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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Data Geeks Use Spreadsheets To Get Fit

A promotional image of the Larklife wristband and app, which monitor exercise, diet and sleep. (lark.com)

A promotional image of the Larklife wristband and app, which monitor exercise, diet and sleep. (lark.com)

Sami Inkinen is pictured at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championship  triathlon. (www.samiinkinen.com)

Sami Inkinen is pictured at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championship triathlon. (www.samiinkinen.com)

Wall Street has long relied on quantitative analysts or “quants” to crunch massive amounts of data to choose investments. Now, amateur athletes are relying on data to create better workouts.

A recent boom in wearable gadgets is helping people amass data by tracking how far they run or bike, their heart rate and even how well they sleep.

People wear devices like Larklife, Jawbone UP, Nike FuelBand and Fitbit Flex, which record the data and then upload it to websites that help users gauge how well they’re performing and where they need to improve.

Sami Inkinen, founder of the real estate website Trulia, is one of the most famous “fitness quants.”

His trainer, Matt Dixon, said that Inkinen uses a 26-column spreadsheet to track his workouts, moods and sleep patterns.

Dixon said that by analyzing the data, Inkinen was able to optimize his workouts, so he could train less and perform better.

Inkinen finished the 2011 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon in less than nine hours – beating many professional athletes. But he only trained 12 hours a week – about half the time most people would train.

Dixon acknowledged that Inkinen is a gifted natural athlete, but he says others can learn from his example. For example, there are body-monitoring gadgets to fit every budget:

  • Pace clock at the pool: free
  • GPS & heart rate watch: $150+
  • Restwise subscription: $150/year
  • Bicycle power meter: $1,500+

While not everyone has the discipline to keep a 26-column spreadsheet, Dixon said, websites like Restwise can help mere mortals keep better tabs on their performance.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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