This is a big one. The quality of wearables is variable, so it is important to understand what you are looking for. We at Rowe.rs work with all the main manufacturers and do not favour any company and aim to offer a balanced view of the devices out there.
The main manufacturers of devices are broken up into two sections:
Rowing specific products and general fitness devices.
The types of data we are talking about in this article are mainly heart rate, speed (either GPS or impeller), telemetry. I have included some interesting activity and Lactate sensors as well for you to have a look at. They are not cheap, but but for those marginal games it may be just what you need….
General fitness company’s
Rowing Specific company’s
Peach, NK, OarInspired, WEBA, SmartOar
The next level
What should I buy….?
The first thing to say is that you should not use the wrist devices. The research show pretty consistently that they are not accurate enough. If you are interested in the quality of the data then stick with the chest straps.
Why bother recording heart rate? It is a measure of output for sure, if you work harder your heart rate goes up. But is not that simple and also it is not totally precise, for example if you are dehydrated and it is a day hot outside, your training zone will be different than if you were in controlled laboratory conditions.
The next question is whether to use Bluetooth or ANT+. They both have strengths and weakness’. For Bluetooth (BLE or Smart Bluetooth) the weakness is that the HR straps can only connect to one device at a time. So if you are operating in a team environment and your HR monitor is connected to your team app then you will not be able to connect (or store) it to your watch. For ANT the weakness is that if you buy one of the chest straps it will not connect with most smartphones (and definitely not to an iPhone). You can buy little dongles to plug into those phones in order to connect the ANT devices to smartphones.
So ANT is great in a team environment as it can connect to many devices at the same time, but unless the mobile phone manufactures pay the license fee they will not have ANT inside (BLE has no license fee). BLE is very flexible as you can buy a strap and just connect it to a many apps that connect to BLE. Only downside is you then need to take you phone into the boat with you.
GPS is great but it has it’s limitations, for instance it is of virtually no use on fast flowing water. It measures your speed compared to the land, so if you are paddling with the tide, then it will overestimate your speed. This is where the GPS watches fall down, they do not take that into account. But the rowing specific devices enable you to connect impellers to the bottom of the boat giving you speed relative to the moving water.
In the right conditions you can get a feel for what distance the athletes have actually rowed, and also how much time each crew has spent in each training zone. Do you really know if the crews are paddling in the correct speed zones?
This is a big field. You need to be reasonably sophisticated in order to interpret the data. For example stroke length stroke length will be different at different rates, as will be the position of the peak power. This devices can be invaluable if not used all the time. Athletes need to build a good feel and not just use the numbers.
Do you want a sensor on your gate as in Peach, NK and OarInspired, or do you want it in the oar as WEBA and SmartOar do?
With the growing interest in these devices and with the advent of more devices one of the big questions I feel will come to the sport is: Should rowers set training levels by power on the water?
See you all soon.