Vitness RX review: The app that measures recovery and recommends personalised workouts

Introducing the Vitness RX, an app with accompanying hardware which tells you what exercises you need to do.

The premise behind the app lies in fitness motivation. The fitness technology revolution continues to roll, with this app behind the latest in a long stream of 2013 releases.

When it comes to hitting the gym, even the most motivated amongst us don’t feel it every day. Sometimes, there are days when you just don’t feel it. Unlike the other very uniform fitness technology products on the market, the Vitness RX aims to take this into account. So where your Nike Fuelband pushes you to hit a regular daily target, the Vitness system recognises the days when your energy is low, and alters its recommendations to accept this. Conversely, when you’re really feeling it, this app can give you the high intensity workout of your lifetime.

So what is the Vitness RX system? Like a lot of the latest fit tech, it offers the merger of hardware and software. So alongside your smart phone app, you also get a heart rate monitor chest strap and a square dongle which plugs into your phones headphone socket. You also get an arm strap, which ensures that your smart phone is kept safe and sweat free in the gym environment.

This is a lot more than just a heart rate monitor with an app though. The device is actually monitoring the signals from the chest strap in order to ascertain which workout to give you for that day. You simply pop on the chest strap immediately as you wake up – before ingesting any stimulants – and the monitor starts picking up your signals and comparing them to your personal averages. From here, it can (fairly accurately as it turns out) determine your daily energy levels. This ties in with your recovery cycle, meaning that the device is able to custom-tailor the workout based on how well you recovered from your last session, which in theory will help you to avoid overtraining.

 

Vitness Rx: How it works

Just like your regular heart rate monitor, the Vitness RX chest strap needs slightly dampening before you put it on. This aids in the device picking up an immediate and accurate heart rate.

Once you’re strapped in, you need to launch the companion application. Within the app, you need to hit the start button, which gets the hardware and software talking. The two talk via the dongle, which will need to be plugged into your smart phones headphone jack, so bear this in mind if you typically use your smart phone to play your tunes in the gym.

The chest strap will now be sending your heart rate data back to your phone. In order to improve on the accuracy of this, you’ll be asked to perform some deep breathing exercises. This is carried out via a 60 second assessment within the app, and provides you with a vitality score. This ranges between 50 and 100, and you’re aiming for as close to 100 as possible.

Where this system falls down slightly, is that it needs more human prompts than it should. For example, you need to hit the save button in order to log your score.

From the vitality score, the Vitness RX system will determine whteher that days workout should fall into the “heating”, “grounding” or “cooling” bracket. These are three broad categories of workouts, which all carry different performance indicators, such as target HR zones and durations.

All of this needs doing at the start of the day, before you take in food and drink. Naturally, you don’t actually need to train first thing in the morning if you don’t choose, as the vitality score is good for 12 hours. Just bear in mind, that all of the above needs doing before you get going, and preferably before you even get out of bed in the morning.

Once you are ready to workout, the app will provide you with a video overview of that days workout, including guidance on performing the exercises. You then hit the ‘begin workout’ button on the app.

Vitness Rx: workouts

Once you hit the ‘begin workout’ button, your iPhone turns into a heart rate monitor screen. We were impressed by the attention to detail, such as the default landscape orientation which makes the HRM easy to read whilst in the arm band.

You can easily navigate to the workout log within the app. This contains a list of scrollable exercises that you need to perform. This is laid out as a list and includes picture prompts.

The app also showcases a workout timer, in order to help you to time your session and beat its score the next time around – which acts as a highly effective workout density improver. In addition, standard heart rate monitor measurements, such as calorie burned (a rough estimate as always) and your current hear rate are shown. The app will then prompt you via a series of audible alerts, as it works to keep you within your target heart rate zone.

As for the workouts themselves, they are split into the three categories. As you might imagine, the ‘heating’ workouts are the most intense. As such, you will only be prescribed a ‘heating’ workout on days when the Vitness RX system has deemed you to be fully recovered and well rested from your last workout. The workouts typically follow a circuit training based approach, meaning that they are better suited for people looking to get a bit leaner and to gain some muscle tone, as opposed to budding bodybuilders. For instance, on the heating sessions, you are given a list of five exercises which you perform for 60 seconds each. Having completed the circuit, you then perform it again twice more, meaning you do three rounds of five exercises.

Vitness Rx: Will this make me fitter?

As a fairly hard-core gym goer, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how good the workouts are. High intensity circuits are an underutilised yet well proven way to get into shape fast, and with the advanced guidance offered by systems like Vitness, you have the foundations of a solid system.

 

 

When I first came across this, I was convinced that a relatively simple app, with the only input being a chest strap, would have no way to actually measure my recovery. It sounded like a gimmick, albeit a fantastic concept. If anything, this is the holy grail of working out, as anybody that has been training seriously for some time knows that truly measuring your recovery is nearly impossible. What’s more, your mind can play tricks on you, making you think you need more recovery time when you don’t (during low motivation phases). It can work in quite the opposite way during periods of motivated training, where overzealous enthusiasm can lead to over-training.

So I was really pleasantly surprised by how well this vitality scoring mechanism worked. I also found that seeing a high vitality score really motivated me to hit the gym hard and push myself to my limits, all of which is so important in seeing results.

I really think the workouts are only a small part of this app and what it offers. Whilst the circuits aren’t advanced enough for me to run with for more than a few workouts, just to change things up a bit, I will continue using the vitality score to plan my sessions. I see particular value in this mechanism around cardio workouts, as they are easy to scale the intensity/duration up and down to match your recovery.

Where the workouts that the app gives you would come in handy would be when you’re travelling. The heating workouts are designed to be short and intense (think 80% of your max HR for just 15 minutes), and they don’t require much, if any, equipment. Most comprise of bodyweight circuits, using old stables like press-ups (many variations), squats, jumping jacks and burpees.

Conversely, the cooling workouts are longer sessions of up to one hour, but you work out at a much steadier 65% of your max HR. These sessions therefore burn some calories whilst aiding in active recovery. These workouts essentially mimic a lot of yoga based moves.

Vitness Rx: Logging your victories

The system also adds value by working as a workout log book, complete with all of your vital stats.

A simple tap of the save button logs your session, alongside the type of workout you performed and how your bodies metrics stacked up. You also get readings on estimated calories burned, workout duration and your vitality score.

A lot of this data is presented on a chart, complete with lines to indicate longer term averages set against that days specifics. There’s the opportunity to email the data, having exported via a CSV file, which could come in useful for personal trainers. I could certainly see this becoming a tool within the PTs armoury pretty quickly.

For this to really be the case – and take this app to go to the next level – there are a few updates which would add some significant value. One would be the addition of a richer data set. For a start, there is not enough collected and logged heart rate data, which is strange for a piece of fit tech which is a heart rate monitor at its core.

Another area that they will need to improve will be the ability to add workout notes. Any serious trainer will have notes to add to any workout, and this will especially be the case if a PT is to engage and use this with clients.

Finally, there’s the opportunity for the app to include body weight tracking perhaps complete with pictures of the user, as they work to transform their body. The integration of diet tracking as well as weight and progress photos would be a great final touch.

All things considered though, I think this is a really exciting step forward in fit tech. Unlike some of the other devices out there, this is working to fix a genuine problem for serious trainers. These serious trainers aren’t interested in glorified pedometers; they’re looking for the next wave of tools which can drive their workouts forward. If this device can evolve out to become a sophisticated recovery tracker, then I think it could be a real winner.

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