By TOM PUZAK
Today we drive cars that listen to us and give directions. Cell phones are equipped with robot personal assistants. And now fitness freaks like me can clip on a mini personal fitness coach to get real-time “biofeedback” as we run.
Pear Sports, a new company, markets its namesake fitness tracker product as a device that can tailor a workout, optimize training, and motivate you to make it happen. It is a small unit that mates with an iPod Shuffle for music. We strapped on the included heart-rate monitor, laced up the foot pod, and queued the music for six weeks of testing on road and trail runs in an effort to whip into spring shape.
Pear is different from a heart rate monitor device like a Garmin because it’s hands-free. It does not even have a screen. Turn it on and start following the directions you’re hearing through the headphones: “Start jogging at a very comfortable pace. After five minutes, I will have you increase your pace in small increments,” the Pear voice calmly offers.
At all times as you’re exercising the little blue device knows your heart rate, pace, cadence, duration and more, but it does not distract you with those stats. Instead, it uses the information to help guide you through your workout, whether it’s a walk/jog workout designed for beginners, a long base mileage day, or a tempo session for dedicated athletes looking for a boost.
The Pear voice provides general coaching on form and nutrition. After a run, recently my Pear said something like “start thinking about recovery nutrition, carbohydrates for glycogen replenishment, protein for muscle repair, and hydration to replenish lost fluids.”
I especially liked using the device doing speed work on a run. The voice of Pear is a positive, strong, but calm voice — “Keep your shoulders relaxed, don’t carry stress in your upper body, which some runners tend to do during hard efforts, shake out your arms if you want to.”
The advice helped me push myself more than I would have without the feedback and accountability of the “coach.” Without numbers to check and buttons to push like on a workout watch my sessions outside and running were more focused, much like my runs before technology came into my life, my head up, paying attention to the trail, traffic, or how my body felt.
Pear is a new device, and it has a few weak spots. We found we were running in the wrong heart-rate zone for too long some times. During a 45 minute tempo workout, for example, it is tough to stay at my anaerobic threshold, but Pear tells you what zone you’re in only during pre-programmed zone checks, not when you fall below threshold.
The company said this is because the programmers did not want the unit to be annoying, particularly given the effects of variables like hills or cardiac drift. Instead of auto feedback, you can “ask” the coach what zone you’re in by pressing a button on the right earphone. We got used to doing that when needed, but feel like the programming could be improved.
This is also true regarding Pear’s ability to create a training program based on one’s current fitness. We found ourselves self-selecting workouts more than we did doing workouts recommended by the product.
The hardware design is very well thought-out. We really loved the headphones. These are the first headphones we’ve used that don’t block ambient sounds, yet they stay in my ear while running. The heart-rate strap is thin and comfortable. The device itself is super light and stays clipped where we put it.
At $249, plus the cost of an iPod Shuffle if you want music, the full Pear kit is far from cheap. But for the cost of a few sessions with a personal trainer, you can have a virtual trainer that is ready to workout whenever you are, for hundreds of workouts. As an accomplished runner, cyclist and adventure racer, I found myself picking up the Pear to help me find some extra motivation. The Pear gave my workouts a directed focus, just what I needed to get there. With Pear I don’t train any more often, but I train smarter.
Technology continues to make getting fitness results easier and more enjoyable, and the Pear device is in the forefront of this arena. Although the software has some room from improvement, Pear has a great foundation. We are excited to see the product continue to evolve.