Last spring, I started to read about the work of Dr Phil Maffetone. Rather than go into too much detail about that here, I will save it for a future post, which promises to be punishingly tedious and will test the limits of your endurance far more effectively than any ultra marathon.
But, in a nutshell… Dr M has got some interesting ideas about exercise and nutrition. The thing that really made me prick up my ears was about why people found running to be ineffective as a means of losing weight, and how even regular runners can quickly plateau and find it difficult to improve. He suggests that the first thing we need to do is to make our bodies remember how to burn fat, and to do that we have to slow down. (Which is bloody GREAT, because if there’s one thing better than running, it’s running REALLY SLOWLY.)
But how slow? Well, it’s all done on your heart rate. Maffetone came up with a simple formula which is 180-your age. I’m 41, so my magic number is 139. That is, my heart bpm must not exceed 139bpm whilst running. So, I needed a heart rate monitor. I have never really liked the idea of those chest-strap monitors, so I looked at a couple of wearables: the Garmin Vivoactive and the Fitbit Surge. (I should also explain at this point that I the steps/pedometer aspect was also something I wanted to have. My job involves me sitting in front of a screen all day, so I figured it would be useful to have something that might encourage me to get up and move about during the day, as well as running.)
I went, in case it isn’t blindingly obvious, for the Fitbit. I’ve been using it for almost ten months now, so I figure my opinion may finally be worth something. It may not. But you’re going to read it anyway, because if you don’t I’m going to squat on you until you suffocate.
So here we go then: my Fitbit Surge Review.
Due to the fact that I have no social conscience or morals of any kind, I bought the Surge from Amazon. I know, I know… But let’s face it, it was £199.99 on the Fitbit website (and still is). I got it for £157 from Amazon. I spent the money I had saved on lager, and felt very pleased with myself indeed. (By the way, at the time of writing, the Surge is £147.99 on Amazon.)
It arrived promptly, and I immediately took it out, eager to get started. Almost as immediately, I realised that there was a set up process. So with a sense of the inevitable frustration that was to follow, I began.
WHAT a pain in the arse. Imagine being kicked in the arse by Geoff Capes because you had just accidentally squashed one of his budgies in the 1980s. By God, he would be cross. He’d kick you again and again, until your bottom more closely resembled a smashed blancmange as opposed to any kind of usable anus. Take that imagined pain in the arse, and that is about equal to the experience of trying to set up my Fitbit Surge. I went online to see if I had a faulty unit, because it just refused to sync with the software. I very quickly discovered that this is a common issue, judging by the results of a Google search on the terms ‘fitbit set up issues’.
Well, eventually I got it to work. It took me about an hour. And yes, I fully appreciate that one hour is not hugely significant in the great scheme of things. It is not as if my having to spend one hour completing a task for my own benefit is of any real detriment to me. And yet. A WHOLE FUCKING HOUR. AN HOUR OF FUCKING ABOUT WITH THE FUCKING THING. This Fitbit Surge was within minutes of being sent back to Amazon. I can’t actually remember how it came to work in the end. I was by this stage clawing at my face and foaming at the mouth, so things are a little bit hazy. But whatever.
In the interests of fairness, I should state that not everyone could possibly have had the same experience as me. I have no idea why it wouldn’t sync, and even less about why it eventually did. All I know is that a less frustrating way to spend that hour could have been achieved by, oh I don’t know, teaching a cat how to complete a tax return. Let’s move on.
The Fitbit Surge didn’t look as nice in the flesh as I’d hoped it would. I’d opted for the black one, and although the strap was nice and the face itself a good size, the display looks pretty clunky. But I hadn’t really bought it for looks, so it was nothing too major. The touch screen works as it should, although it’s really just there to swipe backwards and forwards between different settings as opposed to offering an iWatch-like experience. There was one entirely unexpected feature of the touch screen that I absolutely LOVE, however. Because I am enormous nancy-boy, I wear thin gloves when running in freezing weather. To my not inconsiderable delight, the touch screen still works even when I’m wearing the gloves. A small detail perhaps, but it’s bloody great when you want to view different things whilst actually on a run.
