What’s so great about heart rate based training? This has long been a question of mine, especially since I often wonder if my intensity level is high enough. I see people running with those chest straps and giggle at them, but secretly wonder if that might be the key to unleashing my inner Deena Kastor. When an opportunity to try out a heart rate based training program came up…I JUMPED at it!
I’m happy to write this review of PEAR Sports as part of a campaign with FitFluential. I received a free training system (with heart rate monitor, strap, headphones) valued at $99.95. All opinions are my own.
As a complete newb to heart rate based training, my review will answer, is it easy to use and does it help you train better?
Quick List of PEAR Pros
- I can start heart rate based training quickly without knowing how it all works.
- A 30 minute Calibration Workout figures out my heart rate zones for me.
- Excellent audio cues inform quickly without disrupting my mental focus.
- Real time coaching leads me through the workout and shares relevant training tips.
- Accessing my music in the app is incredibly easy, even mid-workout.
- I get understandable workout data that I can use to track my progress.
- A wide variety of workouts to choose from for all levels. Many are free!
- Videos demonstrate moves you need to know in order to do the workout.
- The PEAR Sports App is free.
Quick List of PEAR Cons
- Heart rate monitor signal can disconnect and/or need to be reset.
- Lag time in heart rate signal can lead to frustrating audio cues.
- A few coaching cues can become noticeably repetitive.
- Calibration Workout may need to be redone a few times when you first start out. If you’re new to this, it takes time to subtly adjust your effort levels.
- Also, if you’re new to this, it can be impossible to hit the intensity levels they ask for in workouts the first time. You can’t let that bother you.
- A few audio cues were confusing. During a running workout it said, “10 minutes left”, making me think I had 10 more minutes to run, when it was actually 5 minutes of run and 5 minutes of a cool down walk. A happy surprise…but still I was confused.
APP and Strap
PEAR Sports works via bluetooth connection between your heart rate sensor (a chest strap) and your cell phone (must be an iPhone 4s or newer, Samsung Galaxy 4s or J Active). I’m used to running with my phone so that’s no big deal for me.
It is easy to get working, thanks to the tutorials and audio cues. The app is comprehensive but it doesn’t take long to figure out how to navigate. You’ll be pulling up workout history data and searching for new workouts in no time.
The headphones are comfortable, they stay put, and include a button on the right ear piece that triggers an on-demand status update of your workout.
The strap is comfortable enough and stays snug. It doesn’t completely love snuggling up to my sports bra, but I don’t blame it because I’m a sweaty mess. There have only been a few workouts where I lost connection. The app gave me an audio cue to tighten the strap or moisten the sensors. Usually it’s an easy fix.
There are many types of workouts available: run, bike, kettlebell, yoga, weight-loss, strength, HIIT, etc. You can get a $50 16-week marathon training plan, or a $0.99 40 Minute Endurance + Hill Run workout, or even a FREE Braveheart Burst tempo run complete with mild language to keep your booty moving! In fact, there are quite a few great free workouts for all fitness levels. Enough to keep you sweating without a repeat workout for a long time.
The app will give you updates on your current heart rate zone and target zone, a passive way of telling you if you’re off your mark. I like that the audio cues on this app are delivered with a quick, matter-of-fact tone! I get annoyed with the slow and sleepy Run Keeper audio updates.
I cannot stress enough how much I love the ease of access to my music mid-workout. With one tap on the Music Tab I can rewind, forward, pause, play, shuffle, repeat, or select a new playlist. Other running apps I use don’t make it this easy to adjust my tunes.
Real Time Coaching
Each workout is led by a coach whose voice will guide you through the workout. These could be people you have actually heard of like Deena Kastor or Matt Fitzgerald! All of the coaches on the workouts I used had good explanations of the workout and clear but quick cues.
The audio coaching starts with an explanation of what to do right now; for example, “Start in Zone 1, either a brisk walk or a slow jog. You’ll hold this for 3 minutes.” They’ll tell you how it should feel and you can be sure an audio cue will soon tell your current and your target zone.
The real time coaching tells you what is coming next, “In 1 minute, you’ll increase your intensity to Zone 2.” or “10 seconds to Zone 2!” I like that I can mentally prepare as I go and never feel “lost.”
I mentioned in a previous post how working out alone sucks. I can run alone, but aside from that I’m used to my CrossFit gym and having a coach and a class to motivate me to push to higher intensities.
With the PEAR workouts, I can “buy in” to the coaching and listen to them as if they were present and not just a pre-recorded voice. That, plus the feedback I’m getting about my heart rate, does help me push to a higher intensity than I would otherwise.
During the workout, the coach will share some training tips or explain the “why” of this portion of the workout. I like that I can learn a little bit as I go.
I can pick workouts by the coach. Each coach is unique and if I find one I really like, I can search more workouts by them. It could be their voice, the cues they give, or just the types of workouts they provide, but there may be some you like better than others. I like having options.
The app triggers a preset coaching cue at set times. You won’t necessarily get an audio cue the moment you go above or below your target zone. Instead, when the workout requires you to switch zones, a certain amount of time passes before your cue comes. Then the coach is either telling you to pick up the intensity or tell you to dial it back.
My experience is that my heart rate takes longer to adjust than they give me time for or there is a lag between my heart rate changing and the app reporting the change. Either way, I’ve already increased my intensity by the time the audio cue is triggered, but it doesn’t always recognize that and will tell me I’m off. This can become disheartening or frustrating.
While the app is easy to use and the workouts are easy to understand, there is a learning curve with being new to heart rate based training. I must be patient with myself and the app.
I get frustrated if I’m no where near hitting the target zone during most of a workout. This was problematic during the below treadmill run where, in order to hit Zone 5, I had to increase my speed to a level I was NOT comfortable running at the prescribed incline. I have a strong instinct to resist flying off the back of a treadmill. I couldn’t hit the target zones and I was frustrated. Like a rejected creeper, I tagged the coach for that workout, Nancy Halterman, after discovering she was on instagram.[Read: Why Treadmill Runners Are Better Than Me]
As for the app, there are some audio cues I can ignore. I suppose it’s not too different from an in-person coach. Sometimes their cues don’t translate or just make you angry. If something doesn’t make sense, you can’t let it distract you from getting the work done. If something frustrates you, you use it as fuel to push harder and don’t let it break you.
PEAR is a great intro to heart rate based training! You can quickly learn how difficult it is simply by following what the app tells you to do. I have a hard time with high intensity, being accustomed to long slow runs and wanting to “save something for the finish line.” Using PEAR can help me learn to push at 80% to 90% efforts on my own. I won’t use this for every workout, but definitely for speed training.
PEAR makes heart rate based training accessible to new-comers and those who want the benefits without needing to understand all the numbers. I would caution newbs like myself to approach the workouts with the understanding that you may need to repeat workouts several times before you can hit the target zones throughout the workout. PEAR will give you something to work toward and measurable data to see your progress.
If you want to try it out, I suggest using the promo code “FitFluential“.
It’s good until the end of this month (March 2014) and will get you 30% off!
No Meat Athlete: Great post on the WHY and WHAT of heart rate monitor training.
Enter to win $200 of SkinfitUSA gear. Giveaway ends March 31st, 2014. Enter here!