height, weight and sex, they also track calories burned with reasonable accuracy. You may also receive information on distance traveled, but these estimates will be only moderately accurate because they're based on assumptions rather than biofeedback.
- Pros: Fairly easy to use, provide accurate information on heart rate and calories burned
- Cons: Distance information may or may not be accurate; and, depending on what you're training for, using a watch to monitor your heart rate during your workout could interfere with your pace or become tedious
Heart rate monitors with wireless chest straps and GPS capabilities
For individuals who want to track their heart rate and distance carefully, a GPS enabled system may be exactly what you're looking for. Most of these systems work the same way as a heart rate monitor, but they provide a wireless foot pod that straps to your shoelace and provides biofeedback information to the heart rate monitor. The foot pod can accurately gauge how long your stride is, calculating distance traveled.
- Pros: Provides accurate information on heart rate, calories burned and distance traveled
- Cons: While it's not difficult to use, there are several steps required before you can start your workout; and, depending on what you're training for, using a watch to monitor your heart rate and distance could interfere with your pace or become tedious
Other devices and cell phone apps
There are a multitude of other devices on the market:
- Cell phone apps that sync up with GPS websites to track distance traveled and calories burned
- Headphones that allow you to listen to your music while receiving audio updates on distance, calories burned and heart rate
- Various arm strap systems that gauge your body's movement and provide data regarding total movement and calorie burn
While each of these devices has its benefits, none of them are entirely accurate.
The PEAR: A device of its own
Here's the thing about the PEAR - it's truly a device of its own. It takes all the benefits of a GPS heart rate monitor, adds a few extra benefits, removes some of the drawbacks, and gives runners a whole new way to train. Here's a rundown of what you can expect from the PEAR:
- A device that includes a wireless chest strap and foot pod so that you're guaranteed more accurate readings
- A device that delivers workout feedback automatically through a set of headphones so you never have to look down at a watch
- A device that syncs up with an MP3 player so that you can listen to your music while tracking your workout stats (plus, you don't have to lug around multiple devices!)
- A device that clips to any piece of clothing for versatile wearability
- A device that not only tracks your workouts through an online portal, but also creates individualized workout plans based on your fitness level and goals. The PEAR actually uses your own heart rate information to create heart rate training zones for each of your workout routines. It also provides feedback to you during your workout to let you know if you're staying within your training zones.
Designed for runners, but not limited to running
While the PEAR was specifically designed for runners, during my trial I quickly put it to use for other things. I wore it to the gym to monitor my heart rate and calorie burn during high intensity workouts. I wore it after exercising to get a feel for my post-workout calorie burn. I wore it around the house to determine how much I was walking during the day. As a total exercise nerd, I really appreciated the accuracy of the readings I was receiving, feeling much more confident in the device's feedback than most other devices I've tried. To me, that level of accuracy is comforting. I've spent years rolling my eyes at calorie burn monitors on cardio machines and mentally readjusting every readout I've ever received from a fitness monitor, assuming they're all at least 10 to 25 percent off. This was the first time that I felt confident that the information I was receiving was accurate, especially when it came to distance.
Note: I didn't blindly assume accuracy. I tested the PEAR's distance readings against predetermined GPS-proven run distances. Similarly, I can assume calorie readings close to accurate because heart rate is a good predictor of calorie burn, especially when paired with height, weight, age and sex information. Unlike some systems, the PEAR tracks heart rate throughout a workout, improving the acccuracy of its readings.
In addition to all the benefits listed above, the PEAR's accurate distance readings make it especially helpful for the runner who regularly hits the trails or simply takes a short-cut through a field every now and then. Most of my runs combine a little bit of trail running with street running, so it was nice to know I could actually gauge how far I was going.
The PEAR also provides feedback regarding pace. As someone who doesn't pay that much attention to my pace, having the device tell me how fast I was going (or more accurately, how slow I was going) brought a whole new sense of awareness to my run. I realized that I was actually being kind of lazy, not pushing myself as hard as I was capable of pushing.
Things to keep in mind
While I love the fact that the PEAR syncs up with an MP3 player to provide music throughout your workout, the only MP3 player it's designed to work with is the iPod Shuffle. This means that if you don't already have a Shuffle on hand, you'll have to buy a Shuffle separately if you want to be able to use the device the way it was intended.
Also, keep in mind that even though the device monitors your pace, you may want to take it with a grain of salt if you're running on a hilly course. Pace is based on your gait cadence and your stride length - if you're going up a hill, your stride length will shorten and, technically, your pace will slow, even if you're maintaining a steady cadence. Don't be discouraged the first time you hear that your pace has slowed significantly while heading up a hill! Just keep on plugging and look forward to the fact that your pace will increase when you race down the other side!
More information on PEAR
To get more information on PEAR, be sure to check out the PEAR website and watch our GirlsGoneSporty video review (featured at the top of this article).