No Excuses: Tracking Your Fitness On OS X

It should be obvious that the blogging elves at The Apple Blog care about the fitness of our readers, especially at this dessert-laden time of year. If you managed to stuff yourself as much as I did at Thanksgiving you may be in need of some extra assistance ensuring that the only thing that gets blown away in December is your budget. With that in mind, TAB takes a look at four OS X applications that can help you kick start a fitness program and track almost every detail of your workouts.

Meet the Contenders

Since the iPhone apps have some built-in advantages, I chose four programs that work with GPS devices, heart rate monitors or other accessories – such as the Nike + iPod kit – to even the playing field.

Garmin Training Center
Maker: Garmin
Price: Free
Compatibily: OS X 10.4+/Universal
Hardware Support: Garmin GPS
Maker: toolsfactory
Price: $39.00
Compatibily: OS X 10.5+/Universal
Hardware Support: Garmin GPS, Nike+iPod, Amod GPS
Maker: Montebello
Price: $40.00
Compatibily: OS X 10.4+/Universal
Hardware Support: Garmin GPS
Maker: Berbie
Price: Free
Compatibily: OS X 10.5+/Universal
Hardware Support: Garmin GPS, Nike+iPod/Sportband, iPhone/iPod

NOTE: Real world workout data from Garmin and Nike+ devices were used in testing all four applications.

Garmin: Late to the Gate, Still in the Running

First up is Garmin’s flagship OS X offering. Fitness Center for Mac (GTC) is designed to be the way to get data from your Edge or Forerunner onto your Mac, and both device families offer GPS-tracking and optional heart rate monitoring, with the Edge also featuring cadence & power tracking for cyclists. The sampling from these sensors can be imported, reviewed and displayed in tabluar, graphical and cartographical format. GTC does a good job figuring out which activity (cycling or running) you were engaged in when it auto-classifies your imports.

You can customize user profile settings, including heart rate data and speed zones along with gear details and information on other activities, such as hiking, skiing or kayaking.

Workouts can be reviewed by date or type, and you can schedule, group and categorize them via recorded sessions or from various online sources. Any workout you define or find can also be uploaded to most Garmin devices.

If you have full Garmin map data sets, you can use other Garmin Mac utilities to get them onto your Mac (which will help GTC route maps look a bit nicer).

GTC will import and export TCX (a Garmin-originated XML format describing GPS and “fitness” data) files which many programs and web applications can work with, so you are not locked-in to them by any means.

Striving for Peak Performance with Ascent

While Garmin may be a bit generic, Ascent definitely has the feel of a more seasoned OS X application.

Most of these fitness-tracking programs provide a similarly paned “browser” to access your activities. Ascent kicks up the visual display a bit with map data from either VisualEarth or USGS, both of which have multiple feature display options.

Ascent provides more fields to describe your activities and has an amazing replay mode that will animate your recorded workout, showing key data in a “HUD” as the points move along. While it will sync from your GPS device with ease, the Montebello developers also added a wide assortment of import and export options, including reading data from Polar heart rate monitors, full manual entry of activity information and sending data out to Google Earth for a very spiffy fly-by.

Unfortunately, while the program provides many ways to view and analyze your workouts, you will not be using it to push data to your GPS.

TrailRunner Charts Your Path to Fitness

This once commercial offering is now free and takes a unique approach to tracking your training. As the name indicates, it is geared more for running, but can handle other activities.

If you are truly dedicated to your training program, TrailRunner will be a great digital partner and includes a highly-detailed diary view (that lets you post activities right to your blog) and an “event planner” (for that upcoming marathon).

TrailRunner also has a playback mode, but the most differentiating feature may be the ability to easily share your routes with other athletes and also find new routes (i.e. escape the rut). It also works with iTrail (for you iPhone-wielding fitness geeks) and can store routes notes and route “snapshots” to your photo-enabled iPod, which is especially helpful if you are racing un-tracked or with a non-GPS-enabled device (such as the Nike+ iPod kit).

To get the full feel for TrailRunner, you really need to download it and play with it a while. New features keep popping up as you explore the application and it will definitely have you looking at your workouts in a very different way.

One Step Ahead: rubiTrack Tracks With Style

Despite having a Leopard-only offering, the talented folks over at toolsfactory managed to make the most modern, Mac-like program of the bunch, which is evident right from program launch.

Map data crisp and the view options are abundant. One feature detail that I considered truly innovative was historical weight tracking, making the workout details very accurate over time.

Activities are auto-grouped by category on import and can be manually tweaked. rubiTrack also has “smart groups” (think iTunes Smart Playlists) which can auto-classify by any combination of activity details.

While it lets you review past workouts and activities, you will not be able to schedule a workout routine with this application and you will not be creating tracks to bring back to your training devices.

The Final Analysis

GTC is the least “Mac-like” application out of the four and is not even on equal footing from its PC counterpart. While it is completely functional for basic operations, it is obvious that Garmin wants you to continue to invest in their online offerings and map products to get the most out of your fitness routine. However, if you want to plan new workouts and have seamless integration with your GPS devices, GTC will have a place in your Applications folder.

Ascent was my primary tracking tool prior to rubiTrack (I paid for both programs). I would definitely pay for an upgrade if they keep enhancing both the visual elements and the core feature sets. It is also very geared towards cyclists and I expect enhancements to continue that focus.

TrailRunner is a must have for the avid runner. It does rely on many helper apps (including GTC) to import data. The blogging feature is something I wish more fitness apps thought to include. TrailRunner also has the most diverse maps and is perfect for those who wish to be part of a community of folks interested in fitness.

At the end of a ride, however, rubiTrack is the application that I fire up first. If you are just getting into a fitness routine and want some positive, visual reinforcement this will be a very easy program to get started with and will definitely help motivate you to constantly do better.

Despite all four applications being “made for Mac”, none of them auto-sync weather details and none of the ones with workout scheduling capabilities integrate with iCal. Even with those missing features, you now have no excuse to shake off that tryptophan haze and shed some of that holiday poundage. If you do receive Garmin or Nike+ gear for the upcoming gift-giving season, definitely give these programs a workout.