Mac Training Software Review
I’ve recently decided to try to get a little fitter again, so as well as buying some gadgets I wanted some software to track my progress (or lack of progress as it may turn out to be). I’ve been looking at various applications for the Mac and evaluating them so thought I’d share my thoughts on some of them here. Hopefully it will give others in my position an idea of which applications will be best for them.
My main objective was to use the Mac training software to record any training sessions so that I could look back over time and see improvements. keeping such a journal also helps with motivation. My first port of call was a journal and scheduler on the Nike website. It was very nice, had a nice Flash based interface and did many of the things I wanted it to do, but really I wanted to be able to store the data locally so the next apps I looked at were iSmartTrain and WeightMania.
iSmartTrain allows you to manually enter data about your training sessions, or download them from a compatible (Polar) Heart Rate Monitor. It has a nice Mac style interface, (although it isn’t a full cocoa-based app) and I really like the main calendar view which allows you to see all of your sessions colour coded according to the type of activity (running, swimming, cycling etc.). The calendar view then has a nice weekly summary showing your weekly stats for training duration, distance, number of sessions, calories burned and a few other bits if info.
Also in its favour is the way it presents the graphs, allowing you to see most of this data in a nice clear format so that you can see the number of sessions, distance, time etc for each activity over a set period of weeks or months. All very clear and easy to use and at first I thought this would be the package for me.
iSmartTrain also allows you schedule events for the future, further helping to keep you motivated.
However, after the purchase of my Forerunner 305 (GPS and Heart Rate Monitor) iSmartTrain became less attractive as it isn’t compatible with Garmin devices and doesn’t have any mapping facility to show you the routes you have been on. For those without such a device though it could be ideal.
WeightMania is a huge app with so many options it is difficult to know where to start. More than just a training log, it is a complete lifestyle log allowing you to record not only your activities but also every single calorie, gram of fat, carbohydrate and anything else you eat as well as probably every bodily function you could possibly think of! It really does have it all, including a huge database of food types with their typical nutritional values. It also has tools such as body fat calculators, BMI calculators, BRM calculators and many more, and even goes as far as having recipe managers and grocery lists. For those of you who want to record and manage your entire lifestyle this tool does it all.
The Mac version has a nice modern interface and despite its numerous functions is relatively easy to use. You can of course just ignore the bits you aren’t interested in if you wish.
For me it was just overkill though and once again without compatiility for GPS mapping and connectivity to the Forerunner it wasn’t quite right for me. I also felt that I would spend so much time trying to record everything that there would be little time left to actually get out there and do some training.
To help keep me motivated I bought myself a new gadget, a Forerunner 305 GPS and heart rate monitor, armed with this my requirements from my software app changed a little. I now needed compatibility with the Forerunner 305 and something that would take advantage of some of its features. Garmin Training Centre software is a free download, so that made it attractive to start with, but once I started playing with it I found it a little limiting.
The maps produced are basic to say the least and the overall appearance and usability isn’t great. It is also lacking in features and just not quite up to scratch. I have to admit to not having explored its potential fully, but part of that is simply because it didn’t inspire me.
Ascent is described as ‘GPS trainomg for the Macintosh’ and is fully compatible with the Garmin GPS devices. Simply plug in the device, and sync it with Ascent and your latest training sessions are added to the journal. Not only that but it overlays your route onto a Google Earth map and produces traces of your heart rate, speed, pace etc. All very interesting and it all works well.
The app itself is very Mac-like, but it does have a few little interface peculiarities that you need to get used to. For example, clicking on a toolbar icon with an downwards pointing triangle which normally indicates that the button contains a drop down list, performs an action. To get the drop down list you need to click and hold. Other than this it seems to do exactly what I want it to and does it very well. The maps are great as are the data screens and your training sessions can be viewed in a list or in a calendar view.
Also in its favour is the fact that it is still being actively developed and the developer is approachable and answers questions quickly via his forum. This is the app that I have decided to use and have now coughed up the registration fee for. However, there are still some improvements I would like to see.
The calendar view s OK, but I think it could display more info, entries could be colour-coded by activity and it would also benefit from a weekly summary similar to that of iSmartTrain. Also, the Summary graphs are very limited. and not very well presented. You can’t determine the period of data that is displayed, you can only select a weekly or a monthly view and you can’t distinguish between activites either. Instead all activites are grouped together and the total distance, time etc is displayed whereas I would like to see the total distance ran separately to the total distance cycled. Hopefully such things will be added / improved as the app continues to develop.
I also looked at this app along the way. It looks really nice and although designed as a route planning app that allows you to plan routes on a map and then upload them to your GPS device it also allows you to import and analyse your routes /workouts. It has a diary feature for recording these workouts and an exercise planner.
The app looks really nice and is under constant development, but I never quite got the hang of it. I think part of this was because I was approaching it from the point of view of recording my training rather than using it to organise and plan my training. It is certainly worth a look, but I didn’t persevere enough with it. I may take another look at this one soon though.
On paper this looked like the ideal app, all the mapping and data analysis of Ascent, coupled with the calendar and graphs views of iSmartTrain. Compatible with my Forerunner 305 and other Garmin devices and donationware too. The screenshots made it looks as though it was just what I was looking for.
Unforuntaley it just didn’t work properly. First of all you need some other software (LoadMyTracks) in order to import data from your GPS device into it and secondly I couldn’t manually enter data into it. Well, I could but I couldn’t change the date fields on it so I could only enter training sessions on the day I did them! It certainly has some potential, but was too buggy and crashed a couple of times so I soon gave up on it. I’m sure it will improve in future versions, but at the moment it wasn’t quite up to scratch which was disappointing as it looked so promising.
Mac Training Software Summary
To round up, none of the mac training software applications were quite perfect for my needs, some came close and with a few tweaks any of them could be right, but I’m currently using Ascent and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the developers continue to improve it by adding to the graphing capabilities and improve the calendar view a little. I’m sure they will come up with other enhancements that I haven’t thought of too. lets hope that keeping a record of my activities keeps me motivated and helps me improve my overall fitness.