Anyway, let’s have a look at some of the functionality of the thing. YES LET’S DO THAT SHAUN YES.
Some of the functionality of the thing
Steps. It counts how many steps you take. This is important, apparently, if you’re a desk-bound fat arse like me. The Surge comes with a set recommendation of 10000 steps per day. I have no idea if any science or logic was employed in finding that number, or whether it was arbitrarily plucked from the arsehole of nowhere. But I suppose 10000 is better than, say, 4000. Or 11. So 10000 it is. I don’t know if this focus on steps is worth a toss really. Exercise is obviously important, but I suspect more focus should be placed on what you eat. Taking 10000 steps every day from now until you snuff it is not going help you if you’re still stuffing your fat fucking face with pasties and Frazzles. (Ah, Frazzles. The King of Crisps. Someone I know once tried to persuade Smiths to supply him with his own body weight in Frazzles, which he would then attempt to eat in a perspex box. For charity. They said it might not be very good for him and declined. Actually I think it was Quavers.)
Where were we? Oh yes, steps. Well, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that on the first day of wearing the Surge, I had only done about 9000 steps before bedtime. So I ran around the living room until I got my 10000. I actually did this, and I cannot be the only one. Is this what you want, Fitbit? You want people running around their living rooms just before midnight in order to please a watch? I have not done that since, and intend never to speak of it again. I later found out that you can fool the watch into thinking you are walking by simply resting your hand on your knee and bouncing your leg up and down. It will even work by vigourously moving your wrist up and down, although be warned that you will look a bit like you’re giving someone a hand job, as I found to my cost whilst demonstrating the action in a crowded pub.
This concludes the ‘steps’ part of what I am still insisting on calling a review.
The heart rate monitor
Let’s crack on, this is the only bit that I bought the bloody watch for and we’re already over 1300 words.
To recap, I wanted to use a heart rate monitor while running. I didn’t really want a chest strap, mainly because I thought that people might think I was wearing a bra. Nothing wrong with men wearing bras, of course. This is 2017. But my bosom is not sufficiently ample to require one. So I spent a bit time researching a few options, namely the Fitbit Surge and a Garmin Forerunner. If it wasn’t already utterly apparent, I am not a professional writer of reviews. (Or anything, come to that.) If I was, I might have actually made a note of which model of Garmin Forerunner it was, how much it costs, what features it had compared to the Fitbit, and so on. But I didn’t do any of that shit, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say that I genuinely thought the Surge was the better option.
There had evidently been some controversy about the accuracy of the heart rate monitor on the Surge (and other Fitbits), with people claiming that it could be wildly misleading. But for every claim, I found another person online saying that they thought it was great. These days, if you want a reason not to buy absolutely anything in the world, there will be some miserable bastard on the internet who is happy to give you that reason. I took the plunge. So what’s it like?
Okay. But it can be weird.
It calaculates your heartbeat using some sort of fancy algorithm and some fancy flashing lights.
I have no idea how it works and, crucially, no real interest either. Because I’m one of those people who is perfectly happy to buy something and then just expect it to work, without having to actually figure out how. I daresay some barrel of laughs has explained it elsewhere, look it up if you’re that arsed.
So what’s the problem with it? Well, let me start by saying that 90% of the time it works perfectly well, and for my needs that’s acceptable. But it is erratic. For example, frequently on runs I will be chugging along quite comfortably with my heart rate at about 138bpm. A quick glance at the watch will reveal that it has suddenly shot up to 155, despite the fact that I am not going any faster, not breathing any heavier and generally not doing anything that could be described as ‘trying hard’. It even happens when I’m coasting downhill. The reverse can happen as well, so I’ll be running up a hill and trying to maintain pace but also stay comfortable, and my Fitbit tells me that my heart rate has dropped to 120. Sometimes it drops out altogether, so I suppose that means I am actually clinically dead for parts of my run.
There is an annoying delay on it as well. This really makes my shit itch when I’m running up a long incline, because I’ll be reining myself in to keep my heart rate down, only to find that despite reading something in the mid 130s all the way up, I’ll suddenly leap to 150 when I reach the top, and stay there as I come back down.
