Heart Rate Variability (or simply HRV) can be a key indicator of fitness. Daily measurements taken, crucially, at the same time each morning can be charted in order to build up a picture of the overall ebb and flow of training stress on the body and, through analysis, work as an early indicator of when ‘enough is enough’. Anyone taking training seriously is well advised to listen to the heart and plotting the HRV should be at the top of the list when it comes to determining over-training limits and planning rest days or periods. Enter – at least for true tech lovers – the ithlete for Heart Rate Variability, a small ECG receiver that plugs into Apple and Android phones/tablets and picks up the signal from compatible heart rate straps. In turn this is analysed and charted by the ithlete app, which keeps a running record of the HRV and displays the results in colour-coded form.
The principle is excellent and the thlete receiver is dinky and reliable, but the app (a separate purchase at £6.99) lets the process down somewhat by being graphically clunky and limited in both function and flexibility. To expand first on the aesthetics: the design of the graphic interface is either deliberately retro or just simply ugly and whilst looks alone may not be that important it also has an impact on functionality with both the chart and list being difficult to comprehend (who uses the dating system ‘2012-10-08’? That’s almost exactly the reverse of what we need to know…)
At its simplest – and the ithlete app doesn’t go much beyond ‘simplest’ – things work just fine. Strap up, wait for the signal (an impressively fast connect), hit ‘start’ and breath slowly in and out in time with the (ugly) graphic for one minute; then save the result. The app displays both that day’s heart rate and the HRV value – the higher the better – in list form or on a chart along with a daily, weekly and monthly change values. Depending on results either a blue/green, orange or red indication will be given suggesting that normal or lighter training be considered or that a rest day is in order.
Unfortunately the app doesn’t really allow for any user annotation beyond adding an optional ‘training load score’ (you can make up your own system, 1-10 for effort for example, but can’t mix and match.) Repeatedly we found ourselves wanting to add some detailed notes to a day’s results; to record the fact that a heavy road session had been followed by a lack of sleep or that jetlag was almost certainly a factor – but whilst any online training log worth its salt easily accommodates this, the ithlete app doesn’t. A widely missed opportunity, especially as the ithlete’s own manual lists everything from work-related stress to dehydration and diet being contributory factors.
HRV is a crucial tool for anyone looking to improve their overall performance (and downright essential for those who love to crunch every available number) and the ithlete is a brilliantly simply way of collecting the data. A shame this is let down buy an app that really needs to be thoroughly updated in order to deliver real user satisfaction. Certainly the pros outweigh the cons, but a reworked and much more user-friendly app (one that also includes the ability to record HR during exercise – currently a separate app of another £6.99) is needed to help propel the ithlete into the realms of the indispensible.
ithlete ECG receiver £39.99, or bought in combination with the Cardiosport HR chest strap £59.99 – chest strap available separately at £29.99 and ithlete app retails at £6.99.
Further details and online purchase via myithlete.com
Note: v2 of the app allows fuller notation on each record made, along with a sleep quality score of 1-5.