ithlete is a hardware, app and (optional) website tech solution for monitoring Heart Rate Variability – HRV for short – which can be a key indicator of when to push further with intensive training and when to gently apply the brakes. The science is relatively new and the details somewhat complex, but fundamentally HRV is a measurement of variation in time between heartbeats as you breath in and out. ithlete monitors this via a measurement taken daily with a finger sensor and receiver combination that tracks results on the app, using an algorithm to suggest how intense a particular day’s training should be.
Having first come across ithlete several years ago we found it undeniably useful, but somewhat lacking in both form and usability. With several app updates under their belt and the addition of the heart rate finger sensor rather than a chest strap (although that’s still available) we thought it time to take another look.
The finger sensor is certainly a step in the right direction for ithlete; it’s less cumbersome than a chest strap and separate ECG receiver and, at £44.99, cheaper by £5 too. It also appears more reliable in terms of ‘talking’ to the app during measurements although we still found a consistent and frustrating 15% failure rate in daily testing when either a signal could not be established or dropped repeatedly; meaning the 60second test became a 5minute hassle. An app update early in our testing cycle helped marginally (also adding a signal quality indicator), but 15% was still the stat we ended up with.
Test complete a series of sliders can be set to record a number of factors that may have influenced the results – diet, fatigue, mood, etc. Whilst these are subjective assessments, they certainly help build up the bigger picture and, over time, allow you to judge those lifestyle elements that may be having a detrimental impact on training or race ability.
Overall results can be viewed either in portrait mode on the phone, which gives a slightly difficult to read series of colour-coded circles, or flipped to landscape for a slightly easier to decipher graph on which any one element can be displayed. A ‘training load’ value from 1 to 10 can also be set against a day’s results as can a short note – for example ‘large meal’, ‘too much wine’, ‘persistent cold’… Ultimately you’re looking for a red, orange or green indicator to determine what the day should have in store for you.
For deeper analysis you can subscribe to the ithlete Pro website that syncs all recorded data and displays it in a number of more useful ways. The whole dashboard is a slick affair with a degree of customisation that’s really intuitive in use. Main results, including all of the subjective criteria such as diet and sleep, are clearly illustrated and an additional 30-day summary helps further with clarifying all of the meta-data. Amongst other things the ithlete Pro dashboard can also suck in data from fitbit to build up a better picture of health, although this seems like a rather pedestrian choice of non-pro fitness tracking. Until there’s connectivity between the dashboard and the likes of Garmin or Strava (at the very least) it’s hard to justify the additional £3-per-month subscription cost.
There’s a great deal to admire about ithlete and, given time and enough data, it can become a really useful training (and resting) aid. Perhaps a little work still needs to be done on the app’s appearance – the Pro dashboard proves that the data can be more usefully and clearly illustrated – and connection to the iPhone’s native Health app to record resting heart rate centrally is a crucial next step. The fact that the app needs to be purchased separately at a steep £6.99 is troublesome and an additional fee for the Pro dashboard can’t really be justified when it’s the sort of thing already bundled with similar tech training apps and solutions.
The ithlete finger sensor retails at £44.99, or a chest strap and ECG Receiver (the bit that plus into the Android or iPhone headphone socket) costs £49.99. If you already have a compatible HR chest strap then the ECG Receiver can be purchased standalone at £34.99.
Full details and online purchase at myithlete.com