Archive for the running Category

Review: Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012

Posted in diets, exercise, Fitness, gaming, General, health, Motivation, Motivational, opinion, reviews, running, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Your Shape Fitness Evolved was something that I was really looking forward to. The original Your Shape for Kinect was a great fitness product, though it suffered from a lack of variety and a confusing menu structure, as well as issues with the body tracking .The first trailers for the product seemed to show that these three issues had been solved; greater variety, extensive routines and customisation and a new tracking system developed by Ubisoft to make the feedback and scoring system much more accurate.

I’ve been using YS2012 since it was released in November 2011, so I’ve had plenty of time to try out the different routines, set myself some goals and ache where necessary… it’s been fun, mostly good exercise and another great way to burn off those calories, but it’s not been without its problems and annoyances. A mixture of good and bad, then and, whilst some of these issues just come down to personal choice, several mar an otherwise great experience.

Silhouettes and Interface

The first thing that you’re presented with is the new user silhouette; load up YS2012 and you’re there in all your glory for a moment before the software magically wraps your on-screen self in cling film and shrink wraps it tight. You play, not as a cosmic-coloured shadow of yourself, but as some strange plasticised doll version of yourself and, unless you wear something on your feet, your legs end in stumps. It’s funny to see, and to watch your toes appear as you lift them off the floor, but it’s also a little annoying. I’m pretty self-conscious and whilst it’s great to be able to see a more accurate version of myself on-screen, I don’t actually want to recognise that it’s me. This will bother some people and other hardly at all, but it would have been nice to have the option  to change between the two.

Next you’re presented with a much improved interface, which is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Metro style interface. It’s much easier to navigate than the previous iteration of the game; ‘ much easier to find, and divided into coloured categories so you can quickly swipe between sections to the set of routines that you want. There’s also a welcome user section, where you can set yourself goals and view milestones and totals for your workouts – but this needs more than a total number of press ups down to be useful of keep me motivated. Much of this section either doesn’t actually do anything (for example a ‘favorite moment’ panel that seems to randomly come up with a day, but there’s no way for you to say which recent workouts were your favourites, and other such panels that have labels but that you can’t actually press) or the information is extremely limited. It seems odd that whilst the system has collected so much data about you, so little of it can actually be seen. Many users might just want to do the workouts, but th marketing suggests it as a great way to get a really good workout; it’d be nice to be able to see some stats on what I’ve achieved to help keep me motivated and encouraged. This user section therefore seems like some people had some really great ideas, and they were either never followed through on or compromised somehow; more on this feeling later.

Exercises

The exercises themselves seem to be greater in number, and indeed Ubisoft tout the software as containing over 90 hours of routines. That’s a big claim to make and, to be fair, though there is a lot of mileage and variety in the routines on offer, it seems like a claim that’s just not true. I admit, I haven’t gone through and counted up the hours, but after having gone through most of the exercises on offer, it feels like an exaggeration.

There is plenty to keep you going though; from workouts grouped together by muscle group and some decent cardio routines, toning exercises, routines to help you prepare for several sports and then dance routines, cardio boxing, yoga and their ‘zen energy’ classes (which are based on Tai Chi), what ever your mood, there’s something there for you. Ubisoft have also included a set of warm up routines which were absent from YS2010; something that users have been crying out for, and to be honest they’re pretty good. Stretching work or relatively low impact exercises like virtual jump rope or a virtual ‘Simon Says’ mini game are on offer amongst others, and it’s easy to be impressed.

Two sets of routines that are worth a specific mention are the ‘Run the World’ and ‘Boot Camp’ options.

The former set you running round virtual representations of major world cities, and with its curved streets it looks like the Matrix’s White Room version of Inception. Unlocking more routes as you progress, you’re not simply there to jog, but take challenges wich are presented to you as a guide talks about landmarks of interest around you. The challenges can be tough, depending on your ability, with tasks like keeping your knees up for sixteen seconds pushing your ability. The Run the World is a nice option, and it’s easy to compare it to the jogging routines on Wii Fit Plus and feel that this comes out the better of the two. It feels more professional and less like something for the kids; fun, but seriously aimed at improving your fitness rather than something just to get you off the couch.

