Bad Data…

I quit writing about the ABCs of exercise years ago, after I realized nobody was listening.  That, and I really don’t care too much about the ABCs of exercise anyway.  People are going to do what they’re going to do – despite my experience and my desire to share my wisdoooooom.  However, for those so inclined to read further, I have something which you might find a little useful this week…

As we depend more and more on electronics to track our exercise data, it’s important to understand that the information feedback isn’t always accurate when it comes to the calories/energy utilized during exercise.  There are many variables at work here.

Example:  My BMR (basal metabolic rate) has me burning roughly 95 calories per hour at rest.  I burn a few more per hour when I am casually active, and shitload more when I am very active.  However, an accurate BMR has to factor in your lean muscle mass.  Online BRM calculators, and those that are connected to personal exercise devices don’t always do this.  Unless you use hydrostatic weighing to calculate and factor in your lean muscle mass, your BMR will be an approximation.

Because I know what my lean body mass is, I have an accurate number for my BMR.  Knowing my accurate BMR, I also have a better idea how much energy I use when engaged in running, cycling, or hill climbing.  During intense cardio activities such as these, and if I maintain a heart-rate of roughly 155 bpm, I will be burning roughly 100 every 10 minutes, or 600 calories per hour, though this also depends on load, as well as the range of motion being used by my legs.  But overall, I burn roughly 600 calories per hour during a hard cardio session.

The attached graphs are from two steep hill hikes I did last week, 24 hours apart.  Time, distance and calories burned are noted.

The app I chose on my iPhone is a generic step counter.  It doesn’t factor in my BMR so it doesn’t know how much muscle mass I have when as it calculates calories burned, which is kind of important.  This app tracks distance only, and not even elevation changes.  The hike I do has 800 feet of climbing on the front side, and 400 feet on the back side, for a total of 1,200 of climbing in just 4.1 miles.  That’s’ a shit-ton.


Monday’s Hike

Since this app does not factor in my relative muscle mass, and that the GPS mechanism does not factor in elevation changes, it calculated that I burned roughly 365 calories during two very intense 1hour+ hikes.

The reality is, based on my heart-rate and my muscle mass, that I probably burned in excess of 800 calories during each of these hikes – more than double what the app suggests.


Tuesday’s Hike

Additionally, note that the hike of 1:15:28 showed me burning only 2 calories more for 5 minutes less over the same distance.  Since my average heart-rate on the 1:15:28 was 161, and my average heart-rate on the 1:20:54 hike was 154, I probably burned 60-70 more on the shorter hike.

Now to the bike…

The app I chose doesn’t know if I’m peddling, running, or hiking.  It only knows that I’m moving.  The graph below is from a 10-mile bike ride which I did earlier this week.  The ride was challenging to be sure, but not 930 calories worth of challenging.  Again, based on my BMR and average heart-rate (145 for this ride), it was probably more like 400-450 calories of energy used, despite that the app calculated 930.


Wednesday’s Ride…

My point to all of this is that, although the GPS portion of the data provided by my app was accurate, the calorie data was based on a generic, one size fits all hominid profile.  The data you get from your app will only be as solid as the data you provide about you; age, accurate BMR, heart-rate, whether or not you are running, biking, or walking, etc.  Without that information, it’s probably not going to be accurate, and is likely to be quite wrong.

This is not to suggest that we don’t use electronics to track our fitness data – these can be very useful tools when used properly.  But as I like to say, we have gotten by for tens of thousands of without depending on apps and devices to track our fitness.  If we’re breathing hard and sweating, we’re ahead of the game.   If you’re sitting still, you’re simulating death.  Be well…  Jhciacb