Another weird anomaly was provided by a quick bit of Freeletics. I wanted to see what my heart did under more intense conditions, so I bashed out 100 burpees as quickly as I could. Anyone reading this who has done that will know that in terms of getting the heart going, burpees are almost as effective as hearing a flight attendant scream the word ‘BRACE’ at you, and a lot less pleasant. (At least you get to sit down on a crashing plane.) But try as I might, I couldn’t get the Fitbit to recored over 130bpm. Which is clearly horse shit, because after about 30 burpees, my heart feels like it’s about to make a break for it by leaping out of my mouth. So I’m not convinced that it’s great for logging high intensity stuff.
I haven’t tested it whilst riding a bike, because riding bicycles is for children and idiots.
HOWEVER… It scarcely needs pointing out that I am not a professional athlete. Semi-professional bell end, certainly. But athlete, no. So, whatever… I can live with these discrepancies. But if I was actually training properly for something, I suspect they would become too irritating to ignore.
Also a bit iffy, but I am never really sure whether that’s down to the gadget or the satellite or… You know… Science. Distances can be quite different depending on the day, with a good 20 metre discrepancy either way on the first mile of my run. Very occasionally it will have a complete fit, and record that I have just teleported 500 metres into an adjacent field or body of water, and back again, in zero seconds. I cannot do this. I have tried.
But to be honest, the Garmin could be a bit tempremental as well. And neither of these devices ever agrees with the date that Strava outputs, so go figure. And when I say ‘go figure’, I mean ‘I can’t be bothered to write about this any more’.
After around six months of use, I noticed that one half of the strap was starting to come away on the underside of the watch. Initially, it was possible to push it back into place, but now it has moved permanently, and no amount of buggering about will fix it. Worse than that, the same bit of strap has now started coming away on the top as well.
Not great. BUT STOP THE PRESS.
I am not a great complainer. I’m the kind of person who could be served a giant roasted dog turd and still say ‘lovely thanks’ when the waiter asks if everything’s okay. My wife, however, is an excellent complainer. Not in a whinging sense, but in a sense of ‘YOU’VE ONLY HAD IT FIVE MINUTES AND IT’S KNACKERED GIVE ME THE PHONE’. She spoke to Fitbit’s customer services office, who immediately agreed to send out a replacement watch. The cynic in me would say that this suggests that the strap may be something of a problem, since they didn’t ask for a picture or any kind of evidence. But still. It’s nice not to have to argue the toss about these things.
The good thing about getting a new one is that I can do a comparison between two supposedly identical units. Theoretically, they should output exactly the same information. If they don’t, it would seem to suggest a degree of unreliability. WE WILL SEE.
You may not believe this, but this is not an exhasutive review because a) I’m not getting paid for it and b) I’m not getting paid for it. The Surge does a bunch of other stuff as well, counts calories burned based on your weight and movement and stuff, tells you how many floors you’ve climbed (no fucking idea what that’s about) and some other shit. But I don’t use any of it, and since literally nobody is giving me money for my opinions, I couldn’t be bothered.
I’m ending this here because I want some dinner
So, should you buy a Fitbit? Well, I absolutely couldn’t give a shit either way. But if you’re still trying to make up your mind, here are the pros and cons.
- Tells the time
- Features handy strap and bit of metal and some holes to attach to one’s wrist
- Useful if you’re a lazy fucking wanker, but don’t know exactly how much of a lazy fucking wanker you are
- Steps, GPS and heart rate monitor are adequate for the average tosser
- Looks like they’ll send you another one if it gets knackered
- Screen looks a bit crap
- Questionable build quality
- Steps, GPS and heart rate monitor are all JUST inaccurate enough to be annoying
- Might make you look like a bit of a cunt, especially if you get one with a coloured strap
- That’s it
Join me next time when I’ll be reviewing a new pair of Merrells by putting them on my hands and singing ‘The Day We Went to Bangor’ whilst pissed out of my face.