September 6, 2016

The trend is your friend

A trendy accessory for wannabe athletes, or a useful resource to help you get faster, fitter and perhaps even lose weight? Everyone is talking about activity trackers. I thought it was time I found out for myself.

A360_OHR_whites-2“100%” flashes on the display of my Polar A 360. “Daily goal achieved!” This is accompanied by a congratulatory digital display of blinking lights. I think back on my hour-long run earlier in the day and accept the electronic accolades with a smile.Activity trackers have become very widespread. According to Germany’s newspaper, “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” one in three Germans now has one of these fitness bracelets. Some of those users really want to become more active, perhaps even live a healthier lifestyle; and some of them merely want to lose weight.

A non-tech-head asks himself: do I need a device to count my steps?

I’m certainly open to trying new devices, even if I’m not a hardcore tech-head. I’m not one of those who scrolls through never-ending sub-menus of sport watches or spends more time evaluating performance data than actually running or riding. I’m a serious runner and, as far as I’m concerned, sport watches should be easy to operate and should display how far I have run in a given time. Do I actually need a step or calorie counter? Or a device that tells me how well I slept or gives me hints that I should eat less and be more physically active?

At a joint press event held recently with the Polar company, my curiosity was piqued. The Finnish company is a leader in the activity tracker market, and the “A 360” has been a huge success for them. André, a product expert for Polar, gave a detailed explanation of the device. He demonstrated the app that showes how restful his prior night’s sleep had been, that he was lagging behind the training goals he had set himself, and that his pulse had been in an ideal range on his last bike ride. Quite a lot for such a small device. But that’s not all. A demo “A 360” and the Polar Balance, a so-called “smart scale,” would give me the opportunity to find out for myself just what else this activity tracker can do.

Small, black, sleek

The sleek A 360 looks really cool with its black finish. Hooking it up via Bluetooth to the Balance scale and downloading the Polar Flow app to my iPhone took longer than expected, but finally I was ready. Ready to be monitored 24 hours a day, and ready to have my weight checked daily on the scales. All of which would be recorded and synchronized with the Polar Flow app now on my iPhone.
But what does an A 360 actually do for you? Well, it measures your activity. And, as simple as that may sound, the device provides incredibly detailed information. It measures your steps, and thus your distance covered and your pace, along with the number of calories burned, the quality of your sleep and even your pulse. And it provides a wrist-mounted optical display of your performance. The only requirement is that you activate the training mode.
Used in this way, it’s possible to set up and manage every conceivable training goal, to build in specific training plans and to connect all of this to a smartphone or a computer. You can even display incoming phone calls or emails. And if you spend too much time on the couch or in your office chair, the A 360 can vibrate with gentle on-screen reminder (“It’s time to move!”) that you’ve been inactive too long.
Additionally, there are the ‘Balance’ scales which can be hooked up to the A 360. Stand on the scales and the Bluetooth connection transmits your weight to the tracker. The intuitive Polar Flow app provides a great visual interface.

A surprise when I check the scale

Polar Waage

Having tested the A360 for a few months, the device has really proved its worth. Admittedly, I don’t use it for exact step and calorie counts, nor do I use the incoming message alarm. On the other hand, the “It’s time to move” alert was effective in getting me up and out of my chair on many occasions. But connecting the tracker to the scales provided the biggest revelation. Once a weight goal has been entered it’s simple to follow changes to body weight via the app. After four weeks, I had lost 2 kilos (4.4 lbs), something which I have never achieved so quickly before. The current trend appears in the display, and this showed that I was making progress towards my goal. Of course, you might respond that you could achieve the same result by getting on the scales every day, and that can be true. But it often doesn’t work in real life. Seeing the weight-loss trend displayed confirms that you’re on the right path, and as they say in the stock market, “The trend is your friend.” By the way, the reverse trend is also true. For the last three weeks, it seems like I’ve reached the bottom of the weight-loss curve, and the trend is steadily climbing again….

Bottom line: Don’t forget your own gut feeling

Bottom line: The Polar A 360 is a very useful device — far more than a techie toy. As a trail runner, I do miss exact distance measurement via GPS, which the A 360 does not offer. Merely counting steps is too inexact on mountain trails in my opinion. However, the new Polar M600 has a GPS, making it a genuine smart sports watch. This is also true for the topsellers „M 400“ and „V 800“ with exact GPS measuring. Details at

One last thought: At the end of his presentation on behalf of Polar, André (an active athlete with an Ironman personal best of under 10 hours) offered the following comment: “Despite all the data that a device of this kind can spit out, an athlete should also rely on his or her own gut feelings.” Quite right.

This is what Jürgen wears while running the trails:

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