TomTom takes a leaf from Brain Training’s book with Fitness Age

Software update will soon hit the last two generations of watches

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The TomTom line of fitness trackers are some of the strongest around. Formerly known exclusively for their expertise with SatNav systems, the company has moved its GPS systems from the car to the wrist, with solid results. The TomTom Spark 3, in its most basic configuration, remains the cheapest running watch you can get with built-in GPS.

And the range is about to get better. The company has announced a software update for the last two generations of its watches (Runner 2, Runner 3, Adventurer, Spark 2 and Spark 3) which hope to demystify the sports science, allowing wannabe athletes to just get on with getting fitter.

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The first way of doing this is straight out of the Nintendo playbook – specifically, Brain Training. Remember how Brain Training would give you a daily task to do before giving you your brain age? The aim was to work through the daily challenges each day and gradually beat your brain into the spry form of a 20-year-old’s. Fitness Age will work along similar lines, providing you with what TomTom VP of product management Walther Hermsen describes as “a notion of your fitness level”. By tracking VO2 max via the heart rate monitor, TomTom’s algorithm will provide you with an estimate of your fitness level with a single number.

Unlike Brain Training, however, it’s impossible for 60-year-old to be credited with having a 20-year-old’s body. If your Fitness Age is five years below your actual, Hermsen reckons you’re doing pretty well. Equally, the devices will show some discretion – only showing you a number if the news is good (represented by an in-app animation of confetti and balloons) or neutral.

This ties into the second part of the software update: Fitness Points. Based on the Fitness Age you’re at, TomTom will allocate points to each suggested activity. This takes into account intensity as well as duration – as Hermsen points out, a slow ten minute run may be less beneficial than a fast 20 minute walk. In short, 100 Fitness Points will keep you healthy, but hitting 500 points three times per week will see you actively reducing your Fitness Age over time.

The data to figure this out comes from TomTom’s own research on its membership. Over one million man-months worth of 100,000 TomTom users who opted in for their data to be analysed. Their conclusion? Fitness points is the number one predicting value in analysing fitness over time.

“Recent research has proven that the recommended exercise to optimally improve people’s health and fitness is personal and especially determined by their current fitness level,” explains Urho Kujala, professor of sports and exercise medicine at the University of Jyväskylä. “TomTom Fitness Age is based on this research, and takes these individuals factors into account. Therefore it is an overall better guide to becoming fitter than just the existing and absolute metrics such as steps, calories, and active time and users are more likely to live a healthier and fitter life.”

Finally, the update will introduce personalised workouts, again based on algorithms taking into account Fitness Age and Fitness Points. The app will recommend cycling or running workouts for fat burn, endurance, speed, fitness or power. It has been built with personal coaches, and adapts automatically to your current fitness level.

These are isolated workouts, rather than a dedicated plan split over weeks and month – and that’s a conscious design choice, according to Hermsen. The approach of “here’s a 12-week training programme” was seen as too intimidating for users. Instead, TomTom has opted to make workouts “immediate and targeted”.

Each step of this is designed with long-term fitness in mind, but all too aware of our human tendency to give up when confronted by a wall of stats, with no instant gratification chaser. By giving you short term rewards in the form of Fitness Points, the hope is that they’ll keep you hooked until you see the true benefits of a healthy lifestyle four to six weeks down the line.

The updates will begin to roll out soon to compatible devices, and TomTom is hopeful that most people will see the update by the end of September. This will be hidden from the app for first generation TomTom wearables, with a note to tell users what they’re missing if they wish to upgrade. Pleasingly, TomTom says that both Fitness Points and Fitness Age will be backdated to include all tracked workouts from the start of 2016.

We should be getting our hands on a compatible watch with the update soon, so stay posted to see our impressions and whether the promising sounding update makes a stellar wearable into an unmissable one.

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