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Group workouts get a boost from technology

January 26, 2009 | 11:24 am

Technology is an inexorable part of the fitness world now, with weight machines that can personalize workouts and cardio machines that let you watch TV or connect MP3 players.

CrunchAt Crunch in Los Angeles, technology is moving into the group exercise realm with a new group cycling class called Redline Ride. It works like this: Participants wear a wireless transmitter band around their chests that reads their heart rate. Information is fed into a laptop that continually — and anonymously — displays everyone's training zone on a larger screen so they can keep track of their exercise intensity. At the end of class, printouts reveal each person’s progress and how many calories they burned.

"With this we can start educating people on what heart rate training is, what energy zone training is, periodization, and give people a better understanding of their calorie expenditure," says Mike Michels, a Los Angeles-based certified USA Triathlon coach who designed the class. "We're bringing in something scientific, but we're also making it very easy and fun and enjoyable."

The class kicked off a couple of weeks ago and is beginning to draw tech-savvy fitness buffs and those just wanting more quantified results from their workouts. People trying it for the first time are given a transmitter and a superhero name, like Wolverine, so real names are not revealed. The instructor then inputs an estimation of their maximum heart rate (or their actual maximum heart rate if the know it) and other particulars, such as age, gender, etc., into a computer. As students begin to cycle, their color-coded heart rate zones are shown on a screen, from warm-up to moderate intensity, high intensity and so on. This allows the instructor to let people know if their heart rates are too high or too low. It also shows how long recovery takes, a good measure of fitness levels.

At the end of the class, students can get a printout of a chart showing how much time they spent in each zone, their maximum heart rate for the session, and how many calories they burned.

"It's immediate feedback," Michels says. "If you're only burning 400 calories a class, you might want to be more mindful about what you're doing overall in your health and fitness program." In other words, one group cycling class does not equal a guilt-free plate of nachos.

Those who commit to the class are encouraged to buy their own transmitters and get an accurate maximum heart rate test (the test, Michels says, can be done in class). Ultimately, he hopes people will begin to get more clued into how they feel at a warm-up, moderate or intense exercise pace, and be able to translate that to other activities.

And for all you "Biggest Loser" fans, trainer Bob Harper will begin teaching the class periodically in February.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Crunch