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10 responses

  1. The first week of January, 2008 I started walking over my lunch hour at work. I’d read a book while I ate my lunch. That took about a half hour. Then I’d put on my tennis shoes, and occasionally my headphones, but often times I’d just bring along my thoughts, and go out for a walk. I didn’t gear up with so much as a pedometer. I didn’t know how far I had walked, how fast I had walked, or how many calories I had burned. I just chose one of a couple of paths indoors or out depending on weather and mood that I enjoyed walking and that would get me back to my desk within roughly the half hour left of my lunch break. Barring the occasional circumstance that prevented a day’s walk here or there, I did that every workday until August, 2012 when my mom became ill and I started working from home while I took care of her. In those four and a half years of walking every work day – no fancy calculations required, I lost a lot of weight…we’re talking in the 50 pound range…and began to feel as healthy as I had as a college athlete. And all I did was walk. Just got up one day and decided to start walking. And did the same the next day and the next to the point where I felt out of sorts if I didn’t get my walking in. When I went back to the office in January of 2013 my whole life was upside down and I did not want to walk. It was not what I needed right then. I needed to get away from the office and have lunch with a friend. I just needed everything to be different. So I didn’t walk at lunch again until the end of 2015. Then circumstances changed again and I needed my walking back. But, by this time I had a smartphone and a fitbit and I was obsessed with tracking everything. I got upset when GPS couldn’t track my distance indoors, so my numbers were off. I got irritated when I’d get back to my building at 28 minutes and 30 seconds, because that meant the robot voice on my phone wasn’t going to tell me I met my 30 minute “goal”. What was happening to me?!? I was becoming a stressed out person I didn’t like. So, two weeks ago I deleted all my fitness tracking apps from my phone (I had 3) and got back to basics. I started reading while I eat and then putting on my tennis shoes and walking my old paths…and not tracking a darn thing. The feeling of freedom from my own measurement chains is fantastic!! I’m not perfect. I don’t walk every day. If I’m too tired to pack my lunch the night before, going out to buy lunch takes too much time to allow for a post-eating walk (and then I’m always disappointed and I vow to do better) but I’m trying! And I’m keeping it simple. Sorry, for writing an entire essay of my own in your comment section, Roy, but as usual, your writing sparked a reaction in me and I had to share my story. Keep up the good work, my friend. And as a wise man once said, be well. 😉

    • I f#cking love your essay answers, and they keep me on my toes, and hopefully inspire better writing.

      As a point of clarification, I downloaded generic apps for the sake of the point. I keep a hand written workout journal, and always write down what I did in the weight room and as a form of cardio, but more for the sake of confirmation than as a form self competition.

      To some degree I care how I perform, but it is much more important THAT I perform daily — well, almost daily. Today was, a pizza, Stroodle, Shark Week after work day. The gym will be there manana…

      As always, Shannon, thank you.

      FYI: The world needs more stick figure videos. Truth!

      • 🙂 I see your point of clarification and raise you my own, I think it’s great that you keep a workout journal and I should clarify that I think everyone should track their exercise to whatever level benefits them. Absolutely! (For the record, I still wear my clip-on fitbit every day. But I don’t sync the data or look at the logs. It’s an easy way for me to check what time it is (hour of the day I mean) and I occasionally check the step count or distance for the day but mostly the fact that it’s a “thing” I put on me and see throughout the day that reminds me to move as much as possible…having an 8 hour a day sit down job is hard!) Anyway, I am a detail tracker by nature. For 4 years I wrote down what tv show or movie I watched every night. And I have extensive lists and logs of my classic movies and books I’ve read. You get where I’m going with this. Ha! I tend to get so caught up tracking I forget to enjoy the activity! That’s why I stopped cold turkey with the exercise tracking. My tracking stopped benefiting me and became a hindrance. If others can track themselves constructively, I’m all for it. I cannot. Ha! Oh, and I’ll do what I can about the stick figures. 😉

  2. I see your OCD, and I raise it! I’m a spreadsheet guy. Pretty much everything I do as a form of entertainment; music & movies mostly, I keep lists of on spreadsheets. Example: I can tell you that I have watched Bill Moyers’ interview with Martin Amis 72 times. I won’t offer anymore than that, but you get the point.

    As far as tracking exercise goes, I too think that people should do it, but not obsess on it.

    Wishing you a wonderful — glorious Nebraska weekend!

    • Haha! I can tell you that on this date 8 years ago I watched an episode of the Marlo Thomas tv classic, That Girl. 😉

      As for a glorious Nebraska weekend, it is shaping up to be just that! I wish you the California equivalent!

  3. I don’t use any fitness devices. From what I’ve seen, only the pedometer is accurate for steps, and as you illustrate, the data from cycling in very exaggerated. Being a dinosaur, er.. old school runner, I use that as my measuring tool, around 100 calories a mile. If what I’m doing, whatever and I do lots of physical stuff, I compare it to running. If doesn’t feel like my running stress for the time invested, then I figure it’s less than that value. Not that it matters, lol. That’s my calories out. As for calories in, doing IF, I eat till I’m full, and then I stop. It all seems to balance out fine for me.

    • Agreed on the 100 calories per mile, and since I run 10-minute miles, the math is consistent with what I mentioned above. I used this app simply to write this after I had an argument with a client about the calories he burns on his 4-mile bike ride. He suggested it was about 600 calories. I suggested he was fucked in the head. I was right.

      • lol! I can’t remember her name, but someone who used to comment on my columns did the same thing with her biking numbers and could not understand why she was not losing weight. To top it off, she was riding tandem with her husband. Eventually, she admitted I was right long after I pointed out that the values on her device were way off. I hope your client listens to you!

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