The Boot Camp, however, was a nightmare to try to complete. The exercises were great and I would have enjoyed the routines, except for the Boot Camp approach itself. I’ve never been one to take being shouted at, least of all by a piece of software. Whilst some people have really enjoyed these routines and think the approach is useful or even funny, it just wound me up.  The Boot Camp section didn’t get more than one-quarter of a run through; personal preference again, and there’s plenty of other routines to keep me occupied.

The cardio routines are great and really make you sweat, but in many there were one or two exercises that I either just plain didn’t like or could do. The triple side step punch is a good example, where the trainer moves with something approaching superhuman speed; my body just won’t move that fast and it’s easy to cheat and just hope and punch on the spot to still burn some calories, but it feels wrong to cheat at something that’s meant to improve yourself, and this is one area where the cracks in Ubisoft’s body tracking technology begin to show.

The Yoga and Zen workouts really show these cracks and open them wide open; white lines are overlaid on your on-screen double’s body, arms and legs in an approximation of your basic skeletal structure, and they turn green when it thinks you’re in the correct position. It gets ridiculous when, although you’ve managed to get all those lines to go green and you see your perfect routine score go up, your leg suddenly decides to spin around in its socket and then wrap itself behind your head. Unsurprisingly, this halts your perfect routine count, and is hard to correct without you making the affected limb move away from your body so that the tracking system can spot it again. For exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi, where a calm, relaxed approach is needed and encouraged, this is just off-putting. There have been complaints of similar problems in other routines, particularly affecting the right side of the body. Whilst lighting is obviously an important factor in getting tracking right, many users report that the same exercises in YS2010 work perfectly under exactly the same conditions, and little seems to being done by Ubisoft to correct the errors.

It’s also worth pointing out that whilst there are exercise groups to workout areas like your glutes, legs, arms and back, the chest is notably absent. Whilst there’s going to be overlap with compound exercises, it’s disappointing not to see a dedicated section that other major muscle groups have been given.

Customisation

One of my main criticisms is, though, the lack of customisation in the game.

The adverts show men and women selecting routines and chaining them together, and the impression is given that you can choose specific exercises and build up your own routines; neither is actually possibly. This doesn’t ruin the experience or lessen motivation at all, but it mars the experience. Why be shown something that you can’t do? Considering that such options are given to you in Wii Fit Plus, it’s frustrating to see it absent in an otherwise superior product; if Nintendo could do it three years ago, why can’t Ubisoft learn from them and do it now. It’s not as if Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus weren’t popular, and asking users about their experience of other products seems a basic part of market and product research.

It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s an important issue. Some people live in apartments and can’t go bouncing around their living rooms, but they can do most of the exercises, just not stamp their feet. Some people have minor injuries that prevent them from doing one or two parts of the routine. Some exercises can be just downright annoying. Instead of making people stand still and wait for this bit of the session to end, or feel that they just can’t do a routine because of the exercises it contains, why not just allow them to edit those exercises out? For a workout game that supposedly gives people choice, this seems like an obvious omission.

Other Niggles

There are several other niggles that I’d like to mention.

Firstly, the session time and calorie counts have been removed from the game altogether; at no point whilst you are working out can you see how long your session has been, or how many calories you’ve torched. To do this you have to log into Ubisoft’s Your Shape Centre portal; a web area that’s full of its own bug, and whether it’s in another room or on another device doesn’t matter. I want to be able to check my session’s progress, feel great about my efforts right away, and maybe even push myself to burn a few more calories right then and there. That’s not going to happen if I have to go to my PC or bring up the app on my phone. That would take me out of the experience I’m having right then and there. It’s here, with the split between Xbox and web/app that the feeling of the vision for the software being compromised really shows. There’s a disparity in function, and it’s both unwelcome and seemingly pointless. It’d be great to check out my routines online sure, but I want that on the Xbox within the software that I’ve bought too. I also don’t want my goals to be changed online without me saying; set up a goal of burning 1,000 kCal in ten days in one area, then view it or edit it in another and the time’s reduced to three days. If I reset the value, it either doesn’t register or deletes any progress towards my goal made so far.

