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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Mini-Review: Nike Triax Elite SDM/HRM

Nike Triax Elite HRM SDM
$369 (MSRP), $200-$300 (eBay, etc.)

Most Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) out there will give you your heart rate and not much else. The most expensive, high end HRMs will record that data, sometimes more, and allow you to download it to your computer. Unfortunately there is not yet a standard for HRM data, so each device requires it's own special software, and uses it's own special formats. No single software package can support more than a few HRMs as a result, so when buying a high-end HRM it's important to look at the included and compatible software.

The most popular HRMs out there are the Polar series. They're very nice, but their software is atrocious. The appearance of the [PC Coach] software used with the Polar HRMs is bad enough that you can't even tell how functional it is. It doesn't seem like a lot of thought went into the design.

The Nike software, by contrast, is a work of art. While it's far from perfect, the more I use it the more I feel it's like the training software I've been working on. If you log onto and use their logbook, it's modeled on the Triax Elite software, which will give you a rough idea of how it works as a log tool. Other than [TrainingLog], which supports the Polar HRMs, this is the only HRM with software for the MacOS.

If you are following a training plan, the Triax Elite is definitely for you. While it can't easily import data from other sources, you can manually enter your training plan into it and drop the plan icon onto a start date - it will fill in workouts for your plan from there out to the end of the plan. Building the plan itself is easy, but manual and repetitive so it can be pretty tedious. I had been under the impression the Nike would offer downloadable training plans at some point but this hasn't yet materialized. It does allow you to export data in a tab delimited format, which makes it easy to import into Excel. You can share training plans and workouts between computers using the Triax Elite software, but it's not obvious how - I stumbled onto the instructions inside the help files included with the software. Again, ideally this would connect to a central Nike site offering training plans, but this has not materialized.

The Watch
Using the watch during a workout is very easy. When you sync the watch, it puts several days of the workouts you have scheduled in the software onto the watch. We you start a workout, just select the workout on the watch and hit the start button. The workout building portion of the software allows you to create very complete workouts. For example, one of mine starts with a warmup for 5 minutes, stretching, a run at 72% of my max heart rate for 25 minutes, a cool down at 50% of my max heart rate for 10 minutes, and then more stretching. As you progress through those steps the watch display prompts you, and if your heart rate is out of the range you have set it will indicate that you're high or low. The one downside here is that if you have audio alerts turned on, the beep for a high heart rate and the beep for a low heart rate are the same. The only way you know if you're low or high is by looking at the watch.

The watch synchronizes wirelessly with a glowing blue USB dongle. It stays plugged into your computer, your watch stays on your wrist. Using the software you can not only sync the workout data, you can set all the features of the watch. It would be cool if this was scriptable - like setting alarms via iCal - but it doesn't appear to be. One nice feature is that I can use the computer's clock to set it. If your computer uses a network time server (NTP), you can get a very precise time on your watch. Your scheduled workouts and your "favorite" workouts go on the watch during a sync, so not only do you have what you've planned, but also the workouts you might find easier to do on short notice.

The SDM distance measurement pod snaps onto your shoes to track your mileage. Thankfully this works fine with the Yankz on my running shoes without a problem. You do need a track to calibrate it properly, but any local high school or college track should be open to you to run a lap to calibrate the pod. When I calibrated mine it was only off by 5 meters anyway. You would think that running with the pod on your foot would be noticeable, but it's not at all.

HRM Strap
The HRM strap is the most comfortable I've used. I have a low-end Polar that constantly slips as I run, no matter how I adjust it. The Nike just fits, and doesn't restrict movement or breathing (at least for me, everyone is different). In the pool I've had varied results. All of the Triax Elite components are waterproof, which is always a plus, and the HRM does work in the pool. In one pool I use it works flawlessly with the watch on my wrist, in a different pool I have to keep the watch close to the strap to get a reading.

Overall the Nike Triax Elite is a very well designed HRM system (that's Mac compatible out of the box) that is designed with the technical athlete in mind. The only features that are missing are for using it with a bike. While it comes with a bike mount, it can't measure distance, cadence, or anything else on the bike. The software, however, does allow you to enter some of that data manually and track it along with everything else.

At more than $300 it's not for everyone. Nike is not pushing this product heavily, though they have not exactly abandoned it (yet) either. Polar's newer products are catching up in features, while their software remains the same. When I bought the Triax Elite I was skeptical, and almost regretted not getting the more widely used Polar series. I ended up more than happy with the Triax Elite.

8/08/2004 04:18:00 PM ] [  0 comments  ]
A good quick laugh