TechnologyIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about the technology of fitness equipment throughout the month of July. This week I would like to discuss the technology used to time a workout.

There are many different ways to determine how long you have been running, biking, or doing any number of other activities. You may be tracking the total amount of time that you have been doing a certain activity, or you may be timing some intervals as you train during a specific workout. The technology that has evolved to keep track of that time ranges from using the tools we are biologically equipped with to the latest wonders of satellites and even little chips you wear on or in your shoes.

Photo by jalalspages
An easy but inaccurate way to time your workout does not involve any technology that you are not biologically equipped with. You can use the sun to get a rough estimate of how long you have been working out based upon how far it has traveled while you exercise. You can also use the moon, stars or other celestial bodies, but the sun is the easiest one to quickly find and to have a relatively uniform rate of speed throughout the sky.

Photo by Petromyzon
An hourglass can give you a rough estimate about how long you have run. The most accurate you can definitively be with an hourglass is whether you ran for more than an hour or less than an hour. Your hourglass may not actually be set for an hour; if it takes 30 minutes for the sand to run through then you would substitute the more or less than 30 minutes for the hour. You can estimate a short run based upon how much sand is left in your hourglass, but that can never be much more than an educated guess.

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Photo by Craig Branagan
A (very) slightly more accurate way to time a run than using the heavens is to find a clock in your local environment that you can use. The clock on your stove, your car’s dashboard, or Big Ben can give you a rough estimate of when you start your workout and when you finish. A little simple math and you will know within a minute or two how long you were working out.

Stop WatchesNext comes the hand held stop watch. This is much more accurate than the sun or a clock in your environment, but can be a little inconvenient when you have to carry it while running. If you have a coach watching over you, then they will do well to hold onto it and to track your times for you.
IRONMAN* Triathlon´┐Ż 100-Lap
The next step up for most athletes add is a wristwatch. Sports watches will usually have at least a timer, and you can also get watches with lap memory and count down timers. Some watches will come with quite excessive bells and whistles, such as displaying or tracking your heart rate for you as you exercise or constantly asking the satellites in orbit above you where you are so that it can plot your course for you on your computer when you get home. Stop watches will often have these same features, but sports watches can be comfortably worn on the wrist and tend to be much less bulky.

Time Machine Automatic Timing SystemsTiming machines are completely inconvenient for a runner, but are great for coaches or race officials. You start the clock at the beginning of a race, run, or interval, and you press a button once the interval or race is over. It will store how long it took, and can even create a paper copy as you go.

ChampionchipFar and away the most accurate way to time a workout, especially a run, is by using a ChampionChip or similar RFID system. When you run over the timing mats, the RFID chip on your shoe or ankle sends a signal that is read by the mat and transmitted to a timing computer. The computer tracks each individual chip so that you can have many thousands of runners with extremely accurate times. You can use a mat just at the finish of a run to mark exactly when you completed a workout, which works as long as you know when it began. If you put a mat the start and finish of your run, then you can have an accurate time to the tenth of a second. You could even put mats along your course to see where you were at specific points.

Those are the broad categories of different time-keeping devices that you can use to time your workouts. Generally speaking, as you get more accurate you can expect to spend more money and require more preparation.