Reporting this or other issues to Ubisoft gets a response within a couple of days, but watch out! If you don’t update the ticket it’ll close automatically within 24 hours, whether or not a solution has been provided, and most often it isn’t. This, and the lack of communication and apparent monitoring on the official forums give the impression that Ubisoft isn’t listening. They’ve taken your cash and made a run for it. Ubisoft release a lot of great games, but they also release a lot of games that are very buggy on release. I pay £40 or $60 for a piece of software, I want it to work, and if it doesn’t I expect bug fixes to be released. Ubisoft doesn’t seem interested.

The main area where this is a problem is the calorie counting. After many complains about the new calorie counting system (which was apparently a MS system that worked off your Kinect profile, and estimated much about you), Ubisoft released a patch to address the issue. Now finally able to input my age, height and weight into the system, the new system throws everything in the air and introduces further disparity. Two minutes of vigorous jump ropes gives a burn of 7 kCal, as does two minutes of yoga. Cardio boxing used to give me between 70 and 90 kCal in fifteen minutes, depending on the routine; now it gives me 17.  I can only presume that the calorie values are estimated using your stats and a MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) as a multiplier; the system is based on averages from research with many people, and gives a good approximation, but it seems that the MET values in YS2012 are wrong and haven’t been corrected.

What’s the point in a fitness game if the calories are so wildly wrong. They’re only ever estimates without hooking people up to proper monitoring equipment, but the figures are way out and if your certain the values for one exercise are wrong, how likely is it that the values are right for any of them?

It’s also impossible to import DLC from the YS2010, meaning that in some areas (such as cardio boxing) you’re actually more limited than in the previous versions of the game.

Verdict

A good, solid product from Ubisoft with some problems, both major and minor. If you want variety in your fitness routine, and don’t have the time or money for the gym, then you’ll enjoy it, but you need to be tolerant of the game’s bugs and turn a blind eye to the calorie counting.

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Battle of the Calorie Burning Behemoths – Cycling vs Running

Posted in Cycling, Fitness, General, running on September 13, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

A dramatic title for a dramatic battle… well, alright, it wasn’t very dramatic, though I was cycling for part of the time and my heart was a-pumping!

We sold our car a couple of weeks ago – we needed the cash and, because all we really used the car for was a twice weekly trip to Tesco, it wasn’t really worth the £85 a month on petrol and inurance. So that we could still get around, though, we bought me a bike which came at the start of last week.

…Paul’s already got a bike, I’m not giving him seaters 🙂

After assembly, which was a joy of confusion for two normally techie-minded people, I took the bike for a ride round the park and for a giggle set Sports Tracker running. At the end of a 45min ride I’d burnt an estimate 530kCal, about a 100kCal more than my last 45min Podrunner session (25mins running, 20mins walking). This got me to wondering which was truly best, running or cycling?

I only really run or cycle for the calorie burn and to exercise my heart. I know the calorie count is only an estimate and that, mile on mile, running burns more calories… but there are a few key facts that came into the Battle. I shall even number them (gasp!).

  1. Minute on minute, I can burn more calories by cycling.
  2. My thighs feel like steel (well, almost… well, compared to when I run, ok?).
  3. My whole legs and butt get a workout to supplement the slightly upper-body-heavy weights workout that I do.
  4. My aerobic fitness is such that, autumnal rains permitting, I could easily cycle five days a week and still do my weights workout, rather than struggle to run and workout as much as I’d like.
  5. Cycling is much more fun than running. Way more fun!
  6. I sometimes have a bad night’s sleep; difficulty dropping off, waking up from nightmares or having night terrors. I’ve slept like a baby on the night of each bike ride so far.
  7. I’ll be going for bike rides with my partner – quality, fun, outdoors fun!
  8. I don’t get saddly sore, now, after my third ride!

As I’m only really using cycling for aerobic fitness and fat loss (the demands from cycling on my legs will quickly plateau as far as muscular development goes), I need an aerobic activity that lets me do as many weights workouts as I want. That’s only three full body workotus a week, but doing that with running is a huge demand, and almost impossible at my current level of fitness, especially as I’m trying to progress with heavier weights.

So, my part in the Battle of the Calorie Burning Behemoths is over – and the results are an astonishing no-brainer as far as my needs are concerned. My last cycle was for 45mins and I covered nearly 7miles, burning nearly 800kCal. Again, that calorie figure is only rough, but that’s almost twice as many calories as running in the same 45min time.

Cycling wins hands down.

Park Run – Platt Fields Park

Posted in Fitness, running on August 23, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Following a fantastic, welcoming comment this morning from Tim about the weekly 5km Park Run at Platt Fields Park, here’s a link to the Park Run website.

It looks like a great event, with people of all ages and abilities attending, and I’ll definately be joining in… though I might do another week or two of Pod Runner training before I attend, then I can try and fit it in as part of my regular workout schedule and I’ll definately be able to complete the whole course!

Podrunner Week 6 – Escape from the Planet of the Cankles!

Posted in Fitness, running on August 22, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Week six of Podrunner was another push, but as always one that was achievable – and thankfully one that didn’t leave me that sore!

There were three workouts this week, dropping back to three running intervals at the start, then building back up to two and ending in a twenty five minute run that was padded by some welcome warm up and cool down walking.

I laughed when i heard the introduction to the third workout… I knew that I could do a full twenty five minutes, but I also knew that it was going to be tough. It surprised me. It wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought.

Once I started running it was actually pretty easy just to keep on moving. I kept a steady, jogging pace and just kept going on my usual route round Platt Fields Park. At one point, though, my concentration slipped and my body just slowed to a walking pace.

I felt pretty bad for doing that as I really felt that I could do the whole run. So, with due concern, I checked the Podrunner track time and I only had two minutes left to do until my cool down. Two minutes more isn’t so bad, and not too long, so I picked up the pace and completed the run. I only lost about 15 seconds to that drop in pace, so I’m really happy with myself for completing the workout.

Something I noticed though…

Last summer my feet and ankles got really swollen in the heat. Mega-swollen. Like, I can’t wear any of my shoes swollen. They were really sore and, having spent two months getting my feet chaffed in flip-flops, I’ve been very aware of my ankles ever since, always watching for those ankle bones disappearing behind a veil of swollen tissue or body fat.

When I got home from the last Podrunner run of week six, I had a flash of anxiety. Those ankles bones had almost vanished and I started to get worried that the heat-cankles had returned… but not so.

Over the past month or so I’ve been flexing my feet more, both outside of my workouts and in stretches. I’ve also started doing calf raises as part of my weights routine. The end result, aside from noticable less painful and longlasting shin splints, is that I’ve grown more supporting muscle around my ankles… and seemingly in the last three weeks.

So, dear reader, I escaped the Planet of the Cankles this year.

The tight because I’m over-weight t-shirt I bought a few months ago is now baggy too. My body fat percentage is still too high, but it’s nice to see some results for all the effort I’ve been putting in to getting fit and losing fat.

As this fitness drive was meant to be a long-term thing now that I’m approaching 35, this feels good. Now that I can see and feel some results, it’s easier to keep going and work towards the mental image of how I’ll look and feel once I reach my goals.

Sports Tracker – new app and website launched

Posted in Fitness, running on August 12, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Sports Tracker was one of the first apps that I downloaded for my Nokia 5800 smartphone. It initially launched with an ok web site to track walking, running, cycling routines, using the phone’s GPS. A new version of the app appeared last month, with a shiny new interface and some nice new functionality, but now the website has relaunched and a new version of the app has been released with it.

THe main highlights for me are:

  • GPS tracking of your workouts, showing your routes on maps in realtime
  • Get a step count and rough calorie count for each workout

You can, of course, upload this to the website and (if you don’t chose to keep your workouts private) can share them with others and even have your workouts posted on your Facebook wall. There are graphs showing how your speed has varied over time and altitude and you can track your heart rate the same ways with an added Bluetooth enabled Polar heart rate monitor (for around £70!).

At this point in developing my routine, I only really use the maps, step counter and calorie counter to check my progress at the end of each session. I upload my workouts (but mainly just because I like to see them in a nice web interface) but I record everything in a spreadsheet at home. My workouts vary between running, weights and rowing, so I’ve got more data that I want to record that Sports Tracker can take, but it’s a valuable addition to my routines and an excellent motivator.

And, best of all, it’s free for Nokia GPS enabled phones